Closings and Openings: On (Im)Possibility of Translation

Azra Hromadžić is Associate Professor and O’Hanley Faculty Scholar in the Department of Anthropology at Syracuse University. She has research interests in the anthropology of international policy in the context of state-making in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her book, Citizens of an Empty Nation: Youth and State-making in Postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina (University of Pennsylvania Press), is an ethnographic investigation of the internationally directed postwar intervention policies in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the response of local people, especially youth, to these policy efforts. The book was translated into Serbian in 2017 (Samo Bosne nema: Mladi i građenje države u posleratnoj Bosni i Hercegovini. Beograd: Biblioteka XX Vek). Several years ago, Azra initiated a new project that ethnographically researches aging, care and social services in the context of postwar and postsocialist Bosnia and Herzegovina. She co- edited (with Monika Palmberger) a volume titled Care Across Distance: Ethnographic Explorations of Aging and Migration which was published with Berghahn Books in 2018. In 2017 she began a new research project on riverine politics, pedagogies and infrastructure in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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Nationalist Conspiracies

UCD School of Sociology, staff portraits – Professor Sinisa Malesevic

Siniša Malešević is a Professor of Sociology the University College, Dublin and Senior Fellow and at CNAM, Paris. His recent books include Grounded Nationalisms: A Sociological Analysis (Cambridge UP, 2019), The Rise of Organised Brutality: A Historical Sociology of Violence (Cambridge UP, 2017) and Nation-States and Nationalisms: Organisation, Ideology and Solidarity (Polity Press, 2013). His publications have been translated into eleven languages.

 

 

People who do not believe in conspiracy theories find the conspiratorial thinking ridiculous  or bizarre. The conspiracy theorists are often deemed to be psychologically unstable, gullible, or delusional. Several psychological studies have indicated that individuals who strongly believe in conspiracies have schizotypal personality disorder and tend to infer meaning and intention where there is none. In a recent experiment on the behaviour of inanimate objects schizotypal individuals would regularly attribute intention and motivation to the randomly moving triangle shapes on a computer screen (Hart and Graether 2018). While identifying a psychological profile can help us understand the frame of mind of a typical conspiracist this research tool is inadequate for explaining conspiracy theory as a mass phenomenon. When conspiracists remain on the margins of society they can be dismissed as psychologically unstable or paranoid. However, when millions of individuals start believing in conspiracies and when this interpretative frame becomes a dominant social discourse then psychological accounts will not suffice.

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Moral accountability and implicated subjects from Yugoslavia to Trump

Jelena Subotić is Professor of Political Science at Georgia State University in Atlanta. She is the author of Hijacked Justice: Dealing with the Past in the Balkans (Cornell University Press, 2009), Yellow Star, Red Star: Holocaust Remembrance after Communism (Cornell University Press, 2019) and more than twenty scholarly articles on identity, political memory, and politics of the Western Balkans. Her introduction to Yugosplaining is here.

 

We are living through multiple, overlapping global disasters. Even before the pandemic hit, the successes of the far right and nativist movements, the establishment of permanent orders of displacement and abuse, the destruction of institutions and marginalization of expertise, the epistemic closure of completely destabilized truth regimes, have all created a permanent state of anxiety and crisis. The current global health catastrophe has only accelerated these trends.

For those of us from the former Yugoslavia, crisis and anxiety never really went away – they just morphed into different things to be anxious about. If anything, they probably heightened a sense of permanent crisis and sharpened our antennas to detect the early signs of a rolling disaster, perhaps earlier than others would. We act as the Vanguards of Catastrophe, if you will.

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On (not) knowing the future: prediction, legitimation, and the Yugoslav crisis

Jana Bacevic is Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology at Durham University (starting July 2020). Previously, she was research associate at the University of Cambridge, Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Aarhus, and Lecturer at the Central European University in Budapest. Her work is in social theory, sociology of knowledge, and politics of knowledge production; she has published extensively on the relationship between knowledge, education and processes of social and political transformation. Her book, ‘From Class to Identity: Politics of Education Reforms in Former Yugoslavia’ was published by Central European University Press in 2014. Currently, she is writing a book on epistemic attachment and politics of prediction.

