INTACT at Epoché

Intact Bodies: The Ambivalence of The Natural and The Normal – John C. Brady in Conversation with Clare Chambers was published in the February 2022 issue of Epoché, the monthly magazine for the Philosophy diaspora. You can read the interview here.

Clare Chambers is a professor of political philosophy at the University of Cambridge. Her work deals with contemporary liberalism, social construction, feminism, and social justice. Her latest book, Intact (Allen Lane, 2022), is an analysis of the ways in which the body is a political site where the inequalities of sex, gender, race, disability, age, and class are reinforced. The book argues for the value of the ‘unmodified body’. The unmodified body is not an empirical concept, such a thing would be impossible in actuality (our bodies are undergoing constant revision and intervention). Rather, it is a political tool for resisting forms of coercion and oppression that would have us viewing our bodies as never good enough as they are, and thus requiring their modification, concealment, and conformance in myriad ways. However, the unmodified body cannot be viewed as a simple ‘body positivity’ any more than it can be asserted as an empirical concept. Rather, it is a new notion that cuts orthogonally across various ideals that we have previously held the body to: the natural, the normal, and the sovereign. Because of this orthogonality, these various ideals show themselves, under Chambers’ analysis, to have an ambivalent character. The book functions as both a political and cultural call to arms, and an astute analysis of how our bodies becomes ensnared in oppressive structures that inhibit the road to equality.

INTACT at Oxford Literary Festival

I’ll be discussing INTACT at the Oxford Literary Festival on 26th March 2022. You can buy tickets here.

Philosopher Clare Chambers argues that it is time for men, women and children to reclaim their bodies and that an unmodified body is a key principle of social and political equality.
Chambers ranges across a variety of areas from bodybuilding to makeup, male circumcision, breast implants, motherhood and childbirth. She argues that social pressure to modify your body sends a message that you are not good enough, and it reinforces inequalities of sex, gender, race, disability, age, and class.
Chambers is professor of political philosophy and a fellow of Jesus College in Cambridge. She is regarded as one of the most original philosophers in the UK today and is a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. She is author of
Against Marriage and specialises in feminism, bioethics, contemporary liberalism, and theories of social justice.

INTACT at Cambridge Literary Festival

I’ll be discussing INTACT with Rachel Cunliffe of The New Statesman at the Cambridge Literary Festival on 23 April 2022. You can buy tickets here.

In the hit BBC TV series ‘Fleabag’, a feminist asks a room-full of young women whether they would trade five years of their life for the so-called ‘perfect body’. In this rousing talk, best-selling author and political philosopher Clare Chambers makes a passionate case for why loving the body we were born with is a radical act. Arguing that our choices – even the most personal ones – are not made in a cultural vacuum, Clare illuminates how ingrained sexist norms, ageism and social media distort our perceptions of our selves.

INTACT in i news

“The rise of ‘shametenance’, the exhausting things we do to hide our natural bodies because we feel inadequate. Why are we so ashamed of the way we look?”

A wonderful article on INTACT by Kasia Delgado of i news, which includes a charming photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger. You can read the article here.

The political power of your body – INTACT in iai news

We all feel pressure for our bodies to look a certain way: 70% of women say they feel pressure to have a perfect body, and two thirds of men feel ashamed of how they look. However, those pressures don’t affect everyone equally. The standards by which our bodies are judged reflect and reinforce other unjust societal hierarchies. Furthermore, the failure to adhere to society’s beauty standards is often interpreted as a deeper failure of character, encompassing our entire identity. By being aware of the sources of these pressures we can remind ourselves that the unmodified body is valuable just as it is, writes Clare Chambers.

Read the whole article here.

Botulinum Toxin and Cosmetic Fillers (Children) Act

In October 2021 the Botulinum Toxin and Cosmetic Fillers (Children) Act was passed. This law makes it illegal for under-18s in England to access Botox or fillers for cosmetic reasons. This Bill follows the Nuffield Council on Bioethics report Cosmetic procedures: ethical issues. I was on the Working Party that produced that report. It recommended (amongst many other things) that children and young people under the age of 18 should not be able to access cosmetic procedures, other than in the context of multidisciplinary healthcare.

