Australia


I’ve been thinking a lot about disability of late, which won’t surprise those of you who have been sharing a particular corner of the blogosphere, in which awesome and fail appear to coexist in some kind of proportion in which the latter sadly sometimes seems to be winning out. In this analysis of the “Harmonisation of Disability Parking Permit Schemes in Australia”, I argue that the shift that is being proposed is from the social model of disability, to the medical model.

The medical model suggests that there is a way that the body ought to be, and any permanent ‘loss’ of such ‘normal’ capacities constitutes disability (and that this is a natural, neutral state of affairs that is no one’s fault—except the individual body, of course). This approach is the most mainstream, and it’s constitutive of much of the discrimination that disabled people (or people with disabilities, both terminologies having a different but important political point to make) experience.

The social model, which is offered as a counter to the medical model, suggests instead that the ‘loss’ of capacity occurs not because of the impairment itself, but because of the impairment in combination with a world built for the temporarily able-bodied. (And this doesn’t only refer to the built environment, of course: models of sociality, for example, are very strongly ableist).

There’s actually another step in this little spectrum, one which doesn’t get much screen time in activism (understandably, because it’s so far from the medical model, and such a challenge to it as to appear incomprehensible or nonsensical to those committed to the medical model). This suggests that even understanding particular bodies as impaired is the result of a presumption about the body. That is, it argues that disability begins at the moment when you understand some bodies as naturally unimpaired, and others as naturally impaired: the drawing of that line is not a neutral, naturally-given one, as we like to pretend. It is a political distinction that is, in itself, is invested with the ability system, which, as Lennard Davis argues, is what constitutes particular bodies as disabled, and thus as the problem. Davis recommends that whenever we see such a problem, we ought to ask how it is that this ‘problem’ is constituted as a problem, and be careful to observe the privilege that attends that which is not considered a problem. What makes disabled bodies into ‘those bodies with problems’? The presumption, essentially, that they ought to be otherwise: normal. And this in turn maintains the privilege of the able body.

The group who potentially loses out most dramatically in the proposed parking permit scheme is those with invisible disabilities, as Lauredhel demonstrates so clearly here. In response, I began thinking about what it meant to have an invisible disability. On the one hand, it might be that we could think of those with invisible disabilities as those who can ‘pass’ as able-bodied. And sometimes this is true, at least some of the time, and there’s little doubt that this ability to pass can lead to privilege as well as the problems associate with invisibility. For example, people approaching someone in a wheelchair will often talk to their assistant pushing the chair, as if the person with a disability is incapable of thought, conversation etc, and this kind of discrimination is something those who can walk are unlikely to confront. On the other hand, we can think more carefully, and see that those who have ‘invisible’ disabilities  are those whose differences simply don’t fit into someone’s expectation of what disability ought to be. And this means that legislation is likely to discriminate against those with ‘invisible’ disabilities because it is employing the medical model of disability. What does this mean? Well, hopefully this little story of mine might help.

Years ago, now, I was stepping out (sorry, I find that phrase hilarious and had to use it) with a young man who had a visual impairment. As he was doing a PhD, this meant that he couldn’t read at quite the rate he might have liked, and sometimes working on the computer was too much. I encouraged him to make use of whatever assistance the disability office at uni could offer him, even though I understood his fairly intense ambivalence about it. They were singularly unhelpful. He felt that they treated him as if he was ‘faking it’, on the one hand, and expecting too much of them on the other. The extension of his scholarship that he was hoping to get was, they told him, simply not going to be possible. I suggested that perhaps he should look to Centrelink’s Disability Allowance to help him fund the completion of his PhD. He picked up the forms, still unhappy about this prospect, even as he knew it was probably necessary, and brought them home.

I looked over his shoulder at the forms he was trying to fill out. He had ticked the box marked ‘visual impairment’, and been sent to another section. In this section, the form asked him for some proof from an opthalmologist. He hesitated. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Well, I’ve seen opthalmologists,” he explained. “But the issue isn’t in my eyes. It’s in my brain.”

