Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Whetting The Appetite

I'm closing in on being finished my MA thesis and a few people have expressed interest in reading it; others have expressed that its topic of inquiry is ridiculous or otherwise worthless. Soon both will be able to judge for themselves whether or not my argument - that fat people experience oppression in contemporary Western society - holds water. In the meantime, I felt I would post the introduction as an appetizer of the work to come. Every time I edited the intro it became more politically pointed - spicy, just the way I like it.

Let me know via facebook or email if you have any feedback - positive or negative. I'm all ears.


The Fat Liberation Manifesto, 1973 

In January 2012, Toronto mayor Rob Ford announced that he and his brother, city councillor Doug Ford, would both be publicly dieting together in order to kick off a city-wide weight loss challenge. The mayor, by his own admission, weighed well over 300 pounds, and his brother clocked in somewhere in the ballpark of 275. Both pledged to drop 50 pounds each by the middle of June, with periodic public weigh-ins to mark their progress towards this goal. Ostensibly, both were motivated by health concerns; Doug explained to a radio show at the outset of the diet that:
Rob has two young kids and I have four girls. We want to be around to watch them get married and be grandparents. If you're carrying this extra weight... it's not healthy. And we know that. (Bolen, 2012) 
But while concerns about their health were no doubt a motivating factor, there was definitely something else behind the two brothers' decision to make a public spectacle out of their weight loss: it was as much a political act as a personal one.

Since becoming mayor, Rob Ford has received a lot of criticism from the Canadian left (most of it valid, I would argue). But beneath many of the partisan disagreements over municipal policy, it was never hard to discern a deeper and more damning denunciation: Rob Ford is a bad mayor (and a bad person) because he is fat. Obviously Doug Ford and his brother could more readily locate nearby Tim Horton's outlets than local public libraries; their priorities (donuts) are painfully clear. Their fat, bloated bodies are physical manifestations of the conservative, corporatist political agenda they represent; the irony of a fat man like Rob Ford talking about 'halting the gravy train' of municipal spending is about as thick as the plaque inevitably clogging his arteries. Of course Rob Ford hates cyclists and pedestrians; he clearly hates all forms of exercise (Horel, 2011). In one of the more scathing indictments of Rob Ford's fat body, Toronto writer Ben Johnson declared “I believe that the fact that our mayor is fat is actually relevant to the debate about his competency to do his duties (...) [and] I think it speaks to a level of personal irresponsibility and short-sightedness” (Johnson, 2011).

Presumably, Mr. Johnson and his colleagues have felt their opinions vindicated now that Ford's highly public diet has concluded; a few weeks before he was due to weigh in for the final time on June 18th, Ford openly conceded on a radio program that he had quit his diet (a month earlier, he had been caught on camera entering a Kentucky Fried Chicken). In the end, Ford only lost about 17 pounds over the six-month period; his brother Doug managed to lose 35 pounds after reportedly dropping a 3-litre-a-day chocolate milk habit. Predictably[1], Ford's failed diet has again served as proof for his critics that he is incompetent both personally and politically, and that this incompetency has visibly manifested itself on his body. How can Rob Ford take care of Toronto, one wonders, if he can't even take care of himself?

The obscene fascination of many self-identified “progressives” with the size of Rob Ford's abdomen highlights an interesting phenomenon. I would wager that very few of the people who regularly use Ford's weight as a reason to question his competency as mayor would point to, say, former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin's personal (and political) ignorance as a symptom of her gender. Nor would they, I imagine, attempt to argue that Ottawa MP John Baird's abrasive performances in the federal cabinet are reducible (or even related) to his sexual orientation, or that any of Labrador MP Peter Penashue's political gaffes have occurred because he is Aboriginal. That many individuals who would otherwise not hesitate to denounce sexism, racism, classism, and homophobia have no problem explicitly and unabashedly claiming that Rob Ford is a bad person because he is a fat person speaks to just how powerful and pervasive the societal prejudices against fat people really are in the early 21st century. So powerful and pervasive, in fact, that they constitute nothing less than one of the many forms of oppression that fat people, collectively, experience in contemporary Western society.

