Undecided life: Standards, subjects and sovereignty in compensating victims of the war on terror

Allen, Matthew and Brown, Steven D. (2016). Undecided life: Standards, subjects and sovereignty in compensating victims of the war on terror. Theory and Psychology, 26(2) pp. 263–283.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0959354316638473

Abstract

In this article we examine the relationship between standards and subjectivity in the context of compensating the victims of terrorism. We do so by drawing on a corpus of data that features survivor and bereaved accounts of two twenty-first century terrorist attacks. We investigate the distressing period in which compensation claims remained undecided, in some cases for over seven years after the attacks, and how the process of assessment acts as a ‘technology of desubjectification’. To articulate this we turn to Giorgio Agamben’s notion of ‘undecidability’ in which the ambiguity between life and law is used by governing authorities to suspend and blur key distinctions such as what lies inside or outside the juridical order. In particular we aim to clarify that, in the context of claiming compensation for an act of terrorism, being undecided is a means by which the state maintains claimants within a ‘holding category’ of victimhood that prevents their recognition as a political subject. We conclude with some reflection on how technologies of desubjectification operate within an ‘age of austerity’. Critical psychology need to update its neo-Foucauldian understanding of subjectivity to include the production of ‘cranked subjects’.

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