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Refugees are defined as people who have lost the protection of their state of origin and therefore fall under the responsibility of the international community, represented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They are situated at the interstice of national and international sovereignty.

Building on the Afghan case, one of the most massive forced displacements of population since World War II, the lecture will examine the growth of a global bureaucracy linked to the action of international and non-governmental organisations, philanthropic foundations, think tanks, and even private security contractors. They promote new forms of transnational governmentality that involve benevolence and welfare programmes but also coercion and repression; they may by turns support or challenge the more familiar territorialised expressions of state authority.

As frequently announced, are we really facing the ultimate crisis of the nation-state? Viewed from Afghanistan, the situation appears more complex and hardly novel. The state has probably never been the exclusive locus of legitimate power; a layered and divided national administration has always coexisted with alternative and segmented de facto sovereignties. But the general reinforcement of non-state forms of sovereignty does not prevent the pervasiveness of the state as the organisational entity of today’s international politics.

Far from being situated at the margins of today’s world, Afghanistan may paradoxically appear as a laboratory to highlight social and political processes present in much of the colonial and postcolonial world, and increasingly in the West.

About the speaker

Professor Alessandro Monsutti is Research Director at the Programme for the Study of Global Migration, Associate Professor at the Department of Anthropology and Sociology of Development, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva and Research Associate, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford.

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