28 July 2015
Revolting Subjects by Imogen Tyler is a groundbreaking account of social abjection in contemporary Britain, exploring how particular groups of people are figured as revolting and how they in turn revolt against their abject subjectification.

The book utilises a number of high-profile and in-depth case studies - including 'chavs', asylum seekers, Gypsies and Travellers, and the 2011 London riots - to examine the ways in which individuals negotiate restrictive neoliberal ideologies of selfhood. In doing so, Tyler argues for a deeper psychosocial understanding of the role of representational forms in producing marginality, social exclusion and injustice, whilst also detailing how stigmatisation and scapegoating are resisted through a variety of aesthetic and political strategies. Imaginative and original, Revolting Subjects introduces a range of new insights into neoliberal societies, and will be essential reading for those concerned about widening inequalities, growing social unrest and social justice in the wider global context.

Which scholars most influenced this book?

Revolting Subjects draws on a diverse range of scholarly and other research, including policy research and activist writings. It draws, for example, on cultural studies classics, social and political theory, literary theory, art and media theory, sociology, philosophy and human geography. In terms of the theory of 'social abjection' which I develop in this book, and which is the connecting thread between all the case studies of social dispossession and resistance which it examines, it was most profoundly inspired by the writing of Frantz Fanon, Judith Butler, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Stuart Hall, Beverly Skeggs, Sara Ahmed and Lauren Berlant. All of these thinkers are, in different ways, concerned with questions of the differential value of human life under neo-colonial conditions, social justice, the cultural and political economies which reproduce inequalities, psycho-social experiences of abjection and the forms of resistance which abjection gives rise to.

What contribution do you hope this work makes to processes of social change?

Sociologists often focus on one specific group, class of people, or social problem, such as class, disability or gender and this sometimes leads to forms of 'categorical essentialism' which can in turn limit our understandings of the continually changing formation of inequalities. I hope that Revolting Subjects, in focusing not on one, but on several categories of people 'laid to waste' by current social and economic policies, allows its readers to better comprehend the commonalities between some of practices of disenfranchisement which characterise the political present tense. In an edited collection, Immigrant Protest: Politics, Asthetics and Everyday Dissent (SUNY, 2014), which was a book made with artists and activists as well as academics, Katarzyna Marciniak and I conceive of the kind of theoretical and methodological approach we are committed to as no-borders scholarship. Elsewhere I write about my declassificatory scholarship. One of the things I mean by this is that I am concerned with working across borders of all kinds as part of a political commitment to equality - the fundamental equality of all human lives.

What follow-up work are you developing?

I am currently developing a new Leverhulme funded project, provisionally entitled The Stigma Doctrine, which is the sister project to Revolting Subjects. This will involve writing a book which aims to update current sociological understandings of stigma, through developing a new theoretical account of stigma as a relation of power, stigma production as a mode of governmentality and shaming as a mode of resistance. As with Revolting Subjects, I will be drawing on an interdisciplinary archive of data, drawing from the arts, humanities and social sciences, with expected case-studies on disability, migration, child-sex abuse and the financial crisis in Europe. The aim is to produce a rich account of the multiple social and political functions of stigma and shame today. A post-doctoral fellow, Brigit McWade, will be working with me, while developing her own work on mental health, disability and "mad studies".

Alongside the book, I will be editing a special journal issue on stigma in collaboration with Tom Slater at Edinburgh University, a human geographer who works on territorial stigma and gentrification in a global context.

Useful links

Some Reviews of the book: