Is There a “Modern” Natural Law Theory? Notes on the History of Human Rights

Historians of human rights would do well to clarify, or simply to recognize, which aspect of human rights they are writing about, since the field covers such a wide array of subjects. Samuel Moyn, for instance, is often read as making arguments about the language or content of human rights, when he has claimed only to be addressing the history of practices.1 Conversely, studies that trace human rights discourse back to antiquity mostly sidestep analyses of practices and tend to focus on far more general Continue reading → Continue reading →

Big Leagues: Specters of Milton and Republican International Justice between Shakespeare and Marx

Surprisingly enough, discussions of Hamlet have recently become deeply intertwined with debates about international law and international justice. A precipitating cause is Jacques Derrida’s late work Specters of Marx, in which Shakespeare’s Hamlet played a crucial organizing role. Because of Specters of Marx, whose subtitle is The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, Hamlet is now, in Nicholas Royle’s words, “an exemplary text for thinking together about the current state of the world.”1 What has also emerged as scholars Continue reading → Continue reading →

Introduction: Hybrid Spaces

Recent decades have seen a proliferation of refugee camps; today there are more than one thousand “camps” in operation, catering for more than twelve million displaced people. The circumstances and features of these spaces vary widely—what we commonly describe as refugee camps may be as diverse as the semi-permanent Palestinian camps in the Middle East, temporary shelters set up by migrants in Calais, labeled “illegal” by the French authorities, or evacuation centers for victims of Hurricane Katrina in the United States.1 On other occasions one Continue reading → Continue reading →

Camps of Containment: A Genealogy of the Refugee Camp

Introduction As forced migration becomes an increasingly prominent global challenge, political responses to it demand closer scrutiny. This essay considers one of the most widely used responses to refugee flows, the refugee camp. For the past seventy years camps have been a primary response to forced migration. In 2016, several hundred camps and settlements existed worldwide, housing more than twelve million refugees and internally displaced.1 From the Algerian desert to the Thai forest, these camps vary in almost every dimension. Some are the size of Continue reading → Continue reading →

Spaces of Legal Ambiguity: Refugee Camps and Humanitarian Power

Introduction Scholars have long grappled with defining and conceptualizing refugee camps from a number of disciplines—political science, anthropology, human geography; few, however, have approached the issue from the perspective of international law.1 Because the refugee camp “label” may confer an array of legal, political, and bureaucratic implications for refugee protection, this lack of attention to refugee camps by international lawyers is rather peculiar. Traditionally, international human rights lawyers have focused on spaces often very similar to the idea of the refugee camp: places of confinement Continue reading → Continue reading →

The Refugee Camp as Warscape: Violent Cosmologies, “Rebelization,” and Humanitarian Governance in Kakuma, Kenya

Introduction Refugee camps and violence do not go well together, yet they are closely related. By intention, the camp is a place isolated from the violence of homeland wars. It is a separation: a controlled and politics-free space apart from both the homeland and the host country. This externalization is problematic. Instead of perceiving of violence as something exceptional to the camp, I argue that it should be understood as an essential aspect in its organization. In this essay I approach the refugee camp as Continue reading → Continue reading →

Camp, Ghetto, Zinco, Slum: Lebanon’s Transitional Zones of Emplacement

Worldwide there are more than one thousand camps in operation today, catering for an estimated fifteen million displaced people, mainly refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The sheer number of formal camps and encampments is staggering and makes it important to examine their humanitarian management.1 The importance of understanding camps, their growth, proliferation, and functions, is one reason why researchers have turned to the seminal works of Giorgio Agamben.2 However, recently there has been a growing critique of Agamben’s totalitarian camp studies, especially when applied Continue reading → Continue reading →

Afterword: What Contemporary Camps Tell Us about the World to Come

Our knowledge and understanding of contemporary camps developed significantly at the end of the 1990s, and the relative importance of this field of study today reflects not only the significance of encampment in the world but also the political concerns it raises. The history of encampment can be captured through some landmark studies (in French and in English) referenced here. In order to attempt a genealogical reading of the current literature on camps, I will outline three arguments that are central to the issues tackled Continue reading → Continue reading →

Evocative Objects: A Sexual Violence Primer

In her 2007 collection of essays Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, Sherry Turkle asked her contributors to explore their emotional and intellectual connections with everyday objects. According to the introduction, her book seeks to clarify “the inseparability of thought and feeling in our relationship to things.”1 The various chapters dwell on each of the authors’ felt relationship with the given object—a discarded pair of shoes, a beloved toy, a favorite car. The overall emphasis lies less on the instrumental power of each object than Continue reading → Continue reading →