Tag Archives: global ethics

Ignoring Extinction/Refusing Global Politics


This is a full recording of a talk I gave at the New School for Social Research in New York on 27 October, 2016, including perceptive and generous comments by Rafi Youatt. It was part of a workshop entitled “Global Politics Without Ignorance” organised by Anne McNevin, Erdinc Erdem and others at the New School. The workshop focused on different understandings of knowledge and ignorance within global politics, drawing on critical race theory and embracing a wide variety of approaches, including decolonial and posthumanist thought.

A couple of notes. First, whenever I use the terms ‘human’ or ‘humanity’ (or emphasise something weirdly), assume I’m doing air quotes. Second, I refer to a few others in the room by first name only – they are: Anne (McNevin), Rafi (Youatt), Patrick (Jackson) and Zuleika (Arashiro). Because I can’t include embedded quotes in audio form, I’d like to cite the sources of a couple of things I mention. My discussion of refusals by plants is drawn largely from the work of Wendy Makoons Geniusz and Robin Wall Kimmerer; while the discussion of the Sedna and the withdrawal of animals is drawn from the work of Tim Leduc . I also want to thank the Creatures’ Collective for inspiring and co-incubating many of the ideas discussed here.

The imagery in the background is called ‘Transversals’ and was produced during the workshop as I began thinking through this alternative to ‘(the) global’ or ‘universals’ (more on this to follow…)


Planet Politics: Mass Extinction and Worldliness

Green planet by Dejan Hudoletnjak. Licensed under CC 2.0 Attribution-NonCommercial http://bit.ly/1Rh0QkI

Green planet by Dejan Hudoletnjak http://bit.ly/1Rh0YR5

The following is part of a manifesto – “Planet Politics: A Manifesto for the End of IR” created along with my colleagues Tony Burke, Simon Dalby, Stephanie Fishel and Daniel Levine and first presented at the 2015 Millennium Conference on “Failure and Denial in World Politics”. We argue that international relations has failed to offer a politics that reflects the Earth, and that will enable humans to co-inhabit it in the long term. Departing from the standard formalism of academic writing, our manifesto calls for the abandonment of business, politics and ethics as usual, and for a ‘planet politics’ attuned to the biological and geological forces of a diverse Earth. My contributions focus on mass extinction and worldliness.

** You can read the full manifesto here** 

Mass extinction is a problem of global ethics 

In late 2014, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (2014) reported a startling statistic: according to their global study, 52% of species had gone extinct between 1970 and 2010. This is not news: for three decades, conservation biologists have been warning of a ‘6th mass extinction’, which, by definition, could eliminate more than three quarters of currently existing life forms in just a few centuries (Barnosky et al, 2011). A possible (and likely) mass extinction event threatens all life forms on earth – humans included – whether through direct extinction or through its effects (for instance, the collapse of food chains). It does not simply involve the death of organisms or the ‘disappearance’ of ‘species’, even in very long numbers. Rather, it entails the irreversible destruction of their lifeways, histories, worlds and the possibilities of their being. Moreover, it challenges the basic possibility of survival, providing its fundamental boundary condition.

International relations has utterly failed to take account of extinction. As one of two disciplines concerned explicitly with survival (biology is the other), IR cannot continue to ignore its limiting condition and ultimate horizon. Within IR theory, there is simply no conceptual framework for confronting extinction. Cold-war era concepts such as ‘nuclear winter’ (Sagan 1983), ‘omnicide’ and genocide each refer to the possibility of large-scale harm that could lead to extinction. However, they do not attempt to explain what extinction is, but simply treat it as a form of death writ large. In contemporary IR discourses, extinction has been subsumed within security discourses, where it is bracketed as a ‘business as usual’ problem of scientific management and biopolitical control (Aradau and Munster 2011; Evans and Reid 2014). These approaches are ultimately futile: extinction is an ontological event that concerns the destruction of possibilities of being; it cannot be managed through the manipulation of life and death processes. But as long as this belief persists, mass-mediated scare stories about extinction can only bolster and enhance biopolitical power.

