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Christine Hentschel (U Hamburg, Germany)

Vulnerability and the Ethics of the Surface: The "European Refugee Crisis" in our Cities

CAS Public Colloquium | Thursday, 21 January 2016  | 05:15 pm
Date: Thursday, 21 January 2016  | 05:15 pm - 06:45 pm
Location: Centre for Area Studies | Thomaskirchhof 20 | 04109 Leipzig, Germany
Organization: Centre for Area Studies (U Leipzig, Germany)
Cooperation: Institute of African Studies (U Leipzig, Germany)
Language: English

Summary:
As part of the CAS Public Colloqium, Christine Hentschel, currently visiting professor of International Criminology at Hamburg University (Germany), will develop the notion of “surface ethics” as a way of reflecting on how urbanites navigate through uncertainty and vulnerability on and through the material surface of the city. And she will ask how is it possible that an issue as deep as hosting refugees in a 21st-century global situation of war and misery gets decided on the basis of a municipal building code dating back to 1955?


Abstract:
As the “European refugee crisis” has fully surfaced in our cities, the question about what’s “between us in the city” (Coward) is being painfully reworked. If “people work on things to work on each other, as these things work on them”, as AbdouMaliq Simone writes, how can we make sense of the simultaneous circulation of fake passports, bombs thrown at refugee homes, and clothes donated for people out in the cold? In this paper, I develop the notion of “surface ethics” as a way of reflecting on how urbanites navigate through uncertainty and vulnerability on and through the material surface of the city. Ethics, here, does not mean having values, acting morally, or following humanitarian considerations. It is rather more practical, material, affective, and rarely coherent. Ethics becomes an opening, a nervous space of figuring out not only how we can act in the absence of adequate knowledge (Burgess), but also how to connect to what or who we don’t know. How is it possible, I ask, with my eyes on the city of Hamburg, that an issue as deep as hosting refugees in a 21st-century global situation of war and misery gets decided on the basis of a municipal building code dating back to 1955? Through the analysis of a legal case over a refugee home in an affluent inner-city neighborhood, I establish how “living” is being divided into two modes – residing [wohnen] = active, self-determined, individual; and being accommodated [untergebracht sein] = passive, not self-determined, collective – with powerful reverberations for shaping togetherness in the city.

Biographical Note:
Christine Hentschel is a visiting professor of International Criminology at Hamburg University (Germany). Her key research areas are sociology of security, urban and political sociology, spatial theory, and postcolonial theory. She holds a PhD from the University of Leipzig (Germany) and is the author of Security in the Bubble: Navigating Space in Urban South Africa (University of Minnesota Press 2015).