Against Humanity: Why the Concept Does Violence to the Common Good

Colloquium | September 17 | 4-6 p.m. | 223 Moses Hall

 Sam Dubal, Berkeley Center for Social Medicine

 Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, Center for African Studies

This talk is not about crimes against humanity. Rather, it is an indictment of ‘humanity’, the concept that lies at the heart of human rights and humanitarian missions. Based on fieldwork in northern Uganda with former rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), an insurgent group accused of rape, forced conscription of children, and inhumane acts of violence, I examine how 'humanity' conceptualizes the LRA as a set of problems rather than a set of possibilities, as inhuman enemies needing reform. Humanity hegemonizes what counts as good in ways that are difficult to question or challenge. It relies on very specific notions of the good – shaped in ideals of modern violence, technology, modernity, and reason, among others – in ways that do violence to the common good. What emerges from this ethnography is an unorthodox question – what would it mean to be ‘against humanity’? And how can a particular form of anti-humanism foster alternative, more radical efforts at social change in the realms of humanitarianism, medicine, and politics?