David Chandler – The Ontology of Danger:Recasting the Human Subject in Discourses of Vulnerability and Resilience

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Event Date: 21 February 2011
The River Room
King’s College London, Strand Campus
London WC2R 2LS

Problematising Danger

ESRC Seminar Series- Contemporary Biopolitical Security

 

Co-sponsored by the Biopolitics of Security Network,
and the Emerging Securities Research Unit @ Keele University


David Chandler
University of Westminster

This paper explores how danger has acquired an ontological status taken as a starting assumption in discourses of global insecurity, particularly at the interventionist nexus of policy-making in relation to state failure, conflict and underdevelopment. The key point it makes is that framings of human rationality are held to make us dangerous subjects – permanently subjected to danger – with the solution to vulnerability being the universalising of preventive intervention with the goal of the empowerment and capacity- or capability-building of the subject to enable resilience to, in and through danger. Modern liberal rationality is constructed as making us vulnerable through the hubris of universalizing, linear, teleological views of progress – and the policy interventions reflective of this. Equally, pre-modern frameworks of rationality, reproduced through the path-dependencies of social orders, are held to make us vulnerable through their role in the reproduction of power relations in states making the transition to liberal modernity. In both cases the rationalities of power and knowledge are held to perpetuate danger reproducing both the frailties and vulnerabilities of peoples and ecosystems. The dominant policy-solution of the empowerment, voice and capability-building of those marginalised from power is held to enable social resilience and the management of vulnerabilities. This perspective which accords danger with grounding ontological status is critically engaged with here, through the work of AmartyaSen, new-institutionalist economics and Foucault’s birth of biopolitics, suggesting that the discourse of vulnerability, empowerment and resilience can easily rationalise the status quo and reinterpret social, economic and political problems in therapeutic frameworks, problematically suggesting that work on the self can resolve problems in the absence of any transformation of social relations.

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