Annual Elizabeth Colson Lecture | Innocence: Understanding a Political Concept

Ongoing course
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Professor Miriam Ticktin (The New School for Social Research)

With the grounding assumption that innocence plays a central role in the politics of forced migration and asylum, this lecture delved into the idea of innocence, trying to understand it and render its workings more legible, and arguing that it is a political – not simply a religious or moral – concept. By examining the figure of the child, the trafficked victim, the migrant, asylum seeker, the enemy combatant and the animal, Professor Ticktin suggested that innocence sets up hierarchies of humanity, all the while feeding an expanding politics of humanitarianism. Ultimately, she asked if innocence is a concept we want to protect.

About the speaker
Miriam Ticktin is Associate Professor of Anthropology at The New School for Social Research and co-director of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility. She received her PhD in Anthropology at Stanford University, in co-tutelle with the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, France, and an MA in English Literature from Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. Before coming to the New School, Miriam was an Assistant Professor in Women’s Studies and Anthropology at the University of Michigan, and also held a postdoctoral position in the Society of Fellows at Columbia University.

Professor Ticktin's research has focused in the broadest sense on what it means to make political claims in the name of a universal humanity. She has been interested in what these claims tell us about universalisms and difference, about who can be a political subject, on what basis people are included and excluded from communities, and how inequalities get instituted or perpetuated in this process. She is the author of Casualties of Care: Immigration and the Politics of Humanitarianism in France(University of California Press, 2011; co-winner of the 2012 William A. Douglass Prize in Europeanist Anthropology) and co-editor (with Ilana Feldman) of In the Name of Humanity: the Government of Threat and Care (Duke University Press, 2010), along with many other articles and book chapters. She is a founding editor of the journalHumanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism and Development.Next year she will be a fellow at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study.

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A podcast of this lecture is now available.