Home Office “Go Home” Van is both divisive and elusive

Rupa Huq's Blog

They do call the Summer hols the “silly season”. Well it looks like with Parliament in recess a particularly daft coalition policy has slipped through – angering LibDems and even causing UKIP leader Nigel Farage to brand the initiative “nasty”. It’s a mobile hoarding supposedly driving around the London Boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Barnet, Brent, Ealing, Redbridge among others (whose councils had no say in the matter) urging illegal immigrants to “go home” and warning them that they will be arrested anyway whether they heed this Home Office advice or not. This great expose from Zoe Williams in the Guardian discovers that after all the hot air there are only 2 of them – for 6 sizeable boroughs.
This picture taken from Twitter looks like it’s the van driving northwards up South Ealing Road:

Obviously this is aimed bringing UKIP-sympathising voters back to the Tory fold rather than…

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1979 Goodbye Nanny Welfare State, Hello Neoliberal Daddy State: Citizen Smith, Thatcherism and the “Loony Left”

Citizen Smith, Thatcherism and the “Loony Left”


We have heard these scroungers and benefit cheats stories before…

In “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money” (1936), Keynes argued for an interventionist state which, through mechanisms such as taxation, would operate as a check to the free market. For Keynes, writing in the context of the economic depression of the 1930s, full employment was a fundamental tenet of a civil society. Keynes’s redistributive economic philosophy inspired Beveridge’s pivotal ‘Social Insurance and Allied Services’ (1942), a report that became the blueprint for the creation of the welfare state in Britain. However, it was Marshall’s pivotal essay, Citizenship and Social Class’ (1950), that placed the concept of citizenship at the centre of debates about the establishment of a new ‘civic bargain’ between the individual and the state. Marshall is still the most influential theorist of citizenship in Britain and, in a series of essays and books written over three decades, he laid down the principles of a new social citizenship founded in equality and political solidarity across social classes.

Conversely, however, Gary Day has argued that citizenship was instituted in Britain as a way of breaking up class allegiances through processes of atomisation and individualization (Day, 2001, p. 159). As he writes, ‘the idea of citizenship was […] largely formulated in opposition to class […] it was based on the age-old distinction between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, but women, children, the insane, prisoners and migrant workers were among a number of groups who fell outside this apparently universal category’ (Day, 2001, p. 159-160 see also chapter seven).

Nira Yuval-Davis similarly describes the ways in which the invention of citizenship in post-war Britain was a measure which, by design, produced a cast of ‘moral aliens’ at the periphery of the national ‘moral community’ (Yuval-Davis, 1997, p. 17).

Certainly, by the mid-1970s, the toxic combination of global economic recession and rising inflation (stagflation), high unemployment, spiralling taxation and working class militancy began to test Marshallian notions of social citizenship severely, and a right-wing backlash galvanized against the perceived excesses and failures of rights-based citizenship and the post-war social contract. Margaret Thatcher, then leader of the opposition Conservative party, was one of the politicians central to the recasting of Marshallian social citizenship as a failed socialist programme of reform. As she stated in a 1977 speech at the University of Zurich:

“Socialism promised to raise the provision of education, health, and housing. As is becoming patent to almost everyone, the result has been the opposite. […] Socialism whetted appetites for more, but has resulted in less being available. People of all backgrounds are casting off socialist illusions in the light of socialist reality. […]The class struggle is withering away – to adapt a well-known phrase of Marx and Engels” (Thatcher, 1977).

It was in this context that the British television sitcom, Citizen Smith (BBC, 1977-1980), provided a rare explicit popular representation of British citizenship. Through the figure of naïve, unemployed, petty criminal ‘Wolfie’ Smith (Robert Lindsey), Citizen Smith offers us a window into the social and political struggles over the meaning of citizenship which was taking place in Britain during the 1970s, a period of austerity economics and unprecedented strike-actions that culminated in the ‘Winter of Discontent’ (1978-9) and the election of the neoliberal Thatcher Government in 1979.

citizen smith

Wolfie, adorned with a beret, a Che Guevara t-shirt, and a fake fur coat was the self-proclaimed leader of an odd-ball group of friends who called themselves the ‘Tooting Popular Front’. The opening titles sequence depicts Wolfie walking out of Tooting tube station in London to a rousing rendition of internationalist socialist anthem The Red Flag and culminates in his cry, with a raised fist, ‘Power to the People’. The comedy of Citizen Smith hinges on age-old distinctions between the authentic/sham and deserving/undeserving working class (see chapters six and seven of Revolting Subjects). This is dramatized in the programme through skirmishes between the welfare-dependent, “feminized masculinity” of Wolfie and the “authentic” working-class masculinity embodied by the father of Wolfie’s girlfriend, Shirley, ex-miner Charles (Peter Vaughan, Tony Steedman).

