Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Exploring the Emergence of the Subject in Power: Infant Geographies

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Exploring the Emergence of the Subject in Power: Infant Geographies

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

"Part of rethinking where and how the human comes into being will involve a rethinking of both the social and psychic landscapes of an infant's emergence." Judith Butler, (2004, page 14)

By playing close, critical attention to Butler's works The Psychic Life of Power (1997a) and Undoing Gender (2004), which demonstrate how infancy is crucial to the formation of subjects who psychically incorporate powerful norms, I outline in this paper the merits of more fully acknowledging the everyday geographies of infants. These have been largely overlooked in human geography. (1) Exploring geographies of infants can contribute to reconfiguring notions of the subject and agency (Lorimer, 2007; Parr and Davidson, 2011; Ruddick, 2007a; 2007b) by emphasising how enduring power inequalities are (re)produced via individual (and collective) identities and by deconstructing the autonomous subject/ agent--enduring questions within strands of human geography. More specifically, drawing upon Butler (1997a; 2004), I argue that geographical studies of infancy can illuminate the psychic operation of subjection (or subjectivation); they can demonstrate how power operates to creatively constitute 'individuals'(2) into being and simultaneously subject people within frameworks of [classed, sexualised, gendered, racialised, (dis)abled (3)] norms, also providing the potential for these contexts of power to be transformed.

It is important to pay attention to these issues in youngest childhood, since infancy is a specifically dynamic phase of growth and development--biologically, socially, psychically. Butler's (1997a; 2004) attention to infancy highlights the ontological relationality of the development of subjects who are produced within power but capable of transforming power. The importance of infancy as a period of sociopsychic development has also been highlighted in much psychoanalytical geography (Philo and Parr, 2003; Pile, 1996; Sibley, 1995) and studies of children's socialisation (McDowell, 2006). Classed, racialised, gendered, and sexualised norms begin to be embodied during this period of our lives. Norms that are psychically incorporated (in infancy) are argued to be difficult to challenge, as they are prediscursive and reproduced in beyond-conscious ways (Bourdieu and Thompson, 1991; Pile, 1996). Geographers, crucially, then, need to engage with the geographies of infants to provide insights into how enduring inequalities are reproduced (or can be transformed) via embodied identities.

Although infancy is a specifically dynamic phase of the life-course, it is not unique: our mind-bodies continue to change throughout our lives (Shilling, 2003). The intersubjectivity and interdependency inherent in the construction of subject/agents in infancy is an enduring part of our (adult) selves. Butler (2004, page 24) claims that "infancy constitutes a necessary dependency, one which we never leave behind". Indeed, the vulnerability and relationality of infants is merely a particularly stark expression of the intersubjectivity and interdependence of all human beings. Therefore, examining the everyday geographies of infants can contribute to endeavours to deconstruct the autonomous agent and replace it with an inherently relational, intersubjective or interdependent subject within human geography, particularly within nonrepresentational theory and geographies of emotion and affect (see for overviews Anderson and Harrison, 2010; Pile, 2010). Furthermore, geographies of infants can enable insights into how agency emerges within these intersubjective processes of subjection.

Although I acknowledge Butler's many contributions, I will subject them to two critiques in this paper. First, I argue for more explicit considerations of a host of infant-other (including nonhuman other) relations, including a greater attention to the maternal, which arguably theorises interdependency relatively positively and places a greater emphasis on emotional interdependence and contiguity. …

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