Subjects of Responsibility: Framing Personhood in Modern Bureaucracies

Subjects of Responsibility: Framing Personhood in Modern Bureaucracies

Andrew Parker
Austin Sarat
Martha Merrill Umphrey
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Subjects of Responsibility: Framing Personhood in Modern Bureaucracies
    Book Description:

    How and why has the concept of responsibility come to pervade the fabric of American public and private life? How are ideas of responsibility instantiated in, and constituted by, the workings of social and political institutions? What place do liberal discourses of responsibility, based on the individual, have in today's biopolitical world, where responsibility is so often a matter of risk assessment, founded in statistical probabilities? Bringing together the work of scholars in anthropology, law, literary studies, philosophy, and political theory, the essays in this volume show how state and private bureaucracies play crucial roles in fashioning forms of responsibility, which they then enjoin on populations. How do government and market constitute subjects of responsibility in a culture so enamored of individuality? In what ways can those entities-centrally, in modern culture, those engaged in insuring individuals against loss or harm-themselves be held responsible, and by whom? What kinds of subjectivities are created in this process? Can such subjects be said to be truly responsible, and in what sense?

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4849-0
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
    (pp. vi-vi)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-18)
    Andrew Parker, Austin Sarat and Martha Merrill Umphrey

    Bringing together the writings of scholars in anthropology, law, literary studies, philosophy, and political theory,Subjects of Responsibilityasks how and why the concept of responsibility—confused and contested throughout its peculiar history—has come today to pervade the fabric of Western, in particular American, public and private life. Ideas of responsibility are instantiated in, and constituted by, the workings of social and political institutions; appeals to responsibility are used to define the parameters of inclusion in American culture, and those appeals become standards against which new social arrangements are judged. Since state bureaucracies play crucial roles in fashioning the...

    • CHAPTER 1 Assuming Responsibility in a State of Necessity
      (pp. 21-37)
      Leonard C. Feldman

      What does it mean to be responsible in a circumstance of necessity? On the one hand, necessity seems to release people from responsibility: whether necessity justifies or excuses, it renders people immune from criminal liability. On the other hand, necessity seems to burden people with a greater responsibility: the responsibility to violate the law when extreme circumstances warrant it. Thus my central question: what does it mean to be responsible in a circumstance of necessity? This question cannot be answered without attention to the situatedness of different political actors. In this essay, I examine how that responsibility is figured differently...

    • CHAPTER 2 How to Do Responsibility: Apology and Medical Error
      (pp. 38-57)
      S. Lochlann Jain

      In a ghoulish misreplication of the clichéd diagnosis in which a patient is told he has only a short time to live before cancer kills him, a young man at Kaiser Permanente in San Jose was recently told that he had only three days to live after hospital staff mistakenly administered cancer treatment into his epidural shunt in the place of another drug. Accidents involving toxic chemotherapy drugs have happened before, for example, a highly publicized lethal overdose was given to a youngBoston Globejournalist a few years ago.¹ Chemotherapy drugs have evolved from nitrogen mustard gas, originally used...

    • CHAPTER 3 Responsibility and the Burdens of Proof
      (pp. 58-78)
      Carol J. Greenhouse

      This chapter looks back at the early 1990s, when the U.S. home front of the “new world order” was absorbed in major political confrontations over civil rights and welfare.¹ By 1990, major civil rights legislation was before Congress, with welfare reform soon to follow. Debate was starkly partisan, and novel forms of insecurity associated with globalization added new tensions to the proceedings. Although civil rights and welfare involved debates of long standing, I look to the legislation of the 1990s as benchmarks in the history of social security in the United States. My focus is on the politicization of responsibility...

    • CHAPTER 4 Whereas, and Other Etymologies of Responsibility
      (pp. 81-97)
      Eric Wertheimer

      Whereas. In looking for a conceptual and linguistic source of “responsibility,” one could do worse than the word “whereas.” This is especially so when “whereas” is used as the introduction to a policy or proclamation. TheOxford English Dictionarytells us that the word began with its contrastive connotation, as an “illative or adversative conjunction,” and subsequently emerged as a signal of due attention paid to prior contingencies—“in view or consideration of the fact that.” It then underwent a rather sudden and swift identification with contractual legalese in the 1790s, becoming the first word of many contracts. It even...

    • CHAPTER 5 “Death by His Own Hand”: Accounting for Suicide in Nineteenth-Century Life Insurance Litigation
      (pp. 98-144)
      Susanna L. Blumenthal

      Under the headline “Melancholy Occurrence,” newspapers in the Hudson River Valley and beyond regretfully reported the death of Hiram Comfort, a wealthy and respectable merchant of Catskill who “put a period to his existence” on June 25, 1839, by jumping from the steamboatErieand perishing in the river. Comfort was accompanied on board by several friends, who ardently hoped the journey would cure the merchant of the “mental derangement” he appeared to suffer as a result of unspecified “business difficulties.” But less than a mile into the trip, Comfort eluded the grasp of his companions and sprang overboard, disappearing...

    • CHAPTER 6 Bonded and Insured: The Cautious Imagination
      (pp. 145-160)
      Ravit Reichman

      In 1941, during the London Blitz, Winston Churchill instituted the Act to Provide War Damage Insurance, which aimed to distribute as widely as possible the loss of property due to the bombings. As Churchill explained in a public address, the measure was taken in the interest of those whose homes had been destroyed, “to reassure them that they have not lost all, because all will share their material loss.”³ Churchill’s response to the attacks on London shifted the emphasis from “what” to “who,” from thing to person. From the question of what had been lost—“they have not lostall”—...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 161-200)
  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 201-204)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 205-216)