The Feminist Review Collective members have put together narrative fragments reflecting on their reactions to the EU referendum results and its effects. The pieces are intended to be anonymous, but…
Source: Collective Reflections on BREXIT
The Feminist Review Collective members have put together narrative fragments reflecting on their reactions to the EU referendum results and its effects. The pieces are intended to be anonymous, but…
Source: Collective Reflections on BREXIT
Racism is a social issue which we ALL need to address. This is a small preliminary collection of online resources gathered by Dr Alison Phipps, myself and others which offers various kinds of advice on what you can do if you are witness to hate speech, (I am writing this with race hate in mind, but applies also to sexist, gender-based or disablist hate speech). One of the ideas behind bystander intervention is training individuals and communities to know how to act, (and how to act together, collectively, in public spaces – to support each other to act). Often people stay silent when they witness harassment, as they are frightened of intervening. However, for those who are targeted by hate, the silence of witnesses is often experienced as complicity.
WHAT CAN WE DO
Bystander intervention need not always be confrontational and may include:
Feminist Philosophers Blog suggest the following:”NEVER engage the perpetrator. He is looking for confrontation. Instead speak to the person he is abusing. Say hello. Introduce yourself. Shake his or her hand. And just stand with them. Keep talking. About anything. Weather. Bus schedules. Football. .. Form a group of people with and around them if you can“
Suggestions from Shane Boothby, editor of the Leveller:
Please feel free to contact me with more resources to add: @drimogentyler
RESOURCES FROM OUTSIDE UK
A Lancaster launch of the national NUS campaign “Why is my Curriculum White?” will be held next week at which all staff and students are welcome and encouraged to attend. Please circulate widely to colleagues and friends. Watch the UCL campaign video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dscx4h2l-Pk
I am saddened by the untimely death of my colleague and friend Professor John Urry. I have worked alongside John for 17 years at Lancaster. He was my mentor when I was appointed as a lecturer in 1998 and he has been the warmest, kindest and most encouraging colleague. His death will leave a gaping hole in the Sociology Department; it is impossible to imagine our staff meetings, postgraduate conferences and research events without his smiling presence. John told me that he never intended to retire as he had too much to do. A champion of civic freedom, environmental and social justice issues, John was an anti-elitist in an age increasingly dominated by global elites (the ‘offshore class’ as he called them). He was a public sociologist, he loved twitter and he used this and other platforms to express criticism of the corrosion of democratic accountability and the erosion of the welfare state. These concerns were reflected in his recent work on inequalities, such as the global wealth gap, the concealment of wealth in tax havens (Offshoring), the inequality effects of climate change and ‘mobility-generated inequalities’. He understood that in order to confront climate change, rich societies urgently need to ‘power down’, but deepening economic inequalities make this almost impossible – therefore more equal societies are a fundamental requirement of post-oil, degrowth human futures. However, John was never a pessimist and one of his many legacies will be his enduring belief in the ability of technology, when harnessed to a sociological imagination, to tackle the most pressing social problems and bring about democratising forms of social change. I am going to miss his optimism most of all.
John and I at our joint Societies Beyond Oil and Revolting Subjects book launch in Lancaster, 2013.
The right to a dignified and independent life: Learning from The History of the Disability Rights Movement
Imogen Tyler, March 2016
‘Those who cannot work, such as the sick, aged or unemployed, are subject to a tremendous pressure to feel useless … we reject any view of ourselves as being lucky to be allowed to live’. Paul Hunt, 1966
Given the resigination of Iain Duncan Smith as work and pensions secretary, apparently in protest against £4bn of planned cuts to disability benefits – and specifically because he feels that cuts to the Personal Independence Payments (PIP) — which will replace the now defunct Independent Living Fund and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) — are “a step too far” in the Government’s austerity driven welfare reforms, it seems an apt moment to reflect on the history of disability activism which first established the rights of disabled people to a dignified and independent life–rights which while never fully realised are now in total disarray, if not fatally undermined.
As part of a research project on the politics of stigma, I have been revisting the work of the disability activist Paul Hunt (1937 – 1979). In 1966, Hunt edited a collection of essays ‘Stigma: The Experience of Disability’. Composed of essays by 12 disabled people, written to Hunt while he lived in institutional care, this is an extraordinarily powerful and ground-breaking book which documented and reflected on the stigma of living a disabled life in Britain in the 1960s. Hunt’s aim was not ‘sentimental autobiography’ and certainly not ‘charity’ (which he abhored) but on the contrary, was an attempt, drawing in particular on the US civil rights movement, to draw on personal experience as a means of jump-starting a movement for social and political change. ‘Stigma’ offered an insight into myriad problems faced by disabled people — poverty, discrimination, physical barriers, limited access to information about rights and services, deprivation of relationship and sexual rights, denial of housing, lack of access to medical services. Hunt opens his own brilliant essay in this volume with the words:
‘All my adult life has been spent in institutions amongst people who, like myself, have severe and often progressive physical disabilities. We are paralysed and deformed, most of us in wheel chairs, either as the result of accident or of diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy and polio. … In these circumstances the most acute questions arise and the most radical ‘answers’ are called for.
In 1972, he wrote a short letter to The Guardian ‘calling for “the formation of a consumer group to put forward the views of actual and potential residents” of residential institutions:
Severely physically handicapped people find themselves in isolated unsuitable institutions where their views are ignored and they are subject to authoritarian and often cruel regimes. I am proposing the formation of a consumer group to put forward nationally the views of actual and potential residents of these successors to the Workhouse.
As a consequence of the many responses received to his letter, Hunt joined Disablement Income Group – which had formed in 1965 to campaign for increased state benefits for disabled people – specifically in the form of a basic and just disability income. As Vic Finkelstein, the disability activist, scholar and writer, reflected:
The emergence of DIG was an early symptom of the shifting focus away from our “defective” bodies, which we had been conditioned into believing was the sum total of our misfortune, and onto the provision of benefits to enable a more equitable lifestyle in the community regardless of type of impairment or where this was acquired. (Finkelstein, 2004:7)
In 1974, with Finkelstein, Hunt set up The Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS). It was UPIAS who crafted the “social model of disability”, arguing that disability is fundamentally a political problem –people are disabled by society, not by their bodies (impairments).
While the impact and history of the UPIAS is contested (some critics argue it was too political –it was Marxist in leanings– and also exclusionary in terms of its focus on people with physical disabilities), there is no doubt that it changed the lives of disabled people across the world–and in the context of the current rolling back of disability and welfare rights its demands deserve a new hearing.
Hunt ‘escaped’ from institutional care in 1970, got married, raised a family, and all the while continued to work as a leading activist for disability rights until his death.
Below is an edited extract from the manifesto of the The Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation, from 1974. It is well worth a read.
UNION OF THE PHYSICALLY IMPAIRED AGAINST SEGREGATION
The Union aims to have all segregated facilities for physically impaired people replaced by arrangements for us to participate fully in society. These arrangements must include the necessary financial, medical, technical, educational and other help required from the State to enable us to gain the maximum possible independence in daily living activities, to achieve mobility, to undertake productive work, and to live where and how we choose with full control over our lives.
1. DISABILITY AND SEGREGATION
Britain today has the necessary knowledge and the advanced technology to bring physically impaired people into the mainstream of life and enable us to contribute fully to society. But instead of the Countrys resources being concentrated on basic human problems like ours, they are frequently misspent, for example, on making sophisticated weapons of destruction, and onprojects like Concorde and Centre Point. So despite the creation today of such an enormous capacity, which could help overcome disability, the way this capacity is misdirected means that many physically impaired people arestill unnecessarily barred from full participation in society. We find ourselves isolated and excluded by such things as flights of steps, inadequate public and personal transport, unsuitable housing, rigid work routines infactories and offices, and a lack of up-to-date aids and equipment.
2. There are a few individual examples of severely impaired people being able to overcome many of these barriers by the use of sufficient resources in the right way. They prove that integration is possible. But as a group we are still often forced to put up with segregated and inferior facilities. We get sent to special schools, colleges or training centres. We are systematically channelled into segregated factories, centres, Homes, hostels and clubs. If we do manage to become mobile, it is often in antiquated tricycles or specially labelled transport. All these segregated forms of help represented progress in years past. But since the means for integration now undoubtedly exists, our confinement to segregated facilities is increasingly oppressive and dehumanising.
3. RECENT ADVANCES
The struggles of disabled people and their relatives and friends, together with advances in technology and medical science, have it is true resulted in larger numbers of us participating more fully in ordinary society in recent years. Some of the barriers which segregate us have been partially overcome or dismantled. So a good proportion of people with paraplegia, or those who are blind, for example, have become able to work and to lead relatively active lives which would have been hard to imagine less than 50 years ago. These developments have meant a positive shift in the attitudes of some able-bodied people as they have responded to our presence amongst them.
4. Such advances show that general attitudes can be changed for the better. They also point to our increased participation in society as the principal means for achieving further change. But they cannot blind us to what remains the basic reality of the position of disabled people as a group. This society is based on the necessity for people to compete in the labour market in order to earn a living. To the employer of labour, the physically impaired are not usually as good a buy as the non-impaired. We therefore end up at or near the bottom of this society as an oppressed group.