'Fat people are oppressed' – that is the central argument of this treatise. Few people would argue that fat people can sometimes be treated poorly or otherwise stigmatized because of their size, but oppression? Public health officials have been warning us for over a decade that obesity is a deadly disease; media commentators remind us regularly that rising global obesity rates will take a terrible economic cost on our nation; popular culture buttresses both by portraying the fat body as repulsive and absurd (if they even portray it at all). The global obesity crisis mandates that although we might love the fat person, we must hate the fat.

 Against this received wisdom, I submit that the very notion of the 'obesity epidemic' is both a factor in, and product of, this oppression. The contemporary moral panic about obesity is the outgrowth of very old prejudices in Western thought against the 'horrors' of the flesh itself, translated now into the post-modern discourses of consumer capitalism and the biomedicalization of our society. It is also serves as the implicit intellectual legitimation for much of the exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural denigration, and violence to which fat people – in particular, fat women and minorities – are regularly subjected. Above all else, it is overblown; a critical reading of the medical literature on obesity suggests that the negative health risks associated with being overweight or even moderately obese are often greatly exaggerated.

These are radical claims for a fat-hating society, but – as I will argue – they are legitimate. Fat people, as a group, are regularly subjected to social, institutional, and cultural structures and power relations which adversely impact their quality of life and personal development. Fat children are, on the whole, subjected to more bullying than their thinner peers, and many are even ridiculed by their gym teachers (Rimm and Rimm, 2004); average-weight children who fear becoming fat may eat too little, become malnourished, and delay the onset of puberty (Pugliese et al., 1983). Fat teenagers are more likely to face humiliating and shaming experiences that can lead to depression (Sjöberg et al., 2005), teens who think they're not the “right” weight are more likely to contemplate or attempt suicide (Eaton et al., 2005), and disordered relationships with food are distressingly common among young women (Polivy and Herman, 1987). When it comes to higher education, high school counsellors are less likely to encourage fat students to apply for colleges, colleges are less likely to admit equally qualified fat applicants, and parents are less likely to pay a fat daughter's college tuition (Crandall, 1995).

Fat people do not fare much better in the workplace. In one survey, 93% of human resources professionals admitted they would hire a “normal weight” applicant over an equally qualified fat applicant, 15% said they would not promote a fat employee, and one in ten claimed it was acceptable to fire an employee for being fat (Wann, 2010). Fat women earn up to one-fourth less than their thinner co-workers (Cawley, 2000), and fat employees are regularly denied health insurance benefits and are pressured to resign or are fired for being fat (Rothblum et al., 1990). It is also more difficult for fat people to find housing – landlords are 50% less likely to rent to an equally qualified fat person (Karris, 1977). Perhaps most insidiously of all, anti-fat attitudes are often most deeply internalized (and most intensely expressed) by fat people themselves; in one psychological study of weight bias, fat people expressed significantly harsher judgements upon viewing an image of a thin man with a fat woman than average-weight people did (Gallagher et al., 2003). These are just a few of the concrete instances of fat oppression commonplace in Western society.

The social ontology of Iris Marion Young broadly encapsulates the systemic and structural processes which characterize fat oppression. Young's conceptualization of oppression – a multi-faceted phenomenon comprised of a complex set of historically situated, systematically reproduced social, economic, cultural and institutional power relationships – is brilliant; straightforward, expansive, and nuanced. Oppression occurs when relationships between social groups are characterized by exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence These are clear criteria for determining whether individuals and groups are oppressed; any claim of oppression can be assessed through “observable behaviour, status relationships, [economic] distributions, (…) and other cultural artifacts” (Young, 1990: 64). In this sense, they are 'objective' criteria and measurements of social oppression and injustice. The breadth of Young's theory makes it possible to evaluate the situations of various social groups, and makes it possible to compare different group oppressions without reducing them to a common essence, or claiming that one form of oppression is more 'fundamental' than another.

