NEW BOOK: Unsettling Food Politics

UPDATE: There were some teething issues regarding the cost of postage to Australia, I believe these have been resolved.

Also, in addition to the 60% discount for hardback there is a 30% discount code for e-book – UFP30.

60% off discount Unsettling Food Politics

I had the initial idea for this book in 2013. In December 2014 I pitched it to the series editors during the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. Almost five years later, my book – Unsettling Food Politics: Agriculture, Dispossession and Sovereignty in Australia – is being released by Rowman & Littlefield.

During that five years, there were many changes to the scope and direction of the book. I could probably spend another five years making further changes. Fortunately deadlines meant that was not possible. I’ll post more on the back story later. For the moment here is the synopsis and some very kind endorsements.

UFP_Twitterpost_McMichael

Synopsis

This book uses social and political theory to critically examine the historical constitution of contemporary alternative food discourses. While alternative food activists appeal to food sovereignty and agrarian discourses to counter the influence of neoliberal agricultural policies, these discourses remain entangled with colonial logics of sovereignty and dispossession of indigenous peoples. In particular, this book addresses the influence of Enlightenment ideas of improvement, the use of agriculture to establish ownership, and the production of a white population in Australia. In combination with this critical history, this book brings continental political philosophy into conversation with Indigenous theories of sovereignty and alternative food discourses in order to open new spaces for thinking about food and politics in contemporary Australia.

Endorsements

The inter-disciplinary nature of the work is reflected in the generous endorsements from a variety of scholars from different disciplines.

Mayes’ book is an important and, yes, unsettling reminder that in the Australian context, too, a return to smallholder farming as an antidote to the world’s food woes, is a return to an imaginary thick with dispossession and unfree labour.

Julie Guthman, Professor of Social Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz

Too often debates around food focus on the individual consumer and consumer choice without acknowleding the way in which those choices are determined by the culture of possibilities in which the consumer is situated. The impact of current food practices on health, the environment, and social inequity cannot be addressed merely by changing individual habits; rather, food justice will require fundamental changes in the systems of production and distribution that determine what and how we eat.

This important and timely book exposes the complicity of commodity agriculture not only in the global obesity crisis and environmental injustice, but also in the food insecurity of vulnerable populations. Drawing on the resources of Foucault, Mayes demonstrates convincingly the role of agriculture in the project of colonialism and its historic injustices. Though he focuses primarily on Australia, his analysis of the way in which contemporary agricultural practices reflect racism and the dispossesion of indigenous peoples has a global reach.

Mayes does not only offer a critique of the provision of food as a biopolitical act that privileges some bodies over others; he also offers positive strategies for transforming our current food culture in order to address the injustices inherent in it. As he argues, by recovering the knowledges of indigenous peoples and by giving the marginalized a place at the table where decisions are made, we may be able to revolutionize current food practices in ways that will not only address inequity, but also improve the well-being of each and all.

Mary C. Rawlinson, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Philosophy, Stony Brook University

Unsettling Food Politics is an extraordinary rethinking of food sovereignty politics beyond formal sovereignty structures and discriminatory discourses of settler-colonial states. Fashioning a reflexive historical method to construct a substantive sovereignty of indigeneity, Mayes raises profound ethical questions for food sovereignty movements and practices within states and farming systems founded on indigenous subjugation. This is powerful food for thought.

Philip David McMichael, Professor, Department of Development Sociology, Cornell University

This is the book we have been waiting for. Unsettling Food Politics finally provides the critical study of settler-colonial food regimes that we so desperately need today. Historically grounded and well argued, this book is essential reading.

Thomas Nail, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Denver

Unsettling Food Politics models a radically different conception of political responsibility. He achieves this by means of a brilliant, and wholly convincing, double movement. One the one hand, Mayes widens the net of our complicity in Indigenous dispossession beyond what many are likely to find comfortable – as he puts it, unforgettably, “If you eat, you are involved in settler-colonialism”. On the other, he insists that any credible response must proceed from the acknowledgement of the moral primacy of the First Peoples of this land, their claim on the soil, their food practices. Mayes’s book is, in effect, a startling demonstration of what it would mean to accept the invitation extended by the framers of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, for non-indigenous Australians to join the First Peoples at a table they have set, to discover what it might mean, finally, to become political companions (in the original sense of the word). And perhaps that is the best description of what Mayes sets out in this remarkable book: a politics of companionability. Unsettling Food Politics is an extraordinary achievement.

