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Department of Social Anthropology


Dr Patrick McKearney, (Max-Cam Research Centre, University of Cambridge)

Disabling Violence: Sacrifice and Responsibility in a Christian Care Home for the Cognitively Impaired

This paper explores the effect that different models of sacrifice have on the way that people give and take responsibility for physical aggression in L’Arche, a religious charity that runs care homes in which those with cognitive disabilities live in community with those who support them.

Carers in L’Arche are accountable to the state for protecting those they support from the violent dynamics of abuse and scapegoating that still haunt contemporary care. Their work is regulated as a professional moral sacrifice in which they have responsibility for supporting those with disabilities without seeking anything directly in return. L’Arche adds to these demands a competing Christian vision of sacrifice as it encourages carers to renounce altruism and form mutual friendships with those they support – the aim being to create a communal life that exemplifies how to ‘live gently in a violent world’.

In this paper, I investigate how carers navigate these different obligations when people with cognitive disabilities are physically aggressive to them. I demonstrate that being on the receiving end of violence from those they are meant to support and form friendships with is uniquely troubling for carers’ attempts both to live up to each of these sacrificial ideals and to hold them together. By focusing on how carers experience and navigate the collision and collapse of their most pressing legal and ethical commitments, I explore the practical effects that different sacrificial patterns have on the dynamics of responsibility in this fraught environment.

Friday, 9 February, 2018 - 16:15 to 18:00
Event location: 
Edmund Leach Room Department of Social Anthropology Free School Lane, Cambridge