- Living Alterities: Phenomenology, Embodiment, and Race ed. by Emily S. Lee
By Emily S. Lee, ed., SUNY Series, Philosophy and Race, Albany: State University of New York Press, 2014, 300 pp.; ISBN: 978-1-4384-5015-5 (cloth), ISBN: 978-1-4384-5016-2 (paper).
Living Alterities: Phenomenology, Embodiment, and Race, edited by Emily S. Lee, Associate Professor of Philosophy at California State University, Fullerton, offers a compelling contribution to philosophical discussions on the value of phenomenology for theorizing racialized embodied experience. The premise of the book, according to Lee, is that “phenomenology, with Merleau-Ponty’s appreciation for the particularities of embodiment, serves as an ideal framework for thinking about the meanings of the embodiment of race” (10), an idea that each of the contributors to this book explores in meaningful ways. This acknowledgement of racialized embodied experience has, historically, been relatively absent from academic philosophy. Merleau-Ponty was one of the few modern philosophers to recognize “the subject as embodied and the body as conscious” (Lee, 2014, 233), a radical shift from Cartesian notions of the mind/body split. Yet Merleau-Ponty did not specifically discuss race in his theorizing. Addressing this oversight, Lee and her contributors find Merleau-Ponty’s work highly relevant to philosophical discussions of racialized embodiment. In “Race/Gender and the Philosopher’s Body,” [End Page 349] contributor Donna-Dale L. Marcano decries that “philosophy continues to be understood as always having transcended race and gender, and thus the body: philosophy is tied to the mind” (68) and contends that phenomenology offers an alternate framework for transforming the ways in which philosophy is conceptualized to include more integrative mind/body understandings.
In this anthology, Lee has assembled an engaging compilation of essays from established and emerging scholars of critical race philosophy. In addition to Lee and Marcano, Charles W. Mills, George Yancy, Namita Goswami, David Haekwon Kim, Alia Al-Saji, Mariana Ortega, Edward S. Casey, Gail Weiss, and Linda Martín Alcoff have each contributed chapters to this collection. The authors ground their work within ongoing philosophical discussions about the connections between mind and body, referencing scholars such as Frantz Fanon and Iris Marion Young (in addition to Merleau-Ponty). These insights into topics such as materiality (e.g., as explicated by Charles Mills), overdetermination (e.g., as explored by George Yancy and Gail Weiss), and affect (e.g., as examined by David Haekwon Kim and Alia Al-Saji) are enhanced by the infusion of phenomenological descriptions from the authors’ own lived experiences with race. Thus, the essays in this volume strengthen the argument for the use of a phenomenological lens for understanding racialized embodied experiences (and their broader social implications). Each chapter deepens the reader’s understanding of how phenomenological tools can be useful for interpreting how the embodied subjectivity associated with race shapes everyday lives and experiences.
A criticism of the field of philosophy is that it claims disembodied objectivity without acknowledging that perspectives are always socially, culturally, and historically situated. Often, such perspectives have tended to universalize a white, upper class male perspective on the world. However, using phenomenology, the philosophers in this collection challenge the white supremacy of philosophy within the academic domain both through the expression of their particular voices within academic discourses and through their insistence upon the examination of how race continues to dominate relational experience. This collection is comprised of authors with a philosophy background who also draw from critical race theory, feminist theory, and queer theory in their work. The field of philosophy is one of the few that is utilizing phenomenology as a means of understanding the embodied experiences of race. Yet one can find voices from other academic fields such as Women’s Studies, Asian Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, [End Page 350] African Diaspora Studies, etc., who are just as concerned with embodied experiences of race (and its intersections with other aspects of embodiment such as gender). Further, phenomenology of race is an important tool for qualitative research (in the field of education, for instance), where accounts of experiences tied to race are instrumental. Thus, this compilation might have been enhanced...