So You Can Feel – Pieter Ampe

5th March 2015, SICK! Festival, The Old Market, Brighton

  • How do you feel in your body as a gendered and sexuate being?
  • How is that feeling an interaction with the world – your own body, clothing, various props, glances and gazes (including the ‘male gaze’) friends, family, lovers, passers-by (all the interactions between and beyond intimate relations we have names and coded behaviours for?)
  • How can dance – Pieter’s dance, our dance (dance, dance!) – help us move towards a more playful relationship with gender and sexuality that serves freedom and is conscious of power?
  • What does it mean to be an audience or spectator to such dance? How is it that we co-create gendered and sexual meanings through the reading of gestures and signs?

These are a few of the questions I had on reflecting on Pieter Ampe’s solo dance piece So You Can Feel. Billed as ‘the coming of age of a man and his body’ Ampe’s astutely observed piece explores how the subtlest, and most exaggerated, of gestures impact on how gender and sexuality are perceived. The alignment of Ampe’s limbs on a bar stool combined with gazes that may be direct, coy or longing suggest alternately heterosexual or homosexual rituals of romantic/sexual interaction.

A structure that is presumably a mirror at the back of the stage serves as a point of mediation – something to bounce back off in this solo dance. There is something teenage and private, potentially embarrassing, about the flexing of muscles in front of a mirror, posing languidly in your pants, for yourself, for the prospect of a future lover’s gaze.

As an audience-member, my experience of projecting gendered and sexual readings onto the dance/r was strongly connected to the materiality and sensuousness of the dancer’s clothings –

  • Ampe dons a curly wig and a t-shirt that reads ‘I like girls who like girls’, a pink pouty kiss in the corner. He proceeds to bop about in a ‘yeah boi’ kind of a way. I recognise the self-serving, self-congratulatory tolerance of ‘any sexuality is acceptable as long as it serves male pleasure’ and wish that figure wasn’t so familiar.
  • Ampe pulls on black leggings, bares his chest, and lets his hair down. Music, lights, strutting – old school caricature of a gay bar.
  • Ampe slips into a fishnet body stocking and the curly wig returns. Back to the audience Ampe moves in the manner of the hyper-feminine, hyper-sexualised subject that we associate with the fishnets. Confusion ensues regarding the extent the sexual energy comes from the dancer or the (crotch less) clothing. What energy does the dancer emanate and what do we project onto his movements through the trappings of the fishnets that shout model/lap dancer/sex-worker/drag queen… ? How is gender expression a form of self-expression when it is so heavily mediated through culture? On this stage Ampe is allowed to play but where are we granted such wiggle room?*
  • Ampe begins to squirt the contents of a litre squeezy bottle of a thick-ish white viscous liquid onto his belly with a disarming glee. As the dancer covered himself in the paint the level of abstraction facilitated new possibilities beyond cultural specific moments or human form – the dancer transforming into a statue of a Greek god, a ceremonial dancer, the cat that got the cream. Yet, the fluidity this liquid costume enabled felt threatened by the apparent drying out of the substance, visible on the hairs of the dancers legs, embodying the tension between free-flowing-ness and fixity in our gender/sexual identities, orientations and behaviours.
  • The dance drew to a close with Ampe offering his white body as a screen for a projected image of himself dancing to be displayed. To connect with your embodied self and yourself as projection – whether that which is projected outwards or is projected onto you – is a powerful metaphor for the struggle of moving through the world navigating gender/sexual perceptions in time and space.

Having found the dance provoking I was glad of the opportunity for post-show discussion but the Q+A session left me frustrated and I was annoyed at myself for not having spoken up (part of the motivation for writing this post). Eric Anderson, Professor of Sport Masculinities and Sexualities at the University of Winchester took to a platform in the bar to tell us how to interpret what we just saw with reference to his current research on the decline of homophobia and norms of male intimacy on college campuses in US and UK contexts.

