This article explores the question of ethical relationality by examining the dynamics that unfold between death penalty defense practitioners and defendants who have been capitally charged. While the language of defense champions the need for empathy, I identify a potentially more mindful ethics realized in the work through its repudiation of what defense discourse terms normalization. Following Brecht, I name this ethics a form of alienation, a concept I elaborate by drawing upon philosopher Georges Canguilhem’s classic analysis of pathology. Alienation in this sense is a praxis that emerges by way of practitioners who are compelled through institutional necessity to relinquish their claims to authority by ceding the agency of knowledge to their defendants.

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