The presence of any of these five conditions is sufficient for calling a group oppressed. Different groups are subject to different combinations of these forms of oppression, as are different individuals within the groups themselves. And while these are general categories of oppression, causal explanations of a group's oppressions will always be particular and historical; “an explanatory account of why a particular group is oppressed in the ways that it is must trace the history and current structure of particular social relations” (ibid.: 65). Young's theory works because it builds on the insights of several important theoretical traditions in the study of oppression and ontology; namely, feminism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, critical race studies, and post-structuralism. The first chapter of this work will delineate the contours and import of Young's theory; specifically, how it explains the formation and dynamics of social groups, why oppression is best conceptualized at the level of social groups, and why these theories are indispensible for making and evaluating claims of social justice.

Once this basic intellectual foundation has been laid, the second chapter provides a historical overview of cultural and aesthetic conceptions of the fat body through Western history, the way in which fear and hatred of the fat body – that is, so-called 'fatphobia' – has come to be the dominant cultural attitude towards fat bodies in the contemporary period, and the implications of a fat-hating society for the very ontology of fat people. To be sure, one of the most important aspects of a study on fat oppression is that it exposes new dimensions in the central human question of embodiment; that is, the relationship of human subjectivity to the material body it inhabits. This question warrants recourse to psychoanalytic theory; I am in solidarity with philosopher Slavoj Žižek when he declares that “it is only psychoanalysis that can disclose the full contours of the shattering impact of modernity – that is, capitalism combined with the hegemony of scientific discourse – on the way our identity is grounded in symbolic identifications” (Žižek, 2006: 82). Here, I have deployed psychoanalysis to disclose the way subjectivity arises at the juncture of the human body and human socialization; it exposes the ontological trauma that comes with inhabiting a fat body in a culture that reduces it to a piece of abject trash.

The astute reader may have noticed by now that I have shown an unsettling deference to the term 'fat' ahead of 'obese' or any other euphemism. This choice of language is deliberate. There is nothing inherently bad about the word 'fat', and the extent to which 'fat person' (or especially 'fat woman') is read as a pejorative or offensive moniker is an index of cultural fatphobia. The word fat in common parlance is loaded down with moral signification: to be fat is to be lazy, sloppy, ugly, stupid, irresponsible, greedy, unhealthy, and wrong; it has become much more an accusation (or confession) of moral wickedness than a simple physical description. To use any of the assorted 'neutral' euphemisms commonly substituted in place of 'fat' (e.g. 'bigger', 'larger', 'person of size', 'curvy', etc.) would be to implicitly accept (and perpetuate) these fatphobic connotations. Similarly, to use the medical term 'obese' in its stead would be surrendering the ontological terrain to those who would argue that the fat body (and the fat person) is inherently a pathology, a clinical (and social) disease for which we must find a cure. Given that this work outlines and directly challenges societal fatphobia, my unabashed employment of the word 'fat' here is thoroughly political. Just as LGBT activists and intellectuals over the past twenty years have had considerable success in re-appropriating and transforming the term 'queer' from a homophobic slur into a positive and proud statement of subjectivity, I align myself with those fat activists (see; Braziel and Lebesco, 2001; Lebesco, 2004; Solovay and Rothblum, 2010; Bacon, 2010; Farrell, 2011) who would reclaim the word as a point of positive identification. If nothing else, the word's jarring appearance here underscores how deeply politicized and contentious the fat body is even at the level of basic semantic representation.

Much of the theoretical arsenal I wield in this analysis is greatly indebted to feminist theory. Recognition of the way that the female body (and the female subject) has historically been contorted and subordinated to oppressive, patriarchal power relationships is clearly one of the intellectual starting points for broader analyses into the way bodies and subjects are positioned and oppressed by social relationships; indeed, most of the early investigations into fat oppression come from feminists. This is because, as I will explore in the third chapter of this work, the experience of fat oppression is overwhelmingly gendered. Fear and hatred of the fat body has been inextricably linked to fear and hatred of the female body since the dawn of Western reason; fat women are in a particularly painful double-bind. Many feminists have argued that as restrictions have been lifted on what women are allowed to do, more constraints have been imposed on what women are allowed to look like. Fat women, by failing to make their bodies into objects of aesthetic and sexual pleasure, defy their gender roles; their occupation of public space puts them at odds with social conventions that mandate women make room for men. Even if they are not fat, women suffer the effects of fat oppression acutely. At its most benign, the fear of becoming fat locks many women into an endless repetition of self-monitoring and self-depreciation in the service of fatphobic beauty norms; at its most malignant, these misogynistic and fatphobic cultural norms converge in the explosion of eating disorders that has occurred across the West since the early 1980s. One need look no further than the emaciated body of the anorexic to see the obscene mirror image of contemporary femininity.

