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What can Agamben's homo sacer offer to an analysis of contemporary psychoemotional disablism


Dr Donna Reeve. Applied Social Science. Lancaster University ... Lancaster University. Lancaster. LA1 4YL. E-mail: donna.reeve_at_lancaster.ac.uk ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: What can Agamben's homo sacer offer to an analysis of contemporary psychoemotional disablism

What can Agamben's homo sacer offer to an
analysis of contemporary psycho-emotional
  • Dr Donna Reeve
  • Applied Social Science
  • Lancaster University

  • Background to research
  • Giorgio Agamben
  • Homo sacer
  • States of exception
  • Zones of indistinction
  • Examples of psycho-emotional disablism
  • Direct Arising from interpersonal interactions
  • Indirect Related to structural disablism
  • Applying Agamben to understand the lived
    experience of (in)direct psycho-emotional
  • Spatial, psychic and economic zones of
  • Opportunities for escape?

Background to research
  • Personal history
  • PhD research based in disability studies
  • 10 people talking about their experiences of
  • Free-association narrative interview research
    method (Hollway Jefferson (2000))
  • Narrative research methodology
  • Serendipity

Giorgio Agamben Homo sacer, states of exception
and zones of indistinction
  • Concerned with sovereign power and biopolitics
  • Who is/was homo sacer?
  • Someone who may be killed and yet not
    sacrificed … He who has been banned is not, in
    fact, simply set outside the law and made
    indifferent to it but rather abandoned by it,
    that is, exposed and threatened on the threshold
    in which life and law, outside and inside, become
    indistinguishable. (Agamben, 1998 8, 28,
    italics in original)
  • Has biological life, but that life has no
    political significance
  • Suspension of law through a state of exception
    allows for the existence of zones of
  • Reciprocal relationship between sovereign and
    homo sacer
  • The sovereign is the one with respect to whom
    all men are potentially homines sacri, and homo
    sacer is the one with respect to whom all men act
    as sovereigns. (Agamben, 1998 84, italics in
  • E.g. witches in medieval Europe, Jews in Nazi
    Germany, Camp Delta in Guantánamo Bay

Extended social relational definition of disablism
  • Disablism is a form of social oppression
    involving the social imposition of restrictions
    of activity on people with impairments and the
    socially engendered undermining of their
    psycho-emotional well-being. (Thomas, 2007 73,
    my italics)

Access to the built environment the not doing
  • Problem inaccessible shop or restaurant
  • DDA reasonable adjustments access through a
    different route
  • ? Independence
  • ? Self-esteem
  • Result indirect psycho-emotional disablism

Being shown the back door
  • I'm finding the biggest drawback with disabled
    people, we're always being shown the back door.
    I'll give you an example. They have now done in
    place name, which is now a city, the hotel
    name has been all revamped - small shops, coffee
    shops, etc etc. The only way I can go into that
    shopping centre, to have a look around, is
    going half-way up road name, round the back,
    when I go round the back, I go up the ramp
    straight into the coffee shop, there is a lift -
    which I don't think is right. (Robert)

Spatial zones of indistinction
  • Reasonable adjustment ? separate but equal
  • Legal simultaneous inclusion/exclusion ?
    difficult to challenge
  • Dependence on the goodwill of service providers
  • Importance of respect to avoid not doing it
  • 'Use your creativity to ensure that there are no
    steps anywhere, so that everybody gets an easy
    ride in moving about the built environment'. I
    can't understand that if you have respect for
    your fellow human beings, that you wouldn't see
    that. (Julia)

Interactions with strangers
  • Direct psycho-emotional disablism
  • Everyday experience for those with visible
  • Acts of invalidation
  • Can directly restrict what people do
  • Compounded by existential insecurity of how next
    stranger will react
  • Acts of invalidation change with the times

Freaks and phones
  • And somehow, while it's always unpleasant to be
    the subject of intrusive attention, it feels even
    more disempowering to be captured on camera
    phone. There's no possible answer to that click
    which could make it better. Making a rude
    response only shows that the perpetrators have
    succeeded in getting under your skin. There's no
    point in complaining to the police, because
    unless the photo is published, then no crime has
    been committed. If you smash their phone, then
    you become the criminal. (Shakespeare, 2006)

Whats wrong with you then?
  • Ginny Some people literally, they say, 'Well,
    what's the matter with him?'
  • Adinuf I hate that.
  • Ginny And you say, 'Well, he's just got an
    illness, he's got a nerves disease'. 'Well, what
    is it?' And then they keep prying and they want
    to go deeply into it and there's things you don't
    want to say, but they keep on. I sort of - I
    suppose in a way I shut myself off from it -
    'He's just got a bit of a nerves disease'. 'But
    what is it?' and I'll say RSD. 'I've never
    heard of that!' And I'll go, 'No, well never
    mind' and I'll walk off and I won't talk to them.
    'But what does it do to you? I said, 'It's my
    affair, I'm not going to talk to people'.

