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Rattling the binary: symbolic power, gender, and embodied colonial legacies
Politics Groups and Identities (2014)
  • Shiera S Malik, DePaul University
In 2009, the 18-year-old South African runner Caster Semenya was accused of being male and forced to undergo gender testing. After much obfuscation and misreporting, Semenya was cleared to compete as a woman. Semenya’s experience exposes the problematic ways in which masculinity and femininity are harnessed to the categories of male and female as well as the ways in which they are embodied by men and women. This paper contemplates how binaries are mobilized and boundaries maintained – as is contemporarily evident in responses to Semenya’s gender troubles. It reads Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of symbolic power against an example of British Imperialism and illustrates how gender (and its uneasy mapping on to bodies) is implicated and imbricated in colonial historiography and knowledge practices. The paper concludes with Lois McNay’s suggestion that gender is a lived relation, which requires coming to terms with the relationship between agency and experience, and recognizes that gendered people are the subjects of social analysis. At stake in this examination of symbolic power, gender, and lived experience is the recognition of the consistency and resilience in binary manifestations of symbolic meaning and the insidious ways in which gender is mobilized, enacted, and layered onto other dualisms.
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Citation Information
Shiera S. el-Malik. "Rattling the binary: symbolic power, gender, and embodied colonial legacies" Politics Groups and Identities 2.1 (2014).