The normal, the natural, and the normative

a merleau-pontian legacy to feminist theory, critical race theory, and disability studies

Gail Weiss

pp. 77-93

This essay argues that Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of embodiment can be an extremely helpful ally for contemporary feminist theorists, critical race theorists, and disability studies scholars because his work suggests that the gender, race, and ability of bodies are not innate or fixed features of those bodies, much less corporeal indicators of physical, social, psychic, and even moral inferiority, but are themselves dynamic phenomena that have the potential to overturn accepted notions of normalcy, naturalness, and normativity. Taking seriously Merleau-Ponty's insistence that our bodies (rather than our consciousnesses) are the means by which we directly engage with the world, I suggest, encourages us to be attentive to how an individual's or group's gender, race, and bodily abilities differentially affect how their bodies are responded to by other bodies. The responses of others, in turn, directly influences the significance of an individual's (inter)actions within that situation. This essay provides a critical examination of specific feminist philosophers, critical race scholars, and disability theorists who creatively utilize Merleau-Pontian insights to illustrate, and ultimately combat, the insidious ways in which sexism, racism, and "compulsory able-bodiedness" (McRuer in Crip theory: cultural signs of queerness and disability. NYU Press, New York, 2006), impoverish the lived experience of both oppressors and the oppressed, largely by predetermining the meaning of their bodily interactions in accordance with institutionalized cultural expectations and norms.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11007-014-9316-y

Full citation:

Weiss, G. (2015). The normal, the natural, and the normative: a merleau-pontian legacy to feminist theory, critical race theory, and disability studies. Continental Philosophy Review 48 (1), pp. 77-93.

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