Naming the poor

No left turn| The poor are coming

No left turn| The poor are coming

‘There is, as yet, no agreed term for Australia’s poorest citizens. There are good and bad names but nothing like the relative consensus over respectful identification we now have for groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people or people from non-English speaking backgrounds.’ (Peel 2003: xii)

I had completely forgotten that Mark Peel starts with this. Perhaps it is one of the reasons I was very uncharitable to this book (even though when I first looked at it, the book would have been very close to many of my academic and personal interests).

To take an approach informed by the work of Jacques Rancière, a ‘respectful identification’ is part of ‘the police’ order. While ‘the police’ should not be considered a pejorative term, it is certainly not politics. Being made abject (see Tyler 2013) or being granted a respectful identification is still to be accounted for within the existing configuration of sense. As Rancière (2007: 562) expresses it in an article discussing being UNAUSTRALIAN, ‘police logic aims to fix what is visible and what is not, what is given and what is not, what can be said about that given and what not, etc.’

As Rancière (2007: 569) concludes

‘It appears thus that the dissensual logic of the un is more than ever caught between the consensual logic of identity and a logic of radical and irredeemable otherness. Its emancipatory potential has more than ever to be disentangled from a ‘critical’ tradition that has become the sophisticated version of the dominant order. It is not so easy to be un. It is not so easy because, in a sense, it is too easy:we have wonderful tools and methods for reading images, deconstructing discourses, unmasking the fallacies of the media, etc. We easily settle into a comfortable relation with an enemy whose messages have no secret for us. Perhaps we should lose some of this comfort and ask ourselves what exactly we are doing with this smooth-running critical machinery: are we framing a world of idiots where we play the part of the smart guys, or are we framing new spaces for the manifestation of the un-qualification, which is to say, the capacity of anybody?’

Peel, M., 2003. The lowest rung : voices of Australian poverty, Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press.
Rancière, J., 2007. What Does it Mean to be Un? Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 21(4), pp.559–569.
Tyler, I., 2013. Revolting subjects: Social abjection and resistance in neoliberal Britain, London & New York: Zed Books.



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