His visual impairment, you see, wasn’t a loss of vision due to some problem in the eye, as the form assumed. He had been prone to migraines as a kid, and at some point (I think the age of 11, but this was a while ago), he had had an incredibly severe migraine. He recounted looking downwards, and having his entire left leg disappear in his blindspot. The auras had hung around—a permanent fixture, as it turned out. He saw multiple copies of everything, more or less depending on how good a day it was. Sometimes things looked like a badly tuned TV set, sometimes there were lines, sometimes… you get the idea. But although this interfered with his vision, it didn’t fit the form’s idea of what a visual impairment was. It didn’t seem to fit into any of the other categories either, as far as either of us could tell, although he might have argued a case under ‘having suffered a stroke’ except that that category seemed to think that difficulty speaking and walking would be the primary problems he’d have then. Frustrated and embarrassed, he stepped away from the idea, away from the forms. His impairment wasn’t real, couldn’t be argued for, proven, justified. Everyone would think he was faking it. I couldn’t think of what to say.

This is part of the problem with the medical model. It has a particular image of disability, generally involving the assumption of some level of dependence on others (because of course the temporarily able-bodied are so independent[snort!]), and it institutes this, medically, legislatively. And in so doing, it requires that people with disabilities be people with particular, recognisable kinds of disabilities. Instead of testing for how one is disabled by a particular thing—by inaccessible parking, by stairs, by having to stand to be served, by the university’s expectations of a student’s reading speed—that is, instead of testing for a real problem with the way the world works, it instead requires that you fit an existing imagining of disability. And this existing imagining of disability is very limited, and thoroughly bound up with able-bodied fantasies (nightmares) about disabled bodies: as people in wheelchairs, people who are blind, people who are deaf. And indeed, it assumes that it already knows the effects of each of these impairments, a point which the Deaf community knows and battles, arguing against the idea that Deafness is a lack, or a loss, or an impairment at all. The medical model homogenises disability unnecessarily, and more than this, it renders numerous disabilities invisible because they do not match up to this fantasy of what constitutes disability.

When we legislate according to the medical model, we legislate what disability ought to be, what disability ought to look like. We legislate the visibility of disability, and we do it by rendering a whole mass of heterogeneous bodies imperceptible, invisible, ignore their capacity to be disabled by an able-bodied world. We imagine visual impairments after a singular model where vision is only located in the eye. We imagine mobility restrictions only through difficulty with walking. We imagine that the solution to PWD (and it is a solution to, not a solution for) is compensating for their recalcitrant  body, a body we assume to know all about. We reject the idea that the world might need to be reworked, rethought, rebuilt, and instead maintain disability by maintaining the world as a place which expects certain ‘normal’ things of bodies, and which privileges those bodies which can live up to this ideal as a result. When we legislate according to the medial model of disability, we maintain the disabilities of those who don’t adhere to our nightmare visions of disability, because we’re busy pretending they don’t exist, erasing them from our construction of the world. We ensure that some people remain disabled because we don’t have the imagination to allow the category of ‘disability’ to be shaped by the heterogeneity of real bodies, the heterogeneity of real needs, the heterogeneity of the real ways that people live their lives. We refuse to produce legislation which tests not for ‘the impairment itself’, but for disability, because that might implicate the able-bodied, our standards of normalcy, might trouble the extraordinary privilege maintained only at the disadvantage of those who don’t live up to our standards. We render bodies which might trouble our limited imagining of difference invisible, and then shrug, and raise our hands in the air, and ask how we could possibly have known that such people even existed, and how we could possibly be expected to ‘cater to’ such exorbitant, excessive difference. The perceptibility of bodies is a key stake in the politics of disability, because disabilities aren’t invisible. They’re invisibilised.

P.S We’ve done a whole lot of the work of being active for you! Beppie, Lauredhel and I have given you some quick and easy ways to respond to the supposed “Harmonisation Scheme”: a form letter, and a letter encouraging organisations to submit a response.