Instead, extinction and mass extinction need to be understood in onto-ethical terms. This means acknowledging that extinction involves an ontological rupture – that is, the destruction of modes of existence – and confronting the ethical implications of this. Just as the concept of genocide was created to confront the seemingly unthinkable – the total destruction of peoples – we need ethical concepts, frameworks and sensibilities that can address the enormity of extinction. This means asking what it means to lose or destroy a life form.

The question of what is ‘lost’ in extinction has, since the inception of the concept of ‘conservation’, been addressed in terms of financial cost and economic liabilities (see, e.g., McAfee 1998; Sullivan 2010). The dominant neoliberal international political economy of extinction has radically reduced and distorted perceptions of ‘what is lost’: not capital or profit, but distinctive, irreplaceable worlds, and the diverse possibilities of being embodied in each life form (Grosz 2011). Beyond reducing life forms to capital, currencies and financial instruments, it homogenizes understandings of extinction, imposing a globalizing, Western secular worldview on a planetary phenomenon. Along with this worldview comes a range of assumptions – that humans are separate from other beings; that life forms can be counted and accounted for as clearly-defined ‘species’; that protecting other life forms needs to be rooted in anthropocentric forms of ‘value’. To address the enormity of mass extinction, we need to draw on multiple worldviews – including those emerging from indigenous and marginalized cosmologies that understand the relations between humans and other beings in profoundly different ways. Doing so not only allows us to understand better what is at stake in extinction, but will also multiply the repertoires of responses.

At the same time, even within the Western secular framework (which dominates IR), we need to think more clearly about the ethical implications of extinction. The current escalation of extinctions is in large part a result of anthropogenic causes – global warming, habitat destruction, direct killing and the transportation of species around the earth. Since human action is involved, we can think in the ethical terms that apply to it. For instance, we can trace the forms of violence that contribute to these trends, as well as the chains of exploitation and oppression that underpin them. We can also begin to frame extinction in terms of harm – or, if it proves to exceed existing concepts, to develop new normative frameworks for responding to it. In either case, it is crucial and urgent to realize that extinction is a matter of global ethics. If it does not fit within the existing parameters of global ethics, then it is these boundaries that need to change: (Mass) extinction carries an ethical weight and force that humans can no longer ignore.

We need a worldly sensibility towards politics, and a political sensibility towards worldliness

 Humans are worldly – that is, we are fundamentally and inextricably part of a world. It is not ‘our’ world, as the grand theories of international relations have it – an object and possession to be appropriated, circumnavigated, instrumentalized and englobed (Sloterdijk 2014). Rather, it is a world that we share, co-constitute, create, destroy and inhabit with countless other life forms and beings.

To be worldly is to be entangled. We can interpret this term in the way that Heidegger (2010) did, as the condition of being mired in everyday human concerns, worries and anxiety to prolong existence. But, in contrast, we can and should reframe it as authors like Karen Barad (2010) and Donna Haraway (2008) have done. To them and many others, ‘entanglement’ is a radical, indeed fundamental condition of being-with – it suggest that no being is truly autonomous or separate, whether at the scale of international politics or of quantum physics.

Being worldly, and being entangled, means being plural – more specifically, being ‘singular plural’ (Nancy 1997). Beings-in-worlds co-constitute one another, so that all beings are a multitude. At the same time, world itself is singular plural: what we refer to as ‘the’ world is a multiplicity of worlds that intersect, overlap, conflict, emerge and dissolve. Worlds are not ‘just’ places, and they are not the same as planets. Planet Earth fosters a multiplicity of worlds at multiple scales and across various time scales – from the current multiplicity of social, technical and economic natures-cultures to the extinct worlds of deep time.

Each world emerges from, and consists in, the intersection of diverse forms of being – material and intangible, organic and inorganic, ‘living’ and ‘nonliving’. World emerges from the poetics of existence, the collision of energy and matter, the tumult of agencies, the fusion and diffusion of bonds. These are the conditions of worldliness.

Because of their worldliness, ‘worlds’ are not static, rigid or permanent. They are permeable and fluid. They can be created, modified – and, of course, destroyed. Indeed, concepts of violence, harm and (in)security that focus only on humans ignore most of what constitutes the harm: the destruction and severance of worlds (Mitchell 2014). Indeed, the destruction of worlds is what separates the concepts of genocide (see Nancy 1997) and ecocide (Higgins 2010) from other forms of violence. To destroy worlds is to sever the conditions of worldliness.