In Episode 13, Series 1, after arranging a failed ‘right-to-work’ protest, Wolfie is forced by the local labour exchange (job centre) to take a position as a security officer at a local factory, where, it transpires he will be working directly under Charles. By the end of his first day at work, and much to Charles’s horror, Wolfie has formed a union, initiated a strike and resigned. Wolfie’s comic and drag-like performances of ‘political citizenship without a cause’ revealed the precariousness of the post-war contract. For while Citizen Smith was affectionate in its depiction of Wolfie, this comic infantilizing depiction of class-struggle, unionism and left wing militancy is a precursor to the popular stereotype of the ‘loony left’ that emerged in tabloid newspapers in the 1980s and communicated a growing middle-class intolerance of the perceived economic burden of the welfare state and the feckless, workless youth and parasitical dependents it was imagined to have created. See for example this story about “marxist coffee” in The Mirror from 1985 “Barmy Bernie Goes Coffee Potty” loony_left_big

During the ‘Winter of Discontent’ Thatcher’s Conservative party election campaign incited and capitalized on the fears of the populace that the state was disintegrating. In an election broadcast in January 1979, Thatcher spoke of the ‘industrial action directed straight at the public to make you suffer – directed even at the sick and disabled. […] picketing that threatens to bring the country to its knees – emptying our shops, endangering our farms, closing our factories, taking our jobs’ (Conservative Party, 1979a). She ended her address, proclaiming ‘We have to learn again to be one nation, or one day we shall be no nation. If we have learnt that lesson from these first dark days of 1979, then we have learnt something of value’ (ibid.).

What “learning to be a nation again” meant for Thatcher was eradicating the failed project of social citizenship by diminishing ‘the big state’. This entailed creating the conditions in which the state and state-borders could be most thoroughly penetrated by ‘the free market’. As she argued, ‘the post-war settlement has failed […] the tide is beginning to turn against collectivism, socialism, statism, dirigism, […] and this turn is rooted in a revulsion against the sour fruit of socialist experience’ (Thatcher, 1977).

The Conservative party finessed their message in an election broadcast in April (Conservative Party, 1979b), produced by the advertising firm, Saatchi & Saatchi, which opened with apocalyptic news footage of mountains of uncollected rubbish piled in the streets, empty shelves in supermarkets, stationary lorries, grounded airplanes, closed cemeteries and picketed hospitals, over-laid with an increasingly hysterical voice-over declaiming ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’, a phrase that had been misattributed to the then Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan by The Sun newspaper (Murdoch run).


With the election of the right-wing Thatcher Government in May 1979, the post-war consensus was at an end and citizenship was not only thoroughly dislocated from any Marshallian redistributive ideals, but also from any positive political project.

Loïc Wacquant describes this shift as a period of state ‘remasculinization’ provoked by ‘the institutionalization of social rights [worker’s rights and the rights of women and other minorities] antinomic to commodification’ (Wacquant, 2010, p. 201). As he writes:

The new priority given to duties over rights, sanction over support, the stern rhetoric of the ‘obligations of citizenship,’ and the martial reaffirmation of the capacity of the state to lock the trouble-making poor (welfare recipients and criminals) ‘in a subordinate relation of dependence and obedience’ toward state managers portrayed as virile protectors of the society against its wayward members: all these policy planks pronounce and promote the transition from the kindly ‘nanny state’ of the Fordist-Keynesian era to the strict ‘daddy state’ of neoliberalism” (Wacquant, 2010, p. 201).

This new neoliberal ‘daddy-state’ was personified in Britain by Thatcher’s public persona as the ‘Iron Lady’, a public image that was caricatured in a notorious sketch from the popular satirical puppet show, Spitting Image (ITV, 1984-1996), that depicted Thatcher wearing a man’s suit and pissing at a urinal alongside male cabinet ministers.


The constellation of the welfare state, social rights and class equality which inaugurated the birth of British citizenship was hijacked by penal definitions of citizenship concerned with borders, immigration and security and the punishment of the poor. Citizenship was redesigned as an abjectifying technology, a mode of neoliberal governmentality which in turn produced and continues to produce new abject classes of failed and stateless citizens within the British state.

state racism or why citizenship is an unbritish concept

nationality act 1981

State racism

a short extract from Imogen Tyler ‘Designed to Fail: The Biopolitics of British Citizenship’ free to download the follow article if you follow the link

Although a vast theoretical literature on citizenship (and of course numerous laws, policies, tests) have been imported into Britain, citizenship is an oddly undeveloped concept within British society and culture. The first substantive accounts of British citizenship emerged in the 1950s, inspired by economist John Maynard Keynes (1936), social reformer William Beveridge (1942) and sociologist T.H Marshall (1950). However, if “British citizenship” has its roots in the liberal welfarism that predominated after the Second World War, by the early 1980s citizenship had become dislocated from any redistributive ideals: the Marshallian constellation of welfare state, social rights and class equality was replaced with nationality, immigration and security.