Hello kidz and kittenz. So it seems someone has nominated my posts on Firefly and prostitution for the 9th Downunder Feminists Carnival. Check it out, mes amis. I only just spotted it because I have been behind on my reading because… well, here’s a lil secret, y’all… I flew across the world for a job interview. I had prepped like you would not believe for this interview. I had studied staff research interests and the content of curriculum. I had not slept. I had planned outfits. I had considered how I might supplement the existing research interests and so on…

And then Ryanair went and cancelled my flight. Which mean that when I turned up, I had had about 12 hours sleep… spread over about 52 hours of travel. I was given about fifteen minutes, and then had to go and give my presentation and be interviewed. I did a spectacularly bad job (at least, that’s how it felt. People keep telling me I probably did better than I thought I had done. To which I say ‘[shrug] yeah maybe.’). I didn’t say things I should have: discourse analysis, case studies, professional development of postgraduates, informal mentoring, etc etc etc. And I said things I shouldn’t have: students’ sexism makes me grumpy etc. Anyway. Blahblah. I may find out how it went in the next few weeks. But hence the lack of presence here. But fingers crossed, I will find more time to blog in over the next wee while. I still want to come back to fictional prostitution, because I have another text to examine: the world of trashy fantasy, or, more particularly, a series which is both indulgent and intriguing: The Kushiel books.

Potentially it was foolish to attempt to revivify this poor lost blawg when I was about to go into full time work. For those of you full-time full-timers, doubtless this seems like the whinge of a spoilt child. But nontheless, my body clock has needed a teensy bit of tweaking, leaving me with little time to spend on selfish pursuits. But I could not neglect you all for too long, lest you think I would not return. So I wanted to share with you the spectacular works of a friend of mine, Patrick Boland. For those of you who have ever been even mildly drawn to the mysterious machines of steampunk, or to the magic palimsest of industrial remnants, or to the scary-glee of ancient robots, or to the hard, soft lines of sandstone cut by prisoners…. or, for those of you who are Sydney-siders, like me, if you have been enchanted by the bizarre and extraordinarily rare density of history you can find at Cockatoo Island, check out the gorgeous photos Patrick has taken (some of these are trimmed, thank you so so much, WordPress…). Find the Rool Thing over here:

The Goblin Hall:

It’s comin’ ta git cha!

Greys go gorgeous…

Enjoy, kidlets. I shall return at some point, carryin’ on about the Whedonverse, or potentially about Sydney Festival stuff I have been indulging in!

SO now for censorship. Woo. I am not happy. I’m also not happy to be saying a phrase that really ought only apply to Howard: Not Happy, Kev. Remember that bit where dissent is an important part of any community? Mmm.

I go away for a few weeks, managing not even the lightest of light blogging as I had actually promised, and what happens? The rather lovely (yes, I’m easily persuaded by flattery, but that’s not all it is, I swear!) Joe Kugelmass listed me as up there with the intimidating likes of Now-Times and Perverse Egalitarianism as being amongst the best new blogs. Many congrats, hearty nods of agreement and suchlike to Mikhail, Paco, Lou, Shahar and Alexei; nice work, guys. This all weirds me out considerably—and not just because it kicks my stats into territory they’ve not known in a while—but because I definitely feel like a satellite to the main blogospherical carry-on (good carry-on, really! I loves you guys!). That’s not bad, mind you, it’s just… well. I am taken aback. “You love me, you really love me.” Heh. Always wondered if I’d have a chance to quote that line. But enough about me.

There were two conferences I was at down South (not that South, but Adelaide, South Australia) and they were almost polar opposites in my experience. The Cultural Studies Association of Australasia has never felt like the home I’ve assumed it ought to feel like; I always figured that since I come from one of the few cultural studies departments in Australia, it would be a good fit for me. Not so, as I’ve discovered year after year. It used to be that I was incredulous that the academics from my department tend to avoid it; now I think they’re very wise. I’ve presented theory at these conferences previously, and received stunned-mullet gazes in response. I’ve watched the presentation of work that seems less like work and more like straight-up description; x is like y theorising, if there’s any at all; people thrown by someone asking about the politics of the subculture they’re studing (!) and so on. This year was both better and worse. I weary of being told that science will save us all: I don’t doubt that it is, indeed, an incredible resource, and much of interest can be done with it; but calling it the new avant-garde forgets the massive machine of legitimacy it already functions within, and the thorough-going effects of injustice and essentialism it has and still tends to reproduce. I know that there is interesting stuff in science, and this is a very good thing, and can be an excellent part of good critique. But there’s also science—especially in its ‘practical’ form, medicine—which reproduces hierarchies, privilege, disadvantage. Donna Haraway was a scientist, for goodness’ sake; and she left to become a cultural critic because she could see how science concealed its own constructions and reconstructions of hegemony, and knew that the way to make science critical was to be critical of it. Do let’s try not to simply run wholehearted towards being swallowed by the science machine. I seem to recall Foucault telling Marxism off for wanting to become a science. I felt like we had gone back in time. Speaking of Marxism, apparently all you anti-capitalists out there need to get over it: the mining companies need you! need you! need you! Forget indigenous sovereignty, environmental degradation or whatever other foolish concerns you have… it’s the mining companies that need to be brought into the fold, being the backbone of the country as they are. [grizzles]