Scott Stephens, Religion & Ethics editor, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and Co-host of The Minefield, on ABC Radio National

IVF and the Birth of Bioethics in Australia

In the four decades since the birth of the ‘test-tube’ baby, the field of bioethics has been at the forefront of trying to understand what advancing biotechnologies mean for society, writes Alfred Deakin Institute researcher, Dr Christopher Mayes.

July 25, 2018 marked 40 years since the first baby was born via in vitro fertilisation (IVF), signalling a radical shift in human reproduction. The birth of Louise Brown in Oldham General Hospital, England in 1978 realised the technological capacity to fertilize a human egg outside of the body, opening new possibilities as well as provoking anxieties.

While the medical research team in England achieved the world-first live IVF birth, a team of researchers from Royal Women’s Hospital, Monash University and Queen Victoria Hospital in Melbourne were in close competition. Under the direction of Carl Wood and Alan Trounson, these Melbourne-based researchers achieved the world’s first IVF pregnancy in 1973 and the birth of the third IVF baby in 1980.

Since these dramatic early developments, IVF has become a relatively routine procedure. But it wasn’t just babies being born through the development of IVF; the technology also birthed a new field that became known as ‘bioethics’.

1980s and the emergence of bioethics

IVF created the possibility of fertilising an egg with sperm outside the human body. This procedure addressed a range of infertility problems, such as blocked or damaged fallopian tubes and low sperm count or motility.

It also presented a dizzying array of new possibilities, including: creating embryos from donated sperm, ova, or both; screening embryos for genetic diseases or desired traits prior to implantation; surrogacy arrangements; experimentation on embryonic life; ectogenesis (growth of a baby in an artificial womb); freezing eggs or sperm for future use; and cloning.

The potential for IVF to radically alter reproduction as well as family formation provoked an explosion of conferences, seminars, committees and institutions that sought to address resulting ethical and legal questions.

In 1980, Monash University established the Monash Centre for Human Bioethics with Peter Singer as its founding director. Shortly after, in 1981, the Catholic Archdiocese in Brisbane created the Queensland Bioethics Centre under the directorship of Sr Regis Mary Dunne. These centres sought to educate the public and influence policy debates on the ethical and social implications of developments in biomedicine.

The legal field was also responding to the new developments. In 1982, the Attorney General of Victoria appointed Professor Louis Waller to chair a committee exploring the implications of reproductive technologies in terms of the law as well as legal ethics. This led to the Victorian parliament passing the Infertility (medical procedures) Act 1984, a world-first legislation addressing IVF.

Other states soon followed but the federal government wanted a uniform approach and, in 1985, the Family Law Council released a report titled Creating Children: A Uniform Approach to the Law and Practice of Reproductive Technology in Australia, which detailed a national approach to reproductive biotechnologies.

In 1988, the federal government established the National Bioethics Consultative Committee (NBCC) to address, among other things, surrogacy, information in relation to donated eggs and sperm, and genetic counselling. Coinciding with the release of an NBCC report advising legislation to permit surrogacy, state and federal health ministers disbanded the body. Yet some NBCC members were included on the newly-formed Australian Health Ethics Committee (1991).

During the 1980s, these committees and institutions contributed to the creation of policies and legislation designed to regulate IVF use, and the directions and limits of scientific research – especially in relation to embryos. These debates also contributed to the birth of bioethics in Australia.

Conflicts and disputes

Not everyone was happy with the way bioethics was emerging. A young Kevin Andrews, for example, used his maiden speech in federal parliament to lament that “some of the same personnel from the widely-discredited National Bioethics Consultative Committee” were included on the Australian Health Ethics Committee. And it was not just Andrews who had concerns about the new field of bioethics.

Doctors and scientists were wary of external meddling in their practice and research while Catholic theologians and ethicists were troubled by the devaluing of embryonic life, which they considered sacred. Feminists were suspicious of male-dominated committees deciding what could or could not be done to women’s bodies and the technological control of reproduction, and secular bioethicists were concerned by the real or apparent influence of the Church. Politicians, meanwhile, were worried that committees they had created were now undermining their role in creating legislation.

These concerns over bioethics and the direction of biomedical research were intimately tied to fears and hopes about future society. Were we heading towards a utopia or dystopia?

Unforeseen or ignored developments?