Anderson asserts that there is empirical evidence that homophobia has decreased in the US & UK since the 1970s and with this decline, norms of socially-acceptable male intimacy have also, and it has become very common for young men to hold hands/sleep in the same bed/kiss. Anderson acknowledges that what is read as ‘gay’ is culturally situated and therefore differs from decade to decade. Nonetheless, he does not seem to have considered that norms of male intimacy may have changed with homophobia remaining intact, or changing form. How might you explain the prevalence of the phrase ‘no homo’, for example? **

Anderson’s research was squarely, and seemingly unapologetically, focused on the experiences of gay men, without stating that the work was on a specific form of homophobia with a logical argument set out for who was excluded from his research.

Boogaloo Stu, who was co-hosting the Q+A, challenged Eric’s theory that homophobia has decreased, outlining his experiences negotiating public spaces in Brighton. Stu drew a fine distinction between fashion and costume in terms of how people interpret his style. If some lads on West Street of a Saturday night interpret his clothes as costume – that is fine, hilarious, ‘banter!’ If it is read as fashion, Stu is likely to be in danger of ridicule. Prof. Anderson proceeded to tell Stu that his outfit was a costume… way to go social scientists valuing the lived experiences and knowledges of people with insight into your field of study!

A question from the floor carried the assumption that Muslims were inevitably, or inherently homophobic and this racist assumption went unchallenged. When Eric was directly asked to justify why his research only included white young boys Eric responded defensively with a tone verging on aggression – are you telling me to put myself in danger? / I have a partner and children / are white lives not a legitimate field of study?

The atmosphere was palpably tense and there was no effort from the festival organizers to dissipate the tension or distance themselves from Eric’s offensive comments or his over-bearing presenting style.

Pieter made a joke about the Q+A being one of the most intense he had experienced. A question over whether the audience was laughing in the wrong places, at rather than with the dancer, especially where the male dancer was presenting as female clarified the anxiety around what is troubling for people when norms of gender representation are challenged. Pieter used the language of play and queer seeming to suggest that this line of questioning was a bit redundant  – as if to say, Hey! How about we take ourselves and all this sexuality and gender stuff a little less seriously – I like to play, let’s play!

* Since becoming jobless I feel like I’ve got more wiggle room and have been enjoying presenting more boyishly – shorter hair, wearing the same jeans for days on end with an old fleece from my teenage years that I rarely wash. Hurrah for the freedom to be grimier than I think I’m allowed to be as woman!

**www.NoHomophobes.com recorded 45, 869 incidences of the phrase ‘no homo’ in tweets in the past seven days.

Care.data – 40 reasons to be wary of the omnishambles

  1. I care about the confidentiality of my medical records.
  2. I am not happy with being opted-in to something I do not completely understand.
  3. Informed consent is crucial and implicit consent is nonsense.
  4. I am suspicious of state sanctioned surveillance.
  5. Care.data is a data grab on the grandest scale.
  6. Whilst this data grab may be legal, it is only legal because of a clause buried deep in the Health and Social Act 2012 which allows NHS England to bypass the Data Protection Act and extract the data from medical records without patient consent. GP practices must still process the data fairly and lawfully with regard to the Data Protection Act. See the Information Commissioners Office for more info.
  7. NHS England have not made enough effort to inform the public about care.data.
  8. Early in 2014 NHS England sent a leaflet to all households telling everyone they had a choice about care.data, but the leaflet did not contain an opt-out form.
  9. You may not have seen this leaflet because it was sent alongside junk mail rather than in an addressed envelope at the beginning of 2014. If you haven’t seen it (less than a third of adults have according to this survey)  here it is.
  10. Care.data (despite the name) is NOT about directly improving the quality of your medical care.
  11. Summary Care Records (another NHS England data sharing scheme) are however. Summary Care Records are designed to improve information sharing between medical staff in the interest of the patient. For more info see – www.nhscarerecords.nhs.uk.
  12. I am concerned that my will medical records will NOT be anonymised when they are uploaded from the GP surgery to the Health Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC). NHS number, date of birth, gender and postcode will ALL remain attached to your records.
  13. NHS England themselves admit in the scheme’s Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) that care.data puts patient confidence in confidentiality at risk  –

    extract from NHS England's care.data Privacy Impact Assesment (p.6)

    extract from NHS England’s care.data Privacy Impact Assessment (p.6)

