Immigration and The Human Other

Photo credit: UK Home Office on flickr

Photo credit: UK Home Office on flickr

Ahead of her book launch and panel discussion at the Festival on Friday, Lecturer in Culture, Digital Humanities & Creative Industries Btihaj Ajana explains why it’s time we reconsidered our approach to immigration and asylum issues:

Immigration is a hot topic at the moment. Over the last few months, the UK Home Office has been running a series of controversial schemes including the immigration arrest adverts, immigration spot-checks targeting ethnic populations in London, and most recently the ordering of gay and lesbian asylum seekers to ‘prove’ their sexuality. There is nothing new about the fear-mongering attitudes and negative sentiments currently surrounding immigration issues in Britain and elsewhere. Historically, immigration has always been a sensitive topic as it inevitably calls into question issues of identity, difference, belonging, entitlement, race and so on.  These recent schemes, however, are representative of a larger socio-political shift in which a new kind of imaginary is emerging; an imaginary that is shaped by an increasing sense of suspicion towards the ‘other’ and the ‘normalisation’ of various illiberal practices. Fear is becoming a powerful tool of governing and regulating the population. Whether in public discourses, political debates or news media, immigrants and asylum seekers are increasingly being constructed as an existential threat to the well-being and security of the nation. As such, reactions to immigration and asylum issues are currently caught up in a vicious circle whereby governments are responding to public anxieties with more fear-driven measures which, in turn, only ends up fuelling more anxieties and negative attitudes. Fear seems to be, at the moment, a dominant relational affect and a major binding force between citizens and the State.

At one level, the problem is undoubtedly that of (mis-)representation and decontextualisation. Within mainstream political discourses and news reports on issues of immigration and asylum, there is a marked deficit in positive representation and constructive media reporting, coupled with a lack of factual analysis that is capable of addressing this misbalance. Moreover, these debates and reactions often tend to tear issues of immigration and asylum away from their historical and political context. One should not ignore the fact that the enduring legacies of colonialism together with a rising neoliberal globalisation are all some of the undeniable factors that have been deepening the world’s staggering economic inequalities and socio-political problems, and thereby feeding into the wider contextual backdrop of asylum and immigration issues. Staging these issues as if they were stand-alone and decontextualised problems, that only concern ‘others’, is rather irresponsible and misses the bigger picture.

It is about time that so-called citizens begin to question whence their rights and privileges come and to what extent these privileges might be oppressive to others. Parenthetically, this is not about fostering a culture of blame or guilt but a call for a collective and more informed, responsible, accountable and ethical response to issues that do not only touch those who are portrayed as others but the entire fabric of humanity.

More on these issues will be discussed during the event Human Others taking place this Friday (18 October) at 6.30pm in the Safra Lecture Theatre. Book your tickets here

Fairground Freaks & Global Elites

Mat Fraser likes to push boundaries. In the past, this has involved drumming in a punk band, creating and starring in his own musical ‘Thalidomide!’ (about the 1960s morning sickness drug that caused thousands of babies being born with impaired limbs), and routinely getting naked in the burlesque show ‘The Freak and the Showgirl’, where he does comedy, singing and dancing together with his wife, burlesque superstar Julie Atlas Muz.

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Fraser’s work is equally entertaining and political, and has caused turmoil both in mainstream and disability culture. He was part of the cast of several soap operas and of the critically acclaimed Channel 4 series ‘Cast Offs’; he performed in Coney Island in a contemporary freak show and he performed as a drummer the Paralympic Opening Ceremony and Closing Ceremony. He also starred in plays by Graeae and was part of an all-disabled recreation of Rodin’s sculpture ‘The Kiss’. What makes his work particularly refreshing is that it is shamelessly entertaining but also unapologetically reveals and questions stigma and stereotypes surrounding disabled sexuality and the disabled body in general.