For example, the 1981 Nationality Act was not concerned with the constitutional rights of citizens, nor with mapping out the relationship between citizen and state; it was an Immigration Act designed to define, limit and remove the entitlements to citizenship from British nationals in the Commonwealth (the former colonies) thereby restricting immigration to the British Isles and creating ‘aliens’ within the borders of the nation state. This Act instituted a ‘citizenship gap’ within the British state, and between the state and former British colonies, as large numbers of British nationals found they had been designed out of citizenship (see Brysk and Shafir 2004). Political geographer Brad Blitz argues that ‘the revocation of the rights to citizenship and residency’ often take place ‘during periods of state building’. The 1981 Act was passed by the conservative Thatcher government (1979–1990) during a period of intense institutional reorganisation that was to transform Britain into a neoliberal nation state – a transformation as significant as the social and infrastructural reforms that took place during the 1950s post-War period (2006, p. 453).

The 1981 Nationality Act created several categories of nationality and citizenship, including a category of ‘Commonwealth citizenship’, which removed from British nationals in the Commonwealth and Hong Kong their historic rights to residency in theUnited Kingdom. As The Sunday Times reported in 1981, the Act ‘for the first time seeks to define British Citizenship and those who “belong to Britain” [and] to abolish the historic right of common British citizenship enjoyed by the colonial peoples’ (in Baucom 1999,p. 195). Whilst race and ethnicity were never directly named, the 1981 Act effectively designed citizenship so as to exclude black and Asian populations in the Commonwealth while leaving ‘routes home’ for white nationals born within the boundaries of the empire. As postcolonial theorist Ian Baucom notes, ‘to be British, [the Act] mandated, one had to trace a line of descent to an ancestor born on the island. In effect, the law thus drew the lines of the nation [ . . . ] around the boundaries of race’ (1999, p. 195). The passage of this Act through parliament was thus a significant event in the history of British race relations, a moment when, through citizenship, racism was implicitly incorporated within the judicial body of the state becoming an active component part of its operational system of ‘legal justice’. Indeed, critical lawyer David Dixon described the Act as ‘constitutionalising racism’ (Dixon 1981).

The Nationality Act provoked public debate about the meaning of Britishness and the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. While the Act was being passed in parliament, riots broke out in Brixton, a borough of London with a significant black population. The Brixton riots marked the beginning of a significant period of civil unrest, sparking three months of intensive rioting between black and Asian communities and police across England. In Brixton, public anger was directed towards the Metropolitan police force, and the uprising was triggered by a police operation called
Operation Swamp 81. The operation’s name was widely interpreted as a reference to a notorious comment by Margaret Thatcher (1978) in a television interview in which she implied that a white native population feared being swamped by ‘people of a different culture’. Operation Swamp 81 was purportedly part of a city-wide operation to reduce street crime in London. In actuality, it focused on Brixton, employing ancient vagrancy legislation, the infamous ‘sus’ laws. In the first six days of the operation, 120 plain-clothes officers stopped and searched 943 people in Brixton, arresting 118 predominantly black male youths. Lord Scarman’s influential report into the causes of the Brixton riots, “The Scarman report: The Brixton disorders 10–12 April 1981” (1982), argued that the black population in Brixton had been subject to ‘disproportionate and indiscriminate’ policing. The ‘sus laws’ were abolished on the recommendation of his report. Scarman also acknowledged that social deprivation and racial prejudice had contributed to the riots but refused to accept claims of institutional racism within the police or indeed other parts of the state. The report argued that institutional racism referred to a society ‘which knowingly and as a matter of policy discriminated against black people’ and denied that this was the case in Britain (Scarman 1982, p. 28). However, others have insisted that the Brixton riots should be read as a response to the 1981 Nationality Act. The creation of a ‘second-class’ commonwealth citizenship and news coverage of the Act created palpable anxiety and growing rage within black communities across Britain. These communities perceived that a new form of imperial racism was driving the citizenship agenda. As an anonymous commentary in the journal “Race and Class” argued in 1981, the Nationality Act transformed immigration law into an instrument of domestic social control and formed ‘the administrative basis for what is tantamount to a pass law society. [This Act has] brought immigration law within doors’ (1981, p. 242).

