The politics of disaster – University of Copenhagen

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The politics of disaster

In the last 30 years, disaster has become the dominant paradigm through which we interpret global political events. Be it the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, the devastation brought by the 2010 Haiti earthquake or the current European refugee situation, it seems, as political theorist Bonnie Honig has noted, it is "only through catastrophes that we can imagine political alternatives.”

 Since the end of the Cold War, disasters and the ethos of humanitarianism have emerged as privileged political and epistemological sites. Disasters serve as occasions to pass judgement on instances of violence, calamity and crime while the “self-evidence” of suffering has justified interventions both humanitarian and military. While not denying that disaster victims deserve assistance and aid, the workshop explores the contemporary “translation of social reality into a new vocabulary of suffering, compassion, assistance and responsibility to protect” (Didier Fassin, Humanitarian Reason) and questions its various political applications. What happens when we understand humans primarily as victims rather than as autonomous agents? Which principles has the vocabulary of the victim pushed into the background? How are politics possible in a social world defined by future disasters?

Program: Three invited speakers will each give a keynote lecture, followed by three parallel workshops that will address themes raised in the lectures in more depth.

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