Reconstruction 7.1 (2007)

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Theorizing Threat: An Investigation of Contentious Embodiment / Jennifer Musial and Emily van der Meulen


<1> In early summer 2006, we had a phone conversation that generated interest in this topic. Emily was reminiscing about her experiences at the Washington, D.C. March for Women's Lives in April of 2004. The March, a demonstration for reproductive justice, brought out feminists and anti-abortion protestors alike. Emily remembered seeing African-American men holding signs that equated abortion to the airplane attacks in New York City on September 11, 2001. This sparked curiosity: how does abortion become equated with "terrorism"? [1] One answer to this question is that a woman who has an abortion is said to commit "body-terrorism" as she poses a threat to the nation by choosing not to reproduce. [2]

<2> Though initially intrigued with the idea of "body-terrorists", we decided to move beyond the problematic conception of terrorism. Terrorism, as an arbitrary and socially constructed term, changes depending on one's geo-political location. Indeed, even the simple usage of the term can be seen as perpetuating or supporting the Bush administrations racist conceptualizations of Muslim populations. In keeping with our desire to produce a critical journal that focuses on the undermining of prevailing systems we shifted our focus instead to 'threat,' more specifically to the ways in which various bodies threaten stability, normalcy, hegemony, and dominant discourses. "Threatening Bodies", then, presents the idea that discursive and lived bodies disturb the status quo, through their physical forms, bodily practices, and/or embodied identities. This collection examines how various bodies are both a threat to and simultaneously threatened by the institution of heterosexuality, gender stability, racialized identities, colonial projects, the nation-state, capitalism, and the reproduction of the family.

<3> The topic of this journal and the conceptualization of threatening bodies is a common thread that weaves together our different academic work and political commitments. Separately but similarly we came to this topic through our own work (both theoretical and activist) on how particular bodies, pregnant women and sex workers respectively, destabilize categories and denaturalize identities.

<4> Since her masters thesis in 2002, Jennifer's work has outlined the transgressive nature of pregnant bodies. Here she argued that pregnancy is a visual signifier of femaleness that conjures both fascination and repulsion within culture. As a transgressor to the "normal" boundaries of physical space, pregnancy is a site of liminality where the pregnant subject is constructed. Therefore, pregnancy is subversive because it is an experience that does not fit into ordered categories: the pregnant body is simultaneously abject, grotesque and liminal. Pregnant women, then, occupy a space betwixt and between discourse, often embodying a space of simultaneity. This state of ambivalence is identified as both/and as opposed to either/or. Because pregnancy does not fit into any one category, it is important to consider sometimes-contradictory discourses. Aside from the transgression that comes with the abject, the grotesque and the liminal, the pregnant woman is additionally threatening because she refuses a single subjectivity. The modernist concept of unified selfhood is disturbed by the ambiguous pregnant body, which refuses one subject position, instead opting for multiple identities. Just like the body can be read differently depending on its colour, shape and size, the pregnant woman is always already a dual subject.

<5> For just over a decade Emily has been engaged in labour organizing, antipoverty, social justice, feminist, antiracist, and queer positive grassroots activist campaigns. Her work in these related sectors has directly informed her academic commitments and perspectives. She is currently a board member of Canada's oldest sex worker-run organization, Maggie's: The Toronto Prostitutes' Community Service Project. For over 25 years, Canadian sex workers and allies have been fighting to reduce the stigma and discrimination that surrounds their lives and their work. By virtue of their occupation, sex workers destabilize the sanctity of both the family and the nation. Despite the fact that prostitution, phone sex, stripping, porn, massage and other areas of the industry are perfectly legal in Canada, sex workers often face harassment and exploitation as they manoeuvre through complicated and often contradictory legal frameworks. People working in the sex trade have been defined as deviant, immoral, subversive, and grotesque. In this way, they similarly transgress and threaten the "normal" boundaries of gender and heterosexuality. Just as the pregnant body occupies a space betwixt and between discourse, the sex worker too is threatening because she refuses both normalcy and single subjectivity.

<6> As we read through the over 40 submissions for this special issue, a number of themes began to emerge. Submissions included examinations of how bodies threaten categories of racialization, definitions of nationalism, and operations of capital, as well as how bodies terrorize, resist, and destabilize categories, boundaries, and institutions. At first, we structured the issue around the following themes: gender, racialization, capitalism, citizenship, and terrorism. However, we found classifying submissions to be an arbitrary exercise because they often spoke directly to more than one theme or topic. We also found there were a number of additional themes that fit these pieces including the family, the state, sexuality, and colonialism. Ultimately, we decided to do something a little different with this issue.

<7> We have chosen nine keywords (racialization, nationalism, capital, terrorism, the family, gender, the state, sexuality, and colonialism) to represent the various articles in "Threatening Bodies". Below you will find our fourteen articles listed under these keywords, most of which appear in more than one area. By clicking on a keyword you will be taken to another page that brings up a "table of contents" for each keyword. You can then access the full essay by clicking on the article's link. We prefer this organizational structure because it fits with our mandate to destabilize categories and offer intersectional analyses of "Threatening Bodies". Moreover, this organization reflects our commitment to interdisciplinary scholarship that deconstructs theoretical boundaries, corrupts categories, and subverts the 'canon'.

<8> We hope that you enjoy reading the submissions and that you learn as much from them as we have.



[1] Here we are using "terrorism" in the vein of U.S.-Bush administration rhetoric. However, we realize this to be a social, discursive, and Orientalist construction. For an example of the conflation of abortion with "terrorism" within the Christian right, see Kelly Hollowell's "Abortion and Terrorism: Chillingly Similar". [^]

[2] Interestingly, this conservative discourse obscures the very real domestic-terrorist threat posed by anti-abortion advocates who commit violence against women, abortionists and clinics. [^]


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