Saturday, December 22, 2012

Visuality, Corporeality, Grievablity, and Violence

A student in my graduate seminar, Geoff Levin, wrote a great paper in which he turned Butler's notion of grievability upside down and showed how social processes making someone or some group grievable at a distance (across borders) can lead (and has led) to violence rather than peace that Butler expects.

Butler argues that since Iraqi and Afghani lives are not grievable for Americans, we Americans do not resist waging war on them.  Further, she suggests that if they did become grievable for us, we would question and (one hopes) stop the use of violence.  (Did I get that right?)

Geoff argues that in the case of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the fact that Palestinians are grievable to other Arabs and to other Moslems has led to violence and a continuation of violence.  Making Palestinians grievable is yoked historically to the creation of transnational Arab and Moslem identities.  The conflict is fueled by the fact that to Arabs and Moslems outside the narrow confines of Israel and Palestine one group of Semites (Palestinians) is grievable and another (Jews) is not.  He does not go there, but it seems to me that the normative implication of his research is not that the grievability of Palestinians is bad but rather that Palestinians and Jews must be grievable to each other and to their transnational allies for peace to be possible.

So what flips the switch?  Why are some people grievable and others not?

First the obvious: enemies are generally not grievable.  It is no surprise that Israelis & Jews are not grievable in the Arab world; it is no surprise that Palestinians and other Arabs are not grievable in Israel.  Once an Other takes on the identity of a Schmittian enemy, there is no grief.  (Note that people in Turkey -- not Arabs and therefore not, at least initially, enemies -- are grievable to Israelis, as evidenced by rescue teams sent by Israel when Turkey suffered an earthquake.)

But sometimes, estwhile enemies do become grievable.  How?  One of my mentors, the late Edward E. Azar, and other scholar-practitioners like social psychologist Herbert Kelman used "contact groups" to make influential representatives of groups that are enemies to each other come to have empathy for each other.  Empathy and grievability, I think, are closely related (if not the same).  Contact groups bring people together, their physical presence with each other makes them real in ways that words on page do not.  When confronted with each other's humanity (with each other's Face, in Levinas' terms), the possibility of empathy emerges.

Yet pictures also may make the ungrievable grievable and restore the enemy population's humanity.   I am reminded of Kim Phuc, "the girl in the picture," captured on film fleeing naked from a napalm strike on her Vietnamese village.  Her corporeality, made visual through the picture, restored her humanity and by extension the humanity of the North Vietnamese.

My interest in this is the connection between materiality (corporeality in this case) and information.  In both the face-to-face contact groups and the image, content ("I am human; you are human; if you were me right now you would feel pain.") flows from a source (Kim via the photographer's photo; the influential participants in the contact group) to recipients (those seeing the photo; the "enemy" members of the contact group).

I'm offering no conclusion.  Just an observation.  Back to grading.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

New Life After Death?

Should one's death end one's ability to procreate?  Should others be allowed to make that decision for you?

New life after death?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dead Certain?

Science Magazine reports on new a new study that examines deaths and causes of deaths, a topic important for Global Studies as well as Global Public Health:

How Do You Count the Dead?
Gretchen Vogel Understanding how many people die of which causes is invaluable for designing effective public health programs, global health experts say. But most of the world's deaths occur in places with few or no hospitals or doctors to record deaths and their causes, forcing scientists to extrapolate from survey data, incomplete records, and research studies. Various groups use different statistical methods, sometimes resulting in very different numbers that are hotly debated. Now the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is conducting the most massive study of deaths and disease ever undertaken, which aims to assemble the cause of 1 billion deaths worldwide going back to 1980. It will be published in a series of papers later this year and is likely to trigger new debates. Some say that's necessary and healthy. Others worry that the sharply diverging estimates and the bickering will erode policymakers' trust in science.

Full Story at 
Sorry, it's by subscription.

I don't have anything particularly insightful to add here, but I thought that this article has a certain resonance with our Embodied World theme.  So, too, does this article, also available by subscription:

  • Michael Spagat
  • Andrew Mack
  • Tara Cooper
  • and Joakim Kreutz
Estimating War DeathsAn Arena of ContestationJournal of Conflict Resolution December 2009 53934-950doi:10.1177/0022002709346253

The idea that death counts are highly contested is not considered enough in IR.  We don't really know how many people die as a result of conflict. Counts of bodies on the battlefield are not reliable; eye witnesses differ.  The concept of "battlefield" is hopelessly dated in today's warfare, anyway.  People die, too, not as a direct result of fighting, but rather as a consequence of the destruction wrought by fighting.

Studies of war that operationalize war in terms of N of battle deaths are flawed in my view.  (Correlates of War and Behavioral Correlates of War are widely used datasets that do just that.)  It never made sense to me to say that 999 battle deaths is "only"  a "militarized interstate dispute" (assuming it's interstate), while 1000 battle deaths makes the conflict a war.

And then there is "structural violence," a term introduced by Johann Galtung to refer to the years of life lost as a result of negative socio-economic conditions.  A problem for analyzing structural violence is it is difficult to see the act of violence on the body of the victim. There is no smoking gun nor any other obvious weapon to be seen if someone's life is cut short because of impoverished circumstances that came as a result of structural adjustment policies. No one has a "structural adjustment entry wound."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fertility: emotions, ethics, efficiency?

What kinds of fertility interventions can/should be legal?  What kinds should be covered by insurance? Europe is not united on this issue...

There are interesting things to consider here: the angst of the barren woman, a harsh term; the opportunities created by medical science advances; the costs of new medical technologies; the ethical and social issues (who deserves to have a child?); the commodification of reproduction.

And I'm reminded of a passage from Isaiah -- and my haftarah: "Rejoice of barren, you who have not given birth.  Break into a song and cry aloud,you who have not been in labor.  For the children of the abandoned are more numerous than the children of the married wife, says God."  Sorry, Isaiah and sorry God.  That's poppycock.  Even at 13 I knew that the woman who wanted children but could not have them would not rejoice.

But now that we have technologies that overcome some of the limits of an individual woman's body, should we put limits on those technologies?  There is a lot I find completely unproblematic -- unqualified good things.  I do find myself feeling rather squeamish about the commodification aspects -- rented wombs, in particular.  And when the provision of reproductive bodily service involves differences of class, ethnicity, and even nationality, I begin to think about the colonized female body...

Monday, March 12, 2012

How dead is dead?

I came across this interesting article on the determination of brain death, beating heart cadavers, and organ donation:
What You Lose When You Sign That Donor Card by Dick Teresi in the Wall Street Journal online.

I am not sure what I think about this yet.  My response must be contingent on the truth value of the empirical claims (does blood pressure really increase in response to the scalpel used on the organ donor?) and an ethical question of whether the answer might not matter in the absence of cognition.  But is cognition actually absent?  Another empirical question.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

More on organ transplants

A post from the Washington Post "On Parenting" blog by Janice D'Arcy

Stefanie Fishel and I have a paper (still needs to be finished) on global rules regarding organ transplantation.  The rules are mostly about appropriate donations and donors.  The recent discussion of whether a child with mental disabilities can receive a donated organ raises questions. I realize I might be pushing this too far, but consider for a moment: Humans can share organs because we have interchangeable parts.  What are we saying about the nature of our human-ness when we decide that some are not eligible to receive organs?  In some cases, are we saying that someone is not human enough? Do we see flaws of the body (Fragile X syndrome, for example) as diminishing an individual's worth? This is not just a concern about children, some of whom have intellectual disabilities.  It is also a concern about the elderly.  What happens to our worth when our bodies become frail?