5. LOW BARGAINING-POWER
When we do succeed in getting employment, our comparatively low productivity means that we have low bargaining-power when it comes to negotiating decent treatment and facilities. Our position is similar to that of many people who are middle-aged or elderly, who have had break-downs, or are mentally handicapped, black, ex-prisoners, unskilled workers, etc. We are usually among the first to lose our jobs and be cast on the scrap-heap when it suits the needs of the economy. If we are lucky we may bedrawn in again, to do the worst paid work, when business starts to boom once more. If we are unlucky, then we could face a lifetime on the degrading, means-tested poverty line. If we are very unlucky we may be consigned to a soul-destroying institution.
6. INSTITUTIONS – THE ULTIMATE HUMAN SCRAP-HEAPS
The union of the Physically Impaired believes that the reality of our positionas an oppressed group can be seen most clearly in segregated residential institutions, the ultimate human scrap-heaps of this society. Thousands of people, whose only crime is being physically impaired, are sentenced tothese prisons for life -which may these days be a long one. For the vast majority there is still no alternative, no appeal, no remission of sentence for good behaviour, no escape except the escape from life itself.
7. The cruelty, petty humiliation, and physical and mental deprivation suffered in residential institutions, where isolation and segregation have been carried to extremes, lays bare the essentially oppressive relations of this society with its physically impaired members. As in most similar places,such as special schools, there are some staff and volunteers doing their best to help the residents. But their efforts are systematically overwhelmed by the basic function of segregated institutions, which is to look after batches ofdisabled people – and in the process convince them that they cannot
realistically expect to participate fully in society and earn a good living. This function was generally appropriate when special residential institutionsfirst came into being, since in the competitive conditions of the time many physically impaired people could not even survive without their help. But now it has become increasingly possible for severely impaired people notjust to survive, but also to work and become fully integrated, the need for segregated institutions no longer exists in the way it did. They have become seriously out of step with the changed social and technological conditions of Britain today.
8. SUPPORT FOR RESIDENTS STRUGGLES
The Union of the Physically Impaired regards the neglected issues of institutions as of crucial importance in the field of disability. We therefore place great emphasis on supporting the struggles of residents in existing residential institutions for better conditions, for full control over their personal affairs, and for a democratic say in the management of their Home, Centre or Unit. The Union strongly opposes all attempts by the authorities to impose restrictions on visiting; to fix times for getting into and out of bed;to limit residents freedom to come in and go out when they wish; to enforce medical and nursing opinions, or to transfer residents to other institutions against their will.
9. The Union sees a need for a Charter which will focus on basic rights often denied when people are dependent on others for personal needs. Disabled people living in institutions will be offered help if they wish to organise locally in defence of their rights. The Union will develop an adviceand mutual-help service to assist with negotiations, formation of residents committees etc. When asked, we will mobilise support and publicity on a national basis for those involved in particular struggles.
10. ALTERNATIVES NEEDED
The Union is opposed to the building of any further segregated institutions by the State or by voluntary organisations. We believe that providing adequate services to people in their own homes is a much better use of resources. We also call urgently for the provision of non-institutional alternative housing, for example, along the lines of the Fokus scheme inSweden, which makes genuine progress towards secure, integrated, and active living for disabled people who need extensive personal help. The Union will try to assist anyone who seeks to move out – or stay out – of aninstitution. But we fully respect the feelings of individuals who regard institutional life as their best solution at the present time. We understand also that some disabled people will disagree with our views on segregation,and we hope that they will organise to put forward their arguments too.
11. REAL CHOICE
The Unions eventual object is to achieve a situation where as physically impaired people we all have the means to choose where and how we wish to live. This will involve the phasing out of segregated institutions maintained by the State or charities. While any of these institutions are maintained at ahuge cost, it is inconceivable that we will all receive in addition the full resources needed to provide us with a genuine opportunity to live as we choose. This point applies not just to residential homes, hospital units,hostels, villages and settlements, but also to other kinds of segregated facilities. As long as there are vastly expensive special schools, colleges and day-centres, heavily subsidised workshops and factories, and separate holiday camps and hotels, there can be no question of sufficient alternative provision being made to ensure that we all have a real opportunity of equal participation in normal educational, work and leisure activities.
12. DISABLEMENT OUTSIDE INSTITUTIONS
Our Union maintains that the present existence of segregated institutions and facilities is of direct relevance even for less severely impaired people whomay expect to avoid having to use them. Those of us who live outside institutions can fully understand the meaning of disability in this society only when we take account of what happens to the people who come at thebottom of our particular group. Their existence and their struggles are an
essential part of the reality of disability and to ignore them is like assessing the condition of elderly people in this society without considering theexistence of geriatric wards.
13. It is also true that the kind of prejudiced attitudes we all experience -other people being asked if we take sugar in our tea is the usual example -are related to the continued unnecessary existence of sheltered institutions.Those who participate us are indicating that they think we are not capable of participating fully and making our own decisions. They are harking back to the time when disabled people had to be sheltered much more, and theyimply that really we ought to be back in our rightful place – that is, a special
school, club, hospital unit, Home or workshop. Physically impaired people
will never be fully accepted in ordinary society while segregated institutionscontinue to exist, if only because their unnecessary survival today reinforces out of date attitudes and prejudices.
14. MEDICAL TRADITION
Both inside and outside institutions, the traditional way of dealing with disabled people has been for doctors and other professionals to decide what is best for us. It is of course a fact that we sometimes require skilledmedical help to treat our physical impairments – operations, drugs and nursing care. We may also need therapists to help restore or maintain physical function, and to advise us on aids to independence and mobility.But the imposition of medical authority, and of a medical definition of our
problems of living in society, have to be resisted strongly. First and foremost we are people, not patients, cases, spastics, the deaf, the blind, wheelchairs or the sick.
Our Union rejects entirely any idea of medical or other experts having the right to tell us how we should live, or withholding information from us, or take decisions behind our backs.
15 We reject also the whole idea of experts and professionals holding forth on how we should accept our disabilities, or giving learned lectures about the psychology of disablement. We already know what it feels like to be poor, isolated, segregated, done good to, stared at, and talked down to – far better than any able-bodied expert. We as a Union are not interested in descriptions of how awful it is to be disabled. What we are interested in, are ways of changing our conditions of life, and thus overcoming the disabilities which are imposed on top our physical impairments by the way this society is organised to exclude us. In our view, it is only the actual impairment which we must accept; the additional and totally unnecessary problems caused by the way we are treated are essentially to be overcome and not accepted. We look forward to the daywhen the army of experts on our social and psychological problems can find more productive work.
16. THE RIGHT KIND OF HELP
We know that as a small, weak, minority group, disabled people cannot achieve a fully human life by their own efforts alone. We need and welcome the help of sympathetic able-bodied people. But the basic problem we faceis our exclusion from full social participation. It follows that this oppressive situation can be put right only by disabled people actually taking a more active part in society. The efforts of professionals and other able-bodied people are therefore really constructive only when they build on and encourage the self-help and activity of disabled people themselves. This is why our energies as a Union will be directed mainly towards discussion and common action with other disabled people. Neither we as a Union, nor able-bodied people, can solve other disabled peoples problems for them. Those problems will be correctly tackled precisely to the extent that we all asdisabled people become involved and active in our own rehabilitation.
17. THE NEED FOR A UNION
Disabled people everywhere are already struggling against their isolation,segregation and other forms of oppression. Every day each of us has to face our own individual problems. And we are now increasingly getting together in groups to tackle more effectively the problems we find we havein common. This is shown by the vast growth of disability organisations in the last 25 years in Britain. Our Union takes this process of coming together a stage further. We are not restricted to one aspect of physical disability(e.g. mobility or incomes), nor to people with one medical diagnosis, nor to
those in one locality. The Union exists simply to offer help to all physically impaired people in the fight to change the conditions of life which oppress us and to realise our full human potential.
We are glad to share the news of a forthcoming Sociological Review Monograph to be edited by Imogen Tyler and Tom Slater, which, all being well, will be published early in 2018. it will include articles by Imogen Tyler, Tom Slater, Jenna Loyd, Anne Bonds, Lynne Friedli, Joanna Latimer, Brigit McWade, João Queirós, Virgilio Borges Pereira, Graham Scambler, Dayna Keene and Gergő Pulay.
Stigma is currently one of the most used but least developed of sociological concepts. This special issue aims to revitalise sociological debates about what stigma is, and the role of stigma in the formation and governance of contemporary societies. We anticipate that this special issue will have considerable appeal to readers of The Sociological Review, and hope it will make a defining contribution to the journal and the discipline.
Scholarship on stigma has been dominated by psychologists. This special issue will wrest stigma away from the individualism and a-historical frame of psychology, returning stigma to sociology through a focus on questions of history, power, capital, value, inequality, culture, ‘race’, disability and social governance. Through theoretical innovation and detailed empirical case studies of stigma in a range of settings, this issue will be an an essential resource for graduate and postgraduate students, but will also engage policy makers and practitioners/activists, opening up new questions and avenues of research.
