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dc.contributor.advisorCooper, Annabel
dc.contributor.advisorBrickell, Chris
dc.contributor.authorParis, Anna
dc.identifier.citationParis, A. (2013). “I’m Doing It For Me”: A Foucauldian Feminist Engagement with Practices of Bodily Transformation (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy). University of Otago. Retrieved from
dc.description.abstractThis thesis explores the concept of an ethical relationship with the self for women who engage in practices of bodily transformation. It asks whether the Foucauldian model of rapport à soi can have purchase in relation to embodied subjects produced within contemporary consumer culture; within, in other terms, a cultural climate informed by ideas of individualism and self-responsibility. The question of the female body and embodiment has engaged feminist scholars over several decades and periods of feminist theory. Over the past twenty years, theorists influenced by Michel Foucault have applied his successive theoretical positions on power, subjectivity and the body to the question of women’s involvement with bodily transformations. More recently, scholars working in relation to variously understood meanings of the term ‘postfeminism’ have largely embraced the possibilities of bodily transformation to form part of a self-determining subject. Although these groups overlap to an extent, and despite the work of Cressida Heyes and others in this area of scholarship, the question of whether an ethical relationship to the self can be sustained in these engagements has yet to be fully explored. This thesis is my contribution to this field of inquiry. The following questions are the focus of my thesis, and I engage with each of them throughout. First, to what extent and in what terms do women who engage in practices of bodily transformation experience empowerment and freedom in relation to these practices? Second, is there potential to further define resistance for the embodied female subject within oppressive historical discourses that have posited the body as docile? Third, given a literature which includes feminist scholars working from the perspectives of second wave feminist caution about ‘bodily enhancement’; Foucauldian agency as resistance; and third wave feminist optimism in regards to the techniques of transformation, is there an intersection between these perspectives? Fourth, in particular, postfeminist interpretations of women’s bodily transformations have given rise to a great deal of debate. How might a Foucauldian feminist perspective engage with this debate? The qualitative data produced for this thesis are twelve in-depth, semi-structured interviews with New Zealand women who have undergone cosmetic surgery, and/or who regularly diet and exercise for weight loss. These data were analysed using the method of thematic analysis delineated by Braun and Clarke (2006). The theoretical framework guiding the thematic analysis was informed by the ‘Foucauldian turn’ in feminist theorising about embodiment, and the movement from an appropriation of his early work on disciplinary power to his later and less well-utilised work on rapport à soi, which incorporates ‘care of the self’ as a practice of freedom. I begin my thesis by introducing the aims and purpose of my research. Chapter Two discusses the method of thematic analysis and the conduct of the twelve interviews. In Chapter Three I situate my theoretical framework within a literature review of shifting feminist scholarship of the body, and especially the appropriation of Foucault’s oeuvre, including his notion of rapport à soi. In Chapter Four I broaden the perspective to examine the production of female subjectivity within the context of third wave feminism, including various theoretical interpretations of postfeminism, cultural capital and the self as entrepreneur. In order to investigate these ideas in detail, Chapters Five to Seven analyse in turn accounts three practices of bodily transformation that are the focus of the thesis. Chapter Five uses the work of Gimlin and Heyes to explore the medicalisation of appearance and the possibility of cosmetic surgery as a therapeutic tool of rapport à soi. It also seeks to imagine a feminist ethics of cosmetic surgery, and explores discourses of authenticity and courage that inform this practice as a legitimate option for ‘self-improvement’. Chapter Six invokes Foucault’s discussion of hupomnemata, or copybook, as a tool for exercising rapport à soi, and, drawing on Heyes, examines dieting for weight loss as a process of subjectification. Chapter Seven draws on the work of Crossley, Sassatelli and Lloyd to examine the practice of exercise for weight loss. It explores the process of becoming a ‘healthy’ subject, informed by discourses of personal responsibility and prescribed femininity. To each of these practices I apply a Foucauldian notion of rapport à soi and examine the extent to which they may be experienced as supporting an ethical relationship to the self. To conclude, rather than thinking about the subject as either autonomous and free to choose, or as docile and disciplined, in my view it is necessary to think of her as located somewhere between both of these subject positions. I aim to arrive at a theoretical intersection of Foucauldian agency as resistance, third wave feminist optimism in regards to the techniques of transformation, and second wave feminist caution about the historical notions of what it might mean to be thus ‘enhanced’.
dc.publisherUniversity of Otago
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dc.subject"rapport à soi"
dc.subjectcosmetic surgery
dc.subjectweight loss
dc.title“I’m Doing It For Me”: A Foucauldian Feminist Engagement with Practices of Bodily Transformation
dc.language.rfc3066en, Gender and Social Work of Philosophy of Otago
otago.openaccessAbstract Only
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