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The concept of experience has been mobilized within feminism as an authoritative basis from

which to challenge various knowledges concerning womens lives (especially biomedical

knowledge) precisely because knowledge hierarchies and orthodoxies typically dismiss womens
embodied experiences as non-authoritative. The modern, Western mode of thought has displaced
carnal knowing by cognitive apprehension that privileges knowledge produced through
mental endeavour (Mellor and Shilling, 1997). Modern forms of embodiment provide no means
of validating knowledge because of the way the body is equated with senses and knowledge with
a disembodied mind. Accordingly, experience has become a buzzword for the individual,
unique (ibid.). Yet female embodiment and womens lesser distance from the grotesque have,
for some feminists (e.g. Shildrick, 2002) provided a potential means of access to carnal
knowing (or a wild zone, see Showalter, 1985) not perhaps shared by men. A recuperated
concept of experience denotes the erasure of carnal knowing and of sensory understanding, of
the division between body and mind, which modern forms of organization and relations create.
However, while as argued in Chapter 2, the concept of experience has been displaced by new
feminist theories of the body, other feminist trajectories such as phenomenology and Foucauldian
scholarship imply the concept of lived/embodied experience, as an effect of social and political
practices, contexts and relations could be developed to construct reliable knowledge in service of
the broader conversation in society that pragmatism characterizes. While experience has been
exiled from the feminist canon (though not from empirical research) as essentializing, reductive
and individualiz Embodying
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ing, feminist focus on experience within disciplines such as sociology,
anthropology and geography has typically been deployed as a means to an
end and the aim of focusing on womens experience(s) has been to develop
a better and more reliable understanding of subordination and oppression
(Stanley and Wise, 1993; Skeggs, 1997). In relation to theories of the body,
the concept of experience has been argued to be a necessary corrective to
the claims and partial visions of theory (for instance, see Nettleton and
Watson, 1998; Williams and Bendelow, 1998). It is used as an analytical
device to achieve some leverage on theoretical claims and begin the
process of examining them more closely. The use of the concept of experience

needs to be part of feminist writing on the body because it serves as

a constant reminder of the historically contingent nature of mind/body
dualism and therefore, provides a way of persistently highlighting the
importance of the particular, the local and the pragmatic.
Raymond Williams (1975) in Keywords defines experience as (i)
knowledge gathered from past events, whether by conscious reflection or
by consideration and reflection; (ii) a particular kind of consciousness,
which can in some contexts by distinguished from reason or knowledge,
which might include what some writers refer to as embodied knowledge.
Scotts (1992) discussion of experience notes the centrality of the visual
metaphor in Williamss definition, which is itself a product of historical
change and like other feminists, is suspicious of epistemological confidence
in the visual because it connotes a distanced, non-situated subject
who plays the god trick, by creating an illusion of disinterested objectivity.
However, as Gatens reminds us, Merleau-Pontys philosophy of
embodiment invites a consideration of vision as developed through and
occurring within embodied, active orientations to the world. The production
of knowledge in this way of seeing is tied to experience, where experience
is understood as an active, embodied, particular engagement with
the world and inseparable from the contexts and circumstances in which
engagement takes place. Such an understanding of experience thus
includes not only thought and reflection based on observation but also feeling.
For Williams, feeling implies a sense of subjective witness, those
immediate, true and authentic responses to events and circumstances not
only associated with inner thoughts but also, perhaps as Burkitt (1999)

would have it, derived from a material world.

Moreover, Williamss concept of structures of feeling tried to capture
actively lived and felt social experience as it interacts with and defies
conceptions of formal, fixed and official social forms. For Williams, structures
of feeling denoted a practical consciousness of a present kind
(Williams, 1977) and he was especially concerned in his analysis of subjectivity
to avoid the reduction of specifically lived experience in the present
to an account of social forms rooted in the past. He was concerned to
establish a methodology that did not segregate the social from the sub-