Research Seminar: Transnational Fields of Torture: A Traveller’s Guidebook to the Ontologies of Violence – University of Copenhagen

CRIC > Events > Research Seminar: Tran...

Research Seminar: Transnational Fields of Torture: A Traveller’s Guidebook to the Ontologies of Violence

CRIC invites to the research seminar “Transnational Fields of Torture: A Traveller’s Guidebook to the Ontologies of Violence” with visiting scholar at CRIC Jonathan Austin, The Graduate Institute, Geneva, Switzerland.

The research seminar will revolve around Jonathan Austin's paper on transnational fields of torture.

Please register at no later than Thursday December 10th, 2015. The paper will be sent to you when you have registered.

This seminar is based on my PhD manuscript, which is being written in the form of a monograph. The text explores how violent practices circulate across borders by mapping the lines connecting any specific instance of torture towards a set of three transnational material, semiotic, and phenomenal fields. The circulating contents of those fields - material objects, semiotic inscriptions, and human bodies - are demonstrated to contain a series of concise ‘scripts’ for action that concretely direct the motor-movement level actions of violence workers across borders, frequently irrelevant their own intentions, desires, and personal character or - indeed - the intentions, desires, and character of the political regime they may represent. By tracing how these different elements - the material, the semiotic, and the phenomenal - are assembled together at particular local moments in time and space, the thesis provides a novel explanation for the global convergence in torture practices across time and space witnessed in recent decades. That convergence sees – for example – the techniques, language, organisation, and performance of torture enacted in a single isolated detention facility in Syria find very precise morphological echoes in, say, the techniques, language, organisation, and performance of torture utilised in the detention facilities of the United States or North Korea. In doing so it argues that the ontological conditions for the emergence of aberrant violences like torture (their how-possible conditions) must be considered as operating without concern for regime type (democratic/autocratic), the institutionalisation of norms, or any other ‘humanist’ and/or ‘ideational’ explanatory variable but, rather, as flowing across time and space through a fundamentally non-intentional, non-linear, and chaotic ontology. This argument is made, theoretically, by drawing on a combination of pragmatist sociologies drawn from Science and Technology Studies and the older ethnomethodological tradition. Empirically, the thesis draws on an extended period of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Beirut, Lebanon involving the interviewing of Syrian victims and perpetrators of torture, the ethnomethodological analysis of approximately two hundred videos depicting torture, and the construction of several unique datasets coding thousands of pages of textual inscriptions of torture (human rights reports, manuals, memoires, etc.) through the material-semiotic mode of analysis developed. Structurally, the thesis reinforces its claims by being formatted as a traveller’s guide to the transnational fields of torture of torture explored in the text or – more precisely – a guide to the ways in which the author (myself) and the reader of the text themselves – the ordinary and everyday person – is capable of becoming a torturer as they become enmeshed in this continuous global production, circulation, and translation of torture objects and knowledge across time and space. The result, in sum, is an immersive guide into the contours of the continued global persistence of, in opposition to the norm against torture, a certain countervailing ‘norm of torture.’

About research seminars
The research seminar is a forum for academic debate, organized around the paper and is conducted on the assumption that the paper has been read by participants.

Time and place
The seminar will be held in CRIC’s meeting room (25.0.01), Øster Farimagsgade 5, 1353 Copenhagen K, December 14th, 2015 from 13.30 to 15.00.