Rhetoric Society of America Conference
San Antonio, TX
22–26 May 2014

Pronouncing Death: Biopolitical Affirmations

What, then, calls me into question most radically? Not my relation to myself as finite or as the consciousness of being before death or for death, but my presence for another who absents himself by dying.     —Blanchot, The Unavowable Community 

The suicide bomber is unimaginable: irreparably irrational, radicalized, Islamicized. However, few figures circulate more widely in the War on Terror, operating as its ultimate raison d’être. This paper argues that the suicide bomber is the “unimaginable” and generalized face of “the terrorist”—enemies of the state who will their own deaths, revoking their lives, such that killing is little more than passively “letting die” those who are figured as “already dead,” unsurvivable. To kill is little more than pronouncing death, a biopolitical pronouncement spoken anonymously in the name of life itself. The sovereign spectacle of the scaffold is displaced by a disappearing public sphere: “black sites” like Guantanamo, the vaporized victims of drone strikes, clandestine burial at sea. Producing the death it disavows, foreclosing on compassion and identification with the dead, what hope is left for an ethical intervention in the War on Terror? In whose voice would it speak?


Social Innovation in Health Care:
Ethical Foundations of Caregiving

© Han Zhang, http://www.han-studio.com
Monday, May 05, 2014, 8:00am to 6:00pm
Centre for Social Innovation
Whole Connector, CSI Spadina
215 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON
A CIHR-funded event organized by Ethical Care Research (ECR)

Morning Session: Institutional Constraints on Care

8:00 – 9:00               Breakfast and Reception
9:00 – 12:00             Welcome and Plenary Address

Alan Blum, York University, University of Waterloo, Culture of Cities Centre

This theme refers to the force of culture as an influence that exceeds medical science, applying to the range of constraints upon caregiving from personal interaction to large scale societal conditions. Since care does not exist in a vacuum but is embedded in different social contexts and situations, we want to examine research that focuses on such constraints upon caregiving in families, organizational settings such as hospitals, schools, correctional institutions, but also in the society at large through institutionalized norms, policies, and laws, and culturally in the influence of official and unofficial bodies of knowledge, and values in circulation.

Morning Session Speakers

Stuart J. Murray, Rhetoric & Ethics Lab, Carleton University

Care and Correctional Constraints: The Solitary Confinement of Mentally Ill Inmates

This paper draws on interviews with mentally ill inmates who have been subject to seclusion as part of their treatment. It draws as well on interviews with nursing staff who care for them in this setting. While the mutually exclusive mandates of “care” versus “corrections” have been well documented in the literature, this paper explores instead patient and nurse narratives with attention to the phenomenology of the body in seclusive space.

Ginette Lafrenière, Wilfrid Laurier University

Who Gets to Construct Survivor Narratives?: A Critical Deconstruction of Power Dynamics in Social Service Delivery

Drawing upon her work with survivors of war and torture, survivors of the residential school system and survivors of family violence, Dr. Lafreniere will attempt to illustrate the dissonance between how survivors are socially constructed by those actors who serve them and how survivors themselves wish to be perceived.

Kieran Bonner, University of Waterloo; Diego Lllovet, Cancer Care Ontario; Philip Walsh, York University

End of Life as a Living Relationship

Three sociologists discuss issues arising from the end of life of patients as more than palliative but as pertaining to the different rights and responsibilities of the family and medical expertise, and contested appeals to law and for legal resolution regarding final authority for decision-making. Special reference will be made to Hannah Arendt’s conception of the social and of the border between public and private life as influences upon care.

12:00 – 12:30            Break
12:30 – 13:30            Morning Roundtable + Lunch (Moderator: Elke Grenzer, Culture of Cities Centre)
13:30 – 13:45            Break

Afternoon Session: Innovation in Care

13:45 – 4:30             Introduction

Alan Blum, York University, University of Waterloo, Culture of Cities Centre

Innovative methods in health care typically focus on  technological modifications facilitated by social media, robotics, skype coaching, telecare, and technical enhancements designed to create more efficient procedures in medical treatment, diagnostics, and surgery, but innovative approaches are also affirmed as new relations to providing service for recipients through arts and performance, or for empowering participation of all parties as in narrative medicine, role playing, and the range of doctrines of well-being that aim to produce peace of mind, wellness, resilience, and tranquility in order to relieve stress and depression.