This Act illustrates what Foucault termed ‘state racism’: a means of classifying, distinguishing and opposing a population on the basis of appeals to essentialist categories of origin. For Foucault, racism always disguises, or is an alibi for, an historical class struggle. In the context of Britain, a post-imperial class struggle over the resources of a diminished empire was underway. The 1981 Act produced ‘ethnic hierarchies’ in Britain which, combined with the existing class divisions, led to civil unrest. This in turn enabled minorities to be constituted ‘as a threat to the social body’ and targeted through policing and reform (see Nelson 2008, p. 33). The claim that the Act was ushering in a new period of ‘home rule’ through state racism was central to Salman Rushdie’s polemical 1982 essay ‘The new empire within Britain’. Rushdie argued that as the British empire contracted, the borders of the empire were being reproduced at home through newly legitimised practices of state racism, which in turn explained hostility towards the police as agents of state
power. As Rushdie wrote, ‘For the citizens of the new, imported empire, for the colonised Asians and blacks of Britain, the police force represents that colonising army, those regiments of occupation and control’ (1982).

The 1981 Nationality Act and the nostalgia for a British homeland expressed within it exposes a fear amongst the ruling elites that Britain was losing its sense of national identity as it lost its hold on its empire. Right wing MP Enoch Powell, who was in many ways the real author of this Act, declared on hearing that it had passed through parliament, ‘from the humiliation of having no nation to which we distinctively belong, the people of the United Kingdom are now setting themselves free’. The Nationality Act, Powell stated, marked ‘the end of our brief imperial episode . . . and the laying of that ghost, the
Common-wealth’ (in Dixon 1983, p. 175). The link between post-imperial national identity, democratic freedom and immigration control has become cemented into a form of common sense in Britain and drives the New Labour citizenship agenda. As Prime Minster Gordon Brown stated in a 2008 speech on citizenship:

“there is a real danger that while other countries gain from having a clear definition of their destiny in a fast changing global economy, we may lose out if we prove slow to express and live up to the British values that can move us to act together . . . Being more explicit about what it means to be a British citizen we can not only manage immigration in a way that is good for Britain – for our citizens, our way of life, our society, and our economy but at the same time move forward as a more confident Britain”. (Brown 2008)

State racism is legitimised predominantly through the need for security and the idea that non-citizens threaten to overwhelm the diminishing resources of the welfare state and are stealing the resources that rightfully belong to citizens. Perversely, appeals to Marshallian rights-based notions of citizenship, rooted as these are in welfare and distributive justice, are thus used to legitimise the abjection of ‘illegal’ populations from
the protections of citizenship and the enforcement of brutal and inhumane immigration controls.

Stigmatization as a form of neoliberal governance

Shock Doctrine

Disaster Capitalism

Extracted and reworked from the Afterword of Revolting Subjects

In “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”, Naomi Klein details the ways in which ‘the policy trinity’ of neoliberalism, ‘the elimination of the public sphere, total liberation for corporations and skeletal social spending’ has been enabled through the invention and/or exploitation of crises, be they natural disasters wrought by hurricanes or earthquakes, terrorist attacks on civilian populations or the collapse of international banks (Klein, 2007, p. 16). In the context of contemporary Britain, the fear and anxiety generated by the ‘shock’ of the current economic crisis provides one explanation for how public consent has been procured for the current programme of seismic welfare reforms that ‘punish the poor’ (Wacquant, 2008) while allowing the amassing of wealth in the hands of individuals and corporations through the privatization and ‘asset-stripping’ of public institutions, infrastructure and natural resources. However, my intention in my book Revolting Subjects has been to develop a ‘thick’ account of the ways in which neoliberal modes of governance operate in everyday life not only by capitalizing upon ‘shocks’ but through the daily, pervasive production and mediation of ‘social insecurity’ (Wacquant, 2010). In short, my aim has been –and continues to be in current work–to produce a rich and textured account of the everyday political and media technologies engaged by state and corporate agents of disaster capitalism in the relentless manufacture of poverty and inequality and to capture some of the practices and processes through which public consent for the disenfranchisement that unfolds from neoliberal ideologies and policies are procured. In particular, I have attempted to capture some of the ways in which social and cultural, emotional and affective economies combine with neoliberal economic policies to produce ‘national abjects’: scapegoats that enable ‘the structures, mechanisms, and justifications of power to function’ (Foucault, 2008, p. 85). To this end Revolting Subjects has explored how the social insecurity generated by neoliberal governmentality has given rise to novel modes of (re)classification – refugees transformed into bogus asylum-seekers, unemployed young people into feckless chavs, people with disabilities into welfare cheats – that cut deep into popular consciousness, and the book has examined how those unfortunate enough to be classified as abject are mobilized to do the dirty ideological work of neoliberalism. They are transformed into symbolic and material scapegoats for the social decomposition effected by market deregulation that has a negative, degrading impact upon us all.

