Resisting Bodies: Between the Politics of Vulnerability and “We-Can”

M. Borren*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This article develops a critical phenomenology of embodiment in radical democratic struggles, focusing on marginalized citizens and non-citizens inhabiting and navigating public spaces during civil rights and anti-Black racism protests. It juxtaposes the notion of the precarious or vulnerable body, central to critical theorists like Judith Butler, with an alternative phenomenological understanding locating the political significance of the body in spontaneous movement (Arendt) and competence (Merleau-Ponty).
The argument presented highlights that attending to either precariousness or the mobile-capable body discloses distinct dimensions of radical democratic struggles. Precariousness seems to take the unequal distribution of social-material conditions of inhabitation and of movement more serious but may obscure the shared lived experience of freedom among citizens mobilizing to counter inhibitions of free movement in public spaces, often motivated by their disproportionate exposure to precarious conditions in the first place. From a phenomenological perspective, it is our capable and mobile bodies that enable us to engage in public action. It is argued that public space opens up the power of ‘we-can’ bodies by soliciting people’s encounters and movement among others and their engagement in shared projects, according to their bodily capacities. Pluralistic interaction, aiming to maintain or create free spaces of movement, is presented as the political practice of freedom par excellence, exemplified by the radical democratic walking practices exercised in the African American civil rights movement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-128
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of the British Society for Phenomenology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2024


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