Erving Goffman’s Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity  transformed understandings of the social function of stigma. Proceeding from a definition of stigma as ‘the situation of the individual who is disqualified from full social acceptance’ (1990: 9), Goffman explored what a burgeoning psychological literature on stigma might ‘yield for sociology’ (1990: 9). Fifty years after its publication, Goffman’s Stigma remains the most influential treatise on the social function of stigma. It has been pivotal in the development of practical initiatives designed to combat social stigma, for example in programmes designed to reduce the social stigma of conditions such as HIV and AIDS. Since Stigma was published, social and political movements, such as the LGBT and disability rights, have transformed public perceptions and understandings of what might have been considered “spoiled” or “deviant” bodies and behaviours. However, despite sometimes successful practical applications of Goffman’s work, it is striking how little sociological understandings of stigmatisation have developed within the intervening period. Further, it has been argued that Goffman’s interactionist approach to stigma has the effect of neutralizing the social and historical materials he draws upon (see Jameson, 1976). For example, Goffman wrote Stigma during a critical period the black civil rights movement in the US, but while he examines racial stigma, he doesn’t reflect on how social and political upheavals effected by movements for the equality of black humanity might trouble the stigma of “racialised interactions” or consider how stigma is a fundamentally racializing force (see Loyd and Bonds). Moreover, recent research has questioned the effectiveness and politics of (some) anti-stigma initiatives (see Haslam et. al. 2006, Pescosolido and Martin 2015)(see McWade). This troubling of normativity also speak to a longer series of theoretical debates in critical race studies feminist and queer theory, which variously argue against the limited terms of “inclusion” on offer from institutions, states, corporate agents and their mediating agencies. Within these alternative traditions of stigma thinking, there is a concern with reclaiming stigma ‘as a pivotal arena for the politics emanating from different traditions of the oppressed’ (Weheliye 2014, p. 2, see Tyler, McWade and Latimer)
This monograph develops out of the shared research interests of the two editors on the role of stigma in (re)producing social inequalities and injustices in the context of neoliberal capitalism. It aims to bring together sociological research on poverty, racism, disability, stigma and shame, with geographical perspectives on the activation of stigma at different scales (governmental, policy, media industries), recent scholarship on the stigma of place (see Slater, Queirós & Pereira, Keene and Pulay) and analyses of anti-stigma campaigns. In doing, it draws together articles from scholars writing from different global locations and perspectives, variously concerned with stigma as a mechanism of social disenfranchisement in numerous forms and on multiple scales. While the broader literature, particularly the social psychological literature, on stigma is vast in scope, what distinguishes this monograph is its specific focus on stigma as a mode of social governmentality. There have been attempts within social psychology to address the ‘decidedly individualistic focus’ (Link & Phelan, 2001: 366) of existing stigma research. However, this has been hampered by a limited understanding of ‘power’: where power is imagined primarily as a force exercised by individuals – ‘the aims of stigmatizers’ (2014: 24) – rather than conceptualised vis-à-vis the motives of, for example, class-interests, institutions and corporations within a broader unequal political economy of neoliberal capitalist accumulation. Hence, a specific aim of this monograph is to consider how stigma is activated in order to govern populations. This approach has been inspired by Loïc Wacquant’s argument that one of the major characteristics of neoliberalism is conditions of heightened stigmatization for minority subjects ‘in daily life as well as in public discourse’ (2008: 24–5). This argument is supported by research, for example John Hills and Peter Taylor-Gooby in the UK, have detailed a growing stigmatisation of poverty (Taylor-Gooby, 2013; Hills, 2015). Similarly, the ESRC-funded project, ‘Shame, social exclusion and the effectiveness of anti-poverty programmes: A Study of Seven Countries’ (2010-2012) details a marked shift from policies concerned with alleviating poverty shame, to forms of policy making designed to activate stigma in ways which ‘support the unequal distribution of resources in society’ (Walker, 2015, see Friedli below). This monograph seeks to further explicate and examine the role of stigma as as integral form of power and governance in advanced capitalist societies.
Working Titles of articles/chapters:
Neoliberal Stigma Power, Imogen Tyler
The Invention of the ‘Sink Estate’: Stigma and Symbolic Power in English Urban Regeneration, Tom Slater.
Where Do Black Lives Matter?: Race, Stigma, and Place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Jenna M. Loyd & Anne Bonds.
Stigmatising the resistance: the role of psychology in state attacks on “refusal to work” Lynne Friedli
Repelling neoliberal world-making: aging, biopolitics and irresponse-ability, Joanna Latimer
Madness, distress and refusing anti-stigma campaigns, Brigit McWade
Working class youth transitions to adulthood: the impact of territorial stigmatization among young social housing residents in the city of Porto, João Queirós and Virgilio Borges Pereira
Stigma: sign or symptom? A frame for change, Graham Scambler
Prison Stigma and the Decency of Home, Danya Keene
Territorial stigmatization at the margins of the postsocialist urban periphery: Lessons from Romania, Gergő Pulay
reblogged from a guest post i did for justiceforlb.org @justiceforlb, with thanks to Dr George Julian for formatting and editing, and Sara Ryan for feedback.
We believe that everyone has the right to be unequal (Thatcher, 1975).
For me, it’s not a question of saying the NHS is ‘safe in my hands’. Of course it will be. My family is so often in the hands of the NHS. And I want them to be safe there. Tony Blair once explained his priority in three words: education, education, education. I can do it in three letters: NHS (Cameron, 2006).
Loving a disabled child
Put yourself for a moment into a mother’s shoes. You have a baby, you call him Connor, he is a beautiful, much loved and much wanted addition to your family. He has learning disabilities, and will later be diagnosed as autistic and epileptic. As he grows up you find the services provided for children like him are patchy, unconnected and difficult to access:
It’s a tough gig bringing up a disabled child. Yep. It shouldn’t be, I know. Appropriate, timely and sufficient support would make a huge difference. And a seismic shift in public attitudes (Sara Ryan, Boundaries, February 11 2013).
You are unrelenting in seeking support for your child, finding ways to navigate agencies and services making sure he can attend a caring school. You begin to write a blog about your life, random happenings, images and observations; it soon becomes focused on life with your son as he ‘comes to the end of his school life and stands, unaware, on the edge of a huge gap in adult services’. As Connor becomes an adolescent, some of his behaviours become difficult to manage. You reflect on what his adult life holds in store, about the kinds of support he will need to continue to live a good life, a happy life, a decent and dignified live. Leading up to his 18th birthday, Connor gets increasingly anxious and agitated; he is laughing less, then not at all. Things aren’t working, Connor is depressed, unhappy, needs help, you all need help. He has some violent outbursts, and “the crunch” comes when he hits a teaching assistant at school. Connor is referred to a small specialist short-term acute assessment unit where his needs can be evaluated and a future care plan put in place. This NHS unit, Slade House, is only 5 minutes from your home and you will be able to visit him every day. It feels like a good temporary solution, one which will allow your family to work with medical professionals to figure out best options and a future plan for your son.
107 days later
Our beautiful, hilarious, exceptional dude was found unconscious in the bath in the unit before a planned trip to the Oxford Bus Company. The psychiatrist from the unit who called me at work around 10am to say that LB had been taken to hospital, gave no steer he was pretty much dead. I asked her (as an anxiety induced after thought) if he was conscious when he left the unit in the ambulance. She said they’d cleared his airway but he hadn’t regained consciousness. She made no suggestion I should urgently go to the hospital or that I should go with someone. It was a care less call. Much like the ‘care’ he’d always experienced outside home and school.
I arrived at the hospital twenty or so minutes later, with a work colleague who (so, so kindly) insisted on coming with me. I was immediately faced with a LB has a ‘dead heart only kept alive by a ventilator’ story. This news generated my, to that point, unknown sounds.
I hugged him while he died.
We are now in a space I can’t describe (Sara Ryan, The Day After, July 5 2013).
Connor Sparrowhawk (known as Laughing Boy, or LB) drowned in the bath in an NHS Assessment and Treatment Unit (Slade House) for adults with disabilities, on the 4th of July, 2013. Connor was 18 years old and had been in ‘the care’ of the unit for 107 days. The NHS trust (Southern Health) initially attributed his death to natural causes. Connor’s mother, Sara Ryan, a disability researcher, had already been writing a (then anonymous) blog – Mydaftlife– about family life with Connor. After he died she, along with family, friends and supporters, began a campaign to seek justice for him. An inquest into Connor’s death began on Monday 5 October 2015, and for the first time in British history a Coroners hearing, was live tweeted @LBInquest. The Coroner’s Jury found that Connor’s death was preventable, and that neglect had played a part: A two year fight to be told that an epileptic teenager with learning disabilities shouldn’t have been left unsupervised in a bath in ‘a secure and safe’ specialist unit. As a consequence of Connor’s death, and under considerable pressure from the #JusticeforLB campaign, NHS England commissioned Mazars, an auditing firm, to review ‘all deaths of people in receipt of care from Mental Health and Learning Disability services in Southern Health Trust between April 2011 and March 2015’. The findings of this report reveal that this particular trust had failed to investigate the deaths of more than 1,000 patients with learning disabilities or mental health problems.
