MIRIAM TICKTIN University of Michigan Where ethics and politics meet: The group Act-Up Paris told me compassion in an emergent ethical configuration that . of the Saint Bernard church in Paris. bor even while purporting to be apolitical. Feb 1, MIRIAM TICKTIN. University of dent of the gay-rights activist group Act-Up Paris told me that he had . ment that the joining of ethics and politics actually limits African immigrants of the Saint Bernard church in Paris. Dec 22, student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, interviews Miriam Ticktin, Thank you so much for doing this interview with me. Miriam Ticktin (MT): As Ann Stoler has argued, some of the most In the context of my own work, I see the figure of the rape victim is predicated on moral innocence and.
miriam ticktin | The New School for Social Research
The animal was in this sense, the latest incarnation of the innocent victim. The big challenge for me has been figuring out how this argument has changed now that we have largely entered into an illiberal political world.
In the US, we see innocence amplified in relation to the fetus, for instance, but how else? I am thinking more about how innocence comes to play, perhaps counter-intuitively, not simply to define the victim, but to prop up power. I am interested in how those in power capture innocence and use it to purify or absolve themselves. Your work has been quite influential for me in thinking about the politics of sexual violence at the intersection of law, medicine, and activism.
Are there methodological, practical, or ethical considerations we should keep in mind? I actually teach a class on the intersections of law and medicine, and would be happy to share the syllabus with anyone interested. The one piece of methodological advice I can offer is about how to make sense of the people who are trying to do good, but work for systems that may also perpetuate inequality such as NGOs, medical systems or legal institutions.
Rather than blaming individuals, I would try to understand them as part of larger systems of power, and see their work as both enabled and constrained by these institutions.
Anthropological work can shed light on the limits of state and other institutions and expert discourses, without criticizing individuals who are part of these institutions, or reading their actions through the lens of individual intentionality.
I faced this issue with the French state nurses I engaged with in my fieldwork for Casualties of Care; I respected them enormously, as they cared deeply for those who were disenfranchised, and they were tremendously hardworking and generous.
And yet, they were perpetuating a system of inequality by way of humanitarian exceptions for a few at the expense of many others.
My advice is quite simple, really -- to understand such actions as part of larger structures and systems. Your new article begins with an image that became iconic of the Syrian refugee crisis, which seems to me to signal a public and political urgency of the project. What do you see as the role of ethnography in addressing global issues of inequality, violence, or suffering?
In other words, what is your take on emerging calls for a publicly engaged anthropology? I have long felt the obligation to engage with non-academic publics — but of course, now more so than ever. It is not as easy as it may seem, though, since we are trained to write in a language that is often inaccessible to non-academic publics. A few years ago, I worked with several of my feminist colleagues to get funding to do workshops with the Op-Ed Project, which aims to increase the number of women and minorities contributing to commentary forums and to larger public debates by teaching us how to pitch ideas and write for different audiences.
I recently published an Op-Ed in Truthout about this. This movement has been strengthened under the Trump presidency and deployed in new political forms, from sanctuary cities and states to campuses, churches and faith-based institutions, restaurants, and even arts spaces. We have worked in solidarity with other universities in New York City and with community organizations in NYC more broadly. Speaking specifically to the question of how scholarship can be brought to bear here, my colleagues and I received some funding to step back and think about the concept of sanctuary, and its political limits and possibilities, working with activists and others touched by these issues.
One of the great things about the Sanctuary movement is that it offers us a flexible political concept: Yet, as I have learned from ethnographic research, sanctuary — like humanitarianism — risks playing into a logic of exceptional compassion and care, rather than of equality. The problem with humanitarianism as it has been instituted in the world today is that it is one-sided, unequal. It is the same more privileged people who help, and the same more disenfranchised people who require help.
In this sense, humanitarianism actually works to sediment unequal power relations and to fix understandings of others as unable to care for themselves or to manage their affairs. Sanctuary also risks helping people one by one and reinforcing power, rather than grappling with systemic issues.
And architectures of sanctuary can open the way to more nefarious pursuits, insofar as these spaces of protection can also be sites of containment — that is, sanctuaries presume a form of bordering.
Nevertheless, the Sanctuary movement has already shown itself to be extremely powerful, rethinking basic concepts like local sovereignty. The question for me is how far can the concept of sanctuary go in forging new political forms and new possibilities for equality, mobility, and belonging?
To this end, informed by ethnographic work, my colleagues and I are pushing to support and develop the idea and practice of expanded sanctuary, based on the belief that discrimination against immigrants works hand-in-hand with other forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, violence and containment, and that we need to work all together to create a political architecture that goes beyond the exclusionary forms of the nation.
