Lecture: “Subjectivity without subject?: The Aporia of Bearing Witness to Violence in Palestine” by Professor Didier Fassin on Nov 16th

On Monday, November 16th at 4pm in the University Club Building, Room 313, Professor Didier Fassin will be giving a lecture entitled, “Subjectivity without subject?: The Aporia of Bearing Witness to Violence in Palestine.” Didier Fassin is a Professor at the School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton and is the current fassin_dDirector of Studies, Ecole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales, Paris.

Didier Fassin’s visit has been co-sponsored by The Center for European Studies, the Robet F. and Jean E. Holtz Center for Science & Technology Studies, and the Department of Anthropology

Didier Fassin’s body of work is situated at the intersection of the theoretical and ethnographic foundations of the main areas of anthropology—social, cultural, political, medical. Trained as a medical doctor, Fassin has conducted field studies in Senegal, Ecuador, South Africa, and France, leading to publications that have illuminated important aspects of urban and maternal health, public health policy, social disparities in health, and the AIDS epidemic.

Lecture Synopsis:

The witness has become a key figure of our time, whether as the survivor testifying to what he has lived through (superstes) or as the third party telling what he has seen or heard (testis). Publicly bearing witness to suffering and injustice is precisely what departs the first (International Red Cross) and second (Doctors without Borders, Doctors of the World) ages of humanitarianism. Basing my reflexion on an inquiry into the intervention of humanitarian organizations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I will show how they define the legitimate manner to tell the world the “victims’ truth”, thus using the witness’ expertise and authority (auctor). In particular, the increasing presence of psychiatrists and psychologists on the field introduces a new vision in which trauma appears less as a clinical category than as a political argument. This process of subjectification of Palestinians but also of Israelis as victims, which institutes their experience and condition as shared, leaves aside the social meaning of the sacrifice of stone-throwers and suicide-bombers who witness as martyrs (martus) and renounces to the function of the witness as the one who narrates history (histôr). Beyond the specificity of this Middle-East field and situation, the philological investigation and its ethnographical developments illustrate more general questions about the complex issues raised by politics of testimony in a time when political causes become global and moral sentiments enter the political sphere. Finally it questions the processus of subjectification which result in the production of subjectivities and the obliteration of subjects.