Focusing on the deaths of learning disability uncovered by Mazars, and drawing on Chris Hatton’s careful analysis, from April 2011 to March 2015, there were in total 365 deaths of people with learning disabilities under the care of Southern Health learning disability services. That’s over 90 deaths of people with learning disabilities being cared for by Southern Health every year and 158 of these deaths were recorded as unexpected. However, Mazars also asks us not to trust this figure, as the recording systems used by Southern Health were ‘not working’, confused and in effect useless:
the deaths of people with a Learning Disability are not made visible in the recorded data presented to the Trust Board and to regulators and commissioners whether expected or not; natural or unnatural. … It is not therefore possible to rely on published information as an accurate measure of risk or death related incidents in the Trust. … The overall level of unexpected deaths has not been reported anywhere so there has not been an accurate reflection of the levels of deaths occurring amongst patients (Mazars, Independent review of deaths of people with a Learning Disability or Mental Health problem in contact with Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, April 2011 to March 2015, December 2015).
The Mazars report couldn’t, in the absence of accurate data, account for the number of learning disabled people who had died in their care: It did reveal that nobody was accounting for them.
Notably, of the 158 deaths of people with learning disabilities which were recorded as unexpected, Southern Health only reviewed 68 of them, and only 1 of these got as far as what is called a Serious Critical Incident Review. As Hatton notes “In total, 99% of unexpected deaths of people with learning disabilities were not recorded on a national system that would have brought them to the attention of commissioners or the national level Care Quality Commission [the independent regulator of Health and Social Care in England]”. In short:
the Mazars review brings into the open what feels like a fundamental disregard for the lives of people with learning disabilities, even within organisations that are supposed to be supporting people (Chris Hatton, Heart of Darkness, 2015).
The #JusticeforLB movement has succeeded in exposing the most disturbing and penurious facts about the British states treatment of learning disabled people since the Winterbourne Inquiry (which detailed the criminal abuse by staff of patients at a privately owned care facility called Winterbourne View Hospital, near Bristol, but was only exposed by the work of uncover journalism supported by the BBC’s Panorama team). Since Connor’s death, many have come forward to speak about ongoing failures in care for learning disabled people, about neglect, about their struggles to get answers about the deaths of loved ones, and about their fears for the future in the face of seemingly permanent reductions in funding for adult social care. In the context of seemingly permanent austerity, Connor’s death raises fundamental questions about the future of welfare itself. Indeed, it is imperative that we understand #JusticeforLB’s struggle for accountability within the context of ‘the virtually impenetrable Health & Social Care Act (2013)’ (Youssef El-Gingihy, 2015: 3), which came into law three months before Connor’s death. As Jacky Davy, John Lister and David Wrigley note in their important account of the systematic demolition of the NHS, NHS for Sale: Myths, Lies and Deception (2015), one of the first casualties of the Health and Social Care Act (2013) was accountability itself. (see also Accountability in the NHS: Implications of the government’s health reform programme, Jo Maybin, Rachael Addicott, Anna Dixon and John Storey, The King’s Fund, 2011, Lords warn on ministerial accountability in NHS reforms, The Guardian, 2011).
Shouting “into an ideological headwind of gale-force strength” (Peck, 2013)
While we know why Connor died (he died of neglect), to have his death accounted for has proven more challenging. This is due in no small part to the baffling complexity of what we used to call ‘the National Health Service’ (NHS). In effect, the NHS no longer exists, or at least not in a form those who created it would recognize (see El-Gingihy, 2015).
The Kings Fund has produced an animated film which attempts to explain the structure of commissioners, boards, trusts and service providers who constitute the contemporary NHS since the most recent round of ‘reforms’ instituted by the collation Government in 2012:
Today, the closet thing we have to central governance, and national level accountability, within the NHS is “a body” called NHS England, which receives the bulk of tax-payers funding to pay for the services we receive. NHS England is primarily a commissioning body, however, the bulk of actual commissioning work is devolved to local ‘Clinical Commissioning Groups’ (made up of Doctors, nurses, some members of the public ,‘health professionals’, and a significant number of private health company representatives and shareholders) who commission services from a range of ‘pubic’ and ‘private’ service providers. These changes in the government of the National Health Service where made, the public was told, in order to “liberate”, as the Health and Social Care Act (2013) put it, hospitals, GPs and local authorities to decide what kinds and levels of provision to make to the public.
In the case of Connor Sparrowhawk, the liberated services which had been ‘commissioned’ to care for him where provided by an NHS Foundation Trust called Southern Health, who are one of England’s largest providers of ‘community health, specialist mental health and learning disability services’. Mazars concluded that those in charge of overseeing the delivery of Southern Health services had catastrophically failed. In particular they noted that a ‘failure to bring about sustained improvement in the identification of unexpected death and in the quality and timeliness of reports into those deaths is a failure of leadership and of governance’. What are the consequences of this failure of leadership and governance? Who can be held to account in a context where the government has devolved its “constitutional responsibility” to provide NHS services? Where does legal and political responsibility lie? With those whose neglect contributed to Connor’s death? With Southern Health? With the CCG who commissioned their services? With NHS England? With the Secretary of State for Health? If all of these ‘bodies’ are in some part accountable, who can hold them to account, what are the systems for accounting?
the administrative grotesque
In Abnormal: Lectures at the College de France. 1974-1975, Michel Foucault describes a system of neoliberal governmentality he calls the “administrative grotesque”, ‘in which the person to whom power is given is at the same time ridiculed or made abject or shown in an unfavourable light, through a number of rites and ceremonies’(Foucault, 2003, p. 13). In terms of the administrative bureaucracy faced by #JusticeforLB, we might think here of the rituals of meetings, minutes, memos, investigations, hearings, evidence, reports and the ceremony of public apology. What Foucault argues, is that these rituals often reveal those who wield power in an unfavourable light, even ridiculing them, but this has doesn’t have the effect of limiting their power but on the contrary and perversely, it strengthens and strangely further legitimates their hold on power. As Foucault puts it, the administrative grotesque, grants ‘a striking form of expression to the unavoidability, the inevitability of power, which can function in its full rigor and at the extreme point of its rationality even when in the hands of someone who is effectively discredited’ (Foucault, 2003, p. 13).
What we can learn from this is that practices of calling to account, activist practices engaged in revealing, showing, demanding and even disgracing bureaucrats, managers, mandarins, and politicians, can in effect support the very system they challenge. Hence the response of administrative and governmental bodies to #JusticeforLB and to the grotesque facts revealed by Mazars is: “It’s a Fair Cop”, you are right, we have failed, we haven’t done well enough, we are sorry, you have effectively shamed us, but we cannot, will not, relinquish any power as this will simply make the systems that we are reforming, it will make these failing systems collapse, and the more you needle us, the deeper and more extensive the rot at the heart of the systems of ‘care’ you expose are revealed, the more mandarins implicated in this administrative grotesque, the tighter, in fact, is our grip on power.
The ‘exercise of power through the explicit disqualification of the person who wields it’ speaks to those discredited by the Mazars report for whom there have been no consequences, but also offers useful clues as to the wider system of governmentality which have inexorably eroded systems of accountability, and with it the possibility for redress and justice, within the NHS and other increasingly fragmented and privatised public services and institutions (Foucault, 2003, pp. 35–6). There is, Thatcher liked to say, no alternative. What we face today is TINA on speed. As Jamie Peck puts it:
In contrast to the first major wave of cuts, back in the 1980s – when Thatcher, Reagan and others in the early vanguard of the neoliberal project were confidently predicting a much brighter upside (once the bureaucratic red tape and welfare-state impediments were removed), the political rhetoric of today is colored in much darker hues. Maybe we are still being told that there is no alternative, but now it is that there is no alternative to protracted pain and suffering, to permanent reductions in public services, even those once deemed ‘essential’ (Peck, 2013)
One concrete consequence of these permanent reductions in public services is the erosion of the ability of citizens to hold their Government to account. Or to put it more plainly, permanent reductions in public services necessitates the erosion of structures of accountability.
The hollow rituals of apology without accountability
On December 10th 2015, the leaked Mazars findings provoked the tabling of an ‘urgent question’ to the Health Sectary Jeremy Hunt in the House of Commons. Hunt made a public apology to Sara Ryan and her family. Hunt thanked the #JusticeforLB campaign, and suggested he was grateful for their exposure of the failures at Southern Health.
In his 2005 book, DIRECT DEMOCRACY: An Agenda for a New Model Party, Hunt not only put forward a case for the privatisation of the NHS, but specifically argued for an end to government accountability for the welfare state. Hunt stated, “what is needed is not the accountability of services to central government – precisely the error of the Attlee settlement whose failed systems we still inhabit.” (Hunt, 2003: 5). Attlee was the Labour Prime-Minister (1945 to 1951) who oversaw the development of the post-war welfare state. His Health Minister, Aneurin Bevan, created the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948. Hunt’s political ambition, to rid the government, and specially the Department of Health, for accountability for failures in care, is precisely what has come to pass, though the establishment of NHS England, and ‘chaotic and ill-prepared’ local Clinical Commissioning Groups. Decentralised ‘accountability’, said Hunt, ‘must be direct, democratic and local’ (Hunt, 2005), in actuality devolved accountability, market-based accountability, exercises authority through obfuscation, a strategy which seems to centre on tiring out those who attempt to question and challenge.
The administrative grotesque which characterises the state we are in, marks a departure from Attlee’s radical vision of a Government for the people to government of the people by an impenetrable networks of vested interests.
