What should we eat?

Sydney Health Ethics

Answers to this simple question often appeal to science. Nutrition science, we are told, can tell us what we should or shouldn’t eat if we want to be healthy, fit and prevent disease. But are these appeals to nutrition science legitimate? We think in many cases the answer is “no”.

Some of the most egregious offenders misusing nutritional science are listicles – “10 Unbelievable Diet Rules Backed By Science,” the “14 Things You Should Never Eat,” or “10 Foods Science Says Are Healthier For Your Hair.” But even more legitimate sources of advice can be prone to misuse science and are guilty of what we label nutritional scientism.

In a recent article in the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry we critiqued three types of nutritional scientism: (1) the oversimplification of complex science (including suggesting causation from probabilistic conclusions from observational studies) to increase the persuasiveness…

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‘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.

 

 

 

 

CFP: The sixteenth annual meeting of the Foucault Circle (2016)

Foucault News

CALL FOR PAPERS
The sixteenth annual meeting of the Foucault Circle

Sydney, Australia
June 29-July 2, 2016
(hosted by the University of New South Wales)

PDF of Call for papers

We invite individualpapers and roundtable proposals(4-5 panelists) on any aspect of Foucault’s work. Studies, critiques, and applications of Foucauldian thinking are all welcome. We will aim for a diversity of topics and perspectives.

Abstracts should be prepared for anonymous review, and are to be submitted to the program committee chair, Richard A. Lynch, by email (lynchricharda@sau.edu) on/before Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. Please indicate “Foucault Circle submission” in the subject heading, and include the abstract as a “.docx” attachment.

Individual paper submissions require an abstract of no more than 750 words; roundtable submissions require a 500-word abstract describing the theme and 150-word summaries of each panelist’s talking points.

Program decisions will be announced in December.

Each speaker will have…

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Don’t be surprised by Abbott’s comments about ‘lifestyle choices’

By Christopher Mayes, University of Sydney and Jenny Kaldor, University of Sydney

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s claim this week that people living in remote communities were making a “lifestyle choice” that taxpayers shouldn’t be obliged to fund was not just the result of an unguarded moment. Rather, the phrase reveals an underlying view that social circumstances are the responsibility of individuals, rather than societies.

Commentators as well as Abbott’s top advisers on Indigenous affairs were quick to criticise the characterisation. Others suggested it was just another prime ministerial gaffe that shouldn’t distract us from the real issues.

Abbott is infamous for his gaffes and “dad jokes”, but this was not one of those moments. A day after he made the remark, the prime minister defended his use of the phrase on the Alan Jones Show.

“Lifestyle choices” was not a gaffe but a neoliberal mechanism of government that adopts a consumer logic to: i) shift responsibility for ‘closing the gap’ on to individuals; ii) trivialise Aboriginal ontological connection to land; and iii) ignore the effects of colonization, while “continuing settler colonial ‘logic o elimination’“.*

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Shall I Appear on Television?

I bought Pierre Bourdieu’s little book ‘On Television and Journalism’ for $1 from a bargain bin. This alone illustrates the disconnect between the market and things of value – a concern of Bourdieu’s in relation to what is considered “news”. However, maybe it was in the bargain bin because it was written in 1996. What could a pre-internet, pre-9/11, pre-social media book have to say of relevance about television and journalism?

Perhaps nothing. I haven’t read it. But the below excerpt suggests that many of the contemporary practices of gathering and disseminating “expert opinion” in news media would not surprise Bourdieu.

If the media today had existed in full force at the time, [Mallarmé] he would have wondered: “Shall I appear on TV? How can I reconcile the exigency of ‘purity’ inherent in scientific and intellectual work, which necessarily leads to esotericism, with the democratic interest in making these achievements available to the greatest number?”

Earlier, I pointed out two effects of television. On the one hand, it lowers the “entry fee” in a certain number of fields – philosophical, juridical, and so on. It can designate a sociologists, writer, or philosopher people who haven’t paid their dues from the viewpoint of the internal definition of the profession. On the other hand, television has the capacity to reach the greatest number of individuals. What I find difficult to justify is the fact that the extension of the audience is used to legitimate the lowering of the standards of entry into the field. People may object to this as elitism, a simple defense of the besieged citadel of big science and highculture, or even, an attempt to close out ordinary people…In fact, I am defending the conditions necessary for the production and diffusion of the highest human creations. To escape the twin traps of elitism or demagogy we must work to maintain, even to raise the requirements for the right of entry – the entry fee – into the fields of production. I have said that this is what I want for sociology, a field that suffers from the fact that the entry fee is too low – and we must reinforce the duty to get out, to share what we have found, while at the same time improving the conditions and the means for doing so.

Pierre Bourdieu, On Television and Journalism, Pluto Press, 1996, p.65

It appears one of Bourdieu’s main frustrations is with Bernard-Henri Lévy, of whom “no sociologist worthy of the name talks about” (p. 54).