GY802 Key Concepts in Geography week 4

This is my reaction paper for the 4th week of the above graduate class I am taking.

What links Fiona Pender and Xiaolan Zhang?

“It is the power to make a strategic separation between law and morality that defines the colonial situation, because it is this separation that enables the legal work of educating subjects into a new public morality.” (Asad, 2003: 240)

Within public discussions of secularism, there is a deep desire to replace morality with law. Law determines and establishes fact; morality reflects prejudice. Law is above all and acts upon the body politic; morality is individualistic and self-serving. The law however is an instrument of the biopolitical state, reaching into homes and individual’s lives in efforts to copperfasten the “putative universality of the state” (Brown 2004, quoted in Pratt, 2005: 1056). In much the same way as Butler has portrayed the problematic of the migrant Muslim woman for the European political space, Pratt points to the spatial nature of legal abandonment present within Canada. For Pratt, the notional commitment to the protection of life by the law produces the state’s sovereignty over life. Agamben’s state of exception takes on symbolic as well as physical (spatial?) manifestations seen, at least from an Irish point of view, in the state’s policy toward Travellers, asylum-seekers and those living in public housing. The very law that seeks the vindication of ‘citizens’ rights’ is only effective because of the exclusion of others reduced to “bare life”. How far this might be from a simply-rendered dialectic is unclear to me but this is little less than a process of internal colonization.

Pratt contends that any formal equality established by and for women in the public sphere is entirely dependent upon their subordination in the home (1056). Legal abandonment depends on the exploitation of the porous nature of the public-private divide. The gender hierarchies produced by this process support the split between the biological and political life in a way that has very serious consequences for the women’s lives narrated in her paper. The lived experience of their individual lives being generalised ‘up’ is the simplest way to recognise such symbolic violence. The detail of them as political agents in their own right is not necessary for their representation in their bare life. A presumption of the transience of sex workers’ lives allows for their spatial re-representation as normal-to-be-disappearing. The transience of the migrant women working in domestic settings can also account for their relative invisibility in Canadian public life. Pratt’s analytical framework assists in the scaling down of these ‘cases’ for them to become human again. Less Agambenian camp inhabitants, more as public citizens.

In Ireland, among the people that have gone missing are Annie Mc Carrick, Jo Jo Dullard, Fiona Sinnott, Deirdre Jacob and Fiona Pender. A quick examination of the list of current missing persons on shows that many more women (and men) are missing in Ireland, often for long periods. Their whereabouts are unknown. They are missing in that they are not present, physically or temporally. The detail provided for the women above is often more extensive than for that provided for Xiaolan Zhang or for Chen Hong Yu. Those women who are identified in the Garda database as possessing a nationality other than Irish are often claimed to have been “missing from her accommodation”. For example, Faadumo Maalim Hassan, a Somalian national, is “missing from her accommodation at North Circular Road”.  Those with Irish names or Irish sounding names are missing from home, usually accompanied by a finer grained detail of their environment. Below are two screenshots to contrast the form of these records:

Sylvia is missing from her accommodation and is missing from a country (although this might relate to a new procedure for record keeping) whereas Annie had a home in Dublin and may have been a keen hill walker. I am not sure why there is so much detail about women such as Annie and not so much about women like Sylvia. Could it be the case that, as Pratt states, “the refugee who refuses assimilation is…one who refuses to submit their personhood to the territorializing biopolitical state”? In popular representations of missing women in Ireland, Jo Jo Dullard commands far more attention than Debby Ehiwenma (“a native of Nigeria”). Every so often, a story will appear in the press about a new clue in the case of Jo Jo or Deirdre but never in Chen’s. The production of inclusion through similarity (Pratt: 1069) operates both politically and spatially in the example of women missing in Ireland. The detail provided about women like Annie is symbolic of our expectation for her not-to-be-disappeared. Do we expect women ‘like’ Sylvia to be missing? “Such forms of legal abandonment are gendered and racialized” (1068). The “layers” of taken for granted geographies of some women and not of others reveals distinctions about where are the public and the private in Irish politics. A politics that relies on seeking the enhancement of citizens’ rights allows for the continuation of a process of internal colonization.

Within the Irish state’s borders, some are citizens, others are residents while others (like asylum-seekers) are the infantilised dependents of the Department of Justice. In trying to see beyond the spatially segregated ways in which various groups of people inhabit the ‘place’ of Ireland, what kinds of politics does this require? Civil society groups and non-governmental organisations have begun to open up these new politics but can only go so far when the necessity of their address to power is confronted. Seeking the ‘values’ within communities and allowing these to become the basis for a new politics (as we have just seen in the general election campaign) means assuming the ideology of the “flat earth” that Smith discusses (895). In such a process, the granularity and materialism of class politics is often cast aside in favour of a yearning for a unifying acquiescence, no less removed from Agamben’s camp than working class housing estates. Smith’s spatial advantage is not erased when the representation of something as seemingly simple as collective memory (such as that seen above) is examined through the lens of Agamben and Pratt’s analysis.