The chapters in Revolting Subjects detail the common origins, in political rhetoric, policy documents and news media, of stigmatizing depictions of marginal populations and groups. However, as Stuart Hall and his colleagues elaborated over thirty years ago, the hardening of public opinion into consent relies upon the repetition and accumulation of expressions and beliefs ‘on the streets’, in ‘conversations between neighbours, discussion at street-corners or in the pub, rumour, gossip, speculation’ (Hall, et al., 1978, p. 129). Increasingly in 21st century Britain, ‘the streets’ include the informal technologies of social media such as blogs, wall posts, text messages and tweets. What I hope to have impressed upon the reader is that the production and mediation of these revolting subjects is not simply an effect of neoliberal ideologies and policies but is ‘a core organ’ of neoliberal governmentality (Wacquant, 2010, p. 200). Stigmatization operates as a form of governance which legitimates the reproduction and entrenchment of inequalities and injustices which impact upon us all. Indeed the ‘selective and aggressive deployment’ of strategies of social abjection is not only ‘constitutively injurious to the ideals of democratic citizenship’, but has perverted the very meaning of democracy and citizenship (Wacquant, 2010, p. 200). As Arundhati Roy puts it:

Until quite recently, right up to the 1980s, democracy did seem as though it might actually succeed in delivering a degree of real social justice. But modern democracies have been around for long enough for neo-liberal capitalists to learn how to subvert them. They have mastered the technique of infiltrating the instruments of democracy – the “independent” judiciary, the “free” press, the parliament – and moulding them to their purpose. […] Free elections, a free press, and an independent judiciary mean little when the free market has reduced them to commodities on sale to the highest bidder (Roy, 2003).

One argument of Revolting Subjects is that national abjects, and the communication mediums which create and sustain them, are in a very material sense the vehicles for the political production of the neoliberal doctrine that there is no alternative. As David Graeber argues in his wonderful book, “Debt: The First 5000 Years”, ‘the last thirty years have seen the construction of a vast bureaucratic apparatus for the creation and maintenance of hopelessness, a giant machine designed, first and foremost, to destroy any sense of possible alternative futures’ (Graeber, 2011, p. 382). So, while historians would be right to question the extent to which the production of scapegoats to further capitalist agendas are ‘new’ strategies for policing populations – we need think only of the role played by witch-hunts in paving the way for mass industrialization in early modern European history (Federici, 2004) – what is peculiar to our times is the ways in which the language of democracy, fairness and equality is invoked to justify the channelling of public hostilities towards vulnerable and/or disadvantaged populations. It is this paradox which the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games made manifest in its dramatization of the importance of rights and democratic protest at an historical moment when people’s ability to protest against the dramatic curtailing of these rights has been severally curtailed (Taking Liberties (Since 1997), 2007). As Klein writes:

[f]or those inside the bubble of extreme wealth created [by neoliberalism], there can be no more profitable way to organize a society. But because of the obvious drawbacks for the vast majority of the population left outside the bubble, other features of the corporatist state tend to include aggressive surveillance […], mass incarceration, shrinking civil liberties and often, though not always, torture (Klein, 2007, p. 18).

What Klein means by torture in this passage is that which we ordinarily understand by the term, namely the physical detention, abuse and punishment of ‘suspects’ by the state and/or private police or military actors working on behalf of state and/or corporate interests – as seen in the mass rendition and torture of ‘enemy combatants’ in the global war on terror. Yet torture is also, as Klein argues, ‘a metaphor of the shock doctrine’s underlying logic’ (Klein, 2007, p. 15). Revolting Subjects is concerned with torture in this second sense. That is with the everyday forms of torture visited on those populations constituted as human waste within and by the state (Bauman, 2002; Bauman, 2004). To this end, I have explored some the ways in which national abjects become enmeshed within the interpellative fabric of everyday life as I have sought to understand a little of what is means to be made abject – to be tortured by words, images, policies and mechanisms of policing and control which continuously produce you as less than human. The common refrain of so many of those people whose words I have collected, in the course of researching this book, is the insistence that they are human. This refrain was common amongst asylum-seekers protesting their detention and/or deportation – ‘I took my clothes off because they treat us like animals. We are claiming asylum, we’re not animals’ (in Dugan, 2008) – Travellers protesting their forced eviction – ‘if you live in a caravan you are scum’(Roxy Freeman, 2011) – and the disenfranchised young people who joined in with riots on the streets of London – ‘I’m angry and frustrated. I feel the same as them. Angry with everything – society, police, the way they treat us. They don’t treat us like human beings’ (in Hegarty, 2011).

Homi Bhabha writes that ‘stereotyping is an everyday drama’, the site of ‘fantasy and desire’, and a scene of ‘subjectification and power’ (Bhabha 1983, p. 23). What concerns Bhabha, and has been central also to the project of Revolting Subjects, is the ‘processes of subjectification made possible (and plausible) through stereotypical discourse’ (Bhabha 1983, p. 19). As the work of Fanon most clearly articulates, negative and discriminatory stereotypes are not simply ‘the fabrication of false images, which in turn enable discriminatory practices’, but are also a subjectifying force (Bhabha 1983, p. 19). The work of critique thus entails shifting our attention from ‘the identification of images as positive or negative’, to more nuanced understandings of ‘the processes of subjectification made possible (and plausible) through stereotypical discourse’ (Bhabha 1983, p. 18). It is the endeavour of Revolting Subjects to understand more fully how this process works, that is how the tortures of stigma are produced, mediated, embodied and lived. To this end I have sought to refashion the psychoanalytic concept of abjection. The theory of social abjection which emerges across the course of this book extends Fanon and Bhabha’s analysis of the techniques of colonial and post-colonial subjectification, to the forms of governmentality in operation within contemporary Britain.

