Seminar: Geo-Politics

November 23rd, 2014

Political and military conflict and their environmental conditions seem to occupy opposite ends of the epistemic spectrum. We need to develop operative concepts able to work across this divide, establishing “field causalities,” a framework that allows us to connect individuals, environments, and artifices.

With respect to human rights work, political and military conflict and its environmental conditions seem to occupy opposite ends of the epistemic spectrum. We need to develop operative concepts able to work across this divide, establishing “field causalities,” a framework that allows us to connect individuals, environments, and artifices.

The idea behind “Geo-Politics” was to challenge contemporary ways of understanding violence, because this demands a shift in explanatory models and structures of causation. From a perspective informed by an understanding of “field causalities,” the analysis of armed conflict can no longer conform to the model of criminal law that seeks to trace a direct line between the two-limit figures of victim and perpetrator, or between the two ends of a smoking gun. The field is not an isolated, distinct, stand-alone object, nor is the environment a neutral background on or against which human action takes place. Rather, it is a thick fabric of lateral relations, associations, and chains of actions between material things, large environments, individuals, and collective action. It connects different physical scales and scales of action. Establishing field causalities requires the examination of force fields, causal ecologies, which are non-linear, diffused, simultaneous, and involve multiple agencies and feedback loops. Whereas linear causality entails a focus on the sequences of causal events, field causality involves the spatial arrangement of simultaneous sites, actions, and causes. Field causalities, therefore, is a useful framework for describing forms of violence that are not punctual, but rather that are slow and continuous, without clear beginning or end—those which might be considered to constitute an endless war defined by the permanent clash of multiple forces. Drawing on forensics pioneer Edmond Locard’s principle that “every contact leaves a trace,” the seminar aimed at suggesting that, in certain contexts, “the contact and the trace drift apart.” In a loop of positive feedback, the effects of human-induced climate change—such as desertification in the Sahel—aggravate conflicts along it, while these armed conflicts in turn further aggravate the destruction of the environment.