Although its physical and psychological burdens are not widely discussed, IVF has become standard procedure. In 2014, 12,875 babies were born via IVF in Australia. While the procedure is relatively common and largely accepted as an ethically acceptable form of reproduction, questions from the earliest debates remain.

Catholic and radical feminist commentators were the most vocal critics of the new reproductive technologies. At times these seemingly divergent perspectives overlapped, particularly in regard to concerns relating to technological and corporate control of reproduction.

Catholic leaders were primarily concerned with the moral status of embryos, whether IVF contravened “laws of nature” and the separation of the sexual act from reproduction. These concerns did not gain much traction among policymakers or laity – polls in the early 1980s revealed 67% of Catholics surveyed approved of the practice and that a proportionate number of Catholics were on waiting lists to access IVF.

The feminist critique of reproductive medicine drew attention to areas largely ignored by the majority of ethicists, scientists and politicians. Robyn Rowland and Renate Klein from Deakin University were leading voices in calling attention to the influence of commercial values on the motives and ethics of clinicians. In the early-1980s, Robyn Rowland argued that IVF physicians look “less altruistic as their efforts to generate profits intensify” and queried the secrecy over a new commercial enterprise developed by the early Melbourne-based researchers and Monash University.

Rowland argued that “a collaboration between research and commercial interests uses women in essentially experimental programs and asks the participants and the public to underwrite the expense so that the researchers can enter into commercial contracts for profit.”

In 2014, Monash IVF floated on the stock market for over $300 million dollars. In writing a history of IVF in Australia, John Leeton, who was part of Carl Wood’s team at Monash IVF, characterized Rowland’s criticisms as “extreme and misguided”. Yet in light of the enormous profits enjoyed by fertility clinics, as well as the distorting effect of commercial interests, Rowland’s critique remains relevant today.

The listing of companies such as Monash IVF and Virtus IVF on the stock exchange not only means that they operate at a profit for shareholders, but also have an obligation to continually seek profits and new markets.

In recent years, social egg freezing (SEF) has been regarded by commercial IVF companies as opening up new lucrative markets. While IVF primarily focuses on women and couples with infertility problems, SEF is the practice of freezing unfertilized eggs so women may use them when they have found the right partner or achieved certain career or educational goals. The practice is marketed as an “insurance policy” that allows women to put off concerns about their “biological clock”.

There is an ongoing debate about the efficacy and ethics of this practice. But one thing that’s clear is all women between puberty and menopause are now seen as potential customers. There is limited data available about who is using these services and when. Fertility clinics suggest that it is ideal for women to freeze their eggs in their 20s and early-30s. However, data from the UK Government’s independent regulator reveals that 68% of women using SEF are over 35.

The expansion of fertility clinics into SEF raises questions about the changing reality of biomedical practice – is it simply a commercial relationship where the logics of “buyer beware” operate? Or is a medical relationship where professionals have an ethical obligation to their patients?

Neither utopia nor dystopia

The commercial dimension of biomedicine rarely featured in the bioethical debates of the 1980s. But biotechnology is now a lucrative industry that’s attractive for investors.

Commercial influences on the development of IVF – and its expansion into questionable markets – should not diminish the amazing achievements 40 years ago. We have not entered the dystopia that many feared; but nor have we reached utopia.

It’s this space in-between that bioethicists continue to work in, questioning developments of biomedicine and new technologies, such as CRISPR, commercial surrogacy, personalised medicine and artificial intelligence.

 

[This was first published 7 August 2018 in Deakin University “Research News“, with editorial assistance from Reema Rattan]

Small ‘l’ liberals, White Australia & Citizenship

Last Thursday Leigh Sales “grilled” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over proposed changes to Australia’s citizenship laws. Changes include a more stringent English language test, proof of integration into Australian society, and a four-year waiting period for permanent residents to apply for citizenship.

Sales considered these proposed changes to be an aberration of Australian liberalism and out of step with Turnbull’s own political philosophy.

Towards the end of the interview she asked:

LEIGH SALES: Before you became Prime Minister, your image was that your values put you in the small ‘l’ liberal tradition of Alfred Deakin and Malcolm Fraser.

Can you today name one policy position that you hold that aligns with that tradition rather than with the conservative wing of your party?

Ironically, the policy that Turnbull could name is the very policy under discussion. The tightening of citizenship laws, especially using racialised notions of cultural values, English-proficiency, and religious belief is deeply entwined with the legacy of Deakin.

