Governing Precarious Lives

A public seminar on the (visual) politics of helping.


WENDY S. HESFORD (The Ohio State University)

“Gendering Terror, Humanitarianism, and Human Security”

In this presentation, Wendy S. Hesford demonstrates how geopolitical discourses on the war on terror, neoliberal development, and humanitarianism map vulnerability onto certain bodies—but not others. Hesford examines the transnational mediation of the stories of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old shot by the Taliban for her advocacy for Pakistani girls’ right to education and Nadia Murad, twenty-one-year-old Yazidi survivor, who was captured when ISIS came to her village in northern Iraq in 2014. In its coverage of these two cases, international and US news media have mobilized gendered discourses of terror, humanitarianism, and human security. In this presentation, Hesford examines the structuring logics and circulating networks of these gendered discourses and how as activists, these women navigated the complex politics of victimhood at both regional and international levels. Hesford argues that although survivors’ stories may stand on their own as testimonies to Islamic terrorists’ atrocities, they are also part of intersecting, sometimes contradictory, narratives that advance particular political platforms. Chief among Hesford’s concerns is the pursuit of gender justice within these seemingly over-determined discursive terrains.

Wendy S. Hesford is Professor of English in the Department of English at The Ohio State University. She is the author of two monographs: Framing Identities: Autobiography and the Politics of Pedagogy, and Spectacular Rhetorics: Human Rights Visions, Recognitions, Feminisms. She is co-editor with Wendy Kozol of two collections: Haunting Violations: Feminist Criticism and the Crisis of the "Real", and Just Advocacy? Women's Human Rights, Transnational Feminisms, and the Politics of Representation. Her essays have appeared in a range of journals, Biography, Feminist Formations, Journal of Human Rights, Humanity, Modern Drama, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Sexualities, and TDR: Journal of Performance Studies. Hesford has held Visiting Scholar appointments at Emory Law School’s Institute on Vulnerability and the Human Condition; Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Human Rights; and Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. Her presentation is part of her current book project tentatively titled Exceptional Rhetorics: Children’s Rights, Humanity, and Humanitarianisms

Michaël Neuman (Médecins sans Frontières)

”European Migration Policy and the Criminalization of Humanitarian Agents” 

Michaël Neuman’s talk focuses on the 'perfect storm' that characterizes the policy of European states vis-à-vis migrants, to which not only migrants, but also helpers of all kinds are subject, and which leaves very little room of manoeuvre for humanitarian agents. Criminialisation of helpers is not a new phenomenon, but the discussion around the Code of Conduct from July 2017 gave it a new dimension. The incremental pressure on NGOs starting from late 2016 is, according to Michaël Neuman, only one element in a political project to close the central Mediterranean route. This project took its final shape with various dealings between Libya and EU member states including support to Libyan armed groups. With this approach European states may indeed - at a very high price in terms of protection - curb migration flows at least in the short term. But, Neuman argues, the current policy is not only a moral collapse. It is primarily proof of the unsustainable state of denial in which Europe finds itself.

Michaël Neuman is Director of studies at Crash / Médecins sans Frontières. He joined Médecins sans Frontières in 1999 and has worked both on the ground (Balkans, Sudan, Caucasus, West Africa) and in headquarters (New York, Paris as deputy director responsible for programmes). He has carried out research on issues of immigration and geopolitics. He is the co-editor of Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: The MSF Experience (2011) and Saving Lives and Staying Alive: Humanitarian Security in the Age of Risk Management (2016).

Attendance is free and open to all. Anyone interested in attending should register via email to Maja Höhn.

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