A politics of disgust: Selfhood, world-making, and ethics

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Feminist theory
Ashley Smith

Disgust is an “everyday” experience as it appears in everyday, ordinary moments. Yet, disgust has remained challenging to address both theoretically and in our personal interpretations of disgust experiences. Current accounts in education, psychology and the humanities have minimized how disgust can play a role in meaning-making at personal, interpersonal, and social levels. In other words, they have focused on trying to answer what disgust is, rather than what it does. My research will show that disgust has an impact on processes of selfhood, world-making, and ethics. I will argue that disgust encounters are not a residue or by-product of experiences, but rather, work to create structures of meaning about selfhood, interpersonal relationships, and the worlds we inhabit. These structures allow subjects to organize and understand their experiences. In short, disgust is about “meaning-making.” My analysis will use feminist intersubjective perspectives to examine disgust as they provide a useful way to understand the relational aspects of disgust and the ways in which disgust impacts processes and forms of understanding. In particular, I apply Jessica Benjamin’s approach to recognition to draw out disgust’s relevance to meaning-making. I will argue that disgust is an affective moment in which the struggle for recognition plays out. Through the lens of recognition, disgust’s significance to processes of selfhood, interpersonal relations, and ethics becomes evident. My analysis includes a case study of Ashley Smith’s incarceration and the circumstances leading to her death in 2007 to demonstrate the significance of disgust encounters as struggles for recognition.

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Charles Bingham
Education: Faculty of Education
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.