Since publication of this report the Nuffield Council (of which I am a member) have made a sustained effort to follow up our recommendations, and secured meetings with Department of Health and Social Care Ministers that were influential in prompting this new legislation. The Council continued Parliamentary engagement throughout the passage of the Bill (for example, I gave evidence to the Women & Equalities Select Committee) and the report was referenced numerous times in the Second Reading in the House of Lords, and included in the House of Commons Library briefing for MPs.

The new law comes amidst pressure on the Government to take stronger action to regulate Botox and fillers amongst the whole population – another recommendation made in our report. I gave evidence on the Council’s behalf to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Beauty, Aesthetics and Wellbeing to push this issue forward, and they published recommendations for Government in July which mirrored some of the Council’s.

The Nuffield Council published a statement to welcome the new law, saying:

“We are delighted that our work to promote ethical practice within the cosmetic procedures industry has contributed to this new law which prevents people from giving Botox or cosmetic fillers on a walk-in basis to children and young people under 18. We feel strongly that children and young people should not be able to access any form of cosmetic procedures other than in the context of multidisciplinary healthcare, and would urge further action to broaden the restrictions to all types of cosmetic procedures.”

You can read the bill here.

Intact: A Defence of the Unmodified Body

In an age of social media and selfies, of pixel-perfect pictures and surgically-enhanced celebrities, the pressure to change our bodies can often seem overwhelming. We are told we should conceal the signs of ageing and get our bodies back after pregnancy. We ought to perfect our complexions, build our biceps, trim our waistlines, cure our disabilities, conceal our quirks. More than ever before, we should contort our physical selves to prejudiced standards of beauty and acceptability.

In this thought-provoking work, acclaimed political philosopher Clare Chambers argues that the unmodified body is a key principle of equality. While defending the right of anyone to change their bodies, she argues that the social pressure to modify sends a powerful message: you are not good enough. The body becomes a site of political importance: a place where inequalities of sex, gender, race, disability, age, and class are reinforced. 

Through a clear-sighted analysis of the power dynamics that structure our society, and with examples ranging widely from body-building to breast implants, makeup to male circumcision, Intact stresses that we must break away from the oppressive forces that demand we alter our bodies. Instead, it offers a vision of the human body that is equal without expectation: an unmodified body that is not an image of perfection or a goal to be attained, but a valued end in itself.

Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd 
ISBN: 9780241439043 
Number of pages: 256 
Dimensions: 240 x 156 mm

To be published in February 2022; available to pre-order here and from all good bookshops.

Women & Equalities Select Committee Report

The Women & Equalities Select Committee has published their report “Changing the perfect picture: an inquiry into body image”. The report quotes evidence I gave to the Committee on behalf of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, and adopts a number of the Council’s recommendations. You can read the report here, and the Nuffield Council’s statement here.

Nuffield Council on Bioethics project on gender identity

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is launching a new project that will explore the ethical, social, and legal issues associated with the care and treatment of children and adolescents in relation to their gender identity.

Increasing numbers of young people and their families in the UK have been seeking advice and support in relation to gender identity issues in recent years. In autumn 2019, we spoke to a wide range of individuals about the challenges involved in providing care and treatment for young people in relation to their gender identity. From those meetings, it is clear that there are many areas of consensus, but there are also a number of unresolved ethical questions that deserve further consideration. 

This project will look in more detail at some of those issues, including the nature of gender dysphoria, the balance of benefit and harm in treatment and non-treatment, and the ability of young people to consent to medical interventions. 

Our aim is to contribute information and insight on these issues to inform and support practitioners and policy-makers, to contribute to the broader public debate, and, ultimately, to improve the well-being of gender diverse and gender incongruent children and adolescents by helping ensure they receive ethical, appropriate, and high-quality care.

