Devalued Bodies in an Era of Neoliberal Choice

Thursday, Apr 24, 2014 - Thursday, Apr 24, 2014 | 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

691 Barrows Hall

Devalued Bodies in an Era of Neoliberal Choice
Mary Susman, Gender Women’s Studies Sociology
Ella Bastone, Gender Women’s Studies
Rachel Upton, Gender Women’s Studies

We exist during a changing landscape of U.S. “equality,” with certain once-outcast identities now seduced by the neoliberal, capitalist economy and assimilated into normative notions of belonging. While certain bodies become recognizable subjects, other bodies are narrowly constructed as internal enemies that fuel the illusion of equality; we witness dangerous boundary-shifting between legitimate subjects and illegitimate (non)subjects…

It is no secret that the U.S. has undergone massive penal expansion over the past several decades. California alone has the highest prison population among all 50 states. To no surprise, certain bodies have become channeled into the penal system amid this new backdrop of neoliberal insecurity in a nation-state of progressive equality. As transgender identities become an unarticulated threat against neoliberal belonging, intersections of their multifaceted identities and experiences (including race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status), make them extremely vulnerable to surveillance and interaction with the penal system and, furthermore, to harm within the system.

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/images/cleardot.gifThe intersection of fears around street safety and economic precarity of the 1970s and 1980s, led to a logic that values the protection of certain bodies and renders others disposable. Across the nation, devalued, racialized, and othered bodies experienced increased surveillance and violence for the sake of protection of some. This allowed for a multitude of anti-homeless legislation that is founded within a context of neoliberal paternalism, creating a class of people we understand as homeless, and asking them to manage themselves in accordance to normative lifestyles, and seeking to diagnose and fix themselves. How can we reimagine public space as a potential resource for marginalized identities?

Marginalized by historical, institutional, and societal ideologies of neoliberalism, capitalism, “universal citizenship,” bio-political power, and regulation, homeless women are perpetually denied the protection, rights, and access to services available to productive citizens. Restrictions on these women’s lives and bodies are imbedded in legislature, forcing an external “hierarchy of needs” that dictates an assimilationist pathway to societal reintegration. As members of a devalued, impoverished class, homeless women are conceptualized by the state as non-sexual bodies to justify the discouragement of their reproduction, which is reflected in the provision of sexual and reproductive health services that restrict autonomy.

… Through our various investments in empowering vulnerable populations, we have come to realize the interconnectedness of our struggles and the necessary coalitions we must build to achieve our liberation. Our projects demand we interrogate our own boundaries of belonging and end our complicity in upholding violent fantasies that especially harm the most marginalized among us.

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