Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Institut für Europäische Ethnologie

Borders of Humanitarianism. Ethnographic Perspectives on Reconfigurations of the Political in Contemporary Europe

Workshop with Didier Fassin (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton)

Institut für Europäische Ethnologie,
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
10.1.2019, 18:00 – 20:00 &
11.1.2019, 10:00 – 16:00


Humanitarism “is both a moral discourse (based on responsibility toward victims) and a political resource (serving specific interests) to justify action considered to be in favor of others exposed to a vital danger, action taken in the name of a shared humanity. Its ambition is thus indivisible (it includes all human beings without distinction of race, class, religion, ideology), but its implementation is always situated (where others are thought to be in need of assistance).” (Didier Fassin 2010, 239)

The notion of humanitarianism offers an important avenue to explore and analyze the confrontation of movements of migration with ‘Europe’ at its borders. Over the last decade, the management of borders has been shifting between and combining humanitarian forms of reasoning and violence of necropolitics (Mbembe 2003). These forms are challenged but also driven by struggles of migration and critical humanitarian projects, e.g. sea rescue operations by civil society organizations. This entanglement is severely transforming since “the long summer of migration” of 2015 when hundreds of thousands of migrants managed to cross the European border regime. Since then, we can observe new and complicated intersections between securitization and humanitarianism as well as between humanitarianism and human rights emerging, so that some speak of a post-humanitarian moment. The heightened mobilization of counter-politics in the last years and the invisible presence of vernacular conviviality (Paul Gilroy), at the borders and beyond, add to the polarized complexity of this moment in the European project.

The workshop takes this complicated situation as its starting point and invites to rethink it in terms of how it refers to reconfigurations of the political, with particular focus on Europe: How is Europe, again, reconfigured at its borders? Do (post)humanitarian evocations reflect unsolved, globally entangled conflicts of and with European self-making? How do the current border politics trickle down to and inform the political mainstream? In what ways are they connected to the current (re)turn to bordered, racialized politics of Europeanization within and beyond the confines of the European Union? And what “other Europes” may emerge from the ongoing confrontation with a widely neglected postmigrant, postcolonial reality? What could be the role and the impact of ethnographic research in this moment of cosmo-political polarization?

The workshop will center around two panels: one of invited young scholars who will shortly present their work on the current state of border regimes and what they, through the lens of their research, can say about the reconfiguration of (European) politics; another of politically engaged activists, professionals and critics of the current border regime on the question of limits and potentials of interventions in the reconfigurations of humanitarianism at the European borders. In both panels and in the following set of discussions will be ample space to contribute own experiences and reflections on behalf of the participants. Didier Fassin will be contributing his comments and join our discussion throughout the workshop.

We do explicitly not want to confine this workshop to classical migration and border studies – but rather want to discuss migration and borders as a central perspective through which to explore general features of transformations of the political in/and Europe.


Those who are interested to participate are requested to send a short message of motivation until December 15, 2018. If the number of interested people exceeds the spatial and communicational capacities, we will need to select from the applications. Please send your message to our student assistant Artur Gerke: with subject: Borders of Humanitarianism

For further questions please send a message to Regina Römhild:


As an introductory part of the workshop Didier Fassin will be presenting a keynote lecture on the evening of January 10, 2018, 18-20, entitled “Forced Exile as a Form of Life”. All participants of the workshop are cordially invited to also attend this lecture!


We are looking forward to meeting you and to interesting discussions in Berlin!

Jens Adam, Carna Brkovic, Sabine Hess & Regina Römhild (organizing team)

dgv working group „Europeanization_Globalization. Ethnographies of the Political” in cooperation with the HU Interdisciplinary Centre on Transnational Border Studies, the Migration Lab and the Critical Europeanization Studies Lab at HU Berlin, and the Laboratory for Critical Migration and Border Regime Studies at the University of Göttingen




Fassin, Didier (2010). Inequality of Lives, Hierarchies of Humanity: Moral Commitments and Ethical Dilemmas of Humanitarianism. In: Ilana Feldman & Miriam Ticktin (eds.), In the Name of Humanity. The Government of Threat and Care. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 238-255.

Fassin, Didier (2016). Vom Rechtsanspruch zum Gunsterweis. Zur moralischen Ökonomie der Asylvergabepraxis im heutigen Europa. In: Mittelweg 36, H.1, online:

Gilroy, Paul (2004). After Empire. Melancholia or Convivial Culture. London: Routledge.

Mbembe, Achille (2003). Necropolitics. In: Public Culture 15 (1), 11-40.