Certainly, no one would argue that anorexia and bulimia are not serious health concerns; but is not the larger epidemic of obesity an equally (if not more) serious problem? The last chapter in this work brings us to the question of the so-called obesity epidemic. Drawing on extensive reviews and critiques of the empirical research on obesity, it can be demonstrated that the dire pronouncements around the obesity crisis are largely overblown; the contemporary 'war on fat' has less to do with the strength of medical evidence and more to do with longstanding cultural prejudices against the fat body. Taken in historical perspective, contemporary hand-wringing about obesity is just the latest expression of very old fears about the decline of Western civilization; a century before opinion columnists would lament how televisions, computers, and fast food are making us lazy, fat, and decadent, commentators were regularly warning that telephones and elevators were having much the same effect. What is unique about the current moral panic surrounding obesity is the way that these cultural and medical prejudices have been transformed by the social forces of biomedicalization which permeate the late capitalist mode of production. Human health is now a commodity, and the value of your body (and your life) is measured with the Body Mass Index. In a consumerist society where everyone is always 'at risk' of succumbing to the “scourge” of obesity, it is ironically the dieter that turns out to be the consuming subject par excellence. As a matter of history, there are fat profits to be made from fat oppression.

These are bold claims; many of them are also moral. I take for granted the normative proposition that every human being should be equal in their basic life situation; I also take it for granted that many structures of oppression wrongfully permeate our society because of the ongoing stigmatization of human difference, and that these injustices are physically, psychically, and ontologically damaging. I would expect that these commitments are broadly shared by all political theorists insofar as they are committed to a vision of social justice signified by liberté, egalité, solidarité. As Young aptly formulates in Justice and the Politics of Difference, to the extent a society is divided by oppression, as theorists, we either reinforce or resist them; insofar as we allow oppressions to persist unexamined and unchallenged, our own freedoms are diminished.

I understand that this may be a lot to digest all at once; the “roast pigeons of absolute knowledge” (Marx, 1843) rarely go down easy, and in this instance, they are scandalously fattening. I can only hope that the intellectual feast I have prepared here will leave the reader satisfied.

Bon appétit.


[1] Despite the fact that up to 95% of all diets fail and that even successful weight-loss programs only produce, on average, a sustained (i.e. lasting more than five years) reduction of less than 3% of body weight (Anderson et al., 2001).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

fat acceptance and political theory

Okay! This is the text of an email I sent to my supervisor outlining literally all of my thoughts on approaching the Fat Acceptance movement as a question of critical political theory. Obviously this is a work in progress (I have yet to hear back from him telling me I'm full of shit, etc.) so the way this topic gets discussed is subject to change (I'll be really surprised if I can keep all the 'wacky' Lacanian theory in there). But I personally think it's pretty good, at least as a really broad outline based on reading 1.5 books, haha.

The subject of 'fat acceptance' is an increasingly prevalent question within identity politics circles and I think it definitely warrants some attention from the field of political theory. Is this really just a question of healthcare policy and the administration of a public health crisis, or does it really make sense to think of fat people as a social group subject to its own oppressions and in need of some particular political or legal protections?

I feel like this is the foundational question for any investigation into the subject.

First, I feel like it is important to address the question of whether or not obesity is a 'disease' (that is, accepting it as a medical condition/problem), or whether fatness should be considered as just one other largely aesthetic difference between human bodies. Obviously where one falls on this question will play a major part in determining how political theory can deal with the fat acceptance movement.

