The Asylum and its Discontents: Reflections on Michal Heiman

Abstract: Michal Heiman’s project, Return: asylum (the Dress, 1855-2018), consists of photographs of women and men clothed in a dress similar to one worn by women inmates at the former Surrey County Lunatic Asylum in the 1850s. Traversing time, space, gender, race and institutional practices of asylum, the artist takes the viewers on a ride in a time machine that is not a technological devise but a discourse on memory and on owning the future: s/he who wears the dress has the potential to return Continue reading → Continue reading →

The Woman Who Walks Through Photographs

Abstract: This paper explores Michal Heiman’s creative strategy to imaginatively enter the space of asylum. Her recent project, Return: asylum (the Dress, 1855-2018), offers a new way to extend solidarity to people who have been subjugated by the institution. She actively enlists the public’s help in developing further strategies for connecting with those individuals who have been bereft of legal rights to property, family, or public hearing. This article explores Heiman’s crucial political intervention, which blends creative visual practice with object relations theory. Continue reading →

Dictates of Conscience in the Humanitarian System

Abstract: This article explores two recent books on the ethics of humanitarian action from the moral perspectives of the practitioner, and the tensions between personal desires to ‘do good’ and actual outcomes for suffering populations. The first work (Hugo Slim, Humanitarian Ethics) defends humanitarianism and prescribes correctives to its unintended negative consequences; the second (Liisa Malkki, The Need to Help) gives voice to Finnish aid workers who seek global connection and wider purpose through their work. Both authors frame humanitarian action in terms of an Continue reading → Continue reading →

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 →