A number of theoretical perspectives and practical approaches inform Rae’s scholarly work. At the center is an equal commitment to both a somatic perspective and a critical stance. Tracing its roots back through to existential phenomenology and the work of Maurice Merleau Ponty and Thomas Hanna, a somatic perspective is oriented to the lived experience of the body in the world. By infusing a somatic approach with the insights offered by queer theory as a form of post-structuralist critical theory, it becomes necessary to understand the lived experience of the body in the world as never politically neutral.
While queer theory is sometimes positioned as the theorizing of gay and lesbian identities, Rae aligns with a more expansive understanding of queer offered by David Halperin, who asserts that,
“Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. ‘Queer’ then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative.” (1997, p. 62)
From this orientation, queer shifts from being an adjective to a verb: not something one is, but something one does. Queering the lived experience of the body in the world means not only exploring the embodied lives of those whose identifications have pushed them to the margins of the social world, but also questioning normative assumptions about all bodies and all experience.
For Dr. Johnson, the interdisciplinary applications of this intersection of somatic and queer perspectives have included research into the embodied experience of oppression, an articulation of embodied critical pedagogy informed by the work of Dewey, Kolb, and Friere, and the development of a framework for embodied inquiry that understands research as an intercorporeal collaboration with the aim of social transformation.
The arts have also figured prominently in her scholarly work. Like Brian Eno, she views artworks not as objects, but as catalysts for experience. In this way, art becomes expressive, evocative and transformative of non-normative experiences that are irreducible to literal explication. In particular, the expressive and performance arts have shaped how Rae develops strategies for cultivating somatic literacy and how she presents research data.