During this project, we want to listen to a wide range of views – including those of young people themselves. If you are interested in being involved or would like to find out more, please email gender@nuffieldbioethics.org. We will be launching a call for evidence in the coming weeks. For more information on the project, please visit the project page

Respect, Religion, and Feminism

Respect, Religion, and Feminism: Comments on Lori Watson and Christie Hartley, Equal Citizenship and Public Reason: A Feminist Political Liberalism is published in Journal of Applied Philosophy September 2020. You can read the paper here.

Abstract: There is significant disagreement among feminists and liberals about the compatibility between the two doctrines. Political liberalism has come under particular criticism from feminists, who argue that its restricted form of equality is insufficient. In contrast, Lori Watson and Christie Hartley argue that political liberalism can and must be feminist. This article raises three areas of disagreement with Watson and Hartley’s incisive account of feminist political liberalism. First, it argues that an appeal to a comprehensive doctrine can be compatible with respecting others, if that appeal is to the value of equality. Second, it takes issue with Watson and Hartley’s defence of religious exemptions to equality law. Third, it argues that political liberalism can be compatible with feminism but that it is not itself adequately feminist. It concludes that political liberalism is not enough for feminists.

Rethinking The Body on BBC Radio 5 Live

My essay Rethinking The Body was featured on BBC Radio 5 Live on the Stephen Nolan show with Rick Edwards on Saturday 27th June 2020 at 9pm. After the essay was broadcast the first hour of the show discussed body image in the context of the pandemic with me and several other guests.

You can listen to the programme here.

Rethinking The Body on Woman’s Hour

My radio essay “Rethinking The Body” was featured on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on Wednesday 24th June.

From the Woman’s Hour website:
Rethink is a series of essays and discussions across BBC Radio 4, 5 Live and the World Service that looks at how the world might change after the coronavirus pandemic. Today’s essay features the political philosopher Clare Chambers who considers how our relationship with our bodies, and our appearance has been affected by the lockdown. To discuss Jenni is joined by Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism project, Kate Lister, Lecturer in the School of Arts and Communication at Leeds Trinity University, and Shahidha Bari, Professor of Fashion Cultures and Histories at the London College of Fashion.

You can listen to the essay and discussion here.

Rethinking The Body

I have recorded an essay on how we think about our bodies for Rethink – a BBC radio series that considers how the world should change after the coronavirus pandemic. You can listen to the programme and see the others in the series here.

Member of Nuffield Council on Bioethics

I am honoured to be appointed as a Council Member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an independent body that examines and advises on ethical issues that arise from developments in biomedical science and healthcare. I have previously worked with the Council as a member of the Working Party that produced the report on Cosmetic Procedures. I’m extremely pleased to be able to join the Council and play a part in shaping the overall work of the organisation. You can find a full list of Council members here.

Equal Civil Partnerships Campaign

I was delighted and honoured to be invited to the party to celebrate the success of the Equal Civil Partnerships Campaign, which resulted in the introduction of different-sex civil partnerships in England and Wales. You can read more about the campaign and its wonderful people here.

Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defence of the Marriage-Free State

Clare Chambers, Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defence of the Marriage-Free State (Oxford University Press, 2017)

Winner of the APSA David Easton Award 2018.

Available now in paperback and hardback from all good bookshops! Use the code AAFLYG6 at www.oup.com to buy the book at 30% off.

 Read the book on Oxford Scholarship Online here.

Synopsis

Against Marriage is a radical argument for the abolition of state-recognised marriage. Clare Chambers argues that state-recognised marriage violates both equality and liberty, even when expanded to include same-sex couples. Instead Chambers proposes the marriage-free state: an egalitarian state in which religious or secular marriages are permitted but have no legal status.

