Bodies in Action: Corporeal Agency and Democratic Politics

Political Theory 39 (3):299-324 (2011)
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A better appreciation of the material, distributed quality of human agency can illuminate subtle dynamics of domination and oppression and reveal resources for potentially liberatory political action. Materialist accounts of agency nevertheless pose challenges to the notion of personal responsibility that is so crucial to political obligation and democratic citizenship. To guard against this danger, we need to sustain the close connection between agency and a sense of selfhood that is individuated, reflexive, and responsive to norms. Yet we should acknowledge that reflexive selfhood is not the whole of individual agency for the sources of agency extend beyond the individual herself. We also need to recognize the ways that both reflexivity and norm-responsiveness are themselves embodied capacities. When properly conceived, a materialist view of agency can increase awareness of our oftenunwitting contributions to systematic inequalities of power and extend our political responsibilities in emancipatory directions, thus holding great promise for democratic life.



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