Publication Details

Mohr, R. (2010). Responsibility and the representation of suffering: Australian law in black and white. e-Cadernos CES, 7 123-146.


Abstract: This article critically analyses the concept of suffering, with particular emphasis on responsibility for and representations of suffering. Suffering is seen as a social relationship, with objective characteristics, classified by Renault as domination, deprivation and the weakening of intersubjective supports (désaffiliation). Veitch and Wolcher have inquired into legal responsibility for suffering. The author adds that suffering is also constructed subjectively, through aesthetic, political and legal representations. This theoretical model of suffering is applied to recent political and legal issues in Australia dealing with an apology for earlier policies of removing Indigenous children from their families, and a more recent aggressive “emergency response” to concerns over child abuse in Aboriginal communities. Indigenous Australians have clearly suffered from colonisation and subsequent policies, while representations of their suffering can be seen to have exacerbated their disempowerment and thus increased suffering. The article proposes recognising responsibility while avoiding the disempowerment of “victims”. It concludes by proposing new approaches to domination, deprivation and disempowerment that may open the way to new constructions of political subjectivity, fostering the redevelopment of intersubjective supports, while increasing awareness of the past causes of suffering.

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