The somatechnics of intersexuality

Nikki Sullivan

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We live in a world in which "the body" is conceived as a malleable substance in a state of potential transition and, moreover, the vast majority of bodies are experienced as "wrong": they have too few (or too many) limbs or digits; they (or parts of them) are the wrong size, the wrong age, the wrong color; they are "sexually ambiguous"; they bear the wrong ethnic markers; they inhibit particular identities and/or aspirations; they simply do not seem "right." Surgery, then, becomes a way to put things right, to restore order. While the writing to date on modificatory surgeries is immensely varied, the vast majority is subtended by a conception of medical practices and procedures as technologies separate from the bodies they seek to modify. In this model, the body is a fleshly substrate that simply is prior to its enhancement or mutilation by the technologies that transform its original state. This article deploys the term somatechnics to think through the varied and complex ways in which bodily-being is always already shaped by technés—from, for example, the surgeon's knife to the discourses that justify and contest the use of such instruments. I argue, then, that the conceptions of, debates around, and questions about specific modificatory practices are themselves technologies that shape corporeality at the most profound level. In doing so I aim to make a critical intervention into, and open up new spaces for reflection in, existing debates about the somatechnics of intersexuality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-327
Number of pages15
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Publisher 2009. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • intersex
  • body modification
  • ethics
  • human rights
  • habitus
  • Bourdieu


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