A Mobile Milieu: Humanitarian Equipment and the Politics of Need | Annual Elizabeth Colson Lecture 2019
Professor Peter Redfield (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Annual Elizabeth Colson Lecture
Wednesday, 05 June 2019, 5pm to 6.30pm
Seminar Room 3, Oxford Department of International Development, Queen Elizabeth House, 3 Mansfield Road, Oxford OX1 3TB
Hosted by Refugee Studies Centre
about the seminar
Approaching human mobility from the perspective of milieu — the intimate, inclusive envelope of immediate environment — this lecture focuses on humanitarian equipment, from refugee camps to innovative devices that seek to provide for basic needs such as water and sanitation. Such objects offer little prospect of producing a satisfying response to human suffering. They also increasingly reflect market interests as much as technocratic planning. Nonetheless, their very inadequacies can expose conflicting assumptions about human needs and aspirations. Tensions between understandings of what constitutes a satisfactory life emerge at a mundane level, positioning these devices as scalar connection points between individual experience and social imagination. Milieu, I thus suggest, can serve as a revealing conceptual site to investigate the political terrain exposed by human mobility, including rival strains of humanitarian concern, rights advocacy, national identification and ecological anxiety.
About the speaker
Peter Redfield is Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Trained as a cultural anthropologist sympathetic to history, he concentrates on circulations of science, technology and medicine in colonial and postcolonial contexts. The author of Life in Crisis: The Ethical Journey of Doctors Without Borders (California 2013) and Space in the Tropics: From Convicts to Rockets in French Guiana (University of California Press, 2000), he is also co-editor of Forces of Compassion: Humanitarianism between Ethics and Politics (SAR Press, 2011). He is currently working on collaborative projects related to humanitarian design.
Redfield is President of the Society for Cultural Anthropology for 2017-19.
Listen to the podcast of the lecture here >>