Decolonizing Embodiment - Special Issue

deadline for submissions: 
April 2, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Carolyn Ureña/ University of Pennsylvania
contact email: 

Call for Papers

Decolonizing Embodiment

Guest Editors: Carolyn Ureña (University of Pennsylvania) and Saiba Varma (UC San Diego)


Questions of embodiment have been central to a number of fields in the social sciences and humanities--including gender and sexuality studies, disability studies, ethnic studies, anthropology, philosophy, existential phenomenology, and critical race studies, among others. Yet, in some cases, scholars of embodiment have avoided theorizing race, colonialism, and embodiment together in favor of depoliticized notions of “self” or “culture,” even when research subjects belong to Black, Indigeneous or People of Color (BIPOC) communities.[1] These exclusions have shaped “embodiment studies'' as a field dominated by whiteness, both in terms of the figure of the authoritative white researcher and the notion of a universalizable, stable, and self-evident research subject. Rather than take the (unmarked, white) body as the “existential ground of culture,”[2] in this issue, we go beyond the claims of whiteness that undergird phenomenological notions of a universal, normative, corporeal schema in embodiment studies. How can new theorizations of embodiment move us beyond individual accounts of the body toward reflecting on bodies as porous, relational, and instrumental in collective struggle?


In this special issue, we examine how colonialism and decolonization, as well as race and racialization, can productively reshape, challenge, and politically invigorate existing theories of embodiment. Building on the work of Frantz Fanon and other scholars of colonialism, medicine, and the body, we take seriously the impacts of both colonialism and anti-Blackness as existential and as deeply embodied experiences. In so doing, we make space for experiences of absence, ontological nonbeing, and nothingness at the center of embodiment studies.[3] Put differently, we ask: what does embodiment studies look like if it takes anti-Blackness and forms of ontological nonbeing, and how these experiences become manifest in bodies, as its starting point? Pointing to this possibility, Fanon writes, "There is a zone of nonbeing, an extraordinarily sterile and arid region, an incline stripped bare of every essential [,] from which a genuine new departure can emerge," suggesting that there are unexpected possibilities that emerge from being able to “take advantage for this descent into a veritable hell.”[4] In other words, not only is nonbeing a useful theoretical point of departure for our study; the embodied experience of living in this “zone” can serve as a testimony of radical transformation. We are therefore particularly interested in thinking about race and colonialism as lived experiences from the position of those designated as “non beings.”


In this special issue, we seek to enliven theories of embodiment with theory from critical race theory, disability justice, Black humanist philosophy, and decolonial theory. We see the work of theorizing race and embodiment as not only the responsibility of scholars or communities of color, but also invite theorizations of whiteness and embodiment. We also welcome first-person, creative, and autoethnographic accounts of decolonial embodiments.


Key questions to be explored include, but are not limited to:


How might existing paradigms of embodiment shift if we prioritize lived experiences of colonialism and racial violence?


How do communities of color feel or theorize colonial histories through the body? How do histories of colonialism and racial violence sediment in bodies as, for example, wounding? What languages of distress do they offer? What opportunities for healing or transformative justice are found therein?


How do the multiplex health effects of race/colonialism remain undiagnosed or under-diagnosed in medicine? How might we think about the effects of colonialism and race beyond biomedical, biological, or genetic/epigenetic biomarkers? What are the strengths or limits of those forms of understanding?


How do relational forms of embodiment both reflect histories of collective struggle and also illuminate those histories in a new way?


Our goal is to approach embodiment as a politically charged and politically relevant frame by foregrounding the experiences of racialized BIPOC subjects.


Please send abstracts of approximately 250 words to special issue editors, Carolyn Ureña ( and Saiba Varma ( by April 2, 2021.


[1] Csordas, Tom. 1990. “Embodiment as a Paradigm for Anthropology.” Ethos 18(1): 5-47;  Hatala, Andrew R. and Thomas Caal. 2020. “Embodiment, Empathetic Perception, and Spiritual Ontologies in Q’eqchi’ Maya Healing: An Ethnographic Exploration.” For a notable exception, see  Ramos-Zayas, Ana. 2011. “Learning Affect, Embodying Race: Youth, Blackness and Neoliberal Emotions in Latino Newark.” Transforming Anthropology 19(2): 86-104.

[2] Csordas 1990.

[3] Warren, Calvin L. Ontological Terror: Blackness, Nihilism and Emancipation. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2018.

[4] Fanon, Frantz.  Black Skin, White Masks. Translated by Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press, 2008.