A lot of Mat Fraser’s work explores the history of the freak show: This space used to be the only option for disabled people who wanted to work in performance or in show business, and Fraser’s work fascinatingly illustrates how the representation of disability has changed over the years, and how contemporary freak shows, like Coney Island, operate.

In “Fairground Freaks & Global Elites” – a comedy show about hideous things and how progress sings, Fraser again carefully draws attention to those themes, but includes, in his typical manner, wicked humour that is anything but politically correct and taboo-defying, and thus this wildly entertaining one hour show is the perfect way to start off Friday evening.

“Fairground Freaks & Global Elites” – A shamelessly entertaining Friday evening with Mat Fraser takes place this Friday (18 October) in the Great Hall at the Strand Campus. Book your tickets here.

Being/Human or Being Non/Human

This is to announce that the new Being Non/Human discussion group will have its first meeting during the Arts and Humanities Festival, on Monday, October 14th at 6:30pm – 8pm at King’s College London, Strand campus, room S2.39.

Being Non/Human is an interdisciplinary discussion group that meets one Monday evening a month. The meetings either focus on the presentation and discussion of papers or combine papers with the discussion of reading material.

The Being Non/Human group focuses on recent theoretical developments which question the role of the human, analyse what it means to be a nonhuman entity, examine the validity of terms such as ‘human’ and ‘nonhuman’, and look at the (shifting) boundaries between the human and nonhuman. This year’s papers concern, amongst other things: cyborgs and golems; physical and figurative metamorphoses; composite and alien creatures; Giorgio Agamben’s ‘anthropological machine’ and Vivian Sobchack’s work on phenomenology; and questions of how medicine, technology or performance art may affect the relationship between the human and the nonhuman.

As our group is concerned with many of the issues related to this year’s festival theme of ‘Being/Human’ we would like to invite all of those interested in humans and nonhumans alike to join us for our first meeting. This meeting will feature two papers, one concerning cyborgs and the other focusing on gaming avatars:

Dr Gerard Briscoe (Queen Mary University of London) – ‘Being Posthuman: Who Controls the Cyborg’
Jon Garrad – ‘ “Who’d choose to be a human? I do that in real life…” – Race, Species and Identity in the MMORPG’

For more details on the papers, our 2013-2014 schedule, and further details concerning the group, see: http://beingnonhuman.wordpress.com/.

Feel free to come along to the meeting (no booking required; just meet us at room S2.39) or join us for one or more of our future meetings. And, as with any discussion group, there will be snacks and drinks to keep us going!

Members of the Being Non/Human group will also be attending several of the events during this year’s festival (such as the ‘Medieval Science Fiction’ event and ‘The Limits of the Human: Vampires, Zombies, Serial Killers…’ event), so keep an eye out for our reviews here – or join our group and write a review yourself!Being Non/Human organisers –
Sophia Wilson (King’s College London)
Lydia Zeldenrust (Queen Mary University of London)

Riffs on McCarty

obiAhead of Professor Willard McCarty’s lecture on The Digital and the Human at the upcoming Arts & Humanities Festival, long-time colleague and Head of the Department of Digital Humanities Andrew Prescott offers some thoughts on the recent award of the Roberto Busa Prize to the man who has been described as the ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi of digital humanities’.

The epithet was offered by Matthew Jockers in introducing Willard’s Busa lecture, which marked the award of the major international prize for lifetime achievement in the digital humanities.  Continue reading

Michael Kerr: Why Power-Sharing is the Best-Case Scenario in Syria

Michael KerrMichael Kerr is Professor of Conflict Studies, Director of the Middle East & Mediterranean Studies Programme, and Director of the Centre for the Study of Divided Societies at King’s. On Tuesday 22 October, he will give his inaugural lecture, entitled Conflict and Coexistence in Deeply Divided Societies, as part of the 2013 Arts & Humanities Festival.

In this recent article for the International Business Times, Professor Kerr explains why power-sharing is the best-case scenario for the ongoing situation in Syria. Continue reading