Revolting Subjects Redux


Verb: The action of revolt; apostasy; rebellion, insurrection;

Adjective: That [which] evokes revulsion; repulsive, disgusting.

Noun: That which is revolting; revoltingness.

(abridged from the Oxford English Dictionary, 2012)

A decade ago I published my first sole authored book, Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain (2013). The forms of social violence, disenfranchisement, poverty and racism which I set out to document in this book have intensified in the decade that as followed. It feels apposite on the anniversary of the publication, in the current hostile environment , and in the context of the current neo-fascist government in the UK, to return to the key concepts this book explored & expanded – namely how people “revolt” and resist in the face of sustained “social abjection”. What follows is a short extract from the introduction (which can be read in full here).


Revolting is a powerful word. Within an emotional register being revolted is an expression of disgust, ‘to react or rise with repugnance against something. To turn away with disgust or loathing from something; to recoil from’ (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012). We can perceive this meaning of revolt in the visceral loathing of the xenophobic hate-speech against the Gypsy and Traveller community which the Dale Farm eviction provoked. Within a political register ‘revolt’ describes acts of protest and rebellion against authority, insurrections and uprisings:  ‘a movement or expression of vigorous dissent’ (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012).

Revolting Subjects proceeds from the intersections of these different meanings of revolt-ing in order to offer an account of ‘social abjection’ and revolt in contemporary Britain. In weaving together a series of political parables for our time, my concerns are to elaborate a rich account of neoliberal Britain from the bottom up, of the abject forms of inequality and injustice which neoliberalism effects and the resistance and revolt to which it gives rise. Focusing on citizenship, social class and migrant illegality, Revolting Subjects restages a series of recent revolts by disenfranchised populations: the protests of migrants in detention and facing deportation, the on-going resistance of Gypsies and Travellers to eviction from their land and homes, and the riots of young people across England in the summer of 2011. Using these revolts as a guide, the book maps the borders of the state from the inside out, suggesting we look anew at the state we are in.  Indeed, what drives Revolting Subjects is a critical and political concern with thinking about how we might contest both the state(s), states of being (human life) and states of belonging (political life) which characterise contemporary British life. At its heart, Revolting Subjects raises the question of how states are made and unmade – and how we might critically engage and intervene in this process of making and unmaking (Butler & Spivak, 2007). To respond to this question, I have drawn together a diverse body of theoretical scholarship, from feminist theory, sociology, media studies, critical theory, psychosocial studies and political philosophy. Revolting Subjects draws this theoretical work together through the conceptual paradigm of social abjection.

Combining a theoretical and empirical archive each of the chapters in Revolting Subjects explores the dual meanings of ‘abjection’ and ‘revolt’: the processes through which minoritised populations are imagined and configured as revolting and become subject to control, stigma and censure, and the practices through which individuals and groups resist, reconfigure and revolt against their abject subjectification. As a polemic this book also attempts to move us towards revolt – that is, to induce revulsion about the forms of disenfranchisment it describes, as well as to provoke the desire to do something about it. In encouraging revolt in this third sense my book attempts to provoke others to look anew and think differently – to prompt an imaginative engagement with dissent against the neoliberal consensus and `the politics of disposability’ which characterise contemporary Britain (Giroux, 2007).

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  1. Rebecca Hayes Laughton

    Thank you for this brilliant book. It has informed both my drama project with asylum seeking women at Southbank Centre in London for the past 8 years – and was (is) a springboard for me as I complete my PhD (soon!) in arts practice and grassroots campaigning with women refugees.

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