Now I’m sounding all anti-science-y: I’m not, truly. But the suggestion seemed to be that our critical impulses were getting in the way of engaging with the next big thing; and this is an old, tired refrain which is thoroughly depoliticising. Which, in fact, seems to be the drive of CSAA a lot of the time. There was some interesting stuff, I’ll own, and the occasional theoretically-engaged paper slipped in there. The opening keynote was given by Julian Agyeman, and was entitled ‘Toward ‘Just’ Sustainabilities’. This paper was pragmatic in orientation, but no less politically engaged for that: it functioned as a critique of the environmental sustainabilities movements which have so recently become mainstream concerns, arguing that often the focus on the environment means that there is little or no engagement with the results of environmental degradation for human communities. The argument was, effectively, that ‘the environment’ is often taken as being captured by a dreadfully old-fashioned conception of nature: wild, unblemished and separate from us. Instead, Julian (can I call you Julian? ;-)) argued that environment cannot be fully thought without some consideration of how we interact with it, and as such we don’t just need sustainability, we need just sustainability. Social justice doesn’t just go out the window because sustainability came in; indeed, when looking at the changes in the environment, it’s kinda important to mark that it’s regularly those who have suffered the most injustice who are going to suffer (again) the worst under environmental change/degradation. Climate change refugees were one example that kept coming up. I liked this paper; it also demonstrated to me that sophisticated engagement with politics is really what I miss at CSAA, not just theory…

I have to confess I played faster and looser with attendance this year than I have in previous years. The next plenary I attended was also great, but I had skipped quite a number (the days were incredibly full, and incredibly ‘all-stars’ focused: there were two keynotes every day, and the days went until 6.30 or 7 which is just too long for me. I need beer before that.) Steve Hemming and Daryle Rigney together gave a presentation called ‘Unsettling Sustainability: Ngarrindjeri political literacies, strategies of engagement and transformation.’ The Ngarrindjeri nation has country south of Adelaide, around the Murray ‘mouth’ and Lake Alexandrina (I can’t recall the Aboriginal words for these spots). This area is severely degraded: the mouth of the river is no longer open because of the lack of water flowing down the river (irrigation is the major culprit here). The two speakers sketched the variety of techniques that they have been developing for negotiating with and countering the obsessions of governmental policies in this area. It was fascinating stuff, involving both deeply local action and transnational allegiances.

I was quite taken with the panel ‘Message Me: Cultural Studies of Online Cultures and Communities’ where Jason Wilson, Melissa Gregg, Gerard Goggin and Jean Burgess each presented (fairly casually) and then were involved in conversation with each other and the audience. Mel Gregg demonstrated that the ‘innovative’ edges of online cultures doesn’t necessarily extend to its assumptions about gender, class and race. She was particularly interested in the temporalities the internet was engendering for the ways people live their lives, and the questions of how ethnography could work in this context. You can find more in this vein here. Jason Wilson discussed youdecide2007, which he was key in making happen, and the idea of citizen journalism. It was interesting, primarily because he demonstrated the way that assumptions about age (everyone’s a teenager on the internet) don’t actually play out a lot of the time. Jean Burgess took us to the web trend map, and discussed Youtube’s apparent inability to understand its own success (‘Come, Oprah, broadcast with us, lend us legitimacy!’). Gerard Goggin (I was wilting by this point, so if I’m absolutely off the mark, someone let me know, will ya?) suggested that online stuff still does need to be interrogated in terms of established concepts—cultures, bodies and power—even as we are aware that they pose a challenge to those theoretical structures. I wanted to hear a bit more about his work on disability, but that, my friends, is probably something *I* should run away and research. Later. Post-thesis. Sigh. An interesting panel, even if I felt a little like I’d been introduced to a range of stuff I’ll have to go off and read up on. Again. Later. 🙂 Afterwards I was thinking how hard it must be to present to an audience whose net literacy may be limited (and even if it’s not, there’s piles of stuff on the web map that I have never heard of… yes, I, participant in blogosphere!); that’s probably part of the cause of the introductory feel some of the papers had.

