Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
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Workshop on Displacement and the Making of the Modern World: Histories, Ecologies, and Subjectivities

Friday, April 21 –
Saturday, April 22, 2017

Joukowsky Forum

Registration on Eventbrite is open and required. Please register here.

Day 1

Day 2

View Program


Malasree Neepa Acharya
Omolade Adunbi
Giovanna Covi
Lindsay French
Unni Karunakara
Jared Mccormick
James Milward
Alan Mikhail
Christian Nyampeta
Anthony Oliver-Smith Victoria Sanford Raz Segal Rabih Torbay Emrah Yildiz

Organizers, Discussants, Chairs

Omer Bartov
Tamara Chin
Beshara Doumani
Leela Gandhi
Patrick Heller
Rebecca Nedostup
Daniel Smith
Vikramaditya Thakur
Anna Thomas

The modern world can be seen as a triumph of enlightenment thought, of scientific progress, and of collective endeavor for the betterment of human kind. The modern world is also a result of massive displacement of populations, a phenomenon that is historically unprecedented in scale, violence, and longevity. This phenomenon began with the “discovery” of the New World and the near eradication of its inhabitants who constituted roughly a third of the world’s population in 1500. This seismic encounter unleashed waves of displacements across the globe over the next few centuries powered by European colonial expansion, the slave trade, the creation of new ecological environments through the exchange of plants and microbes, introduction of new agricultural systems, and the dislocations of industrialization. The encounter also shaped core knowledge regimes and generated classificatory categories about the human, society, economy, and nature that informed political cultures and social relations.

During the Twentieth century, systematic forced displacement through ethnic cleansing and genocide reached an industrial scale as states engaged in world wars, imposed partition plans, ruthlessly engineered societies, and undertook large-scale infrastructural projects such as dams and mines. Climate change as well as the construction of vast systems of barriers and surveillance to control the movement of undesirable persons along the seams of national, ethnic, sectarian, and class boundaries are creating new forms of displacement whose consequences are as of yet not clear. Contested claims over resources and transformation of social values too have played their role in the forced movement of people.

These themes suggest that displacement can best understood as a long-term generative process that is fundamental to the very structures of modernity – to its political forms, to its institutions, to its advances in science and technology, and to its literary and aesthetic experience.

The central aim of this conference -- as the flagship event in the 2016-2017 Sawyer Seminar -- is to engage an interdisciplinary commons, informed by the approaches and concerns of displacement in the humanities and interpretive social sciences. Specifically, this occurs under three overarching themes that invite disparate studies of displacement into a single intellectual arena that can be generative of new lines of inquiry:

  1. Histories: Displacement as a global and historically enduring phenomenon.
  2. Ecologies: Displacement as an ecological and technological phenomenon.
  3. Subjectivities: Displacement as a discursive phenomenon.

More Information

Center for Middle East Studies