Drug mules and the limits of criminal law from the perspective of gender and vulnerability

Urquiza-Haas, Nayeli (2015) Drug mules and the limits of criminal law from the perspective of gender and vulnerability. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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This thesis probes the limits of concepts and practices in criminal law through an interdisciplinary analysis of vulnerability and gender, shown through the case study of women who act as drug mules and have been sentenced for drug importation offences in England and Wales. While this thesis critiques the current state of drug control and how international drug law characterizes drug trafficking as crime carried out by ‘evil’ and ‘greedy’ offenders, the enquiry is much broader because it questions role of criminal law in the severe punishment of drug mules. Discourses on the vulnerability of drug mules expose the difficulties of judging them solely as threatening traffickers and highlight the particular effects and situation of women participating in the international drug trade. Rather than accepting the victim-offender dichotomy given by legal categories, this thesis suggests that the ambivalent construction of drug mules’ legal subjectivity evinces a deep-seated contradiction in criminal law. The strict frameworks within criminal law labelling actors into either victims or offenders are ways in which the ambiguity intrinsic in human action and embodied social life are denied while shaping and perpetuating a heterosexist models of legal subjectivity. Drawing on phenomenology, critical theory, and feminist legal theory, the thesis offers a critique of legal subjectivity and the grounds of criminal law from the perspective of gender and vulnerability. Specifically, it maps the effects of disembodying legal personhood and notions of subjectivity in Western liberalism, noting in particular how they can lead to violent practices in law and politics which securitize physical and political bodies in pursuit of an ideal of invulnerability. Disembodiment is not only a modality of living which alienates embodiment from history, gender and relationality, but it also facilitates gendered forms of violence. While this project contests relations of invulnerability by rethinking embodied vulnerability, there are also important challenges for feminist scholars in foregrounding the body of women in criminal law. The interdisciplinary gender analysis presented here suggests that describing drug mules as vulnerable offenders alone cannot provide justice to these offenders because it can reify the logic of invulnerability. Thus, we need to understand what the modes of relations with the vulnerable body are and how these relationships to vulnerability are re-inscribed in legal, scholarly, and political discourse. Although vulnerability discourses can be totalized into existing norms of subjectivity in criminal law, namely feminized victims and masculinized agents, this project also gestures towards imagining vulnerability otherwise. This involves holding space for ethical ambiguity in the encounters between law and gender occurring in the context of neoliberal precarity and securitized drug policies.

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Thesis (PhD)
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24 Feb 2023 11:35
Last Modified:
12 Sep 2023 00:56