Cate Thill’s “Sustaining Indigenous Futures: Welfare Reform and Responsibility for the Other,” and Hannah Stark’s “‘But we always make love with worlds’: Deleuze (and Guattari) and love” gave me some of my theory fix. Cate discussed sustaining indigenous alterity, and the threat posed to it by protectionist, individualising legislation which puts in place the responsibility of welfare recipients (with, as she archly pointed out, absolutely no consideration of what characterises the ‘neglect’ of children that necessitates it being put in place, and its whiteness). Hannah’s paper bore with it the heady fervour that always attends Deleuze for me, but complete with girlish, rather than froggish, presentation, which gentled it a little. She argued that whilst desire has been the site taken up by theorists in the challenge to subjectivity by Deleuze, love may gesture towards a space in which guarantees and separates difference from difference, permitting the mutual expression of difference. Thus it may be considered to be an act of differentiation. I liked this paper… although I was a little thrown by Hannah’s apparent unwillingness to consider the critiques of becoming-woman in the context of love, not least because the labours of love (and thus a supposed love of labour) have, for a long time, fallen heavily on women.

Hamish Morgan gave a gorgeously evocative presentation, complete with an audio track that didn’t only give us only the interaction of the interview, but with the car, the ground, the openeing door, considering the event of community in the middle of Western Australia, threaded through with Nancy’s gently-worded theory. And Eva Lewkowicz and Georgina Isbister gave us analyses of the gender dynamics that inform two forms of pop culture: the Mexican telenovella, and the chick lit novel. Eva’s paper considered the configuration of femininity in and through the telenovella, demonstrating the strictures placed on it; this was given a creepy cast in the closing minutes with her reference to the extraordinary rates of murder of women in Mexico of late and questions of how viewers function as citizens. Georgina engaged critically with the postfeminist fairytale. I missed the horrors of Michelle Grobel’s “‘The Taming of the Screw’: Feminist research and practice and the interruption of postmodern theory to an exploratin of contemporary sex advice literature” which to all reports has decided that third wave feminism and queer theory is just far too detached from ordinary (read, straight, white) women’s sexuality and is thus to blame for women getting a rough deal sexually, and in sex education (understood, it seems, as those terrible sealed sections in women’s mags). I’m almost sorry I missed it, actually: a serious point of contention!

Elaine Kelly’s consideration of “Sovereignty and climate change: white discourses of environmental responsibility” offered a critical appropriation of Agamben’s homo sacer, theorised through the case study of the apparent irrelevance of indigenous rights and sovereignty to the opening of a mine in the Northern Territory (or was it Queensland?). Awesome theory bound to political, practical stuff. Breath of fresh air, really… Shannon Burns gave one of those enormously slippery, enormously evocative, heavily engaged literary papers which critiqued the tendency of sustainability talk (of all kinds, but particularly academic-self-protectionism) to occur through producing homogeneity: it is the perpetuation of what already exists that is of concern, rather than an openness towards otherness. This paper felt like an excellent critique of the whole conference (rather amusing, since Shannon was in hospital for most of it! Thanks for making it out to present, Shannon!) I was very sorry to have missed Charlotte Craw’s paper, “The Ecology of Emblem Eating: Environmentalism, Nationalism, and Kangaroo Consumption,” but she generously gave me a copy. Keep an eye out for her published papers, people: very nice work.

