Stories from Berlin

There are 7 billion of us on this planet. Over 500 million of us live the EU. Every year, about 5 million babies are born here. These are figures that I am thinking about getting stamped on a t-shirt, because they are the figures that help us put into context the debate about migrants and refugees, a debate that I can’t believe we are (still) having.

In 2015, 1 million strangers arrived on our doorstep, many of them risking their lives and the lives of their children to get here, because it seemed like a less certain death than staying at home.

Because of the incredible selfishness of most EU member states, the majority of those 1 million refugees ended up in Germany. Sweden also took in a high number in proportion to its population. And thousands upon thousands ended up in a bottleneck in Greece.

Arriving home after spending the last year in Berlin, I was leafing through my Dad’s copy of the latest National Geographic when I recognised someone I knew. The woman who is pictured at the Tempelhof refugee camp about half way through this article (page 104 in the print version) is not a stranger to me. I first met Zainab about six months ago, in the company of her granddaughter. We had been running our weekly women’s group for quite a while, but up until then we had been working in a different part of the massive camp. Continue reading

Mobilising Affect: Peacebuilding as an Affective Practice

The term affect (emphasis on the first syllable) affects me (emphasis on the second syllable) rather negatively. I have been dancing around affect theory for some time now, and it’s more like being in a boxing ring than a ball room. I think of affect as a slippery young cousin of semiotics, lighter on its feet and even harder to get a hook into. It’s been around since Spinoza, the 17th century Dutch philosopher and lens grinder of Portuguese Jewish origins, whose understanding of affect included “affections of the body by which the body’s power of acting is increased or diminished, aided or restrained, and at the same time, the ideas of these affections.” But it’s only really found its way into the limelight of the social sciences in relatively recent years, and it arrived on my radar at a point when I was reluctant to engage with yet another fashionable turn in cultural and social research.

Like semiotics, a lot of affect theory seems to pride itself on taking the obvious and restating it in a way nobody can understand. At least semiotics had the decency to refer to itself by a relatively obscure word, and not hijack one that already has a place in our common sense understanding of how the world works. As we grow, we learn that certain Continue reading