Critical Legal Conference
University of Sussex, United Kingdom
4–6 September 2014

Biopolitical Mor(t)alities: Canadian Law, Biomedicine, and Neocolonial Imaginaries in the Case of a Young First Nations Girl

Stuart J. Murray and Tad Lemieux

Suffering with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, eleven-year-old Makayla Sault, a First Nations girl, refused continued chemotherapy treatments after reporting that Jesus had visited her in a vision. Her doctors reported her to the relevant Children’s Aid Society in order to determine, according to Canada’s Health Care Consent Act, whether she was “capable” of refusing treatment. This paper analyses the widespread media response to the ruling that deemed Makayla “capable,” and problematises law’s silence on the question of her religious fundamentalism and her Indigeneity. Indeed, there is legal precedence from the Supreme Court of Canada to remove a minor, and to force biomedical treatment, on the basis of religious belief rendering a minor “incapable.” In this case, however, although Makayla’s Indigeneity seems to have been a deciding factor in the case, (neo)liberal state institutions would undermine their own authority, and the mechanisms of that authority, if they were to admit that “capacity” belongs also—or perhaps even primordially—to a people on the basis of shared tradition, culture, or even ancestral heritage. If the state embarked on such a debate, it would expose the fictional nature of individual “capacity,” along with the fragile authority—and arbitrary violence—by which the state itself produces and polices individuality as an instrument of biopolitical governance, if not subjugation. This paper uses the case of Makayla Sault to critically trace the medico-legal imaginaries that were mobilized to produce, bestow, and to reify the moral fiction of a “capable” individual, rather than engage a discourse on decolonisation.

Life, in theory

Life, in Theory
European Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts
Turin, Italy
3–6 June 2014

Towards an Etho-Rhetorical Critique of “Affirmative” Biopolitics

This paper stages an encounter between Heidegger and Foucault, offering an ontology of care as a critical response to recent scholars who propose an “affirmative” biopolitics (Campbell, Esposito, Hardt & Negri, Rose, Santner). Heidegger’s Being and Time characterizes human being as “distinguished by the fact that, in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it.” This self-reflexivity revolves around the ontological structure of care. In his late work, Foucault turns to the Hellenistic “care of the self” (epimeleia heautou) and argues that the self’s relation to itself represents an ethic of care. For both thinkers the tropological constitution of the human subject is paramount. My contention is that “affirmative” biopoliticians have not understood the rhetoricity of narrative and are caught within a utilitarian, neoliberal ethic. I offer a reading of the crucial midway point of Being and Time (§42), where Heidegger cites Hyginus’ first-century CE fable, “Care [Cura].” Significantly, this is the only moment in which his text deploys narrative, mythological or otherwise. I examine this radical shift in rhetorical registers and argue that the fable, which narrates the creation of the human, also functions performatively by prompting a meditation on language and death.Foucault’s “care of the self” is relevant here because the self-relation is rhetorical, based on the non-instrumental understanding of “use” (chresis). Care, then, is the “use” the self makes of itself, mediated through an aesthetics of existence—a rhetorical conception of life (bios), evidenced through Foucault’s final lectures on the fabled death of Socrates.


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,
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 Spaces are limited; please send your RSVP to by April 15th, 2014.

Download flier here.


Carleton University
Thursday, 6 March 2014
Dunton Tower 1811
Refreshments @ 16:30
Talks start @ 17:00

Save the date for #domination, a new, undisciplinary speakers series exploring shared concepts in the social sciences and humanities

Ummni Khan, Law and Legal Studies
Emilie Cameron, Geography and Environmental Studies
Danielle DiNovelli-Lang, Sociology and Anthropology