Who is the Enemy? Chances of Front Line Ethics

Mer, 11/09/2022 - 12:30 / 13:30

205AB, Viale Romania

Speaker: Harald Wydra , University of Cambridge


This paper maps front line situations as existential dilemmas without clear-cut normative and institutional solutions. Front lines can be concrete historical and epoch-making events of violence but also long drawn-out processes. My main focus is to read them as specific socio-cultural conditions of incommensurable polarization. States have typically used such front lines to justify political means of safeguarding protective limits to their communities. But front lines are also the in-between spaces in which peoples’ experiences can increase sensitivity for the other’s position and viewpoint. In an unbounded world, the study of politics must engage with the possibilities of front line ethics. Front lines are transgressive, antagonistic, and destructive of meaning. Still, rivalry to the extremes does not foreclose possibilities of moral imagination. In a plural world, front line encounters therefore mean not only “being against” but also “being with”. Such affective intersubjectivity not only illustrates how people are but also how people should be. Moral obligations are not primarily normative goals but emerge as experiential realities.  Precisely at the limits, there is the possibility to undergo ordeals of truth, not as a matter of outside evidence or abstract reasoning but as a moral and experiential urge for internal conversion, ethical obligation, and recovery of reason.

About the Speaker

Harald Wydra is Professor of Politics at the University of Cambridge and Holden Fellow in Politics at St Catharine’s College, where he has taught politics since 2003. He holds a PhD in Social and Political Sciences from the European University Institute in Florence. He has written extensively on political anthropology, democratic transformations, and ethics of memory. His books include Continuities in Poland’s Permanent Transition (Palgrave 2001), Communism and the Emergence of Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2007), Democracy and Myth in Russia and Eastern Europe (co-edited with Alexander Wöll, Routledge, 2007), Breaking Boundaries: Varieties of Liminality (co-edited with Agnes Horvath and Bjørn Thomassen, Berghahn, 2015), Politics and the Sacred (Cambridge University Press, 2015), and the Handbook of Political Anthropology (co-edited with Bjørn Thomassen, Edward Elgar, 2018). He is a founding editor of International Political Anthropology (www.politicalanthropology.org). He held visiting fellowships at the EHESS in Paris and the Australian National University in Canberra. He was Visiting Professor at the Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, the Cultural Institute at the University of Wrocław, and Luiss University in Rome.