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The Politics of Innocence

Miriam Ticktin

Miriam Ticktin, Associate Professor and Chair of Anthropology at NSSR, co-Director of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility, and current GIDEST Faculty Fellow, presented a GIDEST seminar in December. Before the event, we talked to her about her book-in-progress on the history and politics of the idea of innocence, a project that builds on her long-term work on humanitarianism and with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

GIDEST is a Mellon-funded research institute based at The New School that incubates transdisciplinary research at the intersection of social theory, art, and design. As well as our faculty, artist-in-residence, and doctoral fellows’ programs, we run a series of biweekly public seminars that feature both prominent and emerging scholars and practitioners. Our seminars are devoted to discussion of pre-circulated materials.


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  • This is a wonderful video, elegantly presented and clearly presenting Miriam Ticktin and her critique of’Tthe Politics of Innocence.” The critique of the
    nostalgia embedded in humanitarianism resonates with my notion of gray
    is beautiful. I find myself moved by video, but not entirely convinced by the argument presented. I still
    think that a self reflexive conception of innocence has important
    critical potential.

    • laslanian

      This is fascinating. I largely agree with the idea that we have to get rid of the trope of purity or innocence in order to grow up or practice an adult politics. Too long of a discussion for right now as I have to get to work. But Jeff, I am curious what you mean when you say that the category of innocence has important critical potential. How do we use it effectively?

      • We should aspire to support those who are not guilty, even if not purely innocent. I agree with Miriam about the dangers of pursuing a politics based on an imagined pure innocence, but I think the principle of supporting people suffering as a consequence of circumstances beyond their control is an important guide to action.Thus I am much less critical of humanitarianism than she is.

        • laslanian

          Yes, I agree with you. What I like about the analysis presented here is that by getting rid of “pure” innocence we see more clearly how power works. What came to my mind in listening to this lecture was not a political at the state level issue but rather a personal/political issue. I work with survivors of domestic violence. Many of the women were abused as children, sexually. Unsurprisingly, their sexuality and arousal carries the history of the abuse. They are innocent even if they are aroused. But the workings of power found its way into their consciousness on the deepest level of intimacy. Reminds me in Miriam’s analysis of how we react to the woman who sold herself into prostitution. Just because she chooses to do something to herself that we find problematic does not mean she is guilty of much.

          • laslanian

            Also in keeping with your consistent push for complexity. Nothing is simple. Every situation that we take on or try to manage demands that we maintain its complexity.

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