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Yugosplaining the World  

I’ve been doing Disorder of Things things for a decade and “Yugosplaining the World” is my favourite thing to date. It is a symposium of sorts, one with many beginnings, most of which have everything to do with war, dispossession, displacement, and exile. A panel and dinner at the Millennium Conference in London, which took place right between the Brexit and Trump votes, was significant, as was a series of “smrt fašizmu” tweets and e-mails Aida and Jelena sent out around the time of the Peter Handke Nobel Prize fiasco. I came up with the working title, which inevitably (got) stuck (sorry). Adi Džumhur’s generous offer to host us at the UNC’s Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies came next, but Covid-19 messed this plan up. Huge thanks go to Milomir Kovačević Strašni for giving us permission to use some of his legendary photographs (Il était une fois la Yougoslavie, 2018).

There are eighteen posts in total, some still coming in. Accordingly, I will be updating this page daily for the next three weeks (see Schedule & Table of Contents below).

Milomir Kovačević Strašni photo: Ušće, Beograd, 1988.

 

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An Essay on Pandemic Borders: From ‘Immunitary Dispositif’ to Affirmative Ethics

An eighth entry in our coronacrisis series, from Umut Ozguc. Umut is postdoctoral research fellow in International Ethics at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of New South Wales, Australia. She is a critical IR scholar working on critical security and border studies, settler colonialism, spatial theory, resistance and posthumanism. Currently, she is working on a research project on the ecological impacts of border walls. Her current research aims to challenge the overly anthropocentric focus of the contemporary debates over borders and mobility.


Those applying for temporary or permanent residency in Australia know well that you can only be granted a visa if you meet the health requirements set by the Australian Government. That is to mean, you should not pose a threat to the public health of the nation. The Department of Home Affairs website states that  it says, if you have any health condition it should not pose a significant cost to the Australian community ‘in terms of the health care or community services required to manage [the] condition.’ The result of the health examination is not revealed to applicants; it is a confidential document used only for migration purposes and a powerful document that as determines whether you are eligible to cross the border. I cannot recall how many times I had to undergo a medical examination for my visa applications, but I do remember the anxiety I felt each time. The medical examination is not a neutral process; it is a performative act that classifies, occupies and eventually transforms your body into a border- line between you and Australia.

Borders are not lines on the map, they are an affective experience produced by our everyday movements, narratives and codes that simultaneously define our relations with the world. We tend to think of borders as legal administrative lines separating sovereign units. They are indeed lines, but not simply legal and administrative ones. And they are certainly not straight lines, but floating ones that could act as boundaries between life and death. For some, borders are everywhere. For others, they are imperceptible. That is why, as Achille Mbembe (2019, 99) suggests, it is necessary to talk about the process of ‘borderization’—how certain spaces are turned into ‘impassable places’ for certain people, while always being accessible to others.

This essay is about how, during the current public health crisis, certain bodies are turned into a border between life and death and how different practices of ‘borderization’ continue to operate to intensify global inequalities, racism and narcissistic celebration of established modes of politics and its economy of violence. My aim is to define the pandemic border from the perspective of those who experience it. I argue that the pandemic border, like all other borders, is not a static construction having a final form, but an affective experience. It changes our perception of time and space and is altered by those perceptions. It shapes our bodily experiences and is affected by our bodily movements. And, perhaps most importantly, the border determines who we are and is determined by our encounters with others. In the contemporary operation of biopolitical borders, COVID-19 operates as a political actor, as an ‘actant’, which is, as Bennett (2010, 9) reads it, ‘neither an object nor a subject, but as an ‘intervener’,  or a ‘parasite’ (Serres, 2007), an intermediary, a mediator that causes disruption and a new system within the system. Continue reading

Are We at War? The Rhetoric of War in the Coronavirus Pandemic

The seventh contribution to our growing collection of writings on Covid-19 and this moment of crisis. Federica Caso is currently a teaching assistant at the University of Queensland, where she also completed her PhD in 2019. Her expertise is on militarisation and war memory in liberal societies. She also works on the politics of culture, art, and gender. Her most recent publication is titled “The Political Aesthetics of the Body of the Soldier in Pain” which features in Catherine Baker’s edited volume  Making War on Bodies.


In this pandemic, the war rhetoric has spread as fast as the coronavirus itself. Recently, US President Donald Trump has characterised himself as a wartime president. Hospitals are preparing for war and healthcare workers are heralded as the frontline soldiers in the war against COVID-19. Economists ask how the coronavirus war economy will change the world. Wartime terms such as shelter-in-place, panic-buying, and lockdown have entered our daily and most mundane conversations.

The language of war is so normalised that in a recent episode of the New York Times’ podcast The Daily, a medical doctor answers questions from US American children about the coronavirus using war metaphors. We have come to believe that these children, aged no more than 6 and raised in ‘peacetime’ and prosperity, naturally know about invasion, bombing, weapons, and strategic warfare. We have come to believe that this is the best language to teach them about life processes.

