Accepted Paper:

Precarious life in the cleave of the ordinary: walter reed army medical center as a zone of extra/ordinary life  


Zoe Wool (Rutgers University )

Paper short abstract:

Based on fieldwork with severely injured U.S. soldiers, this paper explores the vital importance of ordinariness in a moment of intense bodily and social precarity. Amid such precarity, the ordinary and its extra become inextricable as ordinariness emerges through a commonness of crisis.

Paper long abstract:

The experiences of severely injured soldiers living at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. reveal the emergence of ordinariness in a moment often understood as anything but. This ordinariness takes on a vital importance for soldiers during the months, and sometimes years, of their rehabilitation. But it is not smooth or steady in the way that ordinariness is sometimes seen to be. The lingering violences of war undermine the most seemingly solid facts of soldiers' physical and social worlds and threaten to upend the possibilities of a stable future. The inescapable public narratives of soldiers' extraordinary heroism, or their violent pathologies, insist that soldiers must be something out of the ordinary; marked for better or worse by the excesses of sovereign violence.

Distinguishing 'the everyday' as a rhythm of life opposed to crisis from 'ordinariness' as an emergent feeling of being in common with others even in its midst, this paper demonstrates how life in a space marked by violence makes stark the intimacy of the ordinary and the extraordinary. While living, rehabilitating, striving, rotting, recovering, waiting, and leaving Walter Reed, soldiers inhabit the razor thin space of the extra/ordinary, a cleave where life is tenuously suspended.

Panel W039
Producing the ordinary in the face of crisis