Historian Joanna Cruickshank, quoted Alfred Deakin in an article on the enduring power of white supremacy in Australia. Speaking in 1903, Deakin said:

“A white Australia is not a surface, but it is a reasoned policy which goes down to the roots of national life, and by which the whole of our social, industrial, and political organisations is governed.”

Another Australian historian, Stuart Macintyre, quotes Deakin during a debate on the Immigration Restriction Act (1901) saying:

The unity of Australia is nothing, if that does not imply a united race. A united race means not only that its members can intermix, intermarry and associate without degradation on either side, but implies one inspired by the same ideas, an aspiration towards the same ideals, of a people possessing the same general cast of character, tone of thought…

Turnbull is careful to avoid explicit appeals to race in the ethno-biological sense. However, his emphasis on the “unique” Australian values – “freedom, equality of men and women, mutual respect, the rule of law, democracy, a fair go” – serve as markers, shibboleths and “tone of thought” for indicating who is “in” and who is “out”.

The subtly of these dynamics was demonstrated when asked about who can integrate into Australian society. Turnbull gives a quick – “of course they are” – in response to Sales’ question “Are Jews who celebrate Hanukkah integrated into Australian cultures and values?” In contrast, he gives a bumbling non-response to the question about whether a woman who wears a headscarf is also integrated.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, people are free to wear whatever item of clothing they like. I mean, bear in mind, I say again and again, whenever I talk about Australian citizenship and Australian values, I say that the foundation of our success, our extraordinary success, is mutual respect.

And that means… It’s a two-way thing. You respect others in their diversity and they respect you. It’s also about respecting the equal rights of men and women. And that is vitally important.

This and other tortured debates about the right and wrong way of applying Australia values of a “fair go” and “mutual respect” reveals the implicit way some forms of life are accepted and others are rejected.

Turnbull’s proposed changes to the citizenship laws do not stray far from those who went before him. From Deakin to Abbott, Australian liberalism (spelled with a small or large ‘l’) has tied itself in knots to restrict the entry and freedom of racialised others. Despite his progressive shtick and love of public transport, Turnbull is no different.

Sheep as the settlers’ totem: Lamb of God, sheep of the field

In working on the manuscript for my book, I have been reading and thinking about sheep and their role in settler-colonialism and the frontier wars.

Robert Kenny’s, The Lamb Enters the Dreaming, is fascinating on many levels. I particularly liked this reflection:

‘It is important to appreciate here that the connection between the religious symbolism of the Lamb and the white things wandering around the paddocks was lost to the settlers, but not to the local people. Having been brought up a Christian, it never occurred to me until I came to write this book that Jesus as Lamb of God, or myself as Lost Sheep found, had any connection to the dumb, fluffy animals that dot the countryside. Of course, I would recognise “the Lamb” as a lamb, but I would not look at a lamb in a field and think of Jesus. Or a sheep that had wandered alone onto a road and think of an apostate Christian. Since I was a small child, the separation of the symbolic Lamb from the wool-bearing sheep has been granted, the result of centuries of separation. But if I had come across the Christian symbolism of the Lamb at the same time as the novel presence of sheep, this separation would not be – and it would certainly not be if I understood the spiritual and physical worlds as unseparated.’ – Robert Kenny, The Lamb Enters the Dreaming, Melb., Scribe: 2010.

Also, it is disturbing how much of the frontier violence revolved around sheep and agriculture. This map makes the impact of colonial expansion on Indigenous life obvious.

Sheep & Wheat copy

 

‘Nothing to Lose’ – Judging My Book By Its Cover

My first book – The Biopolitics of Lifestyle: Foucault, Ethics and Health Choices – is being published this month. Perhaps not the most scholarly concern, especially as I had little to do with its creation, but I am particularly pleased with the cover.

Cover

Cover image: Toby Burrows (image) and Michael Cutrupi (dancer). From ‘nothing to Lose’ by Force Majeure. From The Biopolitics of Lifestyle, Routledge (2015).

 

I suggested the image after seeing Force Majeure‘s dance production ‘Nothing to Lose‘ at the 2015 Sydney Festival. This production was billed as exploring ‘fat’ – ‘the powerful little word, full of baggage and judgement’.

At the time I was finishing off the final draft of my book, which was also exploring aspects of this word and its medicalized cousin – obesity.