  14. Identifiable data (NHS number, gender, sex, ethnicity, post code) from your medical records will be pseudonymised meaning it will be encoded but this process will not occur until after the data has been uploaded by your GP to the HSCIC.
  15. The free text from your medical records will not be recorded. This is largely irrelevant as doctors have Read codes for EVERYTHING.
  16. I don’t want my medical records on a massive database run by ATOS. Terrifying.
  17. I don’t want the police reading my medical records. See reports in The Guardian 6/02/2014 ‘Police will have “back door” access to health records despite opt out says MP and 10/08/2014 ‘Police want right to see medical records without consent’ 
  18. I don’t want my medical records sold to private companies. Your medical records are for sale. Price list available here.  
  19. I don’t want insurance companies accessing my medical records. The HSCIC admits it does not have full control over who the end users are of care.data. See Oral evidence to Health Select Committee in Handling of NHS patient data inquiry, 8/4/14:http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/WrittenEvidence.svc/EvidenceHtml/841
    Q272 Barbara Keeley MP: For all those 249 organisations with a commercial reuse licence,can we know who all the end users of our data are? Kingsley Manning, Chair HSCIC: No, because they are using it and putting it into additional services.
  20. Would you be comfortable if your medical records were linked with other government data sets? DWP? HMRC? Home Office? Big data has big (and scary) implications for governmentality (the way in which we are governed and, ultimately, controlled as citizens). See Open Right’s Group’s update ‘How will the government share your data?’ 29/05/2014
  21. I don’t want to play a part in the marketisation of the NHS. Your data has a value!
  22. I don’t want my medical records to be stored on a database indefinitely…
  23. and I don’t want my GP to upload my historical medical records either! The “long term vision” is to extract “historic data” also. See NHS England care.data Privacy Impact Assessment page 7.
  24. I understand that all this data would be very useful for medical researchers. A coalition of medical research organisations have made this flowchart about how your information will be collected and used. BUT research ethics dictate that if I’m going to be involved in a study, I need to give informed consent.
  25. Ben Goldacre (of Bad Science fame) is embarrassed that he ever pledged support for the project. He wrote in support of the project in The Guardian 21.02.2014The NHS plan to share our medical data can save lives – but must be done right’ but a week later revised his position – ‘Care.data is in chaos. It breaks my heart
  26. I’m not sure about Tim Kelsey’s credentials. National Director for Patients and Information (the guy pushing the care.data agenda) is a journalist not a clinician. He is the founder of Dr.Foster Intelligence  ‘the leading provider of healthcare information and benchmarking solutions in England – and increasingly, worldwide.’ Lets just say Tim knows a thing or two about the commercial value of data.
  27. Dr.Foster’s tagline is ‘Better Information, Better Health.’ The care.data tagline is ‘Better information means better care.’ A lack of imagination or decidedly suspicious?
  28. I don’t believe that TripAdvisor for hospitals will improve the effectiveness, safety or quality of care. The nature of choice in terms of choosing a hospital as opposed to a holiday are fundamentally different. Whilst I may choose to go on holiday, nobody chooses to be ill. If you make ill-informed choices when booking a hotel you end up in a smelly backstreet. Mis-choose your hospital and you risk contracting MRSA or c difficile; risk not returning from your ‘trip.’
  29. Even the founder of Tesco clubcard is worried about care.data and that is quite something.
  30. Civil liberties and anti-surveillance organisations like Big Brother Watch are campaigning against care.data… 
  31. and Open Rights Group have taken a balanced look at the pros and cons here
  32. But Professor Sir John Savill head of the Medical Research Council tried to dismiss organisations and members of the public who are worried about care.data by calling them “consent fetishists”. C’mon, I’d like to think consent was the cornerstone of medical practice. This does nothing to allay our worries *increasingly worried face*.
  33. NHS England in their May 2014 Information Governance newsletter 14 published this image (see below) of their ‘Information Governance Universe’. I kid you not (see page 5). Medconfidential were quick to point out that the National Information Governance Board does not even exist. This infographic(?!) is not only aesthetically displeasing but inaccurate to boot. Do you feel like trusting people who can’t find a high definition picture of outer space on the internet with your medical records?