Gard and Wright (2008) provide an excellent overview of this question. They have a very comprehensive survey of the established empirical research on the relationship between obesity, weight loss, physical activity, and overall health; based on their overview[1], the current state of obesity science is, at best, significantly more ambiguous, inconclusive, and generally counter-intuitive than the layperson might assume and, at worst, a (Foucauldian) discourse perforated with unfounded normative and aesthetic biases.

According to Gard and Wright, while there is a connection between general well-being and physical activity, the relationship between these two factors and obesity is generally overblown; while obesity does correlate with the presence of heart disease, diabetes, and other medical problems, there is little or no evidence to indicate that obesity is a causal factor for these diseases (that is, 'obesity' is a spurious variable). Empirically, there are no conclusive links between physical activity (or lack thereof) and obesity/weight loss, nor between obesity and overeating; moreover, the risk of mortality associated with obesity appears to be minimal at best. In all, their research would indicate that the medical concern over obesity is substantially overblown, and that instead our popular thinking about the 'obesity epidemic' is ultimately just a moral panic. Based on their work, 'obesity' appears to be as much a pathological disease as shortness or homosexuality.

While Gard's and Wrights' conclusions are important to the discussion on whether or not fat people (as a social group) suffer discrimination, I think the best way to proceed with elaborating this argument is to return to this later and instead focus on exactly how fatness could be an identity in the political sense. Specifically, this will fall back on a more abstract discussion on the very nature of identity (especially when conceived socio-politically), human subjectivity and what 'identity politics' might entail from a critical perspective.

In particular (off the top of my head), I will be engaging with Iris Young's definition of a social group (from Justice and the Politics of Difference, 1990), as well as the Lacanian-Marxist conceptions of human agency and subjectivity made famous by Slavoj Zizek. Although coming from very different intellectual backgrounds, it is my wager that there is substantial common ground between the critical strain of Anglo-American political philosophy and the critical Continental traditions of psychoanalysis and Marxist social thought, and that establishing this intellectual dialogue is one of the urgent tasks of contemporary political philosophy. Above all, I believe that both these overarching conceptual apparatuses bring useful intellectual tools for thinking about fatness as an identity, and in elaborating the theoretical and practical consequences of this position.

At the outset, I think 'fat people' as a social group is a tenable position – it fits Young's criteria (ontologically prior to an individual in a way which 'defines' parts of that individual to a greater or lesser extent, an effect of social relations, subject to a calculus of privilege/oppression, etc.)[2]. Not only that, but 'fatness' as a social identity intersects with other loaded forms of social identity – particularly gender and class – to add new dimensions to already existing forms of oppression[3].

Obviously, the discussion won't be quite so straightforward when it is actually put together. In order to elucidate both the foundational theory of identity and each particular form of oppression being discussed, and to connect both into a very tight understanding of the totality of the issue, I will need to build on everything dialectically. Having first outlined how fatness can be conceptualised as a social identity (as opposed to being 'diseased'), the first logical step is to define oppression, and how a social group can be oppressed. Young (1990) again provides a good starting point here with a very systematic and rigorous definition of oppression; from the perspective of the fat acceptance movement, there is definitely an element of marginalisation (e.g. Schwartz et al. (2003) confirm a prevalence of both implicit and explicit “weight prejudice” among many health professionals, etc.), some 'lighter' forms of violence[4] as she defines it (verbal abuse, etc.), and what she calls 'cultural imperialism' (although the colloquial term 'shaming' might fit better in this particular case) in the sense of being subjected to cultural norms that are demeaning or otherwise damaging or oppressive, etc. There is also definitely a case to be made for something resembling exploitation as Young (following Marx) defines it, but with a specifically Lacanian twist; that is, the manipulation of jouissance (Enjoyment), driven by the processes of the accumulation of Capital. This last argument is fairly complex, and in order to get to that point I will have to steadily build up to it, starting first by analyzing the most well-documented case of fat prejudice: the intersection of fatness and femininity.