In Revolting Subjects I wanted to begin to think about the implications of revolt as a subjectifying force, that is as a means through which those made abject attempt to reconstitute themselves not only as citizens with rights, but as subjects of value. I wanted to map how abject figures come to function as technologies of consent and how abjectified populations refuse and revolt against the disenfranchising effects of their classification. It is my hope that the conceptual paradigm of social abjection will prove useful to others engaged in thinking both about the ways in which representational forms work in ways that ‘get inside’ people: instructing, correcting, regulating and shaping subjectivities (Gill, 2008) and the practices of resistance in which revolting subjects engage to survive stigma and disenfranchisement. People’s attempts to remake themselves and draw attention the state we are in which I have described in this book as forms of ‘declassificatory politics’.

I would like Revolting Subjects to be a testament to people’s capacity for revolt. But further, as I have attempted to demonstrate, what matters it is not only acts of resistance themselves but the images and the stories of revolt and resistance that emerge ‘as outsiders attempt to recast their identity as politically legitimate subjects of justice’ (McNevin, 2006, p. 138). It is my contention that the documentary after-life of protests, the political parables which I stage in Revolting Subjects, have the capacity to fracture the consensus in ways that enable us to question how and why we consent to the degradation of rights and justice so hard fought for.

Postcolonial Girl: Remember Gamu Gate?

Postcolonial Girl: Mediated Intimacy and Migrant Audibility
Imogen Tyler and Rosalind Gill
In October 2010, Gamu Nhengu, a Zimbabwean teenager, was ejected from the popular British reality TV talent show, The X Factor, on which she was a contestant. There was a public backlash to what many perceived was an unjust eviction. Within days, however, Gamu became the emblem of a contrasting kind of eviction campaign, when it was revealed that she and her family were living illegally in Britain. `Gamu-gate`, as the case was named in the press, animated a wave of public anger and resistance, as the stakes were raised from eviction from a TV talent show to deportation from the UK. In this paper we explore
‘Gamu Gate’, as a way of thinking about postcolonial intimacies. We do this by setting out three key notions: the notion of mediated intimacy, the notion of postcolonial girlhood, and the idea of migrant audibility. Our aim is to explore the political possibilities of the ‘affective surplus’ produced by `postcolonial girls’—that is, how as `manufactured intimates’ they potentially create avenues for new forms of post-colonial migrant audibility, forms which
might trouble the ‘current emergencies’ and neo-colonial logic of neoliberal capitalism.

Social Abjection: Extract from The Introduction to Revolting Subjects


Verb: The action of revolt; apostasy; rebellion, insurrection;

Adjective: That [which] evokes revulsion; repulsive, disgusting.

Noun: That which is revolting; revoltingness.

(abridged from the Oxford English Dictionary, 2012)


Revolting is a powerful word. Within an emotional register being revolted is an expression of disgust, ‘to react or rise with repugnance against something. To turn away with disgust or loathing from something; to recoil from’ (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012). We can perceive this meaning of revolt in the visceral loathing of the xenophobic hate-speech against the Gypsy and Traveller community which the Dale Farm eviction provoked. Within a political register ‘revolt’ describes acts of protest and rebellion against authority, insurrections and uprisings:  ‘a movement or expression of vigorous dissent’ (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012).

Revolting Subjects proceeds from the intersections of these different meanings of revolt-ing in order to offer an account of ‘social abjection’ and revolt in contemporary Britain. In weaving together a series of political parables for our time, my concerns are to elaborate a rich account of neoliberal Britain from the bottom up, of the abject forms of inequality and injustice which neoliberalism effects and the resistance and revolt to which it gives rise. Focusing on citizenship, social class and migrant illegality, Revolting Subjects restages a series of recent revolts by disenfranchised populations: the protests of migrants in detention and facing deportation, the on-going resistance of Gypsies and Travellers to eviction from their land and homes, and the riots of young people across England in the summer of 2011. Using these revolts as a guide, the book maps the borders of the state from the inside out, suggesting we look anew at the state we are in.  Indeed, what drives Revolting Subjects is a critical and political concern with thinking about how we might contest both the state(s), states of being (human life) and states of belonging (political life) which characterise contemporary British life. At its heart, Revolting Subjects raises the question of how states are made and unmade – and how we might critically engage and intervene in this process of making and unmaking (Butler & Spivak, 2007). To respond to this question, I have drawn together a diverse body of theoretical scholarship, from feminist theory, sociology, media studies, critical theory, psychosocial studies and political philosophy. Revolting Subjects draws this theoretical work together through the conceptual paradigm of social abjection.