    NHS England's 'Information Governance Universe'

    NHS England’s ‘Information Governance Universe’

  34. OPTING OUT IS EASY www.medconfidential.org has opt-out forms and more information about the campaign against care.data
  35. And thanks to Medconfidential care.data was stalled for 6 months as of February 2014 to smooth out some confidentiality issues and make sure the opt out is really an opt out.
  36. As part of this ‘smoothing out’ process a care.data Advisory Group has been set up. Gems from the minutes include: * “There was a discussion about getting back to the requirements of and benefits to the customer (meaning the citizen) rather than focusing on what data the NHS believes it needs” (from meeting 1) * Regarding communications and engagement activity “the narrative needed to be clear about the risks, and what was being done to mitigate them. We should not claim that there is no risk” (from meeting 2) *and regarding the communications plan “emphasis on benefit to improving care is top priority, research second, UK plc third” (from meeting 3 – my emphasis, very telling, the real motivations are the reverse!)
  37. The scope of the data collected is still under discussion as to whether sensitive medical information about mental health and sexual health is included.
  38. Still confused? Dr. Neil Bhatia, GP and Caldicott has made a website about care.data www.care-data.info and you can use this flowchart to decide what to do about it
  39. If you are reading this you are fortunate enough to a) be able to read and b) have internet access. Go forth and talk to people about care.data. There are serious inequities in terms of access to information and ability to exercise the right to opt-out.
  40. And I’ll leave you with this because care.data stinks of some kind of tyranny and arguments on the internet end with comparisons to the Hitler according to Godwin’s Law. 

Annotations on the DH response to consultation on Migrant Access to the NHS

Annotations on the DH response to consultation on Migrant Access to the NHSmigrant access

I take an angry red pen* to the DH response from this phony ‘listening exercise’ of a consultation in an attempt to draw attention to DH proposals that will change the NHS irreversibly. We should all be worried about the ‘direction of travel’.

Be under no illusions – the NHS as we know it is being dismantled. The proposals set out within this document would restrict migrant access to the NHS by charging for visits to A&E and introducing a health surcharge of £200 payable on entry to the UK. GP consultations will remain free (for public health reasons) but it is unclear whether migrants will be chargeable for care following on from the initial consultation.

To implement these proposals stricter formal GP registration processes would be introduced to differentiate between chargeable and non-chargeable patients. In order to aid with the identification of chargeable patients the government wants to create an ‘information gateway’ so data can be shared between the NHS, DWP and HMRC amongst other agencies, with little regard for the Data Protection Act and the critical issue of the confidentiality of our medical records. Eeek.

For more information on the Migrant Health Bill take a look at –

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*Apologies in advance for my handwriting and thanks to my housemate Jo for providing me with the technology!

Judith Halberstam ‘The Queer Art of Failure’

Judith Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure is fun. If you’re fed up of high theory from the pens of men who’d like you to think they don’t even shit (let alone watch TV) then this is for you. Highfalutin, it isn’t. Halberstam sets her stall out earlier on –

I believe in low theory in popular places, in the small inconsequential, the anti monumental, the micro, the irrelevant; I believe in making a difference by thinking little thoughts and sharing them widely. I seek to provoke,annoy, bother, irritate, and amuse; I am chasing small projects, micro politics, hunches, whims, fancies.

If that appeals to you, read on. Halberstam is a big fan of Pixar movies and frequently makes use of them in her cultural analysis.  She points to the queerness of cartoon animals, the creation of magical worlds and animation as a utopian, even revolutionary, project.  For example, Halberstam posits Pixar’s Madagascar as “an allegorical take on anti disciplinary life in the university” commenting that, “while some of us who have escaped our cages may start looking for new ways back into the zoo, others may try to rebuild a sanctuary in the wild, and a few fugitive types will actually stay lost.”  Phd funding applications as pleas to be returned to cage? Interesting.  Must find ways to feed myself in the wild and stay lost a little longer.

The Queer Art of Failure is a mish-mash of ‘high’ and ‘low’ theory, paying little to no attention to these arbitrary boundaries. At times, it really works.  Halberstam’s use of a scene from Chicken Run to illustrate Spivak’s critique of liberal western feminism that constructs an ‘other’ to save in ‘Can the subaltern speak?’ is pretty neat. Halberstam holds Babs up as a representative of’ “‘a shadow archive of resistance, one that does not speak in the language of action and momentum but  instead articulates itself in terms of evacuation, refusal, passivity, unbecoming, unbeing.”

