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The Power of Naming: Darfur

The Power of Naming: Darfur

Monday, April 30, 2007

The New York Academy of Sciences

Presented By

Presented by the Anthropology Section


Discussant: Tim Mitchell, New York University

The Academy's Anthropology Section is the crossroads for four-field anthropology in the greater New York area. The Section has a long history of sponsoring events and publications that have become landmarks in the discipline. All of the subfields of anthropology are represented in the Section's program: social/cultural anthropology, archaeology, biological anthropology, and anthropological linguistics. The program combines talks about broad disciplinary and public concerns with state-of-the-art presentations in specialized areas of research.


The Power of Naming: Darfur
Mahmood Mamdani
Columbia University

Anyone who opens the morning paper in New York City is struck by two reoccurring examples of gratuitous violence: Iraq and Darfur. The violence in Iraq is described as a cycle of insurgency and counter-insurgency, but that in Darfur as genocide. Most New Yorkers are American citizens, and for that reason only one would expect them to feel more responsible for the violence in Iraq. Yet, the best organized civic movement against violence in NYC focuses on Darfur, not Iraq. Whereas Americans think of Iraq as a messy place with messy politics, Darfur in the American imagination is a place without history and without politics. It is simply a place inhabited by perpetrators and victims—Arabs and Africans—a morality lesson where the chronicling of gruesome violence can make the observer feel not only concerned but also virtuous. What is the politics of the Darfur Campaign in the U.S. and, indeed, of gross violence in Darfur?