Psychic zones of indistinction
  • Act of abandonment separates citizens from bare
    life ? unprotected by norms and rules
  • Suspension of juridical law ? spatial zones of
  • Suspension of internal laws ? psychic zones of
    indistinction e.g. seen as freak or invalid
    by others
  • Social interactions between disabled people and
    others reflects the existential insecurity of
    homo sacer
  • Affected by lack of culturally agreed rules of
    engagement in social encounters

Employment, welfare reform and disabled people
  • Barriers to employment the able volunteer,
    unable employee
  • Government anti-poverty strategy
  • Incapacity Benefit (IB) replaced by Employment
    Support Allowance (ESA) from 2008
  • One million people on IB to find employment
  • Inconsistent assessment process
  • No concept of partial capacity to work
  • Scroungerphobia media harassment of disabled
    people (Piggott Grover, 2009)
  • Distinguishing between the bad backs and the
    genuinely disabled (Alan Johnson, DWP)

'Oh, you're not disabled, you can work'
  • Then, the biggest laugh I've heard is this - the
    government's trying to get you back to work.
    Which is a laugh. You apply to start back to
    work, and you find out you can't work in the
    place because the place hasn't got this and
    hasn't got that. But then you apply to go
    voluntary - voluntary work. But as soon as they
    find out that you're voluntary work, they say you
    can go and do a normal job, which then, your
    benefits are stopped. So where do we go? Do we
    try to keep from carrying up, which I suggest we
    try to? Or do we keep on going down? And I'll be
    quite honest, it's pause it affects your social
    life, pause it affects your self, your whole
    aspects of life altogether, just goes. (Robert)

Economic zones of indistinction
  • Fundamental contradictions
  • DDA (accommodation) vs. benefits (incapacity)
  • Lack of willing employers and vacancies for one
    million disabled employees
  • Inadequate access to social care and support
    excludes many disabled people from participating
    in employment
  • Suspension of protection by welfare state ?
    economic zone of indistinction
  • Disabled people at the mercy of
  • Economic climate (number and type of vacancies)
  • Employers (prejudice and ignorance)
  • Individual decision makers who decide who is
    (in)capable of work, who is really disabled

Escape from zones of indistinction
  • Agamben through sovereign decree or death
  • iek refuseniks and the ethical act
  • Spatial zones of indistinction difficult to
  • Enshrined in law
  • Longer timescale to change
  • Economic zones of indistinction difficult to
  • Problematic welfare system
  • Global capitalism
  • Prejudices of employers
  • What counts as work will always exclude some
    disabled people
  • Psychic zones of indistinction have more
    permeable boundaries
  • Changes in attitudes/education possible at
    individual level
  • Changes in interpersonal interactions ethical
  • Creative lines of flight (Deleuze/ Guattari)
    the red wedding dress

Agambens homo sacer and psycho-emotional
  • Provides insight into changing nature of
    disablism in 21st century
  • Homo sacer highlights dependence on goodwill of
    others and existential anxiety of how next person
    will react
  • Spatial zone of indistinction associated with
    indirect psycho-emotional disablism
  • Psychic zone of indistinction associated with
    direct psycho-emotional disablism
  • Economic zone of indistinction caused by welfare
    reform which abandons disabled people to an
    uncertain employment market
  • Good examples of how all men act as sovereign
    to disabled people, thereby producing homo sacer
  • Escape is (sometimes) possible!
  • Application of the work of Agamben to disability
    studies has some potential BUT
  • Does not offer many answers
  • Fails to take account of the body (impairment and
    impairment effects)

Contact details
  • Dr Donna Reeve
  • Applied Social Science
  • Lancaster University
  • Lancaster
  • LA1 4YL
  • E-mail donna.reeve_at_lancaster.ac.uk
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