Combining a theoretical and empirical archive each of the chapters in Revolting Subjects explores the dual meanings of ‘abjection’ and ‘revolt’: the processes through which minoritised populations are imagined and configured as revolting and become subject to control, stigma and censure, and the practices through which individuals and groups resist, reconfigure and revolt against their abject subjectification. As a polemic this book also attempts to move us towards revolt – that is, to induce revulsion about the forms of disenfranchisment it describes, as well as to provoke the desire to do something about it. In encouraging revolt in this third sense my book attempts to provoke others to look anew and think differently – to prompt an imaginative engagement with dissent against the neoliberal consensus and `the politics of disposability’ which characterise contemporary Britain (Giroux, 2007).

 Social Abjection

Over the course of the book I develop a rich account of social abjection as a theory of power, subjugation and resistance. Julia Kristeva’s (1982) seminal psychoanalytic account of abjection has had a considerable influence in arts and humanities disciplines for over two decades. However, there has been no sustained account abjection as a lived social process and abjection has received little sustained academic attention within the social sciences. Furthermore, as I detail in chapter one, whilst Kristeva’s account of abjection is compelling (at an explanatory level) what is absent from her and many subsequent developments of this concept is an account of what it means to be (made) abject, to be one who repeatedly finds themselves the object of the others violent objectifying disgust (see Tyler 2009). Revolting Subjects argues for a more thoroughly social and political account of abjection through a consideration of the consequences of ‘being abject’ within specific social and political locales. By drawing upon a substantial archive of empirical materials that include interview data, policy documents, political speeches, art works, news media reports and other popular cultural materials, I develop social abjection as a theoretical resource that enables us to consider of states of exclusion from multiple perspectives, including the perspective of those who are ‘obliged to inhabit the impossible edges of modernity’, those border zones within the state, in which the overwhelming imperative is not transgression, but survival (McClintock, 1995, p. 72). What the conceptual paradigm of social abjection reveals is that if state-power relies on the production of abject subjects to constitute itself and draw its borders, the state is also that which it abjects. The critical task, as Ranjana Khanna expresses it, ‘is to conceive of forms and categories of political life that will stop the creation of garbage-can populations’ (Khanna, 2009, p. 193). The case studies in Revolting Subjects take up this challenge, examining both the consequences of ‘being made abject’ and exploring how abjection is resisted and recuperated in forms of counter-political speech.


“Shimmering, Shining, Vomiting, Glitter”: the politics and poetics of disgust

CFP: Politics & Poetics of Disgust (Nottingham, 14-15 Nov 13) Nottingham Contemporary/ University of Nottingham, November 14 – 15, 2013 Deadline: Sep 9, 2013

“Shimmering, Shining, Vomiting, Glitter”: the politics and poetics of disgust

Convenors: Lucy Bradnock (University of Nottingham), Isobel Whitelegg (Nottingham Contemporary)

Taking place in parallel with a new exhibImageion of the work of artist collective Asco – whose name in Spanish refers to disgust, nausea, revulsion – this two day symposium seeks to explore the meaning of disgust across a range of practices, including art, literature, film and popular culture, activism, spatial practice and performance, from the twentieth century to the present day. Keynotes include: Chon Noriega (UCLA); Dominic Johnson (QMUL); Katie Jones (Nottingham) and Imogen Tyler (Lancaster).

The symposium will emphasise how individuals and groups imagined as objects of disgust may turn that designation back on itself – as a means to revolt or resist. We are inviting proposals for 20 minute presentations that focus on cases, contexts or forms of practice and/or contribute to current articulations of the meaning of disgust – as emotion, aesthetic, or affect, bound up in social relations or attendant politics of class, gender, race, and sexuality. We encourage proposals for papers and alternative presentation forms – e.g. incorporating aural, visual or performative elements.

Active in East Los Angeles in the 1970s and ’80s, Asco chose a name that simultaneously described others’ responses to their early work and their own repugnance towards governmental, military and art-institutional authorities that at that time treated the Chicano community with undisguised contempt. At once “attracted to and appalled by the glitter and gangrene of urban reality,” Asco’s poetics of disgust move through the warped glamour of self-styled ‘no-movie’ film stills to the creation of faked crime scenes, the appropriation of a gaping, dripping storm-drain as an ‘asshole mural’, and memorable uses of the written word.

The parameters suggested by the poetics and politics of Asco and its context are extended across disciplines and into alternative geographical and historical domains by invited keynotes spanning fields of film, media, drama, performance, literature and sociology.