The bones of hope
Judith Butler notes, ‘Many people think that grief is privatizing, that it returns us to a solitary situation, but I think it exposes the constitutive sociality of the self, a basis for thinking a political community of a complex order (Butler, 2004, p. 18). The counter-political community of #JusticeforLB has exposed the horror of the administrative grotesque. This has been no small undertaking, but has involved the harnessing of an arsenal of strategies and technologies: the #107days campaign and actions, the use of digital and off-line activist practices: twitter, blogging, vimeo, the #LBBill, the Justice Quilt, the Justice Shed, films, art exhibitions, the #JusticeforLB Symposium, picnics and flags. This is a movement grounded in grief and love, but moved, agitated, kept alive, by the promise of justice for people with learning disabilities, and the possibility of a different welfare future.
by Imogen Tyler and Jenna Loyd, also published on Open Democracy
This is my family.
Baba, mama, baby all washed up on the shore. This is 28 shoeless survivors and thousands of bodies.
Bodies Syrian, Bodies Somali, Bodies Afghan, Bodies Ethiopian, Bodies Eritrean. Bodies Palestinian.
Jehan Bsesio, ‘No Search, No Rescue’, 2015.
Ursula Le Guin’s dystopian novel The Dispossessed (1974) is set on a moon called Anarres, where an anarchist community established itself after breaking away from the capitalist mother-planet Urras. During a history lesson, children in Anarres are shown archival film footage of a beach on Urras, which speaks to the horrific visual iconography of contemporary Europe. The film’s voiceover provides a commentary upon the images in the film:
“Bodies of children dead of starvation and disease are burned on the beaches. On the beaches of Tius, seven hundred kilometres away … women kept for the sexual use of male members of the propertied class lie on the sand all day until dinner is served to them by people of the unpropertied class”. A close-up of dinnertime; soft mouths champing and smiling, smooth hands reaching out for delicacies wetly mounded in silver bowls. Then a switch back to the blind blunt face of a dead child, mouth open, empty, black, dry. “Side by side,” the quiet voice … said. (Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed, 1974).
Reading the news this summer has involved negotiating similarly jarring images: people desperately paddling towards Mediterranean beaches on overloaded dinghies while tourists sunbathe amidst the flotsam of failed crossings, and the growing piles of discarded lifejackets. In contemporary Europe, previously segregated images of tourists and migrants are now captured within the same visual frame. ‘It is surreal’, Greek photojournalist Yannis Behrakis commented, witnessing the ‘migrants arriving on the beach each day among tourists and posh hotels’.
This year alone, we know that at least 500,000 people have made their way to Europe by perilous sea-crossings, and an estimated 3000 of these have drowned en route. Let’s be clear, the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ is actually a crisis of international borders, neocolonialism, and imperialism. European border-control policies turn voyages to safety, freedom, and opportunity into treacherous and sometimes fatal journeys. As one British journalist notes “They were murdered. Actually, they were massacred. The policy stipulated they should be left to die. So they died”.
British news media perspectives on these Mediterranean beach scenes have swayed between apparently distinct poles of xenophobia and humanitarianism. For example, newspapers have featured many stories about family holidays ruined by ‘thousands of boat people from Syria and Afghanistan’ who have turned the Greek islands into ‘disgusting hell hole[s]’.
As families…relax on sun loungers on the beach, just a yards away scores of migrants have set up camp, sleeping on cardboard boxes with rubbish strewn everywhere. Anne Servante, a nurse from Manchester, had come to Kos expecting a relaxing break with her husband Tony, a retired plumber. Instead her summer break has turned into a nightmare as penniless migrants who are in Greece to claim asylum sit outside their restaurant and watch them eat.
In this story, we are directed to read the figures of ‘Anne’ and ‘Tony’ as respectable, hard-working people, while ‘the boat people’ and ‘penniless migrants’ living in a ‘rubbish strewn’ camp are rendered as ‘human waste’. This kind of language classifies and devalues, drawing distinctions between those whose lives are of value and those who are dispensable.
Alongside this genre of racist reportage, there are stories of ‘humanitarian tourist heroes’, like Sandra Tsiligeridu, ‘a former Greek model’, who rescued a Syrian man, Mohammed Besmar, on her way back from a snorkelling trip. Tsiligeridu ‘was cruising back to the Greek holiday island of Kos with family and friends […] when she spotted something out of place in the sea up ahead. A pair of hands appeared to be waving at her from the deep-blue waters of the Aegean Sea’. These adventure stories are concerned with relating the redemption of the European saviour. Journalists report Tsiligeridu as saying, “‘Before I met Mohammed I was angry and sad at the scenes I saw on television. I asked myself “Why do they come here?” “Now I understand the value of human life”. As Teju Cole wryly notes, ‘the white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening’.
These two genres of reporting (humanitarian/saviour and racist/xenophobia) often appear alongside each other in the same newspapers. Flipsides of the same coin they both represent and shape European perspectives on the current crisis at the borders, in which migrants are imagined as alien others, whether ‘deserving refugees’ or ‘illegal migrants’. In both registers the agency, knowledge, and collective capacities of people who have been dispossessed from their homes and livelihoods from European-backed wars and destructive economic policies.
In response to overt and implicit anti-migrant racism in coverage of the life and death struggles taking place at Europe’s borders, there have been calls for more care in how this unprecedented exodus of people is described and represented. This has led to what one BBC news headline describes as a ‘battle over the words used to describe migrants’. In August, the Director of News at Al Jazeera issued a directive to journalists to stop using the term ‘migrants’ to describe people crossing into Europe, because it has ‘evolved from its dictionary definitions into a tool that dehumanises and distances’. Indeed, the consequence of the stigmatisation of the term “migrant” has been palpable in European news reporting, as Barry Malone, the online editor at Al Jazeera notes:
The logic behind Al Jazeera’s decision is that the term ‘refugee’ has a specific international legal genealogy enshrined in the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. However, this rationale fails to recognise the fundamental erosion of both the legal status and popular meaning of the terms refugee and asylum-seeker in contemporary Europe, which has accompanied the tightening of legal migration channels. Since the 1990s European and other wealthy states have shirked their international obligations as signatories to the 1951 convention through creating new legal classifications that diminish refugee rights. For example, the small number of Syrian refugees which Britain has agreed to house will be granted ‘humanitarian protection status’ for five years, after which time they will either need to apply to remain longer, leave, or be forcibly deported. In other words, Britain is actually accepting no Syrian refugees at all. As we write, it is unclear whether Germany will accept Syrians as refugees, or, like the UK, will also offer only time-limited protection and leave-to-remain.
Further, Europe and other wealthy countries in the world have implemented policies and programmes designed to keep refugees at bay so they cannot land to make asylum-claims. These include the proliferation of regional and transnational deterrence measures, such as the off-shoring of detention facilities and other nefarious arrangements with transit states, which ‘block safe and legal routes’ of travel in order to prevent people from arriving to make asylum-claims. The Hungarian government, for example, ‘has invested more than 100 million euros on razor-wire fencing and border controls’ transforming itself into what Amnesty International describe as ‘a refugee protection free zone’.
In September the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) launched a #WordsMatter campaign in response to what the BBC is calling ‘battle over the words used to describe migrants’. In a film to accompany the campaign, celebrities explain the UNHCR distinction between a refugee and a migrant hinges on ‘choice’: a migrant chooses to move, while a refugee has no choice, is fleeing persecution. While the campaign is intended to destigmatise the term refugee, like the depictions of vacationing Europeans encountering refugees, the UN video depicts refugees as passive: they are both invisible and voiceless in this film, ventriloquized by celebrity talking heads. The false distinction between refugees who are ‘forced to leave’ and migrants who have ‘chosen’ to cross borders renders refugees ‘as dependent, apolitical non-agents’. The insistence on distinct differences between classes of people on the move mystifies the ‘historical forces, politics, power, hegemony, economic exploitation and colonialism’ that dispossess people from their homes and livelihoods. (Hence the call of self-organising refugees in Kurdistan to ‘Forget the UN!’.)
We can see the impact of this distinction between deserving and undeserving migrants in the fragile political consensus that something must be done for Syrians (authentic refugees), whilst those who have made perilous journeys from ‘forgotten conflicts’ in Africa (Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Gambia), South Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh), or the Western Balkans (Kosovo, Albania) are classified and criminalised as economic migrants. Hence the ‘growing concern among some migrants and aid officials that the new policies might unwittingly divide the migrants into two distinct classes—with two different kinds of welcomes’. What is actually happening is a more general ‘competitive downgrading of refugee protection standards’ in ways that sustain deeper global divides in wealth, rights, and well-being.
We should be wary of those who insist, in the words of British historian and journalist Tim Stanley, that ‘it is down to the state in which they have arrived to define what they are’. The ‘what’ in this sentence is chilling, a reminder of the ways in which the bureaucratic classification of people operates through what Alexander Wehelyie terms ‘racial assemblages’: the socio-political processes through which humanity is disciplined into ‘humans, non-quite-humans, and nonhumans’ (2014: 8).
