Women Beyond the Pale

The aim of the project is to theorise what is a ‘woman beyond the pale’. Through the meeting of several disciplines such as philosophy, health, anthropology, law, psychology, sociology, history, literature, religion, politics, arts, etc, it is hoped to advance our understanding of contemporary women and men who are deemed ‘beyond the pale’.

Beyond the Pale: Historically, the expression ‘beyond the pale’ evokes contradictory images. Between 13th and 17th Century, the Pale referred to a fenced off area of Ireland inhabited by English settlers. The paling fence effectively separated the catholic English gentry from Gaelic dissidents and its purpose was to protect the former against the latter’s attacks. To be within the Pale effectively meant to remain within the confines of an enclosed area and having one’s geographical freedom limited. At the same time voluntary confinement meant personal safety and harmony in the community. The Pale gradually disappeared with the assimilation of descendants from English settlers into Irish culture. The end of the Pale meant that individuals were left with the task of working out how to peacefully cohabitate in communities who had become multi-religious.

This snapshot of the historical origin of the expression ‘beyond the pale’ is telling at many levels. Struggles to keep the peace in multicultural communities testify to the difficulty to live without recourse to a Pale. While the term ‘Pale’ has fallen into disuse, the notion of ‘pale’ continues to be utilised in a more figurative way. To be ‘beyond the pale’ no longer refers to one’s physical presence outside the geographical ‘Pale’, but instead refers to the internal, imaginary manifestation of one’s presence beyond the bound of ‘the pale’. The pale is this area of being that points to what we deem acceptable, proper, that which we permit. To step beyond it is to unleash oneself in the space of the offensive, the improper and the forbidden. This project seeks to investigate, via a multi-disciplinary approach, how individuals come to apprehend what is ‘beyond the pale’.

Women: After over a century of feminist struggle, are women still more likely to be located beyond the pale than men? In the face of more recent theories that tend to divorce gender from visions of beyond the pale (eg: Kristeva, Butler), what can we learn from such aesthetics/philosophical constructions of the pale? From a more pragmatic standpoint, how have the fields of criminology and Law changed when we are witnessing the rise of specifically gendered crimes such as: ‘honour crimes’ or women neglecting/torturing/killing their children? The project will thus also be the means to re-evaluate the position of women in relation to the unspeakable.

Objectives: A reflection on the semantic boundaries that constitute ‘beyond the pale’. Participants are invited to reflect on which theoretical frameworks are best suited to an investigation of what it is to be or do something that is beyond the pale. Is it transgression, disobedience or evil? It also brings the question of how we might qualify the beyond of the pale. Is it psychosis? Or could it be constructed as some form of freedom, for example in aesthetic presentations of beyond the pale?

The application of those frameworks to an understanding of women’s experience. An evaluation of the very term ‘women’ will be key to doing justice to the diversity of what being gendered signifies. For example, it will compare men and women’s experience of ‘beyond the pale’ and ask whether gender differences cause the experience of beyond the pale to also be different; it will analyse the relationship between gender and the pale, for example ask whether we can define a phenomenological understanding of beyond the pale that transcends gender differences; or whether beyond the pale experiences are always already gendered and so the site of a ‘choosing’ of experience and of social performance.

 

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