Joseph Pugliese – “Civil modalities of refugee trauma, death and necrological transport”

Joseph Pugliese is an associate prof. in the Dept. of Critical and Cultural Studies at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He’s also the Deputy Director of the Somatechnics Research Centre at the same university. He’s affiliated with Project Biocultures at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which “seeks to provide an intellectual space for research, conferences, intellectual exchange and diffusion of ideas around the emerging area of biocultures.” His research interests are: race and ethnicity, migration and diaspora studies, critical and cultural theories, cultural studies of law, and visual culture.

This piece, “Civil modalities of refugee trauma, death and necrological transport,” was published in Social Identities in 2009. I would separate the piece into two main focuses/arguments (though these definitely also connect to each other). The first is about “civil penality,” the colonization of civic sites/spaces/technologies for purposes of “vernacular violence” enacted on refugees. The second concerns transportation technologies and the relationships of people from the Global South/Global North to these technologies, with people from the Global South being made to technologize and dehumanize their own bodies.


Civil Penality:

-“Colonisation of civic sites by the Dept. of Immigration and the consequent transmutation of these same sites into suburban ‘residential’ prisons”

-“Vernacular violence” done in these spaces is made quasi-invisible because of its “banal and ordinary guises”; vernacular violence is “coextensive with the violence in official immigration prisons, and perhaps more disturbing b/c of its invisibility” (155)

-Civil penality blurs lines btwn civilian-subjects and agents of the state’s repressive apparatuses; it’s enabled and maintained by citizen-subjects within civilian spaces of suburbs; civilians participating in this structure are marked by a “disavowel of their own investment in economies of violence”

-This destroys the hope there might be the possibility to occupy another space (the civic) that is not generative of trauma and violence (156) — the normalizing of violence.


-There is a combination of political, geographical, and architectural marginalizations.


Bridges civil penality and transport technologies by discussing “modes of civil transport as critical in maintaining links in chain of state-sponsored vernacular violence” (158). The state produces “distributive relations of violence in which citizen-subjects become agents that reproduce and extend state power in various capillary forms.”


Transportation Technologies:

-“The free flow of commodities [in globalization] is predicated on the restrictive movement of the subjects of the Global South” (159)

-Lots of these refugee deaths in context of “otherwise relatively safe civil modes of transport, trade and commerce” (16); “their clandestine status at once offers the possibility for undetected

entry and for unanticipated and unseen death.”

-This becomes a making the body technology, imitating a commodity, becoming machine (162): “corporeal subjects that are compelled to disavow their corporeality in order to be transmuted into the technological infrastructure of the First World modes of transport and commerce. As mere technological infrastructure they are at once divested of human rights and instrumentalised into so many disposable parts.”


This is connected earlier to Agamben, and again here at the end, it’s brought together with the distinction between letting-die and making-die.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s