To respond to worldliness, and to our own role in its destruction, we need a politics that is worldly, and a worldliness that is political. This requires acknowledging these basic ontological features of worlds, and transforming them into ethical principles that make us responsive to our basic condition of worldliness.

First, we can acknowledge and embrace the conditions of worldliness. Being worldly means understanding that we are nurtured, threatened, nourished and harmed by profound forces – and that our movements, responses and poetics make a difference to worlds. We also need to understand that being-worldly means being-vulnerable along with the other co-constituents of the worlds we inhabit and traverse. Instead of attempting in vain to escape this co-vulnerability, as the global rich attempt to insulate themselves from the worst effects of global warming suffered by the poor – we need to acknowledge its inescapability. Specifically, we need to think about how our world-vulnerability can be embraced as a source of positive solidarity, rather than simply the, fearful, clinging, negative solidarity (Braidotti 2013) forged by survival anxiety.

This means acknowledging that being worldly is not an option or a choice, nor is it an obstacle to human ‘progress’ that can be overcome, whether through major projects of terraforming or emerging projects of space colonization (Mitchell, forthcoming). Instead of confronting worldliness with resentment that prompts nihilistic violence or apathy (Connolly 2011) – or, on the other hand, the instrumentalizing optimism of eco-modernism (Ecomodernist Manifesto, 2015) – this ethico-politics would embrace the conditions, possibilities and limitations of being-worldly. This does not mean that humans can never leave the Earth, but we are always-already in worlds (whatever planet they appear on). Being-other-worldly – whether on Earth or on other planets – means respecting and nurturing the multiplicity and unicity of worlds instead of imposing a ‘master world’ upon them.

Second, we can cultivate gratitude for worldliness and the gifts it confers upon us. We can learn from Nigel Clark (2011) and other post-Levinasian thinkers, who urge us to acknowledge that humans owe their existence to chains of beings stretching back to the Big Bang (and beyond), and outwards in every direction, across the boundaries of species and all other categories. And, in turn, we can attempt to give back – to inhabit, protect, nurture, and, yes, kill and consume other beings and worlds – without expecting them to conform to our demands, or exacting promises from them. Being-worldly means embracing the collective risk of being: engaging in this complex and ultimately finite project with gratitude, attention, resolution and, above all, amor mundi.


Aradau, C and Munster R (2011) Politics of Catastrophe. London: Routledge.

Barad, Karen, 2007. Meeting the Universe Halfway. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Barnosky, A, N. Matzke, S. Tomiya, G.O. U. Wogan, B. Swartz, T. B. Quental, C. Marshall, J. L. McGuire, E. L. Lindsey, K. C. Maguire, B. Mersey & E. A. Ferrer (2011) “Has the Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction Already Arrived?” Nature, Vol. 471, pp. 51-7.

Braidotti, R (2013) The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Clark, N (2011) Inhuman Nature: Sociable Life on a Dynamic Planet. London: Sage

Connolly, W  (2011) A World of Becoming. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Evans, B and Reid, J (2014) Resilient Life: The Art of Living Dangerously. Cambridge: Polity.

Haraway, D (2008) When Species Meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Heidegger, M (2010 [1953]) Being and Time. Trans. Joan Stambaugh, revised and with a foreword by Dennis J. Schmidt. Albany: State University of New York Press.

McAfee, K. (1998) “Selling Nature ? Biodiversity and Green Developmentalism” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. 17: 133-54.

Nancy, J., 1997. The Sense of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Sloterdijk, P. (2014) Globes: Spheres II. Los Angeles: Semotext(e)

Sullivan, S (2013) “Banking Nature? The Spectacular Financialisation of Environmental Conservation” Antipode Vol. 45, No. 1, pp. 198-217.


Image by Ramzi Harrabi

Image by Ramzi Harrabi

Today hundreds of international studies scholars are gathering in Giardini Naxos, Sicily for the #9thPanEuropean Conference on International Relations. Our meetings take place on the shores of the Mediterranean, where according to the  Missing Migrants Project, over 2700 people have died this year in attempted crossings. Many participants at the conference will be taking this opportunity to publicise the need for reform in the European Union (and elsewhere) that will provide safe, legal channels for immigrants and refugees – sign the petition here.