Part I makes the case against marriage. Chambers investigates the critique of marriage that has developed within feminist and liberal theory. Feminists have long argued that marriage is a violation of equality since it is both sexist and heterosexist. Chambers endorses the feminist view and argues, in contrast to recent egalitarian pro-marriage movements, that same-sex marriage is not enough to make marriage equal. Chambers argues that state-recognised marriage is also problematic for liberalism, particularly political liberalism, since it imposes a controversial, hierarchical conception of the family that excludes many adults and children.

Part II sets out the case for the marriage-free state. Chambers critically assesses recent theories that attempt to make marriage egalitarian, either by replacing it with relationship contracts or by replacing it with alternative statuses such as civil union. She then sets out a new model for the legal regulation of personal relationships. In the marriage-free state regulation is based on relationship practices not relationship status, and these practices are regulated separately rather than as a bundle. The marriage-free state thus employs piecemeal, practice-based regulation. Finally, Chambers considers how the marriage-free state should respond to unequal religious marriage. The result is an inspiring egalitarian approach that fits the diversity of real relationships.

Reviews

“Clare Chambers has produced what will surely be for years to come the definitive argument for the abolitionist view of marriage. … [T]his is in my opinion a superb book. It is prodigiously scholarly, but at the same time wonderfully clear and accessible. The arguments are provocative and challenging throughout. The literature on this vitally important topic urgently needed a book-length defense of the abolitionist position. It is hard to imagine a book performing this necessary role better than Chambers’s Against Marriage.”

Ralph Wedgwood in Ethics

Against Marriage is “political philosophy at its most practical and readable.”

Andrew Harrop, General Secretary of the Fabian Society, in Fabian Review

“This is a distinct and important contribution to an increasingly crowded field of liberal political philosophy on marriage and the state and, perhaps most interestingly, to our understanding of the liberal project broadly. … Where other liberals seek more vigorously to balance competing demands of freedom and equality, or emphasize freedom, Chambers hews rigorously to an egalitarian position. You won’t find another book that does this so effectively or by way of such productive engagement with existing scholarship. Laying out the egalitarian case in such clear and compelling terms, Chambers highlights the challenges it presents to the liberal side of her liberal feminist equation. In so doing, Against Marriage leaves us wondering just how tenable the liberal feminist project is. … Chambers leads us to these questions by bringing us to the edge of the liberal feminist frontier. This alone would make Against Marriage a distinct and important contribution. But, of course, Chambers does more. She offers a compelling vision of why and how to move beyond marriage and points us in the direction of work that needs to be done. All with the grace and graciousness of an analytical philosopher running at full throttle.”

Tamara Metz in Political Theory

“Against Marriage makes an important contribution to the debate over the future of marriage within liberalism. It is clear and cogently argued and a pleasure to read. One of its virtues is its breadth; it makes arguments which address a range of liberal and feminist views and should be accessible to non-specialists. At the same time, it advances the leading edge of the specialist debate in provocative and intriguing ways.”

Elizabeth Brake in Mind

“Clare Chambers provides a clear, lucid and timely argument against state-recognized marriage based on the liberal principles of liberty and equality. … Throughout, she is masterful at anticipating and responding carefully to potential objections to her arguments and proposals. …. And her responses to those who might disagree with her proposals reveal a two-fold carefulness: as a philosopher, she is thoughtful, deliberate, precise, and meticulous; as a feminist, she is attentive, concerned, and compassionate — considering not only the philosophical justifications for her proposals but also their practical fall out for women and other vulnerable populations. … I highly recommend Chambers’ book as an important scholarly and pedagogical resource. It is beautifully crafted and makes an important contribution to the literature in liberal political theory and, more specifically, to the philosophical literature on marriage and family. … It was my distinct pleasure to read this book and be provoked by its arguments into a better understanding of both liberalism’s promise and its limitations with regard to its support of diverse forms of relationship.”

Shelley M. Park in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

“Chambers’ Against Marriage is a wonderful addition to a growing literature demanding that we think seriously about the institution of marriage and how it may have to be altered to meet the demands of justice and equity.”

Robert Scott Stewart in Metapsychology Online Reviews