My own paper? It was deeply ordinary, but I think I’ve succeeded in presenting a paper almost entirely stripped of references to theory (though of course driven by it). Interestingly, I had the same dissatisfaction afterwards that I usually attribute to having presented a paper few people have understood, but I’ve proven to myself that I can do it, so I think I’ll just not apologise for being theoretical from hereon out. It considered transhumanism and bioconservatism, and basically argued that, whilst the problems of bioconservatism are reasonably obvious (essentialism etc), the apparent progressiveness of the transhumanist position conceals the inequities that inform this envisaging of the future. Perhaps I’ll put it up here sometime soon…

And the overall vibe? CSAA feels very…. careerist, to me. I can’t tell if this is partly because of the … well, deeply ordinary postgrad development day that happened the day before and involved numerous CSAA presenters. But there’s a sense of needing to present gloss and shine and professionalism, and very little consideration of the political or the ethical, whatever we might take those to mean. (Hello! The fact you’re even at this conference is an indicator of your privilege; please demonstrate some vague awareness of it!) It wearies me. The priority seems to be on impressing certain people, and that I don’t like. It did feel very much like the All Stars of CSAA were being given their chance to shine, glitter and generally display themselves as stars; in order to make room for the two keynotes per day and the ‘plenary panel’, there were only two 1.5 hour sessions per day for general presentations. That meant that there were eight parallel sessions at any one time: EIGHT! If you’re wondering why I saw so little, that’s why. I had to give up going to other potentially interesting papers numerous times. EIGHT parallel sessions! CSAA! Not exactly the way to make your non-keynotes feel like they’re making a valuable contribution to the cultural studies community; I mean, I knew half the eight or nine people who came and saw my paper. Add to this the general sense of people being concerned to meet the right people, to network, network, network, and it becomes something of an unfriendly setting. Fortunately, there were those around who were sufficiently critically engaged, amusing and friendly that I wasn’t entirely disheartened. Thanks to those people: you know who you are! I’m very very glad to have met you! And later… the wonder that was ACRAWSA this year, complete with details of my latest academic crush… 😉

* This is vaguely tongue-in-cheek. Vaguely. There were, in fact, zombies and vampires present. I wanted Dex to make an appearance, but twas not to be….

fOR conferences, that is. (Well, Christmas too, I guess, but I’ve still got a few weeks to do the whole purchasing of presents, which is good given I’m behind on absolutely everything…) I’m attending CSAA (the Cultural Studies Association of Australiasia, which I am often disappointed at) and ACRAWSA (the Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Association, which I’ve only attended once before and found pretty interesting) in Adelaide, not least because I get free accommodation… aka mum and dad’s place. In a sneaky move, I’m sticking around in Adelaide until just after Christmas before flying back (on research funding, which I figure is okay, given the whole presenting-two-papers-in-a-week thing). This does, however, mean that blogging will be light… erm… lighter… potentially faded to a kind of spectral figure that never quite resolves… for the next few weeks. When I get back I’m going to be in hyperdrive thesis-freak-out mode (since I seem to be heading into that territory already, I hate to think what it’s going to be like when I’m in serious editing stage). I’m not going to jinx myself here by declaring a submission date, since every time I tell someone I feel slightly guilty because I’m almost sure I’m not going to make it. Seriously, I should be Catholic I’m so good at the guilt thing.

My two papers for the conferences, which I may or may not put bits of up here, are incredibly different (which always seems a good plan at the abstract stage, less and less as the conference gets closer and closer…). The first is on transhumanism and bioconservatism. I’m basically sketching out how and why transhumanism’s apparently radical challenge to the idea of the human is in no way profound enough, and in many ways sneaks bioconservatism’s essentialising tendencies in the back door. I like the idea of this paper, even if it’s broad brush strokes. I’m hoping it’ll be fun to listen to. I’m still kicking around the idea of including bits of Scott Westerfeld‘s awesome young adult ‘increasingly inaccurately named trilogy’ (in the vein of great sci-fi, so we forgive), Uglies, Pretties, Specials and Extras, mostly because I like them a lot, even where I think he’s overly optimistic. (I guess we can’t entirely depress all the kiddies out there ;-)) I’ll post a critical review here sometime soon, but I want to re-read the early books again, since its been a little while.

The second paper develops out of the train of thought I posted here, and its interaction with this post of s0metim3s. Basically, I’m arguing that the medical conception of the human body informs the imago of the body politic of Australia, already, as Gatens has argued, a white male body. As a result, refugees are regularly conceived of as disease/d, penetrating (I’m trying to decide how much to draw through the heteronormativity of this body…) Indeed, over and over the anti-refugee parts of the community articulate a concern about the diseases these refugees bring with them: tuberculosis, HIV, and leprosy (apparently). In some cases, the very number of refugees living in Australia is articulated as a threat to the body politic.