Ginger      We either die free chickens, or we die trying.

Babs          Are those the only choices?

Babs has a point – there has got to be some better options! I’d like to re-watch Chicken Run to see if Halberstam’s theories hold up, but… its a long time until Christmas.

The book grapples with a diverse range of themes from revolt, to loss, to the connections between homosexuality and fascism. Halberstam moves deftly from an analysis of the masochistic act of cutting to the artistic process of collage as a queer and feminist practice. With reference to Hannah Hoch and Kara Walker, Halberstam argues that “collage precisely replicates the spaces in between and refuses to respect to respect the boundaries that usually delineate self and others, art object from museum, and the copy from the original.” Halberstam’s take  on collage brings to mind my friend Abigail Aked‘s collage of page 3 girls and Rosanna Thompson‘s similarly brilliant work – check it out.

Intriguingly, The Queer Art of Failure is the first place I’ve encountered Critical Pet Studies (yes, it’s a thing!). What with my reputation for swearing at dogs, I welcome this new academic arena. Halberstam’s comment – ‘like adults who choose not to reproduce, people with no interest in pets occupy a very specific spot in contemporary sexual hierarchies’ – is of particular interest. As a proud member of both of these groups I can tell you this ‘specific spot’ is… rather close to the bottom.

The Queer Art of Failure is all about recognising that alternative ways of being already exist in the cracks of the current system, that “failure can exploit the unpredictability of ideology and its indeterminate qualities.” Or, in summary…

Angela Mitropoulos ‘Contract and Contagion: from biolpolitics to oikonomia’

Angela Mitropoulos’ Contract and Contagion is a wide-reaching and ambitious book that makes important critical interventions on the role of contracts and debt in neo-liberal society with reference to a politics of the household (oikonomics)  as the nexus of race, class, gender and sexuality.*

According to Mitropoulos –

Contract is the hyphen situated between politics and economics, which is to say, the emergence of political economy from moral economy, and the points of articulation between state and market.

Citing the US dollar as a global currency backed up by global military power as an example, Mitropoulos states that debts are ‘guaranteed by violence, whether implied or deployed.’ This observation appears hyperbolic but America does have all the guns and money. Mitropoulos analyses the racialised and gendered dimensions of surplus labour arguing that the construction of slavery as an attribute of blackness and unpaid domestic labour as a property of femininity are forms of ‘naturally constituted debt.’

Mitropoulos is at her most engaging on the subject of infrastructure. Pointing towards the occupations of Tahrir Square, Wall Street, and Oakland Mitropoulos describes how movement and relation are changed by the improvised nature of  ‘infra-political’ interventions such as building toilets in homeless encampments, delivering healthcare to undocumented migrants and creating phone apps for evading police kettling. Here, according to Mitropoulos, activism creates new infrastructures for survival, ‘generating nomadic inventiveness rather than a royal expertise.’ – neat!

I’ll leave you with Mitropoulos’ words on why you should give a damn about oikonomics –

A politics of the household turns on that most materialist of propositions: we are how we live. **

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*What follows is less of a critique and more of a summary post because… Mitropoulos rocks and you should go read her stuff! Lots of it is online so no excuses.

**Think about it – then go do your fair share of the washing up.

Injunctions: One Person Unknown’s Perspective

First of all, I want to send out my solidarity to the occupiers of Bramber House who were evicted yesterday by a disproportionate police presence and bailiffs with ever heavy hands.*

The University of Sussex has issued a statement statement entitled,  ‘Unlawful occupation of Bramber House ends.’ However, to call the occupation ‘unlawful’ is purposefully misleading. The peaceful occupation of Bramber House was not ‘unlawful’, it only became so as a result of the University applying for, and successfully being granted, an injunction and subsequent possession order.**

Legally, management could have applied for an injunction much earlier than they did. I suspect the rationale behind tolerating the occupation for such a time was to preserve the image of the university as marketed to prospective students. Protest, in the form of commodified nostalgia, is welcome at Sussex. Vice Chancellor Michael Farthing is somewhat invested in the idea of protest as quaint historical artefact; present day protest and occupation, however, is not so profitable. Tales of ‘the colourful history of Sussex student protest’ are available for purchase in ‘Making the Future’ a commemorative book to mark the 50th anniversary of the University of Sussex – enjoy!

