Conceptual Cluster 10: Altering Subjectivities

by bradyburroughs

image from "Målarbok: Fantasi och Verklighet", bilder ur böcker i Skoklosters Slotts bibliotek

image from “Målarbok: Fantasi och Verklighet”, bilder ur böcker i Skoklosters Slotts bibliotek

In the pusuit of ‘hereness’ and ‘whoness’ 

In one of my first papers entitled, “Meditations on lesbians who meditate on Lesvos”, I wrote the following note, later to be referred to as ‘note #4’ during my 1-year seminar. My respondent, Ramia Mazé, pointed to the possibilities contained in this note and suggested it could play a key role in beginning to position my work in a larger context, both theoretically and philosophically, in what she called “my pursuit of hereness and whoness”.

 In the Dictionary of Philosophy (Angeles 1981, p. 47) ‘meditation’ is defined, in the religious sense, as “the act of attempting to behold some spiritual object or gain spiritual insight”. Likewise, the epistemological definition is “synonymous with knowledge or the act of acquiring knowledge; the activity of thinking or pondering.” Edmund Husserl (Husserl 1999 (1950), Cartesian Meditations) and Marcus Aurelius (Meditations, Gregory Hays, transl. 2003), among others, wrote well-known meditations enlightening mankind with their thoughts on questions of an existential, ethical and moral nature… men writing for men, or as Husserl puts it, “…a world of men and things.” (Husserl 1999 (1950), p. 129) Although there is an element of the phenomenological in my study and an interest in embodiment, materiality and the senses in the way we inhabit space, the focus here is on the effect of affect and the phenomenology is a queer one (see Ahmed 2006). Rather than the androcentric “I think therefore I am.” these meditations follow bell hooks’ mantra “I am because the story is.” (hooks 2010, p. 50) They speak of the space between women, where the category ‘women’ is self-identified and subjects are not constants, but rather made up of many stories that change and shift over time. Rosi Braidotti uses the term ‘nomadic subject’ for this understanding of the subject with a ‘situated knowledge,’ to escape what she calls “the phallocentric vision of the subject.” (Braidotti 1994, p. 1) Importantly, she also speaks of desire as the catalyst for these “multiple identities”. (Braidotti 1994, p. 14)

Theoretically, my project rests on a queer, anti-racist feminism, queer in that it problematises assumptions of gender norms and heteronormativity, anti-racist in that it attempts to challenge the privileges of ‘whiteness’ (although I don’t think it’s quite there yet) and feminist in that it has a political intention in the critical problematisation of power. As Rosi Braidotti writes, “Feminism as critical thought is a self-reflexive mode of analysis, aimed at articulating the critique of power in discourse with the affirmation of alternative forms of subjectivity.” She goes on to explain “the subject as an interface of will and desire” stating, “…what sustains the entire process of becoming-subject, is the will to know, the desire to say, the desire to speak, to think, and to represent.”[1]

However, despite Braidotti’s optimism of the possibility of feminist Deleuzian ‘becomings’, philosophically I turn rather toward the ‘willful subjects’ with orientations of desire that Sara Ahmed speaks of in a queer phenomenology, looking closely at orientations, habits and desires with gendered, non-static, non-universal subjects, seeking out disruptions and questions rather than truths. As Ahmed writes, “… a queer phenomenology would function as a disorientation device; it would not overcome the ‘disalignment’ of the horizontal and verical axes, allowing the oblique to open up another angle on the world.”[2]

Within the project itself, I also use identity categories of gender or species, such as ‘women’ or ‘humanimals’, strategically when working with the notion of separatism and separatist spaces. In this case, it is in the sense of ‘strategic essentialism’ – the forming of a collective group temporarily, on the grounds of essentialist identity categories for political purposes.[3]

Throughout the project, positioning plays a key role, whether it’s the position of the researcher, the architect, the narrator, or the characters of the stories told through critical fictions. In the constant search for ‘hereness’ and ‘whoness’, particular stories in a specific time and place, here and now, make it possible for others to temporarily occupy positions other than their own, through the narrative voices. These instances are ‘situated knowledges’ as Donna Haraway describes in the following: “We do not seek partiality for its own sake, but for the sake of the connections and unexpected openings situated knowledges make possible. The only way to find a larger vision is to be somewhere in particular.”[4] I see a possibility in the practice of making these experiences of ‘other’ positions available, as a method of political change… the chance to ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’, to open up for unexpected meetings, partial understandings and critical reflections.


Ahmed, Sara, Queer Phenomenology. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2006.

Braidotti, Rosi, “Discontinuous Becomings: Deleuze on the Becoming-Woman of Philosophy” in Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Butler, Judith, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex,” Routledge: New York, 1993.

Fuss, Diana, ”Den essentiella risken,” (orig. title Essentially Speaking ) ed. Lisbeth Larsson, Feminismer, Studentlitteratur: Lund, 1996 (1989), p 127-145.

Haraway, Donna, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspectives” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, London: Free Associations Books, 1991.

Spivak, Gayatri, ”Fransk feminism i internationellt perspektiv” (orig. titel In Other Worlds ), ed. Lisbeth Larsson, Feminismer, Studentlitteratur: Lund, 1996 (1988), p 107-126.

[1] Braidotti, Rosi 1994, p. 120

[2] Ahmed, Sara 2006, p. 172

[3] This idea is explained further in texts such as “Essentially Speaking” 1989, Diana Fuss, “In Other Worlds” 1988, Gayatri Spivak and in chapter 8 “Critically Queer” in Bodies That Matter 1993, Judith Butler.

[4] Haraway, Donna 1991, p.196