These speakers include: * Chon Noreiga, Professor of Film, Television & Media at UCLA and Director of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, is author of Shot in America: Television, the State, and the Rise of Chicano Cinema (2000) and co-author of Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement (2008) and L.A. Xicano (2011). * Dominic Johnson, Senior Lecturer in Drama at QMUL, is author of Glorious Catastrophe: Jack Smith, Performance and Visual Culture (2012) and editor of the forthcoming Critical Live Art: Contemporary Histories of Performance in the UK. * Katie Jones, Lecturer in French at the University of Nottingham, is author of the forthcoming Representing Repulsion: the aesthetics of disgust in post-1990 women’s writing in French and German, which focuses on (amongst others) the work of Marie Darrieussecq and Charlotte Roche. * Imogen Tyler, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Lancaster, is author of Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection & Resistance in Neoliberal Britain (2012) and now editing Immigrant Protest: Politics, Aesthetics, and Everyday Dissent (2014).

Topics may include, but are not limited to: – Disgust as a political stance or strategy; – Disgust and theatricality; – Disgust and glamour, camp, or masquerade; – Cacophony, disgust, and aural experience; – Disgust, censorship and the definition of obscenity; – Disgust as a structuring principle, mode of communication or discourse; – Theoretical, semiological and sociological models of disgust; – The linguistics, rhetoric and poetics of disgust.

Please submit a 250-word proposal to IsobelWhitelegg@nottinghamcontemporary.org by Monday September 9 2013 (using ‘CFP: Disgust’ as your subject line). We encourage submissions from PhD candidates, practitioners, and academics (from early career to established). Proposals will be reviewed within an interdisciplinary committee of academics and practicing artists.

The Wretched of the Earth


The Wretched of the Earth

‘However hard it is kicked or stoned it continues to gnaw at the roots of the tree like a pack of rats’ (Fanon).

In an extraordinary short essay titled ‘Abjection and Miserable Forms’ (Bataille [1934] 1993) Georges Bataille, writing in the shadow of Hitler’s rise to power, developed the concept of abjection to explore what he perceived to be the pressing political issues of the 1930s: ‘the dehumanization of labour, class struggle, mass fanaticism’ (Lotringer, 1993, p. 3).  Bataille argued that abjection is the imperative force of sovereignty, a founding exclusion which constitutes a part of the population as moral outcasts: ‘represented from the outside with disgust as the dregs of the people, populace and gutter’ (Bataille, 1993, p. 9).  Whether this marginality is the effect of an inability or unwillingness to be sucked into proletariat classes of factory workers and servants, or, in the case of fascist (or colonial) systems of power a consequence of perceived racial inferiority, these surplus populations are disenfranchised to the degree that they are ‘disinherited [from] the possibility of being human’ (Bataille, 1993, p. 11). The wretched are those who are deemed fundamentally unequal, right-less, ‘the scum of the earth’ (Arendt, [1951] 1973, p. 267). These are classes of people who are paradoxically, classless, a section of the population that has been omitted ‘from the processes of representation to the point where it can no longer think itself as a class’ (Krauss, 1996, p. 100).

Yet, while they are excluded, Bataille argued that the waste populations created by sovereign power at the same time intrude at the centre of public life as objects of disgust: the ‘national abjects’ I examine in this book. In this sense all prohibitions are inherently paradoxical since, in order for a prohibition to function, it must at the same time be continually transgressed. For example, in order for a sexual practice to be declared obscene, experienced as disgusting and regulated accordingly, it must be seen to be practised within the body politic. Social prohibitions are dependent upon the (re)intrusion of that object, practice, thing or person which has been constituted as abject, cast out and illegalized.  To summarise Bataille’s argument, the disciplinary forces of sovereignty, its processes of inclusion and exclusion, produce waste populations: an excess that threatens from within, but which the system cannot fully expel as it requires this surplus both to constitute the boundaries of the state and to legitimate the prevailing order of power. As Stallybrass and White argue similarly, ‘The low-Other is despised and denied at the level of political organisation and social being whilst it is instrumentally constitutive of the shared imaginary repertories of the dominant culture’ (Stallybrass & White, 1986, pp. 5-6). Waste populations are in this way included through their exclusion, and it is this paradoxical logic which the concept of abjection describes. As Bataille argues, abjection describes ‘the inability to assure with sufficient force the imperative act of excluding abject things (which constitutes the foundations of collective existence)’ (Bataille, 1993, p. 10, my emphasis). Within this paradox lies the possibility of resistance to abjection. As Bataille writes: ‘[i]n the collective expression, the miserable, the conscience of affliction already veers from a purely negative direction and begins to pose itself as a threat’ (Bataille, 1993, p. 10). Or as Fanon puts it in The Wretched of the Earth, ‘however hard it is kicked or stoned it continues to gnaw at the roots of the tree like a pack of rats’ (Fanon [1961], 2004, p. 81).