The breaking of a glass door at Sussex House on Monday 25th March served as further, but quite possibly superfluous, justification for the injunction. No doubt management hoped that students, workers and the general public would fall into the divisive smashed window trap/debate which I do not want to have here.***

The injunction granted to the University of Sussex against ‘persons unknown’ covers the whole of campus, excluding residential buildings. This exemption is probably due to the difficulty of distinguishing between I’m-not-leaving-the-house-until-the-sun-shines tantrums from formal protest with genuine demands (I’m not sure if this is an exploitable legal loophole).

The injunction effectively criminalises all protest on campus without prior consent of the University of Sussex until September 25th 2013.  So, whilst resident spin doctor and Registrar John Duffy is  keen to state in a press release that, ‘peaceful demonstrations are not banned at Sussex.’ What sort of a protest is proceeded by ‘Please Sir, can we have a protest?’

students sit down in front of a police van in protest against the eviction

It is at this point I would like to draw your attention to the Department for Communities and Local Government guidance ‘Dealing with illegal and unauthorised encampments: a summary of available powers‘ 28th August 2012. The document is a veritable menu of repressive powers without mention of local authority and police duties under the Public Equality Duty, Equality Act 2010 or Human Rights Act 1998. It is written in the light of the eviction of the Occupy London camp at St. Paul’s Cathedral and the recent criminalisation of squatting. It is an important document as it gives a clear impression of the government line on the use of injunctions (they are positively encouraged) and whilst the guidance is primarily for local authorities and police, it is ‘also intended to be helpful to land owners and others involved with illegal and unauthorised encampments.’

The powers in the document are intended to provide guidance on ‘tackling’ unauthorised encampment with regard to protest occupation as well as Gypsy and Traveller sites.**** And, in a telling display of institutional racism the final section of the document explains powers to remove waste from land and the use of sections 79 to 81 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 as an effective measure in ‘tackling statutory nuisance that may arise from illegal occupation.’

The use of injunctions and possession orders against both protesters and Gypsies and Travellers serves to demonstrate that when rights to free speech and peaceful protest, or respect for privacy and family life, come into conflict with property rights, property rights are trumps.

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‘Brutal Eviction of Sussex Students’ on Defend the Right to Protest

** You can read the injunction in full here because the internet is wonderous.

*** Windows schmindows, lets think about what is actually going on!

****On the connection between the use of injunctions against protesters, Gypsies and Travellers see Netpol article ‘Civil law poses threat to protest freedom’ 

Resilience: a Politics of Passivity

some resilience-boosting advice from the smug people at Action for Happiness

I read a great little article the other day in Radical Philosophy about resilience. Mark Neocleous in ‘Resisting Resilience’ articulates something that had been niggling me for a while about the concept; its inherent passivity and lack of critical grrrrrr!

Resilience is commonly defined in terms of an ability to ‘bounce back’ after a trauma or crisis and carry on as per usual. The rhetoric of resilience is that it is a big bad world out there and, since there is nothing we can do about it, we better get on with it.*

Neocleous’ article focuses on the sudden emergence of resilience-speak in the post 9/11 era. Integral to the concept of resilience is the expectation of attack. To be resilient is to be braced for an array of worst case scenarios. Neocleous argues that resilience, then, is security with imagination. Through the resilience agenda states can justify increasingly repressive security measures in the name of averting imagined attacks and crises. In Neocleous’ words, resilience is ‘nothing less than the attempted colonization of the political imagination by the state.’ But it is not just states that are keen on resilience, the IMF and the World Bank posit it as cure-all for the crisis of global capitalism.

