The term neoliberalism has appeared in the policies of the Global North for several decades, with the concept of precarity in employment practices coming from the same period. In the last few years, however, precarity has been embodied and personalized, coming to signify not only an epistemological category but something more akin to an ontological state that raises complex questions of identity. My contribution uses it in that latter sense and will take the links between precarity, debility, and more specifically disability as central concerns. In feminist thought in particular, precarity mobilizes both a critical perspective on neoliberalism and a transformative prospective. It allows us to both acknowledge and go beyond a concern with inequities of power, which so strongly signal an expectation of negativity and lack of social justice, to ask how the notion of precarious bodies might already signal a potential for communality and promote the strength of relationality. Rather than following the familiar path of putting the globalization of inequality center stage and calling for new social and political rights for disabled people that take account of their asymmetric specificities, I want to disturb some of the issues—and not least the unproblematized resort to identity categories—through thinking the phenomenological implications of global intercorporeality. As one highly significant aspect of contemporary globalization, neoliberalism pursues a policy of putative self-dependency and rational self-management that seem at odds with the widely recognized capacity of globalization to undermine the certainties of spatial and temporal orientations. While the latter clearly has its own risks, it would be a mistake, I think, to equate the two movements as though both were equally damaging. Instead we should ask how new configurations of time and space are operationalized, and new flows of energy enhanced. What can be gained from the apparent precarity of disorientation, and the entry into what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari call zones of proximity? For feminist and disability scholars, the task is surely to think new horizons by considering how we might multiply possibilities of revitalization.
Neoliberalism and Embodied Precarity: Some Crip Responses
Margrit Shildrick is guest professor of gender and knowledge production at Stockholm University, and adjunct professor of critical disability studies at York University, Toronto. Her research covers postmodern feminist and cultural theory, bioethics, critical disability studies, and body theory. Books include Leaky Bodies and Boundaries: Feminism, (Bio)ethics and Postmodernism (1997), Embodying the Monster: Encounters with the Vulnerable Self (2002), and Dangerous Discourses of Disability, Sexuality, and Subjectivity (2009), as well as edited collections and many journal articles.
Margrit Shildrick; Neoliberalism and Embodied Precarity: Some Crip Responses. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 July 2019; 118 (3): 595–613. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-7616175
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