While I was not able to discuss ‘Nothing to Lose’ in my book, I remember that it reminded my of Chantal Mouffe’s remarks on public art as,

‘bringing to the fore the existence of alternatives to the current post-political order…[and] making visible what the dominant consensus tends to obscure and obliterate’.

The production powerfully challenged the commonsense ways of seeing bodies and the ways that they are obscured. This was most clear in a performance where half a dozen dancers moved towards, and into, the audience while relentlessly repeating condescending cliches: “have you tried dieting?”, “such a pretty face”, “have you looked in the mirror?”, “have you considered some exercise?”, “do you really need that?” and on, and on.

The ‘Nothing to Lose’ dance performance is an important way of highlighting and confronting the social and political imperatives surrounding bodies, notions of health, and what types of bodies are allowed to be seen and under what conditions.

I hope that my book is able to live up to its cover and do something similar, even if in a more turgid form.

I would particularly like to thank Michael Cutrupi (dancer) and Toby Burrows (image) for giving their permission to use the image.

Australia Claimed: White Possession & the Redundancy of Reclaim Australia

Despite the rallies and Channel 7’s broadcast of an “in-depth” interview with the founders of Reclaim Australia, the disintegration of the far-right populist movement appears imminent. Unlike their American cousins, The Tea Party, they do not have significant financial backing and the poor showing of “patriots” at the Parramatta rally last month suggests that this grass-roots movement lacks organisation and/or a critical mass of people willing to get out on the streets to call for “non-patriots” to get out of the country. However, the devolution of this movement is not a victory of Australian multi-culturalism or common-sense.

Reclaim Australia gets small numbers to their rallies because they are unnecessary. Why spend a Sunday afternoon shouting in the streets when the political and economic system is silently re-asserting the normal order of things?

The normal order of things is maintained through symbolic and systemic modes of violence. Unlike physical violence directed at specific subjects, the symbolic and systemic violence operates in the background. For example, the violence inherent in the production cheap consumer goods that benefit the lives of some while exposing factory workers to physical harm when making our flat-screen TVs in Mexcio or iPhone’s in China.

Most of us do not see this violence because it isn’t directed at us. We only see the subjective violence of shootings or physical aggression. The subjective form of violence overshadows the systemic and symbolic forms of violence that allow the normal order of things to continue smoothly (for some). This is the violence inherent in fierce border protection policies or laws that target racial and religious minorities. It is the violence embodied in language that strips subjects of their humanness (e.g. illegal maritime arrivals) and makes the violence that they suffer either excusable or somehow deserving.

SystDuck-Rabbit_illusionemic and symbolic violence tends to be invisible to those who benefit from the normal order of things that those modes of violence sustain. It is like a trompe l’oeil or the duck-rabbit illusion. For those who benefit these policies and arrangements look like caring necessity – “we need to protect ourselves” or “It is prudent to monitor Muslim boys because they are prone to radicalization”. However, to those on the other side, these policies and arrangements are experienced as exclusion and brutality.

In this context, Reclaim Australia will wither away, not because there is insufficient support for their message, but because Australia is already well and truly claimed. This claim is sustained by the long history of violent colonisation and occupation, the effects of which persist today. However, it is a claim that needs to be continually reasserted on the bodies and lives of non-white migrants.

In her recent book The White Possessive, Aileen Moreton-Robinson describes this “claim” as a white possession. White Australia’s existence as sovereign possessor is derived from the dispossession of Indigenous lands. As Moreton-Robinson notes, there is a deep anxiety that ‘racial others’ will in turn dispossess white Australia. The main utility of Reclaim Australia is as a warning that the normal order of things is being challenged. It is like a “flare-up” of the appendix in the body of white Australia, or to use another metaphor, a canary in a mine. Reclaim Australia is an expression of the anxiety that white Australia’s sovereignty is challenged.

The fear associated with a challenge to white sovereignty is seen in Native Title disputes. There is a deep fear that Indigenous claims will dispossess white Australian sovereignty over cities, suburbs, parks, beaches, arable lands, and natural resources (see Kerr and Cox’s ‘Setting Up the Nyoongar Tent Embassy‘). Yet, the reality does not lend credence to the anxieties and fears of white Australia – ‘the majority of Indigenous people in Australia do not have land rights, nor do they have legal ownership of their sacred sites.’