Once you start looking out for resilience-speak you will notice a) its prevalence**, and b) that it is often directed at women. Where emotional care-taking is overwhelmingly the work of women, resilience is the capacity to deal with everybody else’s shit whilst keeping a lid on your own. It appears that the UN would agree. The theme for the UN International Disaster Reduction Day 2012 was Women and Girls: the [in]Visible force of Resilience. The promotional material read: ‘Women and Girls are the pillars of resilience – they are the first to prepare their families for a disaster and the first to put communities back together in the aftermath.’ An arduous task. How prudent of the UN to acknowledge this otherwise unrecognised, and certainly unpaid, work with an awareness-raising day!

Resilience makes the most sense in the context of environmentalism. If you have little to no control over your environment and it is becoming increasing hostile due to climate change, resilience is a brilliant thing.  Resilience involves a capability to adapt and overcome the challenges that you are faced with. And yes, if I was a seed, a passive entity, I might want to be resilient too.*** However, I can exert some control over my environment, and work to change it where I find it hostile. I will not roll up like a hedgehog, be kicked around and shuffle along!

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*I suspect that the rise of resilience has something to do with the rash of Keep Calm and Carry On paraphernalia available for purchase just about everywhere. I don’t need to tell you where you can shove that tea towel/t-shirt/mug.

**I recently applied for a job where ‘resilient’ was listed as one of the essential criteria. It was an admin role. Translation: it is essential that you will quietly put up with being put upon. Perfect!

*** How seed resilience is fostered through seed sharing and promotion of biodiversity rather than GM crop monocultures is a critical issue. See, Resilient Seed: on the seed industry, EU seed laws and the engagement for seed-sovereignty and check out Dr. Vandana Shiva and her organisation Navdanya, ‘a women centred movement for the protection of biological and cultural diversity.’

Why I can’t get excited about same-sex marriage

When David Cameron addressed the Conservative party at the October 2011 conference he assured them – ‘I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.’ This statement could be mistaken for spin, but on closer inspection it reveals the truth of the logic behind Cameron’s championing of same-sex marriage. Whilst the Marriage Bill may appear to be a progressive piece of landmark legislation granting gay couples equal recognition, it is best understood as part of a conservative agenda to shrink the state and confine the burden of care to the (married) family unit.

The struggle for same-sex marriage diverts our more radical energies and instead leaves us hankering after the privileges of straight folks. In all the excitement about what ‘gay weddings’ might be like (they’ll be swans and sequins, rainbows and unicorns!) we might forget about the way in which LGBTQ youth are disproportionately affected by cuts to housing and social services (check out Queers Against the Cuts for more info) or the way in which Britain demands gay asylum seekers ‘prove’ their sexuality or risk deportation (as reported in this recent Guardian article).

Let’s not forget that the Marriage Bill still needs to go through the House of Lords and there are still a few issues to be ironed out. Namely, the highly gendered and heterosexist definitions of consummation and adultery in law. There was a well-written and well-humoured piece in Autostraddle on this subject which I recommend you read for the sheer pleasure of the title ‘Faulty Deflowerings’ 

If you want to draw up a contract of legal obligations for your love, then fine. Ideally, everybody would be free to draw up their own contracts specifying what commitments they wish to make to whoever they wish to make them too. I, however, do not want lawyers, religious figures, or the state involved in my love; the tangled web of connections that I hold dear.

And that is what bothers me about the same-sex marriage debate, the idea that it is all about love. The word ‘love’  is frequently used as synonymous with ‘marriage’ and the main campaign group for same-sex marriage and heterosexual civil partnerships calls itself ‘Equal Love’. Yet, as far as I am concerned this is not about love but the economies of intimacy that structure our society.

A friend of mine used the following three words in favour of same-sex marriage – ‘Taxes. Visas. Banks.’ Same-sex marriage might make your life admin easier. Woohoo! But does that really sound like liberation to you? I don’t think so.

Somebody who does have a radical vision of a liberatory queer politics is Amber Hollibaugh, Executive Director of the freaking fabulous organization Queers For Economic Justice. I’ll leave you with some of her deliciously wise and inspiring words.

Are Prisons Obsolete?

ImageIn Are Prisons Obsolete? Angela Y. Davis makes a compelling case for prison abolition. Davis begins by defending the necessity to ask the eponymous question citing that in the US prison populations increased tenfold in the three decades following 1960, without major debate about the efficacy of imprisonment. Yet, bringing into question the effectiveness of incarceration is a first, and necessary, step towards further critical analysis of the racism, sexism and moral bankruptcy of the prison system.

