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Governing Events: Emergencies and the Fragile Promise of the State

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What do events and conditions become when they are governed as emergencies? And how does the (neo)liberal ‘emergency state’ relate to and govern through events? Drawing on scenes from a genealogy of how emergencies have been governed in the UK since 1945, the paper will explore how emergencies, whether actual or anticipated, have served as affective and material occasions in which the hope and promise of the state is placed in question. Associated with the enactment of forms of mediatised acclamation and glorification as contemporary forms of sovereignty intensify in response to events, emergencies are also, at the same time, occasions in which the failed, delayed, or incompetent state materialises and the promise of the continuation or optimisation of life becomes fragile, fades or ends. The paper explores what this means for how we think about the state and its relation with events in the midst of multiple crises by honing in on a series of affective scenes in which a nervous ‘emergency state’ surfaces animated by doubt, worry, and concern; an exchange of letters between government departments as changes to emergency legislation are deliberated, a Parliamentary debate about emergency powers, a control room that has detected an anomaly, an exercise that appears to be going wrong.

This talk is part of the Department of Geography - main Departmental seminar series series.

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