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“One might adhere to a philosophy that opposes violent action of all kinds against sentient beings […] But if certain lives are not perceivable as lives, then the moral prohibition against violence will be only selectively applied” (Butler, 2009).

“One might adhere to a philosophy that opposes violent action of all kinds against sentient beings […] But if certain lives are not perceivable as lives, then the moral prohibition against violence will be only selectively applied” (Butler, 2009).

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Andrew Barratt. Originally submitted for Politics/Space - Geography BA at Durham University, with lecturer Prof Louise Amoore in the category of Social Studies
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Andrew Barratt. Originally submitted for Politics/Space - Geography BA at Durham University, with lecturer Prof Louise Amoore in the category of Social Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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05/13/2014

 
1
“One might adhere to a philosophy that opposes violent action of all kinds against sentient beings […] But if certain lives are not
perceivable as lives, then the moral prohibition against violence will
be only selectively applied”
(Judith Butler, 2009: 51). Discuss,illustrating your answer with one detailed example.
This essay uses the lives of homosexual males during the Holocaust to discuss howthey were perceived as non-sentient, to legitimise violence. The idea of the homosexual asdangerous
 –
a threat both to individuals and to national security and social order 
 –
has along history (Edelman, 1992). The example is useful as what it means to be a homosexual
“varies not only over time but between places” (Holloway, 2005: 407)
, and so will revealthe socio-spatial temporality of perception. The paper discusses the different processesthrough which homosexuals came to be perceived as outside of the norm, threatening andungrievable bodies within Nazi Germany. The theoretical framework of the paper reliesupon concepts such as bare life, abjection and performativity, and a critical analysis of twopropaganda posters will be used to illustrate the effects of heteronormativity. Throughoutthe essay links with contemporary politics are made, with one final discussion that
now 
 Western cultures use a (perceived) tolerance of homosexuality as a sign of modernity, topresent Muslim populations as pre-modern, inferior, and even lost, subjects.In
Frames of War 
(2009), Butler highlights certain epistemological frames that governbeing, and that being is constituted within operations of power. The iteration and reiteration
of norms, together with the Hegelian concept of “recognition”, govern and shape subjects.
Therefore, the position of a person, with respect to norms, determines whether their life isone that is recognizable and grievable. Butler rethinks the classical approach to war,expressing an antipathy to recent military campaigns. She
puts forward the ‘
frames
inwhich war is represented and the way in which we conceive of different lives, in that somecome to matter while others do not. Butler 
’s work
focuses upon the media, particularlyphotography (Butler, 2007), to highlight the rhetoric divisiveness of framing the loss of lives. The US government and media treat Muslim lives as less grievable than Americans,and, Butler argues, lives that are not considered grievable become a target for annihilationin order to protect those lives that are worthy of living. However, framing of war is not amodern phenomenon, and photography was used to frame the Holocaust (Shneer, 2011).
 
2
Following Hitler’s rise to power 
in 1933, homosexuals in Germany were one of numerous groups targeted by the Nazi party, becoming victims of the Holocaust.Homosexuals were framed as deviant subjects that were outside of the norm and,
consequently, regarded as “defilers of German blood” (Harran, 2000: 108).
Homosexuallives did not conform to that of a recognized, liveable being within Nazi Germany, and whatit meant to be German (Isser, 1992; Grau, 1995). Furthermore, through framing them as
“defilers”
 
