International Association of Bioethics
Rotterdam, Netherlands
26-29 June 2012
Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) and the Ethics of Seclusion in Mental Health

This paper presents preliminary findings from empirical CIHR-funded research on the ethics of seclusion in the treatment of mental health patients. Drawing on interviews with nursing staff and with patients who have experienced seclusion as part of their hospital stay, we explore the use of IPA as an ethical methodology. IPA is a qualitative method originally developed for studies in health psychology (Colaizzi, 1976; Reid, Flowers, & Larkin, 2005; Smith, 1996, 2004). While it is a relatively new methodological approach, in recent years it has become increasingly popular in the human, social, and health sciences (Larkin, Watts, & Clifton, 2006; Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). The goal of a phenomenological study is to understand the ways in which individuals perceive the world around them and make sense of their lived experiences. Focusing on the body and its perception, IPA offers an alternative to cognitively oriented health psychology and the principle of autonomy favoured by analytic philosophy, “by looking in detail at how individuals talk about the stressful situations they face, and how they death with them, and by close consideration of the meanings they attach to them” (Smith, 1996, p. 270). We argue that an ethical approach must address the experiential gap that arises between the body that is both a subject in the world and a biomedical object of health care, which is especially salient in the psychiatric setting. We turn to phenomenology in an effort to understand the place of the lived-body (Husserl, 1970; Merleau-Ponty, 1962) in bioethics.

American Comparative Literature Association Annual Meeting
Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island
29 March – 1 April 2012
Foucault’s Ethical Turn: From khrēsis to catachresis

This paper explores Foucault’s turn to ethics in the last years of his career. In his re/turn to ancient thought, Foucault seeks to overturn modern ethics and politics founded in what he calls the “Cartesian moment.” I believe that Foucault’s ethics offers a rejoinder to the modern ethos and, in particular, to the biopolitical and neoliberal forms of governance that characterize our present. For Foucault, ethics is a turn, the turning of the self upon itself in the care of the self. In my reading, this is a rhetorical turn that reconfigures the subject rhetorically. From Plato’s Alcibiades, the self’s relation to itself is a relation of khrēsis; however, Foucault takes great pains to demonstrate that this is not an instrumental relation, as it is for the neoliberal subject. While khrēsis can be translated simply as “use,” it enjoys a more extended sense: it is an attitude, behavior, or, in the language of phenomenology, a comportment or intensional and directed engagement, perhaps even a being-in-the-world. This sense of khrēsis shares a great deal with the rhetorical figure of catachresis, commonly defined as the misuse or abuse of a word or expression. But the khrēsis, in some sense, relies on the catachresis, for it is in this trope that an abuse gets played precisely so as to expose the context or the scene in which normative use is maintained. This inaugurates a shift in ethical subjectivity towards the responsibility for those conditions (of possibility) within which an “ethical” ethics is upheld.

International Conference McLuhan Galaxy
Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain
23 – 25 May 2011
Making Live and Letting Die”: Media, Technoculture, and the Global Biopolitics of Death

I draw my title from Foucault’s (2008) characterisation of biopolitics, where the ‘life’ of the population is the means by which individuals are governed–as collectivities whose very lives and vital wellbeing are increasingly subject to governmental control, surveillance, regulation, and segregation, through forecasts, risk-management, statistical measures, and other mediatised forms of bio-moral orthopaedics. The biopolitical power to ‘make live and let die’ has gradually displaced classical sovereign power to ‘take life or let live’. Modern politics has seized the power to bestow ‘life’; and consequently, others must be ‘allowed to die’–a whole class of people whose lives do not count as life, including prisoners, refugees, those lost as ‘collateral damage’ in modern warfare, victims of biopharmaceutical testing and profits, ‘negative externalities’ in the global march of neoliberalism, and so on. Death, Foucault writes, has replaced sex as the great taboo. Death has been ‘outsourced’, and those of us who are ‘made to live’ better and longer lives frequently do so at the cost of those others who are ‘allowed to die’.

University of Cambridge
The Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities
Centre for Family Research, Room 606
Free School Lane

17 May 2011
12:30 – 14:00

Social Science Fiction of the Gene: Towards an Ethics of Non-autonomous Life

This paper begins with two stories about the popular (mis)perceptions of the gene. This first is the case of Margaret Somerville, who looms large in Canadian bioethics and who is a researcher at McGill University. The second is Bryan Sykes, the Oxford University geneticist whose international best-seller, The Seven Daughters of Eve (2001), also widely informs the popular reception of genetic discourse. At issue for me is the ways such popular research constitutes the widespread cultural understanding of “genetic subjectivity.” If it is true that genes enjoy a kind of “agency,” then we are faced with serious ethical challenges because traditional forms of bioethics no longer hold. That is, claims to autonomy, rationality, agency, and even personhood are undergoing a seismic shift, and can no longer serve as the foundation of bioethics in the tradition of liberal humanism. What is called for is a radically different understanding of ethical responsibility, what I am calling an ethics of non-autonomous life. The paper situates this challenge in the context of burgeoning biopolitical and neoliberal imperatives that hold sway in cultural and academic spheres.