Afternoon Session Speakers

Carlos Neves, Therapist

Brief Therapy and the Ethics of Care

This discussion will explore how the dominance of solution focused brief therapy models in the field of mental health runs the risk of serving as an ideological justification for ‘managed care’ in the mental health field.  Implications for how clinical work is being reshaped by this trend will be addressed, as well as what it means to ‘care’ and to provide ‘therapy’ in this situation where therapeutic time is contracted / reduced as a matter of course. Clinical vignettes will illustrate how clinicians might work within the constraints of ‘managed care’ whilst subverting the oversimplified notions of care and therapy that are assumed in solution focused approaches.

Han Zhang, York University

Towards a Cultural Discourse of Care

This discussion attempts to examine the cultural discourse of care and to understand the way culture, specifically in the shape of Chinese and Western values, might operate in facilitating and/or inhibiting stress in caregiving experience. “Culturally appropriate care” has been advocated as a core operating philosophy by a number of non-profit organizations that are dedicated to supporting Chinese immigrants in Western countries. Drawing from examples, case studies and interview notes with some of these organizations in Canada, UK, Hong Kong and Mainland China, I try to analyze how culture is understood, appropriated, and formulated for ethical care, the differences in executing such culturally appropriate care among different Chinese communities, and propose another way of formulating such a cultural discourse.

Alan Blum, York University, University of Waterloo, Culture of Cities Centre

Care, Witnessing, Death: Innovation and Sociology of Desperation

I suggest that dementia can be understood not simply as the progressive deterioration of the body and its neurological disintegration but as the process through which a human subject is infected by an awareness of mortality and the images of inevitable limitation and loss that it summons to mind. Far from being a sign of corporeal weakness, the symptoms revealed in dementia can point to a degree of enlightened helplessness for one trying to solve the impossible problem of existence in time between a past that is lost and a future that must appear inscrutable. When caregiving takes its bearings from a neurological framework it tends to foreclose attentiveness to the subjectivity of the suffering, disguising its own inarticulateness and anxiety over mortality in digestible and reassuring formats. Care for the lived experience of the dying body requires something other than palliatives of positive thinking or medical science but a curriculum that can orient to the experience of a self attuned to the inevitable loss of life, care trying in its way to cultivate a shared jouissance of suffering between witness and intimate. I pose the question of how or whether care is possible under such conditions and if it is possible to mobilize affect in both witness and other for an innovative relationship to desperation. I propose that the fundamental perversity of such a relationship and its comic character make it indigestible for many in an age where everyone is encouraged to strive for an experience typically characterized as feeling awesome, that is, being free and unlimited. This  affirms the power of negative thinking as a creative force in living with death, but always in ways that risk appearing perverse and/or psychotic.

4:30 – 5:00               Break
5:00 – 5:45               Afternoon Roundtable and Refreshments (Moderator: Elke Grenzer, Culture of Cities Centre)
5:45 – 6:15               Ethical Care Research (ECR) Inauguration Presentation
6:15 – 7:30               Closing & Cocktail Networking

We invite interested practitioners, students, scholars to participate in this CIHR-funded one-day symposium. There will be two roundtable discussions where all attendees are welcome to contribute. For more information, please visit www.ethicalcareresearch.com. Spaces are limited; please send your RSVP to info@ethicalcareresearch.com by April 15th, 2014.

Download flier here.