The school children on Anarres are not shocked by the film they watch. It transpires that this is a tired lesson and they speculate amongst themselves about whether life on Urras is as ‘disgusting, immoral [and] excremental’ as their teachers would lead them believe. Yet, when the protagonist of The Dispossessed visits Urras as an adult, he discovers precisely the world of ‘commonplace horrors’ he was taught about as a child. So horrific is the inhumanity he witnesses, that he has no language, no words, with which to comprehend and describe it. The lesson here is that when the violence of inequality becomes ordinary, we can no longer comprehend it or imagine alternatives. For Europeans, photographs and television footage of migrant arrivals, of rescues at sea, of overloaded boats, discarded life-jackets, lost objects and dead children on Mediterranean beaches are rapidly becoming commonplace horrors.
The political response to build higher walls and fences, to build prisons and camps, and accelerate deportations will only exacerbate the vulnerabilities faced by 60 million displaced people, that is ‘1 in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum’ (UNHCR, June 2015). The movement of people is not the problem, the violence of global apartheid is the problem. Global apartheid more accurately describes the refugee crisis we are witnessing. Global apartheid, a language of apart-ness, relies on stigmatization and racialization to produce seemingly natural differences between ‘them’ and ‘us’. This language operates in tandem with practices of physical segregation, fortification and militarization of boundaries, detention and expulsion.
In conclusion then, we need to fight for refugee rights, but, taking a cue from the political allegories of Le Guin’s science fiction we also need to nurture more radical alternative perspectives on this crisis in order to see its strangeness and its horror. As Yanis Varoufakis put in on a recent television debate about the refugee crisis in Europe, ‘looked at from space…borders are an absurdity’ (BBC Question Time, 24 Sep 2015).
“There’s a lot to be said about euthanasia regarding certain members of todays society. We are creating a bigger problem with these feral excuse for humans. We complain about immigrants and rightly so but we now have a under class who are of no use to society whatsoever. They are just parasites feeding off the workers of this country”
[sic.] (Rob, Durham) ( Parry, 2014).
The venomous hatred exhibited by the above quotation illustrates much about an underclass ontology in which poor people are loathed and dehumanised. The comment is from an article on the Daily Mail’s website covering the recent television series Benefits Street, and whilst it represents an extreme view, it received a majority of up-votes suggesting a level of receptivity amongst other website users. For those unfamiliar with the show, Benefits Street is a documentary series purporting to reveal everyday life on James Turner Street, Birmingham, where a supposed ninety-percent of people claim benefits. Over the course of five episodes, film-crews not only follow several benefit-claimants as they engage in criminal behaviour, swill lager and buy drugs, but also commit significant screen-time to those not on benefits. The resulting footage was branded ‘poverty pornography’ in parts of the press, sparking widespread outrage for misleading both residents and audiences and for triggering death-threats against the cast ( Bingham, 2014). Furthermore, I propose that this self-described “observational documentary series revealing the reality of life on benefits” has acted as a conduit for a broader set of ‘underclass ontologies’.
Zygmunt Bauman (2011) begins “Collateral damage: Social inequalities in a global age”with two metaphors: a measuring of the strength of human societies through their most vulnerable points as with the carrying capacity of a bridge, and of a fuse in an electrical system failing as the weakest point when the circuit overreaches its potential. The chapters cover topics somewhat clumsily tied to the theme of ‘collateral damage’ – those deemed ‘unavoidable losses’ of the progress of liquid modernity. Altogether, the text is a bricolage of the writer’s oeuvre and for this reason reads like a set of thought-pieces rather than a sustained argument, leaving it to the reader to pull together Bauman’s contribution to this debate on underclass ontologies.
Bauman (2011:3) describes the underclass as an externality inhabiting a below-ness without a function (as in working-class) or position (as in upper-class), and a grouping which “may be ‘in’, but it is clearly not ‘of’ the society”. It is this alterity of people and places which justifies the depoliticisation of their material and symbolic impoverishment and transformation into problems of law and order. Thus, it is an ontology which builds consent for the coercive practices of the neoliberal state, an argument Bauman develops through a distinction between market-driven insecurities (unemployment, repossession) and alternative insecurities (threats to personal-safety, terrorism). Bauman (2011:54) suggests that because the neoliberal state increasingly retreats from intervening in market-driven insecurities, its “hopes to restore its lost monopoly on the chances of redemption must be artificially beefed up, or at least highly dramatised to inspire a sufficient volume of fears”. However, by separating these two insecurities, Bauman underplays their complex interplay. Continuing with the underclass example, insecurity is generated not simply through Bauman’s description of threat to personal-safety, but also through the political-economic threat to the majority of having to support an undeserving population of ‘market failures’. Crucially, narratives constructing social problems as issues of law and order do not place them outside of the market. Following from Bernard Harcourt (2011), markets and their policing are intertwined – states do not retreat from markets and let them function ‘naturally’. Rather, these economically generated forms of insecurity are regulated by a carceral archipelago. By embracing this illusory separation, Bauman depoliticises not only the link between economic and alternative forms of insecurity, but also the very operation of markets themselves.
In “Punishing the poor: The Neoliberal Government of Insecurity” Wacquant’s (2009) avoids these pitfalls by tracing the (re-)emergence of the prison in a dialectical relationship with viewings of poverty drawn together here as underclass ontologies. Crucially, “the penalization of precariousness creates new realities … tailor-made to legitimize the extension of the prerogatives of the punitive state according to the principle of the self-fulfilling prophecy” ( Wacquant, 2009:35). According to the author, these notions become embodied in condensed ‘castaway-categories’ deployed to maintain these new realities of social insecurity upon which consent is constructed. For instance, Wacquant analyses how consent for the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act in the USA and ‘Megan’s Law’ (the Sexual Offender Act of 1994 which makes the publication of the identity and address of registered sex-offenders a legal necessity) were galvanised through the mobilisation of fears of the black welfare queen and the predatory paedophile. By linking underclass ontologies with policy and ideology, Wacquant conceptualises a ‘centaur state’ in which a liberal head is mounted upon an authoritarian body, practicing laissez-faire upstream but reacting brutally to social inequalities through a punitive downstream.
Therefore, the writer is outlining the reduction of poor people to objects devoid of politics which simultaneously act as conductors for the establishment of consent for coercive policies. However, Wacquant (2009:xix) himself is guilty of this self-same process, admitting in his prologue to “one-sided and overly monolithic” scholarship. As he is aware then, his monograph treats the poor as objects upon which the successful operation of power is pre-supposed. Wacquant (2009:xix–xx) justifies this approach as an attempt to highlight a single process selectively – an over-simplification that is apparently “an unavoidable moment in the analysis of the surge of the penal state in the neoliberal age and a cost well worth paying if it gets students and activists of criminal justice to pay attention to germane developments in poverty policies”. However, this logic assumes two things. Firstly, that one has to produce a simplified account of power to engage readers. Secondly, it places the means of altering and resisting these policies outside of the people and domain in which they occur. It removes poor people from the realm of the political, suggesting instead that they are unable to challenge the apparently top–down processes of neoliberalisation ( Castree, 2006). In a similar fashion to these underclass ontologies themselves, this approach presents the poor as voiceless, devoid of agency and as wanton cogs in the neoliberal machine.
Bauman (2011:152) likewise renders poor people aphonic, describing the underclass as “stripped of all socially produced and socially accepted trappings and marks that elevate mere biological life to the rank of a social being … The underclass is not merely an absence of community; it is the sheer impossibility of community”. Removing people from sociality occludes their ability to communicate and exercise politics, thus denying their subjectivity. Therefore, it is ironic that elsewhere Bauman (2011:58) notes that the “denial of subjectivity disqualifies the selected targets as potential partners in dialogue; whatever they might say … is a priori declared immaterial”. Both Wacquant and Bauman describe processes rendering poor people voiceless, yet their analysis remains within this same ontological mode. Furthermore, by pre-supposing the successful operation of these neoliberal transformations, instances of contestation are ignored. Bauman (2011:153) presents underclass neighbourhoods as ‘Hades’ spaces – as “wilderness beyond which there can only be a void, a bottomless black hole” rather than an emergent, porous boundary through which people slip and climb through. To echo Castree (2006), Wacquant and Bauman present homogenous top–down studies of power as seemingly ‘necessary illusions’. In so doing, neither author restores subjectivity to marginalised groups, but rather reproduces these underclass ontologies.
This is why Imogen Tyler’s Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain is a singular contribution to this debate. Not only does she interrogate the presentation of impoverished people as objects devoid of politics, but also builds a conceptual apparatus through which their politics are paramount to understanding operations of power. By focusing on the lived experience of ‘being made abject’, Tyler enriches her study with the voice of the subject so starkly absent elsewhere. Rather than approaching neoliberalism as a set of market-based policy developments (an important aspect of course), Tyler (2013:5) adds to this analysis “a thick social and cultural account of neoliberalism as a form of governance – concentrating in particular on the mechanisms through which public consent is procured for policies and practices that effect inequalities”.
