The 2017 Edward Said Prize for Third World Quarterly has been awarded to Ida Danewid. Here, she shares her story…
I would like to thank the ISA Global Development Studies (GDS) Section and Third World Quarterly for honouring me with the 2017 Edward Said Prize. I applied on a whim and was genuinely very surprised—but of course very excited—to learn that my paper had won.
My paper, which builds on a chapter from my PhD dissertation, develops a post-decolonial critique of the turn to ethics in poststructuralist theory. Focusing on Judith Butler’s call for a new, critical humanism based on grief, loss, and bodily vulnerability, I argue that poststructuralist approaches to ethics lead to a fetishisation of the Other and a consequent, continued erasure of history. I suggest that, by privileging a focus on the ontological—as opposed to historical—links that bind together humankind, these ethical perspectives contribute to an ideological discourse that removes from view the long history of colonialism and the way in which it continues to structure the present. The result is a veil of ignorance which, while not precisely Rawlsian, allows the white subject to re-constitute itself as “ethical” and “good”, innocent of its imperialist histories and present complicities.
The article develops these claims through a close reading of recent forms of pro-refugee activism in Europe. Seeking to disrupt nationalist scripts of kinship—thereby scandalising what makes migrant deaths possible—a variety of scholars, activists, artists, and politician have challenged the xenophobia and white nationalism that underwrite the necropolitical logic of the European border regime. Pointing towards new forms of solidarity beyond borders, they call for empathy and solidarity with the fate of shipwrecked migrants. In the article, I interrogate what these critical humanist interventions produce and make possible—and crucially, what they foreclose and hide from view. Building on what some activists, artists, and academics have begun to call “the Black Mediterranean”, I argue that these responses are indicative of a general problematique, endemic to both leftwing activism and academic debate, which reproduces rather than challenges the foundational assumptions of the far right. By focusing on abstract—as opposed to historical—humanity, these discourses contribute to an ideological formation that disconnects connected histories and that turns questions of responsibility, guilt, restitution, repentance, and structural reform into matters of empathy, generosity, and hospitality. Left-liberal and multicultural discourses of inclusion are thus guilty of reproducing the starting premise of white nationalism: Namely, that migrants are “strangers”, “charitable subjects”, and “uninvited guests”. A more historically grounded reading of the migrant crisis—which would mean placing the ongoing tragedy in the context of Europe’s constitutive history of empire, colonial conquest, and transatlantic slavery—would disrupt these assumptions, and unveil the umbilical cord that links Europe to the migrants washed up on its shores. If the migrant crisis, as Zygmunt Bauman has suggested, “is humanity’s crisis”, then this raises questions about whose humanity is at stake and, indeed, for what purposes.
Ida Danewid is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Read the winning article: ‘White innocence in the Black Mediterranean: hospitality and the erasure of history‘
Find out more about the journal Third World Quarterly.
 Brad Evans and Zygmunt Bauman, “The Refugee Crisis Is Humanity’s Crisis,” The New York Times, May 2, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/02/opinion/the-refugee-crisis-is-humanitys-crisis.html.