There is (comparatively) an extensive literature on the stigmatization of fatness as a feminist issue. Indeed, most of the forms of oppression related to fatness have traditionally been almost primarily borne by fat women (although increasingly men are also beginning to experience many of the same problems). A major theme here is the way stigmatizing fatness is one of the most effective means of policing (or disciplining, in the Foucauldian sense) the feminine body; and, considering the scientific categorization of fatness qua 'obesity epidemic', this disciplinary power is only expanding. So both the liberal (body image, self-respect, etc.) and radical (obesity science as a Foucauldian discourse for reproducing sexist social norms, etc.) feminist critiques will be engaged here.

I think there is room here also to discuss these feminist critiques in light of the particular focus on childhood obesity, as it serves as a good illustration for many of the arguments introduced up to now. First and foremost, the survey of the literature provided by Gard and Wright (2008) indicates a tendency among many academic researchers (as well as popular authors) to pin responsibility for this 'health crisis' on parents – specifically, mothers (the 'single working mother' is the target of a number of polemics against childhood obesity), which is the touchstone of a number of feminist critiques. Moreover, many anti-obesity measures enacted in schools ('public weighings' during physical education classes, barring obese students from purchasing food at the cafeteria, etc.) have particularly perverse effects; not only are larger students alienated from their peers, but it serves to integrate young children (especially girls) into the disciplinary practice of policing the body[5].

This emphasis on the control, monitoring, and disciplining of the fat body leads to the next discussion about the political economy of Enjoyment and desire in the liberal democracies of late capitalism. This is a lot to unpack, but necessary to understand all the implications of considering fatness politically; ultimately, I will argue that it is the link between the current 'obesity epidemic' mania and the (Capital-structured) administration of Enjoyment that elevates fatness from being just another contingent, “identifying” feature of a human being (e.g. baldness, height, etc.) to a fully politicized social identity.

Much of the discursive practices surrounding fat people (women, in particular) centres on notions of enjoyment; most people intuitively 'know' that obesity is the result of 'over-indulgence', a fat person is seen to have 'let themselves go', etc. Correspondingly, much of the more 'orthodox' liberal strain of fat activism is dedicated to fighting the negative stereotypes of fat people as lazy, gluttonous, unhygienic, etc.; for some, the message of fat acceptance is 'accept those of us who are trying to lose weight/'live a healthy lifestyle' – who do not enjoy their fatness – but for whatever reason (genetics, etc.) cannot.'[6]

Framing this all in terms of the politics of jouissance highlights that this is a pathological position to adopt; subdividing 'fat people' into 'good' and 'bad' only perpetuates the cycles of oppression described earlier – it leads to an acceptance of 'fat people' insofar as they are not responsible for their fatness and, if given the opportunity, would not be fat. In this way, the normative and aesthetic bias against the fat body is actually reinforced; following Alain Badiou (2001), if fat acceptance is to mean anything at all (hence my preference for the term 'liberation' above 'acceptance'), it must include the acceptance of those who do explicitly Enjoy their fatness in contravention of social norms.

This leads into a broader discussion about the ways jouissance is ordered and structured through social relations in the parliamentary democracies of late modern capitalism. This will entail a discussion of the way in which Slavoj Zizek has meshed 'traditional' Marxist political economy with Lacanian psychoanalysis in a way that allows us to outline the general theory of a dialectical relationship between human subjectivity and the accumulation of Capital.

The policing of the fat body has its own role(s) to play in the reproduction of capitalist social relations. The elevation of fatness into an object of significant libidinal investment for many people (possibly the vast majority, at least among women) subjects the individuals to the logic of the 'superego injunction to enjoy', generating not only vast amounts of anxiety but also an endless pursuit of some way – any way – to successfully lose or keep off weight that is an increasingly lucrative market[7]. Moreover, there is an established link between fatness and social class; most empirical studies demonstrate that more affluent individuals are thinner and that obesity rates are higher among the working class[8]. The larger implications of this intersection of fatness and class is something that warrants an investigation, particularly in this discussion on the role of fat stigma in the reproduction of capitalism.