This approach overcomes the false externalities in Bauman’s depiction of ‘underclass’, which are mired in the conflation of being spoken-for and being invisible. Bauman (2011:57) conceptualises “contemporary menaces … as a rule distantly located, concealed and surreptitious, seldom close enough to be witnessed … for all practical purposes invisible”, which misses Tyler’s (2013:20) vital observation that underclass ontologies hyper-visibilise the abject body, meaning “waste populations are in this way included through their exclusion”. Returning to Levinas, rather than becoming empty pieces in a hollow underclass ontology, abject figures signify the boundaries of our ethical norms of responsibility and of the political. As with Wacquant’s linkage between the perception and punishment of poverty, for Tyler (2013:47) ‘national abjects’ are “employed to legitimise neoliberal forms of governmentality by effecting insecurity within the body politic”. Tyler’s conceptual approach fruitfully draws together distinct examples of such ‘national abjects’ ranging from protesting asylum-seeking mothers, the Dale Farm evictions in 2011 and the English riots of the same year. As she remarks early in her monograph, “the voices of resistance against the abjectifying logics of neoliberal governmentality are growing louder” ( Tyler, 2013:2). Revolting Subjects restores subjectivity to poor people by re-conceptualising the intimate connections between abjection, the neoliberal state and the “ontological obliteration of personhood” ( Tyler, 2013:76).
Central to this re-conceptualisation are underclass ontologies. All of the texts under review draw attention to the linkage between the viewing of poverty and the neoliberal state, illuminating, with varying degrees of success, how thoroughly depoliticised the nexus between the viewing and response to poverty has become. As Rancière (2007:11) states, “politics is the art of suppressing the political … Depoliticisation is the oldest task of politics, the one which achieves its fulfilment at the brink of its end”. The demarcation of an underclass without politics removes poverty from its historical and geographical context, serving to re-nature the intensely political processes and spectacles of power shaping these ontologies. Without these contexts, the violent sorting of people and capital through markets is perceived as a natural order, with those appearing to deviate from the norm not only viewed as individual market failures, but as moral failures for exiting this natural system.
This review now turns to discussing Benefits Street as a springboard for examining the forging of these new realities of the deserving and undeserving through one particular distinction – the abject and the aspirational. The programme relies profoundly upon synecdoche and metonymy in its showcasing of revolting bodies on primetime television, which reached around five million people each week. Its dramatis personae include both exemplars and effigies – incorporating the ‘idler’ (White Dee, Danny), the pathologised ‘substance-abuser’ (Fungi, Sam), the ‘benefit fiddler’ (Mark, Becky), the ‘entrepreneurial citizen’ (Smoggy, Tich), the ‘hardworking immigrant’ (Marius, George) and the ‘exposed child’ (Gerrard, Callum). Thus, for a documentary claiming to portray “life on benefits”, the devotion of such significant screen-time to people in work exposes the underlying intention to accentuate any deviations from the norm.
Idle bodies spill-out spatially and metaphorically from the houses of James Turner Street onto mattresses, sofas, doorsteps and garden-walls. As one ‘idler’, Danny, states: “I’m capable of getting a job y’know. I’ve got qualifications coming out of my f**king ears. I’m just being a lazy d**khead”, instead earning money shoplifting (episode one, 24:45). Contrastingly, we see door-to-door salesman Smoggy (the ‘50p man’) displaying an entrepreneurial aspiration to turn the poverty of the area into a means of making a living. Furthermore, Smoggy’s endeavours “make a difference for people, that’s my reward … Me helping them is them helping me” (episode one, 24:30). Importantly, by segueing these two people in the sequencing of the show, producers also segue acts of revulsion and admiration against each other. Whilst Danny is a figure of hatred for his laziness and criminality, audiences may approve of Smoggy as a successful neoliberal and moral subject (Dardot & Laval, 2013).
The second episode of the show focuses on two sets of Romanian migrants living in material conditions noticeably worse than those bêtes noires on benefits. As Marius summarises in episode two, “we’re poor but poverty isn’t the issue here. The issue is love. It’s the love of our families that drives us to work” – an ambition to secure the futures of their children viewers may identify with (19:00). Alternatively, most ‘white’ characters on benefits appear to skive these parental responsibilities, as illustrated by White Dee urging her daughter to sign-on for unemployment allowance: “just imagine if you stay at home all day and get money and not have to do anything for it” (episode four, 2:00). In this material iconography, aspiration and abjection are codified by ‘race’. Building on Edward Said’s critique of the mutual constitution of people, place and difference through oppositional registers of ‘race’, it is deviations from the norm which are again distinguished. Thus, the normative interpretation of ‘dark’ and foreign bodies as the ‘wretched of the earth’ makes their ambition all the more outstanding: they strive despitethis norm of being abject. Furthermore, that these aspiring characters escape from the chains of place despite this racialised standard weakens the legitimacy of more nuanced, geographical explanations of poverty. Presentation of these strivers establishes the logic that if one person can overcome poverty, why cannot everybody else? – it encourages the audience to perceive the abject person’s failure as individual failure, thus reducing poverty to a self-imposed, depoliticised condition. The rubbish filling James Turner Street furthers these racialised codifications. On one hand we see idle bodies wallowing in filthy, unhygienic conditions (such as the repeated image of Mark and Becky lazing on a thrown-out sofa), and on the other those turning this waste and scrap metal into a livelihood (Tich, George’s family). In the language of Bauman, audiences are viewing the wasted lives of capitalism, and yet through its sequencing of the distinction between abject and aspirational, Benefits Street invites viewers to revile these ‘filthy white’ bodies not as wasted, but as willing pieces of waste itself ( Tyler, 2008).
This distinction is also evident in the pathologised substance-abuser rarely seen without lager and cigarettes in-hand, embodied by Fungi, Danny and his companions whom White Dee describes as “Mr N*bhead, Mr Crackhead, Mr P**shead” (episode one, 18:30). We witness Danny spending money from his shoplifting-spree on drugs whilst bemoaning his inability to “provide for [his children] new trainers, new tracksuits, the latest gear” (episode one, 25:30). This tends to evoke disgust on two levels: that he equates his paternal role with providing his children with the latest fashion, and secondly that he uses this parental responsibility as a justification for the criminality funding his drink and drugs (a stark contrast with Marius living in self-imposed squalor to help provide for his family).
The drunkard substance-abuser is metonymic for a pathologised population writ large. Following from Foucault (1989), pathologisation justifies certain operations of power which confine, control and mark these bodies as threats to the population. Crucially, this spreads from the body of the pathologised and into an archipelago of institutions seeking to intervene against this errant figure. For Wacquant, this process of pathologisation is now being applied to the poor more generally, constructing an abject population of market and moral failures in turn justified by and constituting the neoliberal state’s punitive practices warehousing and surveilling the poor. During Benefits Street, this punishment of the poor is both explicit, such as Danny’s arrest and Mark and Becky’s benefit fraud, and implicit through the narrator’s avowal that “at the far end of James Turner is Winson Green Prison. To some on the street, it’s a second home” (episode one, 11:00).
The show’s reduction of people on benefits to pathologised objects means that its children appear especially exposed. As the narrator states over images of Fungi swilling lager and talking about stabbings, “kids learn a lot about life from the grown-ups of James Turner Street” (episode three, 21:30). Repeated imagery of children playing on mattresses in the street, climbing over fences and attempting to jump from windows draws attention to ‘poor’ parenting in both senses of the word, particularly the failure to maintain distinctions between safe private and dangerous public spaces. The inherent gendered organisation of space into public and private spheres means that the exposure of children to danger in unregulated public and poorly protected private space results in mothers in particular perceived to be failing (McDowell, 1999). With the presence in the domestic sphere of Mark and other unemployed men, this gendered division is challenged – as Tich notes: “In Africa, if you don’t work you don’t eat. But here men they sleep and look after the kids” (episode three, 27:00). This racialised and feminised imaginative geography portrays these abject men as stuck in private space and polluting public space with their deviance and pathologies, whilst simultaneously re-masculinising their aspirational counterparts.
As Cindi Katz argues (2006:110), “children … are a ready canvas on which all manner of social phenomena and anxieties are inscribed, only to be discovered there and used to naturalise one thing or another.” The corporalisation of vulnerability in the figure of the child is sequenced during the show in a fashion evoking two particular gendered registers of fear around poor parenting – or to use Katz’s terminology, ‘terror talk’. Firstly, anxiety arises from a neo-Malthusian, political-economic concern for the reproduction of an underclass of benefit-dependent groups mired in inter-generational joblessness. The homogenised figure of the poor, sexually-excessive welfare mother – which Tyler (2008)describes as the ‘chav scummy-mummy’ – reproducing without the means or will to support her offspring condenses this fear and forges consent for the removal of any ‘incentives’ (housing and income support, child benefit) for poor mothers to reproduce. Secondly, it also dramatises a political-ecological fear around social reproduction. Katz (2001) traces the shifting spatiality of social reproduction through its increasing privatisation both in terms of marketisation (privileged women shifting the burden of childcare onto poorer women) and confinement to private spaces. Crucially, the environment in which social reproduction takes place shapes fears of its bodily outcomes. Thus, the fecklessness and deviance on James Turner Street raises anxieties stimulating the revulsion of mothers unable or unwilling to protect their children from these pathologising spaces.
