‘With this face, can I take up space in the world?’: Embodied geographies of facial difference

Gillespie, Kerry (2023) ‘With this face, can I take up space in the world?’: Embodied geographies of facial difference. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This PhD thesis investigates the everyday lived experience of the embodiment of facial difference/disfigurement. In collaboration with six organisations that each provide support to those living with facial difference – Alopecia UK, Cleft Lip and Palate Association, Face Equality International, Facial Palsy UK, ReMake Up, and The Psoriasis Association – the research employs a qualitative methodology to generate insight into the experience of living with a facial appearance that does not conform to geographically variable social and aesthetic norms. The methodology of the project involves an online qualitative survey (n=92 respondents) and remote qualitative interviews (n=26), carried out with individuals who self-identify as having a ‘facial difference’: any condition or characteristic that alters or impacts the appearance of the face (e.g., hair loss from eyebrows, facial paralysis, a facial birthmark). These participant testimonies evidence the existence and manifestation of a stigmatised politics of facial and bodily appearance, providing insight into the spatial – and, as I argue, disabling – consequences of facial difference.

Engaging with scholarship across disciplines such as human geography, sociology, psychology, bioethics, and disability studies, the research theoretically situates the geography of facial difference within this interdisciplinary framework, paying particular attention to embodied and disability geographies. The empirical chapters of the thesis are then structured around four main points of departure. Firstly, I locate the human face as an interface between bodies and worlds, revealing the significance of facial appearance in everyday life. Secondly, I probe into the disabling spatialities of facial difference, documenting participant accounts of living with varying forms of facial difference/disfigurement and how these can (re)produce a politics of inclusion/exclusion. Thirdly, I make significant contributions to the field of emotional geographies, identifying how the embodiment of facial difference is wrought with complex emotions for the face-bearer, uncovering emotions such as shame, guilt, and loss. Finally, I critically analyse multiple forms of facial appearance intervention, from everyday cosmetics to surgical procedures. The thesis concludes by creatively troubling the limits of this particular research project and identifies future research avenues for a geography of facial difference, possibly informed by feminist, queer, and crip theories. The thesis therefore contributes to interdisciplinary scholarship on facial and bodily appearance and difference, making original contributions to debates about the embodying or ‘materialising’ of emotions and identities, the role of bodily difference in creating social geographies of exclusion, the contested politics of appearance and aesthetics, and the epistemic challenges arising from prioritising ‘voices’ of experience.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GF Human ecology. Anthropogeography
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Colleges/Schools: College of Science and Engineering > School of Geographical and Earth Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Parr, Professor Hester, Philo, Professor Christopher and Laurie, Dr. Emma
Date of Award: 2023
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2023-84011
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 08 Jan 2024 11:36
Last Modified: 08 Jan 2024 11:57
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.84011
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/84011

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