It is important to pay attention to the language that we use to describe the coronavirus pandemic because it determines how we respond to it.

The War Metaphor

This is not the first time that the language of war is stretched to contexts that are not legalistically wartimes. In the last fifty years, we have heard of the war of drugs, the war on poverty, the war on crime, and the war on plastic.

War is a powerful metaphor. It is an effective, immediate, and emotive tool to communicate urgency to the general public. It also conveys a sense of struggle and righteousness that can justify exceptional measures.

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We, the Subjects of Surveillance: In Conversation with Giselle Stanborough

The sixth entry in our coronacrisis series, an exhibition commentary at a distance from Charlotte Epstein. Charlotte is Associate Professor at the University of Sydney, where her work straddles surveillance studies, international relations and political theory. Her latest book is entitled Birth of the State: The Place of the Body in Crafting Modern Politics will be coming out later this year with Oxford University Press. All photos included below were taken by Mark Pokorny.


In early 2020, I was commissioned to write a text for a forthcoming exhibition Cinopticon by a Sydney-based performance artist, Giselle Stanborough. The exhibition was just about to open, and then from one day in March to the next, along with the rest of the globe, Sydney woke to a world that was retreating into itself under the onslaught of a virus. As I watched the cultural life of my city shrivel, I realised that, while the exhibition could no longer happen, the conversation that it had opened up must, since the profound intensification of surveillance is one of the effects of the fight against the pandemic.

What does it mean to be subjects under a constant, unrelenting surveillance, one to which we also, however, seem to willingly contribute? This is the contemporary paradox Giselle Stanborough wrestles with, in ways that only an artist knows to, by joining dots we had not thought to connect; yet a joining that resonates somewhere deep in our minds and our beings. Before considering how Stanborough invites us to join her in grappling with this tension, let us take a step back and consider where we have gotten to, in our states of surveillance.

When Michel Foucault first identified ‘surveillance’ as a historically distinctive and highly efficient mode of social and political control that works from within, by the quasi-magical effect of someone knowing that they are being watched, the phenomenon was still limited to closed spaces: the prison, the school, the factory, or the army barracks. ‘Discipline’ is how he termed this social power that makes someone toe the line under the gaze. He defined the kind of space where it is deployed as ‘the panopticon’, borrowing the term from Jeremy Bentham, who invented the model of the prison organised around a central watchtower that offers an all-seeing (‘pan-optic’) vantage point from which to see without being seen. In Foucault’s time, however, the surveilled subject was the prisoner, the student, the factory worker, the army recruit, or the office clerk. Today it is every one of us. The panopticon is no longer confined to bounded or, for that matter, to physical spaces. It has become digitised and diffused throughout the virtual spaces that we (or our data doubles) now inhabit and where we (or they, rather) meet others. The use of the fingerprint for identification has been transformed from a repressive prison technology to the key that unlocks our phones. This little object we carry around in our pockets and to which we have become so attached is also the most effective of disciplinary devices. It monitors our every step, and how long we sleep or peer at the screen for. Through it, we put our lives, our tastes, our thoughts, and our moods on display for all our friends, and those who are not our friends, to see. By it, we are constantly solicited to react and to emote via ever more ‘applications’ in order to generate very personal information about us that is relentlessly beamed off to the Googles, Apples, Facebooks, and Amazons of this world, or ‘GAFAs’, as the French term them.

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The Body Politics of Covid-19

The fifth entry in our coronacrisis series, from Kandida Purnell. Kandida is Assistant Professor of International Relations at Richmond, the American International University in London. Having previously published on the body politics of aspects of the Global War on Terror, war commemoration, and army/artist collaboration, Kandida is currently finalising her monograph Rethinking the Body in Global Politics (Forthcoming 2020, Routledge Interventions). Kandida is also continuing to collaborate with Natasha Danilova and Emma Dolan on the Carnegie-funded ‘War Commemoration, Military Culture, and Identity Politics in Scotland’ project while her solo research into Bringing Bodies Back: Repatriation and War Performance within Forever War is ongoing.


Bodies are contested sites of global politics. Some of you realised this before I did; some of you might want to know more about body politics; and some of you may not be used to thinking about bodies and ‘embodiment’ (that is, the unending and intensely contested process through which bodies come to be) at all. You might also be wondering if and/or how these things (bodies and embodiment) ‘belong’ within the discipline of International Relations (IR).  This post is for you all, and reluctantly yet hopefully ‘uses’ the Covid-19 pandemic and responses to it as a way into and forward for the study of body politics within IR and beyond.

