Negotiating Strangeness on the Abortion Trail
Revaluing Care in Theory, Law, and Policy: Cycles and Connections, edited by Rosie Harding, Ruth Fletcher and Chris Beasley, 2016/17 Forthcoming
Social Justice Series, Routledge, Forthcoming
23 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2016 Last revised: 14 Jul 2016
Date Written: March 31, 2016
Negotiating strangeness refers to a set of feminist care practices that feel out ‘the trail’ as a timespace occupied by those travelling in search of abortion. Responding to Lentin (2004), and drawing on Ahmed (2000) and Cooper (2007a), I show how abortion support practices reveal strangeness as an experience that is brought into being, sometimes as a burden and sometimes as an asset. I develop this argument through a critical, contextual analysis of two interviews with past co-ordinators of ESCORT, a Liverpool based abortion support group catering for Irish women. As the interviews worked on me over time (Gunaratnam 2013), they revealed how strangeness feels out the trail through 1) critiques of displacement, 2) provision of home-like spaces, and 3) challenges to the perception of the abortion-seeker as trouble.
Critiques of displacement show how critique can work through, rather than against, care. At times, such critiques risked conflating burdensomeness and strangeness as an effect of displacement. But at other times they were careful to focus on the necessity of displacement, rather than on strangeness, as the problem. In providing home-like spaces, volunteers also had the effect of revealing ‘the promise of the stranger’ (Cooper 2007a), as unfamiliarity frees up personal expression and takes communication beyond the usual stranger civilities (Simmel 1908). This re-placement of abortion-seekers in more comfortable spaces actively used the transient and fleeting nature of the encounter as an asset. When negotiating strangeness took the form of challenges to the perception of the abortion-seeker as trouble, sometimes in racialised terms, it did so in a way which mobilized volunteers’ knowledge of the clinic’s working patterns and acknowledged the impact of working conditions, while facing down the troubling behavior.
Keywords: Feminism, care, abortion, activism, stranger, ESCORT, home, displacement, trouble, trail
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