Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain
Zed Books, 224pp, £17.99
‘There is clear evidence’, wrote Oxfam in its 2013 report Walking the Breadline, ‘that the benefit sanctions regime has gone too far and is leading to destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale.’ Much ink has been spilled exposing the brutal effects of current government policies. However, until now we have lacked a detailed, historically informed account of the rise of the social attitudes and government policies that lie behind these attacks on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Imogen Tyler’s Revolting Subjects is such an account, and ought to be read by all who seek to contest the current direction of neoliberal Britain.
Tyler works by combining a theoretical framework centred around the notion of social abjection with a reading of the shifting contours of British citizenship since the 1981 British Nationality Act. She demonstrates convincingly that, since the 1981 act, British citizenship has been redefined to ostracise specific groups and populations, producing paralysed, dejected and ‘deportable’ populations of non-citizens within the internal borders of the nation. To support her case, Tyler re-enacts a series of episodes in the recent history of British citizenship, exploring how the Dale Farm eviction of 2011, the 2012 British riots, and repeated bouts of media frenzy over ‘asylum seekers’ or ‘Chavs’ have all played their part in shifting the boundaries of British citizenship.
The great strengths of Tyler’s work lie in her ability to combine harrowing stories of real social distress with an attention to the possibilities of resistance that remain available. To be sure, she does not shirk the difficulties here – her powerful account emphasises the ways in which material circumstances and rhetorical framing combine to drive forward the neoliberal agenda, and to ensure that ‘in contemporary Britain protest itself has been incrementally criminalised’. For anybody wishing to challenge this consensus, Tyler’s work provides a fine example of just how bad things have become in this country, and how hard we must work to enact change.