Peter Halewood


Where we are positioned in society, and how we think of and live in our bodies, are questions we do not usually connect to the (both everyday and scholarly) claims we make about social and legal problems. "The body" and "knowledge" have traditionally been understood as unrelated categories. However, recent interdisciplinary work in philosophy and law emphasizes "positionality," and calls into question the abstract, disembodied quality of conventional Western theories of knowledge (epistemologies) which ground the Western conception of law. Western epistemology, its critics say, has artificially bracketed off the material particulars of experience and identity, including the spatial particularity of one's bodily experience, in determining what counts in making and defending claims about society and about law's role in maintaining or changing social order. Abstraction, universality, and reason, rather than embodied experience, govern the validity of truth claims. In turn, much contemporary critical legal theory calls into question the liberal jurisprudence which derives from conventional Western epistemology and ethics. Critics say that law's objectivity and principled determinacy have been defined so as to deny the range of experience and self-understanding common to the oppressed. For example, the range of criteria defining a valid rightsclaim under liberal jurisprudence-rule governance, rationality, universalizability-are values associated (within the Western tradition) with masculinity. Femininity is associated in the same tradition with subjectivity, particularity, and the body. The immediacy and subjectivity of embodied feminine experience has been bracketed off from epistemology and in turn from liberal jurisprudence.

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