Over the last three decades critical scholars have observed the emergence of a new kind of ‘poor’. For example, in 1998 Zygmunt Bauman claimed (in Arena Journal no. 9) that the new poor were unlike their predecessors in that they had no role at all to play in the type of society that was emerging. This transformation, integral to the workings of technologically accelerated capitalism, has now extended to large sections of humanity who struggle with the implications of economic and social redundancy. Some analysts now speak of the 80/20 society, a scenario in which 80 per cent of humanity will be deprived of any kind of ‘useful’ role in the social life of the whole society.
This process has various manifestations: a global surplus army of unemployed; a proliferation of ‘warehoused’ prisoners incarcerated in privately run prisons; waves of refugees displaced through processes of globalisation, including war and climate change; asylum seekers whose pleas for sanctuary are refused. More broadly, scholars observe diffuse and pervasive forms of economic, social and existential precariousness, where the specificity of inequalities once identified with the oppression of Indigenous people, for example, have become generalised.
These sections of humanity are no longer ‘required’ in that the global market is able to function quite effectively without their participation. As well as ethical questions concerning the fate of these people, or structural ones about the long-term viability of such a system, there are also pressing political questions, for example those associated with the disappearing middle class fearing the loss of further ground to those ‘below’.
These patterns are joined by cultural shifts associated with new technologies such as the increasing ‘redundancy’ of the natural in reproductive processes and the exploitation of people as means, not ends, in organ trading and other biomedical practices. Such changes de-emphasise the ground upon which the human is the site of orientation for life and an end in itself. Further, while the turn to post-humanist forms of interpretation across the social sciences and humanities seeks to grapple with elements of these transformations they often confirm the displacement of the human from the centre of critical scholarship and politics.
We invite responses to these provocations with proposals for papers that explore the issue of ‘surplus humanity’. Provocative incursions in the range of 2-3,000 words as well as proposals for fully developed papers of 7-8,000 words are welcomed.
Please send abstracts to by 1 August 2016. The expected deadline for completed papers is 1 February 2017. The collection will be simultaneously released as a special issue of the journal and a book.
Editorial working group for this special issue: Simon Cooper, Melinda Hinkson, Dan Tout.