Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Spaces of Abandonment: Genealogies, Lives and Critical Horizons

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Spaces of Abandonment: Genealogies, Lives and Critical Horizons

Article excerpt


Abandonment has a long presence in Western cultural, philosophical and legal canon, though most contemporary critical debates focus on its sovereign and juridico-political functions. This article considers the concept of abandonment through its more nuanced and multidimensional appearances: at once a political technology and a material economy, a juridical category and a sphere of intimacy. Following the longer conceptual history of abandonment, from its Greco-Roman sources to the present, the article sheds light on abandonment as a systemic political technology, its evolution and significance in different social and political contexts. Drawing on notions of abandonment that remain outside Western intellectual corpus--primarily in early Jewish jurisprudence--this article seeks a more nuanced and expansive understanding of this concept Closely reading a case documenting the fatal abandonment of one Palestinian man in 2008, the article highlights a myriad of agents, materialities, relations and infrastructures that join in the production and perpetuation of the abandoned present


Abandonment, genealogy, biopolitics, materialism, Israel-Palestine


From the banishment of Adam and Eve from Eden to the cliched photographic portrayals of 21st-century Detroit, abandonment appears as a central trope in Western cultural corpus. However, beyond it cultural resonance, there is much more at stake when abandonment is considered as a complex political technology. Addressing this challenge, this paper interrogates the paradigms through which abandonment becomes analytically and politically productive. It follows the genealogical strands that have informed the introduction of abandonment into social and political analysis, and points to the limits of these conventional traditions of investigation. At its core is an effort to rethink a theory of abandonment that rigorously draws on the more familiar conceptualizations as well as genealogies that have gained much less attention in critical discourse. By invoking a different vocabulary of abandonment, this article aims to expand the intellectual corpus through which abandonment gains its critical import and the conceptual frameworks available to future, expanded interrogations of this pervasive phenomenon.

The political urgency of this endeavour seems self-evident. Abandonment has become a structural component of the neoliberal state that sees the dismantling of the protections and defences against the rigours, vagaries, demands and inequities of the market and the powers of capital. The changing relationships between economy, society and the state to the greater advantage of capital in its global and local forms increasingly produces a disenfranchised citizenry and even more precarious non-citizens. In parallel, the dynamic of calculated withdrawal of protections and the exposure of lives to the unrestrained force of law is now widely seen as a hallmark of sovereign power in the colonial present. In addition to describing a condition of precarity and vulnerability, abandonment functions as a technology of sovereign rule, governing the differential application of violence over subject populations. As an outcome of the political project of late liberalism, abandonment draws attention to the material economies that surround us, to structures and infrastructures. As a biopolitical construct, it illuminates the margins of late-modern juridico-politics, where sovereign protections are withdrawn, leaving life exposed to necropolitical violence (Mbembe, 2003; Ophir, 2007). Abandonment goes to the very heart of contemporary modalities of power, its inherent disenfranchisements and modes of violence.

A close reading of some of the key texts informing particular genealogies demonstrates the inherent relation rather than the supposed distinction between these genealogies and others less commonly discussed in contemporary debates. …

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