Dead bodies (do not) matter

Edinburgh, October 2018 From migrants facing death at borders around the world, to the different chapters of the “War on Terror,” to the politics of post-genocide, our era seems to be marked by the constant politicisation of death. Social and physical death are increasingly intertwined in various spectacles of horror. Clearly, not all deaths are treated equally. Trenchant questions remain over what kinds of death are deemed morally, political and legally significant; and what kinds of death are rendered visible or invisible, and with what Continue reading →

The global war on migration, human shields, and the erosion of the civilian

This post is part of a series on politics in the face of death. For an introduction and links to the other posts, please see here. From the Mediterranean Sea to the US-Mexico border and all the way to the Australian coast line, for some years now states have been deploying military forces to arrest migration and refugee flows. In several countries, the humanitarian approach used to manage the influx of migrants has been increasingly combined with a military one, with some governments waging a Continue reading →

Politics, Deathwork, and the Rights of the Dead

This post is part of a series on politics in the face of death. For an introduction and links to the other posts, please see here. I want to address, here, the dead body itself. Not just any dead body, but the mass dead victims of politically animated atrocity, some of which, sometimes, become the subject of large-scale justice processes, such as those in Argentina, Rwanda and Bosnia. These dead are not only the objects of humanitarian concern and legal action, but also the site Continue reading →

Spectres of Death: Exhuming the Human Remains of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda

This post is part of a series on politics in the face of death. For an introduction and links to the other posts, please see here. In the mid-1990s an extremist political faction within the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government successfully mobilised a large militia and many ordinary citizens in the organised extermination of Rwandans identified as ethnic Tutsi, as well as Hutu who resisted the regime’s genocidal intention. Few escaped, with Rwandans of both determined and ambiguous ethnic identity and political affiliation drawn into the conflict. Continue reading →

The Mediterranean Mobility Conflict: Violence and anti-Violence at the Borders of Europe

This post is part of a series on politics in the face of death. For an introduction and links to the other posts, please see here. The ongoing, large-scale death of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea has come to play a central role in the politics of migration and borders. The disturbing presence of bodies washed ashore after a shipwreck, as well as the haunting absence of those who have been swallowed by the depths of the sea, have crystallized ongoing political debates in ambivalent Continue reading →

Against Self-Determination

It is often claimed that anticolonial nationalism and self-determination have a coeval history, indeed, that self-determination is the principle through which anticolonialists would achieve their declared goal of independence from colonialism.1 The story goes that not only have anticolonialism and self-determination emerged around the same historical juncture but they are also imbricated in one another, so much that the colonial recognition of one automatically leads to the colonial recognition of the other. Yet, on closer inspection, this seems to be a misleading narrative. Not only Continue reading → Continue reading →

Promise-Making and the History of Human Rights: Reading Arendt with Danto

Dear Mr. President: This is to draw attention to the cases of a group of colleagues of ours, historians well known in the academic community, all of whom are now in prison . . . Every scholar has a vested interest in this matter. Faithfully, Hannah Arendt (Letter to Augusto Pinochet, November 27, 1974, writing at the urging of an Amnesty International chapter in Brussels)1 Dear Dr. Kissinger: We noted with pleasure the implication in your conversation with Mr. Moyers that you are actively intervening Continue reading → Continue reading →

The Art of Chameleon Politics: From Colonial Servant to International Development Expert

In 1974, Kenneth Sargent, a former British colonial servant turned United Nations employee, received a prestigious award from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for his services in development work.1 At the award ceremony at the FAO headquarters in Rome, Sargent’s résumé was distributed to delegates. It deliberately glossed over his colonial service. What should we read into this omission? Scholars have described and criticized international development as the old European civilizing mission under new guise, outlasting the formal end of colonialism. In that Continue reading → Continue reading →

The Politics of Neutrality: Cimade, Humanitarianism, and State Power in Modern France

In its 2008 annual report on the status of “centers and locations of administrative retention” for undocumented migrants (les sans-papiers) in France, the French Protestant aid organization Cimade accused Brice Hortefeux, the French minister of immigration, of engaging in a dubious and polemical attempt to sanction the organization for its increasingly harsh critiques of the government’s policies and practices toward these populations.1 Between 1984 and 2007, Cimade had been the only nongovernmental organization (NGO) to have access inside the twenty-five centres de rétention administrative (administrative Continue reading → Continue reading →