This CRITIQUE LECTURE will draw on Sara Rushing’s recent book, The Virtues of Vulnerability, to discuss how what she calls “citizen-subjectivity” can be produced within contexts of bodily vulnerability, particularly within mainstream healthcare in the United States, or within what Foucault called “the clinic.” Under relational and collaborative conditions defined by mutual humility, vulnerability can serve as a route to autonomy. But under other (unfortunately, more typical) conditions, vulnerability can be a negative and immobilizing experience, which erodes one’s sense of agency. Despite this fact, mainstream medical-institutional practices and protocols are overwhelmingly marketed to patients through the upbeat language of “choice and control” regarding their care. While patients certainly can experience authentic and empowering choice and control, frequently they find this promise disingenuous and disorienting.
In response to experiences of thin choice and control, and feelings of eroded agency, patients may develop a resistant subjectivity – one that says “No!” They may even opt out of the clinic, or, to use the language of political scientist Albert O. Hirschman, “exit.” In The Virtues of Vulnerability, Rushing considers examples of medical-institutional “exit” including pregnant people who exit the labor and delivery department for homebirth, dying people who exit the hospital or nursing home for hospice, and veterans with PTSD who exit the military medical complex for “nature” based remedies like marijuana and wilderness immersion therapy. The book explores these examples as political and politicizing acts of withdrawal, and not merely instances of consumer choice-making.
Sara Rushing specializes in political theory. Her background is in feminist theory and contemporary political thought, and her current research focuses on virtue and ethics, particularly conceptions of humility and autonomy in contexts of birth, illness, death and grief. In addition to being a Women’s and Gender Studies advisor at MSU she is a member of the Women’s Faculty Caucus Steering Committee and advises the Political Theory Consortium. Sara is also the Co-President of the Association for Political Theory, and serves on the editorial board of Contemporary Political Theory.
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