This would basically wrap up the discussion on oppression. By this point I will hope to have established a firm ontology of the human subject and the logic of identification, as well as a thorough social ontology for life in late capitalism. I also hope that this theory will demonstrate that analytic and Continental political philosophy are basically commensurable, and that establishing this connection produces invaluable new ways of conceptualizing political problems.

I would like at this point to address some of those problems, and start thinking about some solutions. This section is sort of ambiguous now, but I imagine that once I spend some time extensively thinking about the problems, some sense of practical policy should emerge. Already there are a few off the top of my head (including weight/size in anti-discrimination legislation, cultural/aesthetic movements to show the fat body in a positive light, etc.) and I am confident that after a more thorough review of the literature there will be something a little more concrete here.

In all, this is the rough outline of my thoughts on this topic going forward. I think 'fat liberation' definitely works as a good, practical political problem which can be addressed concisely by political theory; I believe a convincing case can be made that this involves instances of legitimate oppression and affronts to justice and liberty. Obviously while the specific details of the argument remain to be hammered out, I think the general thrust I have outlined here is a good rough guide for writing this thesis.


[1] The primary sources of which will admittedly need to be verified, but methodologically their book is sound, they are both academics working in the field of health science and human kinetics, and it is extremely well-sourced.
[2] And I feel the impact of these points are all better elucidated through recourse to Lacanian psychoanalysis...
[3] The intersection of fatness and gender is already well documented by a number of feminists, for instance.
[4] A recourse to Zizek (2006) here is useful. He highlights three distinct forms violence can take: subjective, objective, and symbolic. For the purposes of this discussion, we would be mostly dealing with the latter two.
[5] It is worth noting here that a recent study of young students in Taiwan found that almost 16% of children aged 10-12 had used self-induced vomiting as a weight loss method (Mei Liou, 2011).
[6] This is presumably to address the criticism that 'fat acceptance' represents a social danger – encouraging people to live unhealthy/'unfulfilled' lives, etc.
[7] Paul Campos (2003) estimates the value of the diet industry to be in the ballpark of $40 billion (US) a year in the United States alone; it is worth noting also that a lot of research in the field of obesity science is funded by companies with a vested interest in the weight-loss industry. This, of course, is to say nothing of the rise in increasingly invasive (and dangerous) private weight-loss surgeries...
[8] Again, the 'single working parent [mother] and her [neglected] obese children' emerges as a demonized figure here.

Friday, June 3, 2011

a rose by any other name

okay! so by now you've probably noticed that i have changed the name of the blog from one bad piece of wordplay to another (in the event anyone reads this blog (they don't)). the reason for the change is pretty simple; i want to turn this blog away from an overtly 'political' blog into one about things way more abstract and boring like the latest development in FREUDO-MARXIST THEORY as it applies to the lower churchill falls deal or whatever, and maybe about how I am going to try and build an intellectual reputation for myself by writing about 'weight discrimination' as an identity rights issue through a variety of critical conceptual lenses. i know, i'm excited too.

besides, political writing is always best done as part of a collective (1 organisational step below commune, obv.), and there were some very talented individuals i wanted to work with, so look out for us posting some ridiculous political interventions in the next little while.

c'est tout

Sunday, May 22, 2011

the times, they are-a changin'

this thing will probably get a makeover in the next couple of days. stayed tuned for fun things and the life of the world to come

Friday, May 20, 2011

deal or no deal?

Whenever a major, contentious issues comes up in politics, it doesn't take long for people to start providing a very common refrain: "Who are you to criticise something if you offer no positive vision or alternative yourself?"

This proposition has always bothered me on a number of levels.

First and foremost, we should always ruthlessly critique any political or economic proposition presented to us by a sitting government that involves our money (which is everything!). And this goes doubly when something doesn't bode well about it - the current fiasco around Muskrat Falls testifies to the necessity of this fact, given that the government's entire defense of the project amounts to 'don't look this clean-energy gift horse in the mouth!'