The material iconography of Benefits Street can be interrogated through the key theme of underclass ontologies found in all the texts under review. Returning again to Levinas, this short discussion has revealed the extent to which the exteriority of the Other pierces the interiority of the Self. Whilst the categories of deserving and undeserving are in opposition, they are reliant upon each other to signal not only deviations from the norm but also the boundary between the two. The everyday politics of poverty are not distinguished through this Manichean lens – rather, each individual is to some extent both a skiver and a striver. What is crucial to this delineation is whether or not that individual is able to express their own politics and morality, thus becoming a political subject rather than an object devoid of agency to be disgusted by or admired.
William Bunge (2011:240) described his seminal monograph Fitzgerald as “a call to action, not merely an exercise in abstraction. Every adult should find himself enraged somewhere in this volume”. If the objective of political geography is to intervene throughresearch and writing, then the link between reading and revolt is paramount to assessing the contribution of texts to the discipline. Whilst all three pieces enrage the reader and contribute to this debate of underclass ontologies, both Bauman and Wacquant partially reproduce this depoliticisation rather than challenge it. In contrast, Tyler’s insightful monograph invites the reader to conceptualise anew how these highly symbolic distinctions are mobilised and contested in order to constitute demarcations between those with and without politics. By engaging with Benefits Street and its material iconography deliberately re-assembling this distinction between skivers and strivers, this short piece has foregrounded the need to study the construction and consequences of these underclass ontologies. This leaves us with the real issue, then, which is how to turn the discipline of political geography into a more explicitly public project – one which, to follow Bunge, enrages us by enriching the emergent forms of counter-narrative contesting these underclass ontologies in the public commons.
I am honoured to have been awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize, which means that from September 2015 I will have some relief from my day job (teaching and administration) for two years to focus on my new research project on stigma and inequalities. Below I outline the initial research questions, aims and hopeful outcomes of this research.
This wordpress site will be used to document the project as it evolves over the next three years.
For the initial 18mths, I will be supported in this research by Dr Brigit McWade, an expert in disability studies, who will be developing her own post-doctoral research on mental health, stigma and madness in neoliberal times (see forthcoming blog posts by Brigit on her project).
Imogen Tyler, September 7th 2015
The Sociology of Stigma: Why research stigma today?
All the major institutions of ‘free-market’ capitalism have warned that escalating inequalities (of income, health, education and citizenship) pose the gravest threat to future social and political stability. The premise of this project is that to combat this threat we require a much better understanding of relationship between stigmatisation, inequalities and neoliberal capitalism—that is we urgently need to theorise stigma as a cultural and political economy.
Stigma is one of the most frequently used but least developed concepts in the social sciences. Although stigma is employed to describe a vast array of scapegoating practices and shameful identities, deeper theoretical understandings of stigma are frequently absent from sociological analysis.
Erving Goffman’s Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity  transformed understandings of the social function of stigma. Proceeding from a definition of stigma as ‘the situation of the individual who is disqualified from full social acceptance’ (1990: 9), Goffman explored what a burgeoning psychological literature on stigma might ‘yield for sociology’ (1990: 9). Experiences of stigma, Goffman argued, are ‘one of the primal scenes of sociology’ as moments of ‘direct confrontation’ with the social norms in operation in a given context (13). Goffman made four central claims: firstly that ‘the stigmatized are not persons but rather perspectives […] that are generated in social contexts’ (1990: 138). Secondly, people manage the shame of stigma by employing multiple strategies of passing, concealment and refusal. Thirdly, and this is more implicit in his work, that stigmatisation is historically specific in the forms it takes (ibid.); and finally, that stigma functions ‘as a means of formal social control’ (139).
Fifty years after its publication, Goffman’s Stigma remains the most influential treatise on the social function of stigma. Goffman’s work has been pivotal in the development of practical initiatives designed to combat social stigma, for example in programmes designed to reduce the social stigma of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, and in the area of mental health and disability policy development and activism. Since Stigma was published, social and political movements, such as the disability rights movement, have transformed public perceptions and understandings of what might have been considered ‘deviant’ or ‘marked’ bodies and behaviours. However, despite these sometimes successful practical applications of Goffman’s work, it is striking how little sociological understandings of stigmatisation have developed within the intervening period.
Anti-Anti Stigma Campaigns
Furthermore, recent research has questioned the effectiveness and politics of (some) anti-stigma initiatives (see for example Haslam et. al. 2006, Pescosolido and Martin 2015). Mental health scholars and activists began to question the meaning and effects of anti-stigma campaigns altogether, and in 2013 ran a ‘Hands off our Stigma’ campaign (Spandler et. al 2013). These activist attempts to re-work and refuse the normative inclusive logic of anti-stigma campaigns, (which often reproduce the stigma they seek to diminish), are a reminder of the complexity of cultural and social struggles around stigma. These events also speak to a longer series of theoretical debates in critical race studies (see for example Cohen 2004) and in queer theory (see for example Warner 2000, Dugan 2004), which variously argue for “a politics of deviance” (Cohen 2004) against the limited “terms of inclusion” on offer from the state and corporate media culture.
The changing role and function of stigma in neoliberal societies:
The historical, geopolitical and theoretical context out of which our interest in stigma emerges is a very different one than that of the post-war society which confronted Goffman in the 1950s. In returning to Stigma, fifty years after its initial publication, we will consider in what ways a re-conceptualization of stigma can assist with illuminating pressing questions of social decomposition, inequality and injustice.
This return to the sociology of stigma is shaped by the specific historical context of neoliberalism, including the current hegemony of free market economic thinking within mainstream politics and accompanying forms of austerity-driven welfare reforms.
In The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), 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, terrorist attacks. Drawing on Klein’s analysis this research aims to develop a nuanced account of “the ways in which neoliberal modes of government operate not only by capitalizing upon ‘shocks’ but through the daily, pervasive production and mediation of stigma” (Tyler, 2013: 2010). The activation of stigma is central to the proliferation of fears about border controls and terror threats, economic insecurity and labour precariousness. As I argued in Revolting Subjects, “in such a climate public anxieties and hostilities are channelled towards those groups within the population, such as the unemployed, homeless people, welfare recipients, irregular migrants, disabled people, ill and elderly populations who are imagined to be a parasitical drain upon scarce resources” (Tyler, 2013: 2011).
The centrality of stigma in producing economic and social inequalities has been obscured ‘because bodies of research pertaining to specific stigmatized statuses have generally developed in separate domains’ (Hatzenbuehler, 2013). In short, stigma is widely accepted to be a major factor in determining life chances, yet research on stigma is fragmented and dispersed across academic disciplines.
This research project will address this lacuna and to consider the relationship between growing inequalities and ‘heightened stigmatization in daily life and public discourse’ (Wacquant, 2010). Indeed, what distinguishes this project from existing research on stigma is its explicit focus on stigma and power, and stigmatization as a central dimension of neoliberal state-crafting.
A specific concern is with the ways in which stigma is activated in order to govern populations through the production of norms, through stigmatising classifications and co-currently, stigma as a practice of social classification (Tyler 2015).
This project will focus in particular on contemporary ‘sites of shame’ in the context of austerity, welfare reform and the ‘migrant’ crisis in Europe, Key themes will include: the neoliberal de/recomposition of class, deepening inequalities and poverty, work and precarity, sexual violence, disabilities, borders, citizenship and the differential value of human lives.
The project has the following aims:
Outcomes from this project will include:
Recent Related Publications by Imogen
draft proofs of most articles can be accessed at https://lancaster.academia.edu/imogentyler
Imogen Tyler (2013) Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain (Zed)
Imogen Tyler and Katarzyna Marciniak (2014) ‘The human waste disposal industry or immigrant protest in neoliberal times’ in Katarzyna Marciniak and Imogen Tyler (eds) Immigrant protest: politics, aesthetics, and everyday dissent, SUNY 2015
Imogen Tyler, Nick Gill, Deirdre Conlon & Ceri Oeppen (2014), ‘The business of child detention : charitable co-option, migrant advocacy and activist outrage, Race and Class, 56 (1): 3-21.
Kim Allen, Imogen Tyler and Sara De Benedictis (2014) ‘Thinking with ‘White Dee’: The Gender Politics of ‘Austerity Porn’, Sociological Research Online, 19 (3), 2. DOI: 10.5153/sro.3439
Imogen Tyler (2015) ‘Welcome to Britain: anti-immigrant populism and the asylum invasion complex’ Eurozine [special issue ‘Beyond Fortress Europe’] see also ‘Wasted lives in UK immigration detention’ Open Democracy (2013) https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/imogen-tyler/wasted-lives-in-uk-immigration-detention
Imogen Tyler (2015) ‘Classificatory struggles: class, culture and inequality in neoliberal times’, The Sociological Review, 63(2):493–511 DOI: 10.1111/1467-954X.12296.
Tracey Jensen and Imogen Tyler (2015) ‘Benefits broods’: The cultural and political crafting of anti-welfare commonsense’, Critical Policy Studies, 25, doi: 10.1177/0261018315600835
Imogen Tyler and Bruce Bennett (2015) ‘Against Aspiration’ in What is aspiration?: how progressives should respond (The Centre for Labour and Social studies)
Imogen Tyler and Jenna Loyd (2015) ‘From Tottenham to Baltimore, policing crisis starts race to the bottom for justice’, The Conversation/ OpenDemocracy https://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/imogen-tyler-jenna-lloyd/from-tottenham-to-baltimore-policing-crisis-starts-race-to-bot