Davis argues that it is a lack of imagination that allows for mass incarceration to go unquestioned as ‘on the whole people take prisons for granted.’ This leads to an unwillingness to talk about the alternatives to imprisonment – decriminalisation of of drug use, decriminalisation of the trade in sexual services and restorative rather punitive justice.

If prisons are obsolete, then their permanence is ideological. Davis draws attention to the ideological work that prisons do as a dumping ground for ‘evil-doers’ asserting that

Put simply, this is the era of the prison industrial complex. The prison has become a black hole into which the detritus of contemporary capitalism is deposited. Mass imprisonment generates profits as it devours social wealth, and thus it tends to reproduce the very conditions that lead people to prison.

Whilst the theorisation of prison industrial complex comes out of an analysis of the US context, it is a global phenomenon that has particular relevance to the UK where we have the highest proportion of private prisons in Europe. As of April 2012 privately-run prisons account for 14 out of 139 prisons in England and Wales. For your information –

If you want an example of prison industrial complex in action, take a look at the G4S ‘Working Prisons: Working People’ page complete with youtube video* inviting local businesses into partnership. The film concludes ‘the key message to local businesses is – we can help you grow your business, we can help you develop your business, so please come and talk to us.’ Or in other words, prisoners are exempt from minimum wage law and we can offer you an ‘opportunity’ to exploit this ‘resource.’

One of the most important points Davis has to make is regarding the difference between prison reform and prison abolition. Prison reform can only ever amount to a better life for prisoners. If the prison as a structure of state control is racist, sexist and unethical then reforming that structure contributes to its permanence and sidelines discussion of prison obsolescence.**Davis observes that

As important as some reforms may be – the elimination of sexual abuse and medical neglect in women’s prison, for example – frameworks that rely exclusively on reforms help to produce the stultifying idea that nothing lies beyond the prison. Debate about strategies of decarceration, which should be the focal point of our conversations on the prison crisis, tend to be marginalized when reform takes the center stage.

Having spent a day last December at CLINKS conference ‘Breaking the Cycle of Women’s Offending: Where next?’ which focused on community sentencing as an alternative to custody, I have some experience of the frustrations of prison reformism.  I went home regretting that I hadn’t had the confidence to speak up about prison abolition and propose that the inequalities faced by women in the criminal justice system might have something to do with the way in which (to quote Lisa Simpson) ‘the whole damn system is wrong.’

The Gossip’s Bridle or Branks

Historically, women were not imprisoned as they had no rights in the public sphere anyway. As such, reform focused on turning ‘fallen women’ into good wives and mothers. In the seventeenth century the Gossip’s Bridle of Branks – a headpiece with an iron bit was which was forced into a woman’s mouth – was used to punish women in the domestic sphere,  to silence and subdue ‘quarrelsome’ wives. Whilst sometimes bridled women were paraded through the streets (as in the picture to the left) they were also used to tie women to a wall of the home until the husband released her. The economic argument for community sentences for women rather than costly prison sentences brings us back to gendered rights and gendered public and private spheres. Women are already enslaved in unpaid domestic labour so it is more cost effective to imprison them in their own homes where they can take care of their own children. Research from the new economics foundation report ‘Unlocking Value: How we all benefit from investing in alternatives to prison for women offenders’ finds that ‘for every pound invested in support–focused alternatives to prison, £14 worth of social value is generated to women and their children, victims and society generally over ten years.’ Yet supporting women to be good wives and mothers so they can generate ‘social value’ (happy families) is hardly prison reform – its is a return to the way in which women were always already punished in the domestic sphere.

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* G4S have their own youtube channel. Look it up if you want to give yourself nightmares.

** Obsolesence is a word I hadn’t come across before reading Davis. I like the way it sounds like a glowing kind of decay.

The Plan

Welcome to Study What Troubles You! I plan to use this blog as an independent research journal. I will be posting short summary/commentary/review pieces of what I am reading and writing an article or essay occasionally.

I’m just finishing Angela Davis’ Why are prisons obsolete? and will be collating my thoughts and writing a post shortly. Watch this space!