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TitleLiving Across and Through Skins: Transactional Bodies, Pragmatism, and Feminism
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Table of Contents
INTRODUCTION: Transactional Bodies after Dewey
ONE:  Living Across and Through Skins, Bodies in Transaction
TWO: Discursivity and Materiality, The Lived Experience of Transactional Bodies
THREE: Communicating with Another Transaction and Merleau-Ponty ’s Phenomenology of Corporeal Existence
FOUR: Reconfiguring Gender - Habit, Bodies, and Cultural Change
FIVE: Transactional Somaesthetics - Nietzsche, Women, and the Transformation of Bodily Experience
SIX: Transactional Knowing - Toward a Pragmatist-Feminist Standpoint Theory
CONCLUSION: Transaction and the Dynamic Distinctiveness of Races
About the Author
Document Text Contents
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l i v i n g a c r o s s

a n d

t h r o u g h s k i n s

Page 109

Because of the plasticity of the self, shifts can occur in the transactions
between self and world, making it possible for their relationship to be more
like a changing spiral than a repetitive circle. In a similar way, as analyzed
by Judith Butler in Gender Trouble, the performative nature of the self
disrupts the circularity of gender between individual and environment.24

For Butler, gender is not a stable identity that produces gendered effects.
Rather “a stylized repetition of acts” produces the effects of gender, which is
then hypostatized as the acts’ causal origin.25 One’s gendered attributes do
not express an interior essence, nor do they map onto a given biological sex.
Instead, gendered attributes and sexed bodies are the performances of gen-
der that constitute gender and sex themselves. The performativity of gen-
der does not mean that gender can be taken up and discarded at will. As
Butler makes explicit in Bodies That Matter, “[s]uch a willful and instru-
mental subject, one who decides on its gender, is clearly not its gender from
the start and fails to realize that its existence is already decided by gen-
der.”26 Performativity is not a decision that one makes, nor is it a discrete
or singular act. In Butler’s words, it is “neither free play nor theatrical self-
presentation; nor can it be simply equated with performance [as commonly
conceived].”27 Rather it is the repetition of cultural norms, a repetition that
is made possible by plasticity and that constitutes the very being that one
is. It is a reiteration that is not chosen or performed by a subject that pre-
exists the performance; instead, it is the constraint and regularization that
forms one as subject.28

Reading performativity as an instance of habit illuminates Butler’s claim
that performances constitute bodily selves in a thoroughgoing way. Under-
standing performativity in terms of habit illustrates why gender is not
something to be donned and discarded at will, a point on which Butler’s
Gender Trouble was sometimes misunderstood and which Bodies That Mat-
ter seeks to make clear.29 Like habit, the performativity of gender means
that one is constituted through the regular patterns of activity that stylize
one’s being in accord with cultural normative standards. In the everyday
ways in which one transacts with the world, one repeats and performs gen-
der norms. Our performances are familiar and comfortable to us because
they are us. Dewey’s earlier analogy with the structure of the house is in-
structive once again. Just as the structure of a house makes it the particular
house that it is, one’s gendered performances constrain one to be the par-
ticular self that one is. In addition, as Dewey does in the case of habit,
Butler makes clear that the performativity of gender not only constrains
one to be the subject that one is. Performativity is also what provides one
agency as a subject. Or, in Butler’s words, the ritualized repetition that con-
stitutes gender is “the matrix through which all willing ¤rst becomes pos-


Chapter Four

Page 110

sible, its enabling cultural condition.”30 While the structure of a house
constrains it to be the particular house that it is, it also is the condition for
the possibility of its effectiveness as a house. It is what allows it to provide
shelter, be aesthetically pleasing, and so on. Likewise, while cultural norms
constrain one’s performances of gender, producing the particular gendered
subject that one is, these constraints are simultaneously the very tools by
which effective resistance to hegemonic norms is made possible.

Understanding habit as will also illuminates Butler’s often misunder-
stood claims about agency and change via the performative body. Butler’s
notion of gender performativity transforms agency from a voluntaristic
willing to a reiterative practice, one that is embedded in, not external to,
the cultural situations and conditions in which it ¤nds itself.31 As she tells
us, “construction [of our subjectivity] is not opposed to agency; it is the
necessary scene of agency, the very terms in which agency is articulated
and becomes culturally intelligible.”32 Agency is found in variations of the
gender performances that one is constrained to repeat. It is only within the
¤eld of cultural norms that subversion of them becomes possible.33 Change
of the prevailing cultural norms that inform bodily habits and gender per-
formativity can come only through the transformation of those norms that
takes place through their reiteration. Agency and the change that it can
provide are located in subversive repetition, which does not mean deciding
whether to engage in gender performativity but rather deciding how to per-
form one’s gender. In Butler’s words,

