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"Normal Bodies: Cultural, Cosmetic, and Clinical Surgery" with Dr. Clare Ch...

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UCL School of Public Policy

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29-30 Tavistock Square

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WC1H 9QU

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"Normal Bodies: Cultural, Cosmetic, and Clinical Surgery"

with Dr. Clare Chambers (Cambridge University)

THE PAPER:

Which bodies are normal? Surgical and other procedures to modify bodies intersect with gender, sexuality, disability, race, and class. Clinicians modify bodies in accordance with conceptions of the normal or ideal body: only some bodies are acceptably within the limits of normal, and those that fall short may, or should, be modified. Modification of bodies so as to make them normal may also occur on children without their full autonomous consent, as when children are subjected to circumcision, intersex surgery, or cosmetic surgery that may or may not be related to disability. This paper analyses the power and permissibility of clinical, cosmetic, and cultural surgeries on children and adults.

Legal practice, health care provision, and liberal theory often employ a distinction between cultural, cosmetic, and clinical surgery and procedures. Legally, states such as the UK outlaw female genital mutilation (cultural) but not labiaplasty (cosmetic). In terms of health care provision, state providers and insurance providers tend to distinguish between cosmetic procedures, which are not covered, and clinical procedures, which are. In terms of liberal theory, both sorts of distinction are generally defended by reference to choice and necessity: cosmetic surgery is chosen and unnecessary and therefore permissible but not an entitlement; clinical surgery is unchosen and necessary and thus permissible and an entitlement. The treatment of cultural surgery depends on the culture from which it is drawn, and may be considered either chosen or not, either necessary or not, either permissible or not, either an entitlement or not.

This paper considers and challenges the political and philosophical reasons for distinguishing cosmetic, cultural, and clinical surgery. The paper argues that it is all a matter of culture: what counts as clinical, what counts as cosmetic, and which trade-offs between the two are deemed reasonable. Nevertheless we can distinguish those benefits of surgery that depend on culture from those that do not, and this can form the basis for a principled position on contested procedures. An awareness of the inherently cultural nature of the concept of a legitimate body, and an awareness of the intersection of this ideal with structures of power and inequality, requires restraint in surgical procedures. Surgical procedures recommended mainly or significantly so as to comply with a social norm should be regarded as presumptively problematic and prohibited for children in most cases. We should be seeking to protect or increase the diversity of the physical bodies we see around us, rather than surgically altering bodies that do not fit in.


THE AUTHOR

Clare Chambers is University Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Fellow of Jesus College, University of Cambridge. Her field is contemporary political philosophy, mainly (but not exclusively) Anglo-American analytical theory. There are three main strands to her work: feminism, liberalism, and social construction.

She is the author of three books: Clare Chambers, Sex, Culture, and Justice: The Limits of Choice (Penn State University Press, 2008); Clare Chambers and Phil Parvin, Teach Yourself Political Philosophy: A Complete Introduction (Hodder, 2012); and Clare Chambers, Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defence of the Marriage-Free State (OUP, 2017). She has also written numerous articles and chapters on political philosophy.

About the Institute:

The Institute brings together political and legal theorists from Law, Political Science and Philosophy and organises regular colloquia in terms 2 and 3.

Note that the total time will be devoted to discussion of the paper. To receive the paper, please email laws-events@ucl.ac.uk.

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UCL School of Public Policy

The Council Room

29-30 Tavistock Square

London

WC1H 9QU

United Kingdom

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