(Bad) Evacuation: moving, naming, killing


I’m due to give a few talks this year based on my evacuation work, which is really going well but deepening and becoming far more ambitious in ways I hadn’t anticipated so i’m beginning to see this as a really long term book project. Talks over Feb and March include a seminar in Newcastle at the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology on March 5th, a 2 hr slot (gulp) at the Visual Cultures Public programme at Goldsmiths on the 6th, and later in the month one of the keynotes at the Mobility: concepts and values conference at Paris Descartes University. My talk in Goldsmiths is titled (Bad) Evacuation which I hope to write up soon, here’s the abstract:  

In observing Adolf Eichmann’s disturbing rationalisations of the Nazi killing machine through the administration of ideas, bodies, practices, property and, ultimately, life, Hannah Arendt noticed the curious yet crucial slippage of terms perpetuated by the bureaucratisation of mobility, often named “Evacuation”. This, in the context of a Nazi geopolitics of territorial annexation, mass population movements, settlement planning and the economies of labour supply, really meant deportation, displacement and killing (sometimes by movement itself). In this paper I want to show how evacuation – the arts, logics, rationalities and technologies – the complex geographies of moving people out of the way – goes to the heart of how societies and states have learnt how to protect, but, to go further than that, it has also been a key way in which they have killed, persecuted, punished and separated peoples from their property, rights and freedoms. The conceit then is that evacuation is not simply bad, but that we must first wrestle and recover evacuation from its wider lexicon. It has also become politically important to replace evacuation with what it really is, to underscore what has lain below the surface, or to demote the process of evacuation so as to reveal the violence performed in its name. Furthermore, despite the plethora of work to interrogate the legal-juridical apparatus of exception in the space of the camp, we have forgotten that it is evacuation that has filled camps and legitimated them. That it is evacuation as a semi-legal and bureaucratic process of protection that comes to justify displacement, dispossession (of property and place) and spatial incarceration or internment. That in Arendt’s accusation that Eichmann could not think otherwise or outside evacuation and its bureaucracies, we find a momentum in the word that overtakes other sets of rationalities or decisions. In the paper I will explore in brief the origins of evacuation, but especially its rapid evolution, mechanisation, systematisation and medicalization in war-fighting, before disclosing its rapid displacement into the logics of state, territory and security during and just after the Second World War. 

Peter Adey


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