[t]o enter into the repetitive practices of this terrain of signi¤cation is not a
choice, for the ‘I’ that might enter is always already inside. . . . [Thus,] the
task is not whether to repeat, but how to repeat or, indeed to repeat and,
through a radical proliferation of gender, to displace the very gender norms
that enable the repetition itself.34

The gendered performances that a culture constrains one to be are
not mere constraints. As Butler explains with a very pragmatist-sounding
metaphor, they are also the tools with which one might tinker with the
culture that has enabled one’s use of these tools.35 By varying the styliza-
tion of one’s performances and habits, one often subverts, many times un-
intentionally, the cultural norms that are materialized in them. Butler’s
analyses of drag demonstrate an extreme version of the subversive varia-
tion found in miming, but the main point of them is that we all are in drag,
in some metaphorical but signi¤cant sense, as we mime the gender ideals
that exist only in our appropriation of them. Butler calls this subversive
process of reiteration “working the weakness in the norm,” the weakness of
all norms being located precisely in their need for reiteration to exist.36


Recon¤guring Gender

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versus poststructuralism, 41–42
Bigwood, 44–45
Gendlin, 47–54

Plato, 118
Pragmatism, de¤nition of, 5
Pragmatist feminism, de¤nition of, 5–7
Pragmatist-feminist standpoint theory, 10,

134, 146–56
Pre- or nondiscursive body (see also Ex-

tradiscursive body) 41–42
and Bigwood, 46–47
and Butler, 56–61
and control, 46–47, 63
and creativity, 52–53, 63–64
and Gendlin, 47, 50–52, 54
and newborns, 38–39

Process metaphysics, 13
Projective intentionality. See Merleau-

Ponty, Maurice

Race, 20–21, 158–69
as transactional, 10, 158–59, 163, 168–69
versus ethnicity, 162–63

Racialism, 165–66, 167–68
Raciation, 164, 165–66, 167–68
Racism, 20, 148

aversive, 160
psychological, 160, 190n8
versus raciation and racialism, 165–66

Reader-response theory, 172n11
Rorty, Richard, 188n53

Sartwell, Crispin, 81
Scott, Charles, 14
Seigfried, Charlene Haddock, 5
Selective emphasis, 58, 82. See also Partiality
Shusterman, Richard, 112, 183n5
Skin, 1–2, 13, 157–58
Skinnerian behaviorism, 174n44
Solipsism, 8

ethical, 66, 68
metaphysical, 66

Somaesthetics, 9

meaning of, 118
relationship to heterosomaesthetics, 131
and women, 120–21, 129

bene¤ts of, 128–29, 131–32
dangers of, 117–18, 120–21, 130–31
guidelines for, 121–24, 132

meaning of, 118
relationship to autosomaesthetics, 131
and women, 120–21, 129

meaning of, 112, 183n5
and Nietzsche, 116–17
will, reconceptualization of, 121, 123,

125–26, 127–28
Spectator theory of knowledge, 56–59
Spelman, Elizabeth, 118

additive analysis, 20, 24
boomerang perception, 74
gender and race as transactional, 19–21

Stew, metaphor of
de¤nition of, 15–16
limitations of, 16–17

Strong objectivity. See Objectivity
Substance metaphysics, 4, 13

Tossed salad, metaphor of, 14–16. See also
Stew, metaphor of

dangers of, 130–31, 151–52
meaning of, 1, 10–11, 12–24, 158

versus interaction, 1, 172n1
misunderstandings of, 7–8, 19

Transactional bodies
advantages of, 2–5, 169–70
meaning of, 1–2

and Harding, 10, 137–41, 155
as transactional, 10, 142–46, 155, 169

Tuana, Nancy, 45

Wendell, Susan, 6
disability as transactional, 19, 21–24
lived experience as discursive, 61–62, 63

Westbrook, Robert, 18–19
White studies, 159
Whiteness, 10

as preserved, 159–60, 162, 168

as habit, 31, 91–92
mechanization of, 31–32

Nietzsche’s criticism of, 113–14, 125
and somaesthetics, 121, 123, 125–26, 127–28

World-traveling, 79
misunderstandings of, 80

Yezierska, Anzia, 172–73n14

Zarathustra, 6



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S H A N N ON S U L L I VA N is Assistant Professor of Philosophy
and Women’s Studies at the Pennsylvania State University.

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