January 31 – February 2, 2014
Carleton University, Ottawa


The Body as Machine: Neoliberal Biopolitics and the Performative Rhetorics of HIV Treatment-as-Prevention

The TasP (Treatment-as-Prevention) paradigm is premised on the claim that scaling up testing and providing immediate access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) for individuals living with HIV will produce a broader preventative benefit at the public health level and reduce the number of new HIV infections. Building on Marilou Gagnon’s paper, which argues for the emergence of a new medical category of “virally suppressed,” this paper performs an analysis of two pro-TasP media campaigns in order to demonstrate the rhetorical strategies at play in the constitution of virally suppressed/unsuppressed subjectivities. First, it analyzes a BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS YouTube “public service” advertisement, which enjoins the viewer to get tested by analogizing the body to “a great machine.” Second, it reads the cover photograph of a recent Médicins sans frontières publication depicting an African woman wearing a t-shirt declaring, “Viral Load Undetectable.” These two, unrelated campaigns, provide the occasion for a critical assessment of subject-formation within the rhetoric of suppression. While these campaigns presume vastly different audiences, each provides an image with which the viewer is meant to identify—desirable subject-positions available to be taken up, incorporated, and lived. In brief, the images of the bodies they propose are synecdochal for a normative and compliant subject, while a nexus of normalizing forces operate covertly in the background. Judith Butler’s theory of performativity is used to help read these campaigns and to understand the kind of subject that consolidates around the norm that is proposed by the TasP paradigm.

Carleton University
Department of English Language & Literature

“Research Talks” Lecture Series
6 December 2013, 15:00 – 16:30

1811 Dunton Tower

Toward an Ethic of “Self-Abuse”:
Ethics, Masturbation, and the Care of the Self

In his late work, Michel Foucault argues for an ethics founded on the ancient “care of the self,” a self-relation that critically resists the institution of rationalism, the ethics of autonomy, and their apotheosis in neoliberal biopolitics. As paradoxical as it may sound, this research talk figures masturbation as a metaphor for critical resistance and ethical self-relation. I argue that the master trope for the masturbator is catachresis, where “use” and “abuse” enter into fleshly and promiscuous ambivalence, and moral agency must be thought anew.

Masturbation Draft

PhD in the Production of Literature
Graduate Research Fellowships in
Digital Humanities / Digital Rhetoric

The Department of English Language and Literature is soliciting applications to Carleton University’s PhD in the Production of Literature.  Selected candidates will be fully funded for up to five years.  Fellowship recipients will have some combination of skills in the areas of rhetorical theory and criticism, text encoding and analysis, comparative literature (ancient, modern or postmodern), and/or critical media studies. Research experience in digital humanities / digital rhetoric will be an asset. The fellowships will be affiliated with the Canada Research Chair in Rhetoric and Ethics, and will also include a Research Assistantship associated with Carleton’s new Digital Rhetorics Laboratory.

The funding package will consist of a combination of Research Assistant income, scholarly stipend, and Teaching Assistantship, in addition to other opportunities for graduate funding, both internal and external to Carleton University.  The dollar figure will be finalized as part of a total funding package upon acceptance to the PhD in the Production of Literature.

To learn more about Carleton’s PhD in the Production of Literature, please visit: http://carleton.ca/english/

Please note the deadline for applications to the PhD program is 1 February 2014.

For inquiries about the project, about the Canada Research Chair in Rhetoric and Ethics, or about graduate study at Carleton University, please contact Prof. Stuart J. Murray:  rhetoric [at] carleton [dot] ca


PDF for download, click here.


How Criminal Law Intersects with HIV Health and Social Care in England & Wales 
Dr. Adam Bourne
Research Fellow with the Sigma Research Group, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM)

This guest lecture presents qualitative research findings of how criminal prosecutions for the transmission of HIV interact with the provision of high-quality HIV health and social care in England and Wales. Seven focus groups were undertaken with a total of 75 diverse professionals working in clinical and community-based services for people with HIV. We found that participants’ understanding of the law in this area is varied, with many knowing the basic requirements for a prosecution, yet being very uncertain about communicating key details with those using their service. The way that participants approached the topic with service users was influenced by their personal views on individual and shared responsibility for health, their concerns about professional liability, and their degree of trust in non-coercive health promotion approaches to managing public health. These findings have direct implications for the development and delivery of legal resources to support HIV service providers, and they also afford some opportunity for comparison and contrast with similar work undertaken in Canada.

When: Wednesday, September 25, 2013, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Where: University of Ottawa, Colonel By Hall, 161 Louis Pasteur, Room 206 C

The conference will also be presented by webinar online.

For more information click here.

Download poster here.

Event co-sponsored by the Canada Research Chair in Rhetoric & Ethics.