Given the gravity of events unfolding around us and written in haste, this short post is intended as a ‘teach in’ on and introduction to thinking about body politics highlighting and providing some initial analyses of two interrelated, crucial, and particularly disturbing aspects of responses to the Covid-19 pandemic currently playing out. In part 1 I explain and discuss the metaphoricity of the body politic in relation to the ‘British’ response to Covid-19 and in part 2, and again within the UK context (due to my situation and for ‘convenience’ within the scope of this blog post) I discuss the necropolitics of body (un-)counting. This analysis is preceded by the brief contextualisation and situation of my thoughts within existing IR and other literature and the provision of a brief overview of my arguments on body politics to date (feel free to skip this bit and jump straight to the Covid-19 analysis).

 On Bodies, briefly

Bodies are contested sites of global politics. However, for the most part, IR has left the politics out of bodies by denying and/or occluding intensely contested processes of (re)embodiment while preferring to analyse, scrutinise, and politicise, the contest other units arriving with and/or comprised of already made bodies (namely “man, the state, and war”). In my endeavour to ‘rethink the body in global politics’ (this it the title of my first book forthcoming 2020), I have therefore followed some in IR – namely, but not only, Lauren Wilcox (2015) on bodies and violence, Stefanie Fishel (2017) on the body politic, Jessica Auchter (2014) and Tom Gregory (2016) on dead bodies and body counting, and Jenny Edkins on missing bodies (2011) and trauma (2003) – but also many from beyond. These include Achille Mbembe (2003 and 2019) on Necropolitics, Sara Ahmed on emotion bodies, wilfulness, and use (2004, 2014, and 2019), Judith Butler on performativity (1993), precariousness (2004), and vulnerability (2015), Diana Coole (2005) on agency, Jane Bennett (2010) on the vibrancy of matter, and Kathleen Stewart (2007) and Teresa Brennan (2004) on affect.

Through this theory and intensive empirical research (see Purnell 2015, 2018, and forthcoming 2020), I have described bodies as performative, lively, and ontologically insecure – always a process and always in process and explained and underlined the role of emotion/affect in this. However, in my previous studies – into for example the 2013-2015 Guantanamo Bay hunger strike and treatment of suffering and dead American soldiers – I have researched and written about extremely exposed and very obviously contested bodies. However, I have done this as a means to reveal the more subtle ways and logics informing how every body is contested as a site of no ‘less’ amounts of global politics. As a crisis concerning everybody, the Covid-19 pandemic has therefore done a lot of work for me – by revealing the management, manipulation, and pervasive political interventions into the lives/deaths and (re)embodiments of not only ‘extremely’ placed and exposed bodies, but including the ‘everyday’ bodies of you and I. In the following paragraphs, intended to demonstrate the merits of thinking/re-thinking the body in global politics, I provide some initial analyses highlighting particular ways bodies are being (re)produced, (ab)used, and contested through responses to Covid-19 I am currently witnessing in the UK.

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Feeling (in and out of time)

The fourth in our coronacrisis series.


Andes_In_A_Crystal_Ball_(190455783)

Photograph: ‘Andes in a Crystal Ball’ by Luis Ezcurdia. Sourced from Wikimedia Commons. CC-BY-SA-3.0.

On Monday, my day began at 7am, giving feedback on a PhD student’s research proposal and ended some fifteen hours later, when I gave up trying to contact a relative who is locked down alone and I finally managed to calm the insistent panic that they were not ok. They were ok, they just forgot that we had set up a call. Lost track of time.

I learned about the three seasons of the Ancient Egyptian year and the key features of their agricultural production (Year 7 Human Society and Its Environment) and how to design a fair and reliable experiment (Year 7 Science). I reminded my kid to log in to his Google classroom on the hour every hour and perform his virtual attendance, because his school has been very clear that this is the only thing that they care about during these extraordinary times and it takes less emotional energy to play by their rules than it does to point out all of the ways in which their rules surely don’t apply at this time. To this time.

I hosted the first weekly virtual coffee morning for colleagues in my Department and listened to PhD students tell us about how hard it is juggling childcare, space to work, and in many cases completely redesigning their project because it’s clear that the fieldwork they have planned for this year is likely no longer possible. I suggested that it was important to give these students space to grieve their lost projects, their other selves.

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