The equation between the Australian body politic and the white male body means that these appeals already have the truth-effects of medical power/knowledge attached to them. Thus we have appeals to take ‘preventative’ measures such as the excision of Australia’s islands for the purposes of immigration—a kind of circumcision‚ as recommended in South Africa this year, which as s0metim3s pointed out, can also be construed as a kind of leprous breaking-down of the body. Obviously hovering in the background here is Derrida’s work on autoimmunity, but that’s probably where that theory will stay—in the background. Both these papers feel a little on the obvious side to me, but I’m hoping that that will just mean that they prove comparatively contained and a little less crazy-theoretical. I have a thesis to finish, after all! I hope everyone’s end-of-year guff is going alright out there…

NOT an hour ago, I cast my vote in the Australian election. Every election that I’ve voted in thus far in my life has returned a Liberal government to power. That is incredibly depressing; especially the last election which saw the Senate handed over as well as the House of Reps. Voting is a very strange thing, I think. I vote, even though I know that my area is such a Labor stronghold that Liberals don’t even bother putting up candidate posters (which, actually, does wonders for my blood pressure…) and my tiny Green protest-style vote counts for naught at all. I vote, even though I know that the best I can hope for is a Labor party that really can no longer be considered left-wing except in contrast to the extremes of the right-wing party. I vote, even though the whole system feels entirely flawed. I don’t have enough polisci background to be able to explain how and why, exactly, the formal system is, in fact, flawed. But there are some obvious problems: the incredibly coercive system within which political debate takes place (seriously, when the Liberal party can label the Labor party ‘extremists’ on television and not simply be laughed out of town, how can we think otherwise?); the bizarre loophole that enables Liberal advertising to be passed off as government information ads; the extraordinarily right-wing media (apart from our at least vaguely left-leaning/’balanced’ on-line sources [blows kisses to Larvatus Prodeo, Crikey! and Club Troppo]); and the very real absence of political literacy in this country, which tends to lead to apathy, alienation and a serious inability to a) remember political lies and b) recognise the manufacture and manipulation of fear and c) resist the individualising techniques of political appeals.

I was wondering, as I wandered down the street this morning, whether I see voting as part of what feminist and queer and critical race theory have called ‘strategy.’ The non-revolutionary (not in the sense of not-changing so much as in the sense of not really believing that there will be a moment in which all will be tossed into the air and come down the way we imagine it to) kinds of ways of engaging with the existing social order in ways which are recognisable within its limits, whilst at the same time pressing back against those limits. However much I think that Labor is really a probably-not-even-the-lesser of two evils (as Az so succinctly points out), there is still something significant (is there? I sound way more sure than I am!) about the possibility of a Labor government. I suspect that part of my concern is discursive: the increasingly right-wing rhetoric of the Liberal government has reconfigured the political spectrum so that left-wing is no longer really left at all. A left-wing government, even if in name only, has the possibility of adjusting the spectrum again, perhaps making more tenable the holding of left-wing positions in public. Perhaps? Making it more difficult to label left-wing positions as ‘extreme’, or at least so watering down that label that it’s not longer the end of an argument? Perhaps I am too hopeful, but it’s easier to be optimistic if I don’t see this election as an end in itself, but rather something that has this kind of potential for a future… A little like the appeal to essentialism called strategic, which has permitted some of the feminist, queer and critical race politics to engage with a here-and-now on the way to the future. This appeal, however, is pretty problematic in my view, primarily because it reiterates the terms by which injustice is perpetuated. And so the question remains….

And what actually makes me hopeful about the way that this election will, if it follows the polls, come out, is that it would demonstrate something about the majority of Australians. This same majority which believed the ludicrous individualistic logic of John Howard’s hideous promise of lower interest rates, would appear to be saying ‘No longer will we believe that the economy makes the world go round.’ It’s nothing huge, really, and it’s frustrating in its conservatism, but it is something that makes a different kind of politics seem possible. But again, I suspect too much optimism on my part… Nonetheless, there was a bizarre sense of participating in something much larger when I headed to the local primary school today, a sense which challenges the individualism of the Liberal government’s rhetoric, at least potentially…

Either way, tonight I will drink, hopefully in celebration, but otherwise to drown some fairly large sorrows, among friends. And dreaming of futures way more interesting and just than any party can really offer…!

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