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PLAAS Seminar: The terrible convenience of camps: Reflections on dehumanisation and entitlement

Venue: PLAAS Boardroom
Date: 19 Mar 2019
Time: 13:00 to 14:00

Presenter: Assoc Prof Poul Wisborg

Department of International Environment and Development Studies (Noragric), Norwegian University of Life Sciences

The politics of human displacement make the proliferation of camps a characteristic of our times. Camps may help those who need protection; they may also be convenient tools of security and control for powerholders, causing dehumanisation through containment, violence, hunger and hopelessness; and camps may be ordinary, such as gated communities or farms. This talk reflects on past research on commercial farms in a context of displacement and migration in Limpopo and a current research proposal on human displacement, hardening immigration policies and dehumanising discourse in Europe, where many migrants are contained in external and internal camps. I draw on Giorgio Agamben’s ideas that a state of exception may be normalised in camps, reducing the civic and political status of individuals to a dehumanising bio-politics, which can spread to ordinary places and institutions. Farms may provide relief and livelihoods but may also be sites of lower standards and transgressions, tolerated because convenient for employers and states. Reflecting on how to counter dehumanisation, I note the historical experience of the Nansen Passport for refugees in a post-war Europe, which confirmed entitlements to travel, settle and seek employment. Also vital are principles of equality, labour rights so that workers do not end up in specialised zones with lower civic and political status, and tenure security to reduce displacement. As alternatives to camps and camplike institutions, I conclude that we should ‘make farms, not camps’, but farms bound by such entitlements.

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