Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Of interest to: Students
Primary Theme: Resistance
Secondary Theme: Immigration/Migration/Citizenship
Escape, writes philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, is “the need to get out of oneself, that is, to break that most radical and unalterably binding of chains, the fact that the I is oneself.” Levinas locates the disquiet and dissatisfaction of the self with the need to transcend the limits of finite being at the heart of subjectivity. He conceptualizes the need to escape as the most fundamental element of the human condition: being is that which harbors the potential of multiple and open-ended becomings; a self that is in constant flux. How might we begin from Levinas’s philosophical account to consider the multiple and diverse ways people escape from conditions of violence, political and economic inequalities, gender normativity, labor regimes, or simply the weight of everyday life? In this panel, we explore examples of escape among marginalized subjects living in the contemporary Middle East. Accounts of escapes abound in the region —from villages to cities, from poverty to prosperity, from oppression to freedom, from war/violence to safety, from death to life, and from chaos to order, but also from order back to chaos. The papers on this panel use the framework of escape in order to complicate binaries of choice versus obligation, departure versus stasis, or resistance versus subjection. Instead we find forms of partial survival, reconstructed memory, and historic contingency in the routes of fugitives. By considering stories of escape amongst refugees, genocide survivors, laborers, and guerrillas, we focus on both the forms of individual and collective agency that are forged in flight, as well as the structures of domination from which these patterns of escape arise.