Research Cluster 3: Territories, Mobilities, Sovereignties

The Center welcomes interdisciplinary projects exploring questions of space, power, and sovereignty, projects of political visualization , the politics and problematics of international humanitarian aid, and the histories of mobility and circulation in a variety of historical and ideological contexts.

The study of imperial sovereignties and their extended consequences is a major site for approaching such questions. Research on concepts of Eurafrique/Eurafrica that circulated in totalitarian as well as democratic contexts is but one example of the rethinking of space and territory (with its collateral effects on notions of citizenship) enabled both by imperialism and by the attempt to compensate for its decline. When the end of empire made France and other European states more "national" and territorially bounded, they were already negotiating to cede sovereign functions to European bodies, eventually including currency and border regulation. Debates about the sovereign attributes of some international bodies-­--­-like the World Trade Organization—and the future and agency of national states also build on this complex set of questions.

The history of humanitarian aid presents another node for the examination of such issues. Anthropologists and sociologists can trace its development from colonial times to its engagements with postwar development schemes to the challenges presented to nationally-­-based aid in an age of globalization. Questions of citizenship and sovereignty come into play here, with new research on refugees and displaced persons in the forefront. The imbrications of the humanitarian ideologies that subtend state and international aid organizations with biopolitical and geopolitical thinking and the “politics of life” are clarified in such histories and ethnographies of humanitarian aid.

The aporias and blind spots of both imperialism and humanitarianism are revealed in such investigations, which have a complement in visual culture and media studies’ inquiries into the visualization of catastrophes, histories of political visualization and their association with projects of population regulation and extra-­-territorial intervention, and the ways visual culture, and documentary film in particular, become sites for the continuation of expansionist energies in a decolonizing age.

The history of mobilities, which has received much attention from philosophers and social scientists of late, provides another research path into these questions. Conceived out of the accelerating spaces and temporalities of globalization, mobility studies as a paradigm today needs historicization. The impact of human movement on citizenship and notions of collective belonging; the problematics of borderlands as transient spaces; the mobilities of those who put into place transnational and international humanitarian aid; the circulations enabled by imperialism, often in contradiction with nationalist ideologies; and the phenomenon of virtual mobilities, as used in military interventions and in sites of mediatized catastrophes, are among the many avenues of research that can productively be pursued within this theme.