Reading Cornelia Rau: At the Limits of Intelligibility


  • Susanne Gannon University of Western Sydney
  • Sue Saltmarsh University of Western Sydney


immigration, mental illness, illiegal immigrants, detention, media


This paper draws on Judith Butlerââ¬â¢s recent work concerning notions of intelligibility and viability to consider a recent case of immigration detention in Australia, in which a mentally ill Australian resident, Cornelia Rau, was detained as a suspected illegal immigrant for a period of 10 months before her case came to the attention of the Australian media and public. In this article, we trace the ways in which media releases issued on behalf of the Minister for Immigration elide notions of mental illness with notions of delinquency and criminality, to construct a wrongfully detained woman as the ungovernable, hence unintelligible other. We also trace the deployment of Rauââ¬â¢s unintelligibility as a justification for her unlawful detention, and explore the ways in which her detention can be understood in terms of corporeal vulnerability and the lawââ¬â¢s inscription on the body. Finally, we consider the ways in which critique and dissent in the public sphere are foreclosed through government rhetorics, and argue that our own intelligibility and viability as human is contingent on the responsibility we take for those with whom we share what Butler refers to as a ââ¬Ëcommon human vulnerabilityââ¬â¢.

Author Biographies

Susanne Gannon, University of Western Sydney

Dr. Susanne Gannon is a lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney. She is a member of the Narrative, Discourse, and Pedagogy Research Unit. Her research draws on feminist poststructuralist theory, and concerns the production of gendered subjectivities, with an emphasis on writing and the textual production of self and others. She co-authored chapters on ââ¬ÅFeminism/ Poststructuralismââ¬Â in Research Methods in the Social Sciences (2005), and ââ¬ÅPostmodern, Poststructural and Critical Perspectivesââ¬Â for the Handbook of Feminist Research: Theory and Praxis (2006) and the book Doing collective biography: Investigating the production of subjectivity (2006) with Professor Bronwyn Davies. She coauthored the chapter ââ¬ÅSustaining language/ Existing threats: Resistance and rhetoric in Australian refugee discoursesââ¬Â with Dr. Sue Saltmarsh for the book Judith Butler in conversation: Analysing the texts and talk of everyday life (2007).

Sue Saltmarsh, University of Western Sydney

Dr. Sue Saltmarsh is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, where she is working on the Enabling Pedagogies project with Professor Bronwyn Davies and other members of the Narrative, Discourse, and Pedagogy Research Unit. Her research is primarily concerned with the complicit role of institutions in the production of educational disadvantage, racism, violence, and social exclusion. Her doctoral dissertation, "Complicit Institutions: Representation, Consumption & the Production of School Violence," was undertaken in the Department of Critical & Cultural Studies at Macquarie University and was awarded the Australian Association of Research in Education (AARE) Doctoral Thesis Award 2005. Recent publications include ââ¬Å'White pages' in the academy: plagiarism, consumption and racist rationalitiesââ¬Â, in International Journal of Educational Integrity; and ââ¬Åââ¬ËSpecial Sportââ¬â¢ for Misfits & Losers: Educational triage and the constitution of schooled subjectivitiesââ¬Â, co-authored with Dr. Deborah Youdell, in the International Journal of Inclusive Education.