In the case of Islam, the fear of dispossession is also unfounded. According to the 2011 census, 2.2 % of the Australian population indicated they were affiliated with Islam. Of course the debates over Australia, radicalization, extremism, Islam, citizenship, borders and all the other nodes connected to this assemblage are not about evidence or facts. But control over who is admitted into white Australia, and the form that admittance takes. Some are wholly absorbed, while others remain in permanent parenthesis (asylum seekers).

While those attending Reclaim Australia rallies (and those sympathetic to their narrative) may feel that Islam is an existential threat to the white claim to Australia, the terms and conditions of political and social reality are established by and for a white Australia. The challenge is not to reclaim Australia, but to place the current claim in the context of historical and contemporary forms of violence that privilege those who possess whiteness and its associated symbols and markers.

In the words of Stan Grant, we need to challenge that violence and our own attachment and benefit from it.

Australians who so laudably challenge the bigots among them need also challenge themselves. What are they prepared to give up? Land, history, flag, anthem, myth or identity – all of it is on the table if we are truly serious. Other countries fight wars over these things: we can do it in peace.

 

 

 

 

Whose home is this? Hiding violence in the background

Last Saturday I helped setup some of the artwork for the Creative Conversations exhibition (click the link for details).* The exhibition has a number of diverse works exploring themes relating to asylum-seekers, climate change, migration and borders. I was particularly struck by a work using the medium of wallpaper – Whose home is this? by Lauren Fraser

IMG_0193-0From a distance the wallpaper looks like a series of imprecise rectangular clusters separated by irregular terracotta coloured strips. As I got closer, however, the imprecise clusters became tiny faces and bodies held tightly together by a labyrinth of fences and walls. The wallpaper sits behind, yet is framed by, domestic items of a lamp, couch and cushions.

Reflecting on themes of asylum and the temporality of life, Fraser says that this ‘settled setting juxtaposes with the restless, relentless backdrop’ of human faces in holding cells. This is pertinent in Australia where we are told that our borders, our way of life and our homely comforts must be protected.

Yet, in the background of these domestic comforts are the faces of those whose lives’ are disposable victims of crimes committed by unidentifiable perpetrators, or at least perpetrators are unwilling to accept they are complicit.

Fraser’s work reminded me of Ursula Le Guin’s short-story – The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. Le Guin describes an idyllic town, Omelas, where there is peace and the citizens experience unbelievable happiness. Yet, the peaceful and harmonious existence of the citizens of Omelas comes at a cost. Not to them, but to a child kept in a dark cellar under the town.

The child is unloved, naked and unfed. A kind word can never be spoken to the child. That is the bargain that makes Omelas such a pleasant town for the citizens.IMG_0194-0

As Le Guin notes, while some of the adolescents are uncomfortable with the arrangement,

they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.

Like the child under Omelas, a mass of human beings live miserable lives while we experience peace and stability and the occasional #firstworldproblem. This is the bargain of the sweat-shop, the bargain of fossil fuel exports, the bargain of de-radicalization laws targeting racial and religious minorities, and the bargain of free trade policies that are freer for some and than for others. This is the violence hidden in the background that makes our normal life run smoothly and peacefully.

It is significant that this work is hung on the wall of Newtown Mission, a 150+ year old Methodist Church. This location heightens the moral, political and historical tension of the work.

The Church in Australia has been a beneficiary of colonial violence that dispossessed Indigenous peoples of their lands and their culture. It has enabled that violence to be hidden in the background as an unfortunate part of a wider moral project of “civilizing” and “Christianizing”.

Yet unlike the utilitarian calculus of pleasure for many and pain for some that determines the bargain set by the citizens of Omelas, aspects of the Church have sought a counter-history that identifies with those who Jesus called the “least of these“. That is, those who the powers of the day discard as disposable waste, yet are described by Jesus as possessing a value that is more than the wealth of the world can afford.

Or in a more secular register, these are people who cannot be reduced to a footnote on a policy document. As the philosopher Michel Foucault says, suffering must never be ‘the silent residue of policy. It grounds an absolute right to stand up and speak to those who hold power.’

Those of us in Omelas, Australia, or wherever must reconsider our own material interests of domestic peace in the foreground and become aware not only of the wallpaper in the background, but the floor boards that hide the stolen land under our feet.

Sitting on the couch next to Fraser’s work is discomforting and unsettling. As it should be.

*The exhibition is being held at Newtown Mission (king St, opposite the Dendy Theatre) from 1 – 8th November.