The Order of Life
How Phenomenologies of Pregnancy Revise and Reject
Theories of the Subject
Phenomenologies of pregnancy offer important contributions to feminist scholarship surrounding pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering. Feminists explore how traditional philosophical accounts of a “universal” or “generic” human experience are at minimum complicated and at maximum refuted by theoretical attention to the creation and care of children. A universal account argues that, while not inclusive of the obvious diversity of human experience, a generic description of the subject as autonomous, rational, genderless, unified, and discrete from other subjects is philosophically sufficient. On the face of it, this does not deny difference but merely denies the philosophical import of our all-too-human differences. Working against this tradition, feminist theories about pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering are both descriptive and prescriptive; they point out lacunae in universal theories of the subject as well as the political dangers of consciously or unconsciously ignoring our experiences of birth and dependence. Feminist thought continues to explain how a lack of attention to traditionally female concerns has shaped theories that go far beyond the direct discussion about the creation and care of children.
This essay explores the challenges to universal accounts of the subject raised by phenomenologies of pregnancy. It outlines how phenomenologies of pregnancy indicate a need to rethink classical theories where human experience is considered to be commonly defined as autonomous, rational, genderless, unified, and discrete. It asks if these phenomenologies are a critical expansion upon generic accounts of human experience or if they indicate