This week, for various reasons, I have been thinking about loss and the Academy. As a result this post is a bit of a melancholic ramble, but it was cathartic to write and I hope has some value. I want to begin to consider how loss and grief takes shape in the Academy; where there is space for it, and where it is closed down. For who/m and what are we allowed to grieve and who/m and what are we not? This is related to how we locate and make space for emotion in our work – how academic structures, which are built upon Humanist histories of rationality and reason, render emotion and feeling as excess. In my own research and scholarship, I follow Burkitt (2012: 458), conceptualizing emotion and feeling not as barriers ‘to clear reflexive thought’ but as necessary forms of affective labour for reflexivity itself. In this short post, I consider some recent and not-so-recent losses.
Today (Monday 20th November) is International Transgender Day of Remembrance – a time to remember those who have had their lives taken away from them, largely in deeply distressing and violent ways. It should be a time to reflect upon where violence ends, where it culminates – the tragic loss of a life – but also where it begins: in the subtle (and not-so-subtle) violences to which trans people are subjected as routine every day. As someone who knows, loves and cares for a trans person, it’s a time to pause and think about how we might be complicit (largely through silence) in these violences: some of us knowingly and consciously. In HE it’s time to think about how our disciplines, networks, offices, lectures and academic events reify or respond to transphobia: do we counter transphobia as routine where we come across it? Do cis academics and researchers take the time to learn and understand what transphobia looks like, or its effects – in the Academy and outside of it? How might we, as researchers and scholars, unpack the transphobia that often comes in the form of seemingly ‘reasonable’ and ‘rational’ arguments – most recently around childhood, medicalisation and future?
I’ve also been reflecting on another serious loss of life: the publication of an analysis in BMJ Open entitled, Effects of health and social care spending constraints on mortality in England: a time trend analysis (2017). This analysis confirms what many of us have known for a long time. What disability activists and allies have been saying for ages – through their cries of “cuts kill” – is that cruel Tory austerity politics, an amoral ideology that routinely dehumanises so many, has taken the lives of (almost) too many disabled, sick and ill people to count. According to The Independent, the research ‘found that there were 45,000 more deaths in the first four years of Tory-led efficiencies than would have been expected if funding had stayed at pre-election levels’ (Matthews-King 2017). As disability studies proponents and activists, how do we both stand against and mourn this loss of life? The Independent has called it ‘economic murder’, which doesn’t quite embrace the scale nor the depth of the loss: people’s loved ones; children; friends; and neighbours. These are lives lost through people being so scared and harassed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that they take their own life. These are lives lost via the worsening or progression of existing illness and sickness that is inevitable when one is under siege by the government. These are lives lost through abhorrent cuts to health and social care; critical services upon which we all know many depend. Lost sounds so careless; these are stolen lives.
In a week of so much loss, it’s natural to look inwards to our own lives, loves and losses. I’ve been preoccupied thinking about the publication of my book (Liddiard 2018), and its dedication to my aunt – a woman who inspired me in so many ways, with her talent and flair, as well as the endless love that she gave to those around her. My aunt died while I was writing up my thesis – her death floored me. The final few months of writing and grieving and grieving and writing were, in all honesty, agony. But, with lots of support, love, time and investment from others, I carried on. Thus as the dedication in my book reads, she really is/was the determination in every page. As I wait for the book to be delivered – the exciting moment when I can hold it in my hands as a real thing (!) – I am contemplating how important it is to remember our many supports in the face of academia’s individualising culture, but also about the ways that we can creatively remember people we have loved and lost in and through our research and writing. You can see some of my aunt’s artwork here in this short film I made.
I have no real conclusion to this ramble; it is little more than a collection of thoughts about life, loss, death and grief in and amongst a sad week. I end with the fitting words of disability justice activist, Mia Mingus, who sums it up powerfully:
We must leave evidence. Evidence that we were here, that we existed, that we survived and loved and ached. Evidence of the wholeness we never felt and the immense sense of fullness we gave to each other. Evidence of who we were, who we thought we were, who we never should have been. Evidence for each other that there are other ways to live–past survival; past isolation.
This post is dedicated to the memory of Lisa Procter, a vibrant and brilliant scholar whom I was lucky to know, and even luckier to have the opportunity to work alongside.
Burkitt, I. (2012) ‘Emotional Reflexivity: Feeling, Emotion and Imagination in Reflexive Dialogues’, Sociology, 46: 3, 458-472
Liddiard, K (2018) The Intimate Lives of Disabled People. London: Routledge, ISBN 978-1-4094-6090-9
Matthews-King, A. (2017) Landmark study links Tory austerity to 120,000 deaths, The Independent, Wednesday 15th November.
Mingus, M. (year unknown) About. Online. Available from: https://leavingevidence.wordpress.com/about-2/ [accessed 20/11/2017]