More than this, though, is the wishy-washy position this implies; there is a special place in hell reserved for people who aggressively sit on fenceposts. While obviously reserving judgement or outright picking sides isn't an outright evil (and it is indeed always warranted!), it is certainly no virtue either. In this case, the starting point of any positive vision or alternative to the Muskrat Falls project must begin with criticising what exactly is wrong with the current proposal - and there is much to say, and it has been said by others, elsewhere, with greater depth than I.

To just shrug and say "maybe it's not a great deal, but how can you criticise if you can't come up with a better one?" is an awful approach to the politics of mega-projects, given the history of this province. I mean, if it has done nothing else, the 40 years of wailing and gnashing of teeth since the Upper Churchill was signed should indicate that, as a worst-case scenario, no deal (for the time being!) might - just maybe! - be better than a raw one.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

everything remains as it never was

Old habits die hard, but here I am attempting to break the old habit of "never writing anything, ever".

Anyways, it's basically summer. My coursework for my graduate degree are all currently finished (although I am hoping to sit in on some courses the fall, but that's neither here nor there), so I'm left with a little over a year to churn out a thesis. I have a general idea for a topic but I should probably nail something down - originally I wanted to go with something to do with the rights of transgendered people in Canada, but now it's drifting more towards something like multiculturalism (a topic I'm feeling surprisingly comfortable approaching)... both of which increasingly seem to hinge on more abstract questions, like the nature of the political subject, and the political implications of adopting different stances towards conceptualising the human subject. Really exciting, I know, and sure to thrill people who were vaguely interested in my honours thesis on Newfoundland politics.

But I am interested in pursuing obtuse theoretical debates! I just don't want to detach myself completely from real life. I'm hoping that with the upcoming provincial election in 2011 I will be able to immerse myself in some actual concrete matters (I guess this could have applied during the recent federal election, but I honestly don't care that much about federal politics aside from a purely analytical perspective... as a Newfoundlander I have accepted that federal politics is generally more something that happens to me than something I effect, haha). Danny Williams has since retired from provincial politics so our hilariously inept government no longer seems invincible - it's nice. The Muskrat Falls thing seems like a fiasco in the making, so it might be worth keeping on top of. At any rate, I feel like the provincial scene is lacking a good 'critical' voice - not just in the sense of opposition to the sitting government, but to the systemic totality of it all. Haha, I'm such a douchebag.

Meanwhile, though, it is all about the intellectual labour (and finding a paying job so I can eat in the meantime). I've got a small selection of books I want to work my way through in the next month or so - specifically, Alain Badiou's Ethics - An Essay on the Understanding of Evil and Iris Marion Young's Justice and the Politics of Difference. I feel reading these two books together will be a good exercise, because Young seems to set the stage for contemporary debates in political theory around questions of justice related to subjectivity from a post-modern/critical perspective, while Badiou apparently sets out to obliterate both Young's (not explicitly, of course) position and the Anglo-American liberal mainstream she sets herself up against. Naturally, I'm much more interested in Badiou, but reading both should give me enough material to form a really wicked research question that might get me into a good PhD program. This would probably also be easier if my supervisor wasn't in Ontario for the summer, but it's all good.

But other than thesis work, I don't have much planned for the summer. Taking in a couple concerts/festivals (Supertramp in June, Salmon Fest and Osheaga in July) should be deadly, doing some writing with Sondi, helping out the provincial Liberals (I am, after all, a committed Smallwoodist), and generally trying to improve my cooking skills/get outside more. I'm literally anticipating the highlight of my summer being a visit to the Maoist bookstore in Montreal. Yes, I will be paying for everything in cash, thanks.

Sprung Falls

I'll keep it brief - the Muskrat Falls project will not be subjected to scrutiny by the PUB, which normally can assess an electricity project and determine whether it is the cheapest option for providing power to the consumers.

Personally, I'm not aware of any instance where the provincial government has invested vast sums of money in a project not subjected to outside scrutiny in order to generate miraculous benefits vis-a-vis job growth and economic development that has ever gone wrong, ever, in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador.

..Suddenly, I've got an overwhelming craving for cucumbers.