Can you talk a bit about your current book project that looks at politics and encounters beyond the human. Where is this research going? In what ways is this project an extension from your work on humanitarianism?
AE Interviews Miriam Ticktin: Innocence, Ethnography, and Politics Beyond the Human
I am working on two related book projects, actually. And yes, they certainly build on my work on humanitarianism, insofar as I turned to these in search of a politics that does not organize itself around the category of humanity — one that takes human life into account, but thinks outside of humanism. One is a short book on the concept of innocence — this article offers a taste!
As you can see in this piece, certain animals serve as the latest frontier of innocence, in a world where politics is constantly driven by the search for innocence. I am interested in whether innocence changes when applied to various non-human others, and whether there is a different politics at work.
Ultimately, this is an experiment in imagining what a world without innocence would look like. The second project is on border walls and containment. I am interested in how borders zones are made up of assemblages of things, moving with and against one another — from people, to transnational technologies, capital, pathogens, laws and wildlife. I am also fascinated by the logistics and design of borders. This is the classic image of innocence. Economic migrants, by contrast, are counterpoised against refugees and portrayed as wily, trying to lie their way into the welfare and other benefits of Europe and to undermine European security as well as European values.
In other words, humanitarianism requires innocent sufferers to be represented in the passivity of their suffering, not in the action they take to confront and escape it see Boltanski This focus on helping and saving refugees is an attempt to appear generous and humane, while still limiting the numbers to a few exceptional cases: As such, humanitarianism can serve as a cover for removing rights for the many in the name of the few.
Innocence should not be a criterion that separates out those who live and die, or how they live and die. In this sense, humanitarianism — rather than protect humanity as a whole — establishes hierarchies of humanity for more on this idea, see Fassin By this account, some of us are more human than others. The Problem with Emergency Second, humanitarianism addresses only the present: With this temporal perspective, there is no way to understand events in a larger historical context: To be sure, there are such situations: Yet talking about any situation as a humanitarian emergency makes it seem as if it is an exception to an otherwise peaceful order.
There is no space to understand causes or histories that might have led to or shaped this moment. There was a significant increase in the number of children crossing the border into the United States inbut their journeys were not sudden, or unpredictable; unaccompanied children have been coming in greater numbers at least sincefleeing situations of increasing violence.
The number in October was being reported at somewhere between 52, and 57,but in there were already well more than 25, unaccompanied children, and inthere were 13, People have also been crossing from North Africa into Europe — and dying — for many years now. Before the European Union was formed and visas were required, they came and went without fanfare, according to seasonal labor demands.
But after the Schengen accords were signed, such crossings were rendered illegal and they became more dangerous. The first deaths registered were in the Straits of Gibraltar in the early s.
The Problem with Humanitarian Borders
The fences at Ceuta and Melilla date from the mids, but inafter a famous rush on the walls, a third fence was built at Melilla to stop the regular influx of migrants.
But by looking at the development of Frontex, the European border management agency, we also know that the crossings and the many deaths at sea have a history: Why would such technologies, including sensors, cameras, cables, drones, and wires, have been developed if this were a sudden occurrence?
And there is still more: Since the s, there has been an effort by the European Union in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to train bordering countries such as Morocco in asylum practices — effectively outsourcing and off-shoring asylum — so that they can act as the police officers of Europe and block the passage of sub-Saharans.
This too belies the idea of emergency. To address the problem, then, we need to understand it beyond the purview of emergency: For example, the drug war — and the insatiable demand coming from the United States — and the rising inequality between rich and poor are fueling this violence, and to change it, these both must be tackled with new strategies. And both the US-Mexico and the Mediterranean deaths are shaped by the extremely lucrative migrant industry — a great example of global capitalism at work — and the profits made by transnational companies investing in surveillance, detention, and prison technologies.
The Problem with Compassion Third, humanitarianism is about feelings rather than rights; it is about compassion, not entitlement.caffeineTV Second Sip Interview on Feminism post-Beyonce
Humanitarian exceptions are precisely that — exceptions to regular laws. And they are usually made on the basis of emotion. Why must we resort to exceptions, or to charity or benevolence, when Europe and the United States claim to be exemplary practitioners of law and good governance? As just one example, while calling itself humanitarian, the US White House simultaneously suggested that it wanted to strip some of the undocumented children of rights they had under the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which makes immediate deportation illegal.
That is, according to Arendt If we truly want to stop the growing numbers of dead at the doorstep, we must work with migrants for justice, not substitute in charity. Political work to this end must be a shared act, which involves rethinking what political action and justice mean for everyone — not just for those who are understood as needing help or care or for those who want to migrate.
We all must rethink what an equitable world would look like, as it will affect us all.