The Reduction of Children to “Bare Life.” The Case of Child Migration

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Psychoanalysis and Politics

18 January 2023

Time: 18:00 - 19:30

Price: £28, and discounted tickets for artists, freelancers and students £15

Location: online


By Michael O’Loughlin
Part of the Psychoanalysis and Politics series Crises and Transmission

One facet of my work concerns childhood precarity and particularly the kinds of precarity that emerge for children in encounters with sovereign authority. Impacts of the sovereign on subject formation are readily discernible in authoritarian, postcolonial and neoliberal societies. The case of child displacement and migration, however, illustrates the operation of social death and necropolitical intent with the greatest clarity. In this presentation I will review the kinds of precarity engendered by force migration and displacement, with ensuing ruptures to collective social bonds, linguistic and cultural annihilation, and the traumatic sequelae for children who often experience trauma après coup. An organizing frame for my work is Agamben’s notion of state of exception, a concept readily integrated with Patterson’s concept of social death and Mbembe’s idea of necropolitics. These mechanisms, combined with the inherent statelessness of children leads to a particular kind of vulnerability, nicely illustrated in Fazili’s film, Midnight traveler and in Khosravi’s book, Illegal traveller. I will explore some of the traumatic and intergenerational sequelae of reducing children to bare life, focusing particularly on the power of the sovereign to limit the subjective possibilities of subaltern child subjects and maintain a hegemonic status quo.

Michael O’Loughlin is Professor in the College of Education and Health Sciences and in the Ph.D. program in Clinical Psychology at Adelphi University, New York. He has authored or edited many books, Including, most recently, Lives Interrupted: Psychiatric narratives of struggle and resilience (2019), and Precarities of 21st century childhoods: Critical explorations of time(s), place(s), and identities (2023). Since 2018 he has been co-editor of the journal Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society. He is also editor of the book series, Psychoanalytic Interventions: Clinical Social, and Cultural Contexts, and co-editor of the book series Critical Childhood & Youth Studies: Theoretical Explorations and Practices in Clinical, Educational, Social, and Cultural Contexts. He founded the Adelphi Asylum project to train doctoral students in asylum evaluation. He has a private practice for psychotherapy and psychoanalysis on Long Island, NY.

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