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'It's my body and I'll do what I Like with it' Bodies as possessions and objects

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A Gender Institute and Department of Government Public Lecture

  • Anne Phillips, Professor of Gender and Political Theory, LSE
  • Wednesday 29 September, 2010
  • 6.30pm
  • Old Theatre, Old Building, LSE
  • Chair: Professor Emily Jackson, Department of Law, LSE

Open to all - no booking required.  Followed by an informal drinks reception at the Gender Institute, 5th Floor, Columbia House. 




You can listen to this lecture here


We commonly use the language of body ownership as a way of claiming personal rights, though we do not normally mean it literally. Most people feel uneasy about markets in sexual or reproductive services, and though there is a substantial global trade in body tissues, the illicit trade in live human organs is widely condemned. But what, if any, is the problem with treating bodies as resources and/or possessions? Is there something about the body that makes it particularly inappropriate to apply to it the language of property, commodities, and things? Or is thinking the body special a kind of sentimentalism that blocks clear thinking about matters such as prostitution, surrogate motherhood, or the sale of spare kidneys?

The related question is whether there is something about feminism that makes it particularly resistant to the body as property. The critique of objectification suggests there is, but there is also an influential strand that defends the commodification of sexual and reproductive services and queries the idea of the body as special. In this lecture, Anne Phillips defends the idea that the body is special, but argues that debates about body ownership are best understood as debates about market relations, not simply claims about the body per se.


Anne Phillips joined the LSE in 1999 as Professor of Gender Theory, and was Director of the Gender Institute until September 2004.  She subsequently moved to a joint appointment between the Gender Institute and Government Department. She is a leading figure in feminist political theory, and writes on issues of democracy and representation, equality, multiculturalism, and difference. Much of her work can be read as challenging the narrowness of contemporary liberal theory.

In 1992, she was co-winner of the American Political Science Association's Victoria Schuck Award for Best Book on Women and Politics published in 1991 (awarded for Engendering Democracy). She was awarded an honorary Doctorate from the University of Aalborg in 1999; was appointed Adjunct Professor in the Political Science Programme of the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, 2002-6; and was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2003.  In 2008, she received a Special Recognition Award from the Political Studies Association, UK, for her contribution to Political Studies.

Anne Phillips, Gender & Culture, Polity Press, 2010


The idea that respect for cultural diversity conflicts with gender equality is now a staple of both public and academic debate. Yet discussion of these tensions is marred by exaggerated talk of cultural difference, leading to ethnic reductionism, cultural stereotyping, and a hierarchy of traditional and modern. In this volume, Anne Phillips firmly rejects the notion that 'culture' might justify the oppression of women, but also queries the stereotypical binaries that have represented people from ethnocultural minorities as peculiarly resistant to gender equality.

The questions addressed include the relationship between universalism and cultural relativism, how to distinguish valid generalisation from either gender or cultural essentialism, and how to recognise women as agents rather than captives of culture. The discussions are illuminated by reference to legal cases and policy interventions, with a particular focus on forced marriage and cultural defence.