Leaky bodies and boundaries : feminism, deconstruction and bioethics

This thesis draws on poststructuralism/postmodernism to present a feminist investigation into the human body, its modes of (self)identification, and its insertion into systems of bioethics. I argue that, contrary to conventional paradigms, the boundaries not only of the subject, but of the body too, cannot be secured. In exploring and contesting the closure and disembodiment of the ethical subject, I propose instead an incalculable, but nonetheless fully embodied, diversity of provisional subject positions. My aim is to valorise women and situate them within a reconceived ethics which takes account of the embodied feminine. My project entails an analysis and deconstruction of the binaries of those dominant strands of postEnlightenment thought that shape epistemology, ontology, and ethics, which in turn set the parameters of modern bioethics. More importantly, it goes on to reclaim a radical sexual difference beyond the binary, in which the female is no longer the other of the male. My enquiry, then, is strongly influenced by the discursive approach offered by both Foucault and Derrida in differential ways, but I counter their indifference to feminist concerns by qualifying their insights in the light of strategies developed by Irigaray and Spivak, among others. The main method of investigation has been through library research of primary and secondary sources in mainstream and feminist philosophy, and in bioethics. In addition, archival work in both textual and iconographic collections was carried out at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. The contribution made by this thesis is to go beyond modernist feminisms - which would simply revise and add women into existing paradigms - to radically displace and overflow the mechanisms by which women are devalued. And in developing a postmodern critique around some issues in bioethics, I have suggested a new ethics of the body which precedes the operation of moral codes
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