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Suffering difference: the ethics and politics of modifying bodies

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posted on 2022-03-28, 10:07 authored by Jessica Robyn Cadwallader
Suffering Difference: The Ethics and Politics of Modifying Bodies takes as its provocation the apparently inevitable dovetailing of suffering and difference in contemporary Western culture, and the modification of bodies that this justifies. Through an examination of a variety of modificatory technologies, including the use of human growth hormone, limb-lengthening, cosmetic and intersex "corrective" surgeries, self-demand amputation and modern primitive practices, I demonstrate that suffering plays a key role in the (re)production of not only the norm, but of existing social injustices. -- I deploy a Lévinasian ethics to consider our responsibilities to suffering, and the inadequacy of contemporary medical science in providing such a response. I draw on Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology, along with a variety of feminist and critical race approaches to his work, to explore the formation of sedimentary styles of being in the world, and the attendant production of 'bodily tolerances,' the transgression of which causes suffering. These tolerances, I argue, are a technique of what Foucault identifies as biopower, focussed on the normalisation of bodies. I contrast normalising practices with those considered deviant, using Rosalyn Diprose's concept of 'corporeal generosity' to examine practices of body modification, showing that whilst it has an ethical character, these corporeal gifts cannot be unbound from the political (and economic) valuation of bodies. I argue, therefore, that practices of body modification function as a means of visibly memorialising, in and as the flesh, the gifts of normal others, and simultaneously as a way of forgetting the gifts of bodies that are othered. Finally, I explore the aneconomic, ethical effects that generosity has upon embodiment, contrasting the memorialising and forgetting involved in modification with the ethical response of alteration, a forgetting-that-matters. The responsible styles of being-in-the-world this forgetting produces challenge the asymmetries in the political valuing of bodies, and permit a response to suffering which reshapes subjectivity, sociality, ethics and politics.


Alternative Title

Ethics and politics of modifying bodies

Table of Contents

The pathology of suffering: Medicine face to face with the suffering other -- Transgressing tolerances: the politics of embodiment -- Embodying normalcy: a question of tolerance -- Modifying bodies: memorialising and forgetting in/as the flesh -- Gift matters: the alterability of responsible being-in-the-world.


Bibliography: p. 261-284

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, Division of Society, Culture, Media and Philosophy, Dept. of Critical and Cultural Studies

Department, Centre or School

Dept. of Critical and Cultural Studies

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Nikki Sullivan


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Jessica Robyn Cadwallader 2008. Complete version suppressed due to copyright restrictions. However, on receipt of a Document Supply Request, placed with Macquarie University Library by another library, we will consider supplying a copy of this thesis. For more information on Macquarie University's Document Supply, please contact




1 online resource (xiv, 284 p.)

Former Identifiers

mq:27132 1760989