Cultural Norms, the Phenomenology of Incorporation, and the Experience of Having a Child Born with Ambiguous Sex

Social Theory and Practice 36 (1):133-156 (2010)
Abstract
The influence of pervasive cultural norms on people’s actions constitutes a longstanding problem for autonomy theory. On the one hand, such norms often seem to elude the kind of reflection that autonomous agency requires. On the other hand, they are hardly entirely beyond the pale of autonomy: people do sometimes reflect critically on them and resist them. This paper draws on phenomenological accounts of embodiment in order to reconcile these observations. We suggest that pervasive cultural norms exert a strong and elusive, but occasionally resistible, influence because they are incorporated – they operate on the largely pre-reflective bodily level of human existence. As an illustration we discuss parental decisions about surgery for children born with unclear sex, decisions permeated by deeply entrenched norms about sexual difference and genital appearance
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