Thursday Lecture Series

Movement and the Ordering of Freedom: A History of a Political Problem

Thursday, The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room

“The state,” James Scott argues, “has always seemed to be the enemy of ‘people who move around.’” At the same time movement—in its very different meanings, attached to different objects, circulating between the metaphoric and the concrete—has been celebrated as a manifestation of freedom. In the 17th century, with Early Modern formulations of the idea that the state can either “be” free or promote freedom, these two modes of conceptualizing movement came to a conflict. This talk follows a series of splits along geographic and temporal lines to examine how this tension was negotiated, settled, or unleashed. It argues that while the movement of able, firm (masculine?), and European bodies was configured as a manifestation of freedom, the movement of other bodies, primarily bodies of colonized subjects, was seen as “excessive,” rendering them a threat to themselves and others. Examining how this “excess” becomes a mechanism of justification for colonial endeavors, Dr. Kotef asks how the configuration of movement can be mapped into different schemas of governance.