BSP Podcast: Marieke Borren on ‘The Spatial Phenomenology of White Embodiment’

podcast update

This episode of the BSP Podcast sees Marieke Borren presenting a paper from our 2020 annual conference, ‘Engaged Phenomenology’ Online.

Season 5 episode 131: 27 November 2021

Season five of our podcast concludes with another presentation from our 2020 annual conference: ‘Engaged Phenomenology’ Online. This episode features a presentation from Marieke Borren, Faculty of Humanities, Open University Netherlands.

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Marieke Borren
‘The Spatial Phenomenology of White Embodiment’

ABSTRACT: Within critical race theory, phenomenological scholarship is unique in focusing on the racialized body. Based on the work of Fanon and Merleau-Ponty (even if the latter does not address racial difference), phenomenologists have recently developed rich explorations of racial embodiment, predominantly in a visual register (Alcoff, Al-Saji, Gordon, Weiss, Yancy, among others). However, ‘white’ and ‘black’ embodiment are not just involved in perceptual (notably: visual) habits, but also, so I will argue in this paper, in ways of inhabiting and taking up space and habits of moving. What ‘I can’ do, and where, is to a large extent dependent upon my racial situation. This presentation seeks to expand the phenomenology of racial embodiment, more particularly whiteness, by attending not just to the (in)visibility but also to the spatiality and motility of racialized – in particular: white – embodiment. To this end, I will I confront the conceptual resources for understanding spatiality and motility in relation to embodiment, present in the work of Merleau-Ponty (while challenging its false racial neutrality), Fanon’s phenomenological account of black racialization, and Shannon Sullivan’s (feminist) pragmatist account of the ‘ontological expansiveness’ of whiteness. Being a key feature of what the latter calls ‘the unconscious habits of racial privilege’, white expansiveness entails the taken-for-granted freedom to inhabit space and move around as one sees fit. Finally, I will argue that the normative implications of the phenomenology of white expansiveness are undecided. It might be strategically employed for undercutting itself. However, any effort to fight white privilege may end up reconfirming rather than undermining white expansiveness. I will illustrate this undecidability with the case study of Carola Rackete, the self-proclaimed white and privileged German captain of the Sea-Watch 3, who rescued 42 African migrants on the Mediterranean and brought them into port in Lampedusa in July 2019.

BIO: Marieke Borren currently works as an assistant professor in philosophy at Open University Netherlands. From 2015-2017, she held a postdoctoral fellowship at the department of philosophy of the University of Pretoria, South Africa. Specializing in Hannah Arendt’s political phenomenology, her research expertise lies at the intersection of continental political philosophy, philosophical anthropology and phenomenology. She is particularly interested in feminist and postcolonial perspectives. She has widely published on Arendt’s work, in particular about dis-placement and having a place in the world (‘the right to have rights’), focusing on the predicament of refugees and undocumented migrants.

This recording is taken from the BSP Annual Conference 2020 Online: ‘Engaged Phenomenology’. Organised with the University of Exeter and sponsored by Egenis and the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health. BSP2020AC was held online this year due to global concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic. For the conference our speakers recorded videos, our keynotes presented live over Zoom, and we also recorded some interviews. Podcast episodes from BSP2020AC are soundtracks of those videos where we and the presenters feel the audio works as a standalone.

The British Society for Phenomenology is a not-for-profit organisation set up with the intention of promoting research and awareness in the field of Phenomenology and other cognate arms of philosophical thought. Currently, the society accomplishes these aims through its journal, events, and podcast. Why not find out more, join the society, and subscribe to our journal the JBSP?