 –
bodies that corrupted Germany
 –
homosexuals were perceived as bodieswhich had to be destroyed in order to protect German lives, and to defend and keep the
power of “German blood”
. Arendt emphasises that violence appears whenever power is in jeopardy (2004: 241), and so, through being non-conformist, a series of socio-spatialpower struggles (Kaur, 2005) led to
“cultural violence” legitimiz
ing direct and structuralviolence (Galtung, 1990) against homosexuals. The
refore, violent acts to protect ‘living’
lives were legitimised, since homosexuals posed a threat. These frames were repeatedwithin Germany, and so homosexuals were perceived as
threatening subjects to ‘living’
German lives, rather than being perceived as in need of protection from violence.However, this now exposes a spatial dichotomy
, in that German lives as ‘living’ w
as notthe perception, for example, in the UK during World War II;
an “Anger Campaign”
(1940)was used to instil hatred against German people amongst the British. Therefore, there wasa spatial dimension and limitation, one of scale, associated with frames of violence. Today,the world is more inter-connected (Agnew, 1998), such as the European Union, andcommunication more advanced (internet), and, so, perception of non-sentient beings is notsimply framed through notions of threat, and violent acts not justified
solely 
as protection.
Butler’s (200
4; 2009) idea of 
precariousness
is a condition which homosexual malesshared during Nazi Germany. Precarious lives are dependent upon society for survival andhomosexual lives were particularly precarious, since they were a population deemeddestructible and ungrievable, and lacked the social structure, power and protection toprevent perceptions being otherwise. Some groups of society can be seen as at themargins of humanity and
personhood
(Shotter, 1993; Sibley, 1995), and are ranked lowwith
in a socially constructed “hierarchy of being” (Sibley, 1995: 14).
The normative belief that sexuality is a basis for identity and a part of human nature (Kotz, 1993), coupled withdiscourses of heterosexuality as
‘natural’ (Richardson, 1996), means
that homosexualscan be perceived as not part, and outside, of human nature. Therefore, the naturalisationof heterosexuality provides the context in which attributions of personhood and liveablelives come to be established. Heteronormativity, which are the agencies that privilege andnormalize heterosexuality over other sexualities (Brown, 2009: 344), is what Butler (1990)
 
3
argues is the foundation upon which sexual difference is constructed. This difference wasexacerbated during Nazi Germany as homosexuals had no political rights; the perceptionof homosexuals as non-human was, thus, institutionalised through the law, resulting in aselective justice legitimising violence. Frames of homosexuality as abnormal and unnaturalserved to socially exclude, placing them at the margins of personhood and sentience.Today, whilst homosexuals still experience problems of social exclusion and arestigmatised, it is not to the same extent as what was acceptable during Nazi Germany (for example, now there are gay rights); thus
 
there is a temporal dimension to framing violence.Indeed, time and historical contingency is also needed in the formation of perception.Social exclusion has profound implications in the understanding of, and responses to,
violence. For example, the social construction of murder is measured upon a ‘humanbeing’ or a ‘person’ being killed
(Richardson & May, 1999). Goffman explains that if onepossesses a
“discrediting characteristic”
, then that characteristic can become the definingfeature of a whole person, reducing a being to one that is tainted and discounted (1990:12).
Homosexuals possessed a highly “discrediting characteristic” during Nazi Germany,
 and so were defined in terms of a sexualised and stigmatised category, and no longer seen as a whole person. This is most evident in the use of pink triangle badges, to identifygay male prisoners in concentration camps; it served to dehumanise (Elman, 1996), andreduce personhood to that of the discrediting characteristic. This led to victimisation, and,moreover, as victims that were deserving of violence. Homosexuals failed to meet thestandards of the sexual ideology within the social and racial cleansing of the nation-state,and so thousands of lesbian and gay men were framed as deserving victims for detentionor extermination. Since the discrediting characteristic became all defining for homosexuals, they were perceived as pathological (Weeks, 1990)
, inferior and “lives notworth living” (Procter, 1995).
Today, homosexuality as a disease is no longer scientifictruth, and the pink triangle has been reclaimed as a symbol of gay pride (appendix, figure1). However, this reclamation, would not only have been impossible during Nazi Germanydue to sovereign power, but has been criticised nowadays as contributing to a forgottenmemory of abhorrent violence, and a denial of what happened (Stein, 1998; Leets, 2002).The notion of bare life, which is the socially produced exclusion of certain lives frompolitical participation, and the abandonment of these lives to violence or death (Gregory,2009: 41), is also useful to consider alongside this argument. Bare life is poised betweenbiological life (
zoe 
) and political life (
bios 
), and is produced at the intersection of sovereignpower and biopower (Agamben, 1998). From discussions so far, the life of homosexualsduring the Holocaust can be seen to fit that of a bare life. However, Goldflam (1999) writes

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