Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Dr Isabell Dahms

Isabell works at the intersection of philosophy, social theory and queer history. She has been a part-time Postdoctoral Researcher with the interdisciplinary Gendered Mimesis Project at KU Leuven Belgium and taught on the BA Social Science at King’s College London. Isabell has also co-taught a course on London’s queer history and literature at the Bishopsgate Institute.

Her PhD (2020) researched the emergence of the philosophical concepts of speculation and performativity in modern German philosophy, and more recently in feminist and queer theories. Her current research looks at the history of the concept of gender, its clinical, sociological and philosophical origins. Isabell is co-editor of Thinking Catherine Malabou: Passionate Detachments (Rowman and Littlefifeld, 2018) and the author of the article ‘Always trouble: Gender before and after Gender Trouble’ (Radical Philosophy, 2021).

Isabell’s work at the IAS explored the legacy of the philosopher and physician Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869). Known for his many-sided oeuvre, Carus is celebrated as a landscape painter (he studied under Caspar David Friedrich), physician and medical practitioner (professor of obstetrics and head of the maternity clinic in Dresden) and philosopher of nature (Carus was friends with Johann Wolfgang Goethe and influenced by Goethe, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling and G.W.F. Hegel). Nonetheless, only selected parts of Carus’ oeuvre have been studied, translated and engaged with.

While Carus is celebrated for his contributions to medicine and culture, it is often – and conveniently – overlooked that his works on anthropology, gynaecology and comparative anatomy aim to provide a classificatory scheme of the various human races and sexes, and that he posits a racially and sexually hierarchical division of humanity, which he understands to be philosophically grounded in the teachings of German philosophy of nature (Naturphilosophie). Carus wrote the first systematic German gynaecological textbook, as well as texts outlining the constitution, temperaments and abilities of human beings according to racial and sexual aspects. Isabell’s research aimed to complicate the reception of his work and to make visible the influence of 18th and 19th century philosophical discourses on the emerging fields of gynaecology and anthropology. Through a study of Carus, she aimed to analyse the emergence of a racialised concept of binary sexual difference and its inscription in the new biology and gynaecology of 19th century Germany.