As part of this effort, convenors, organisers and participants will be discussing the migration and refugee crisis explicitly. I will be convening a section of panels and roundtables on the conference of ‘More-Than-Human-Worlds of Violence’. The text below is the introduction to this section: 

I’d like to welcome you warmly to our section on “More-than-human Worlds of Violence”. This series of panels and roundtables is convening in order to explore how violence extends far beyond the boundaries of ‘humanity’.Today, we’ll hear fascinating new work on subjects ranging from the environments shaped and constituted by violence, to the sensory dimensions of posthuman warfare, the circulation of violence through animal bodies and the intersection of posthumanism and security. In each of these sessions, we’ll push the boundaries of how violence is understood, approached and mediated through international politics. We’ll rethink the concept of ‘international relations’ as the global set of relations that emerge between diverse forms of being. And, as the conference theme prompts us, we’ll examine the distinctive ‘worlds’ of violence that emerge from these relations, challenging our ontological assumptions and ethical imperatives.

As we know, there is an urgent ethical imperative unfolding in the particular world in which we find ourselves: the beautiful coast of Northeastern Sicily. We are flanked by the Mediterranean ocean, in which thousands of refugees from across the Middle East and North Africa have died in attempted crossings. How can our work on more-than-human international relations help us to engage more actively with their struggles?

Please have a look at the image above, which was created by the artist and activist Ramzi Harrabi from his project ‘Uprooted’, which was originally exhibited at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and more recently at the Anime Migrante festival in Siracusa (please see more info on Ramzi and his work below).

What immediately strikes usicily migranti-2s in Ramzi’s painting is the elemental power of the water. At first, it seems to engulf and consume the human figures, to threaten and overwhelm them. Yet, at the same time, it enables a mode of mobility that allows them to escape unliveable conditions in their homes and the hard borders of territorial boundaries imposed by states and the European Union.

The water is an ambiguous material-temporal space that batters and floods the striated space of states and sovereignty. It is a space in which the politics of territoriality and the poetics of flow shape the futures of the voyagers in unpredictable ways. The currents, winds, tides and weather of the sea can determine whether a boat arrives safely or is submerged, and where its inhabitants land. So, the refugees are in a constant tactical battle not only with the strictures of territorial sovereignty but also from the tumultuous aquatic space into which this power forces them by denying safe, legal passage on land.

Yes, they are dwarfed and endangered by the sea, but they are not merely drifting. They are also lively beings engaged in an oceanic negotiation, attempting to harness the dynamism of the water, embracing its fluidity and force while attempting to escape its violence.

As Ramzi told me, his boats “carry a political message of hope and dignity. The multi-coloured skies tell us that migrants have a dream”

So, to understand not only the plight of refugees, but also their hopes, the modes of agency they employ, and the politics of their struggle, we need to pay more attention to their relations with the sea. This does not only mean focusing on traditional geo-politics – that is, on the  so-called ‘natural’ borders  created by bodies of water. Rather, it means attending more closely to this oceanic space,the unique conditions it imposes and opens, the relations the voyagers forge with it and the powerful forms of agency the exert as they try to make their way towards safe harbours and new futures.

I offer these observations as a provocation, to get us thinking and talking about this issue, and about how being humanitarian – and human – means engaging with the more-than-human -and how a more-than-human perspective can allow us to move beyond the sometimes disempowering effect of humanitarianism.

Let’s keep these crossings, the people who make them and the seas they traverse in our minds as we enjoy our discussions.


Ramzi Harrabi is a Tunisian artist, activist and lecturer. He is the founder and director of the Intercultural Studies Center and the President of the Immigrants Council for the Province of Siracusa, Italy. Ramzi also manages many projects related to integration and migration, as well as teaching intercultural communication, Arabic language and the history of Islam throughout Italy. Ramzi recently worked as a member of the Tunisian independent elections authority in Italy. His poems were awarded the Italian national prize (premio Maria Marino) and one of his paintings won the second prize at the European Tendari Festival. In 2008, Ramzi was among the finalists for the Euro-Med award, organised by the Anna Lindh Foundation, obtaining a special mention for promoting intercultural dialogue in the Euro-Mediterranean region.

Worldly Security: Security Dialogue Podcast

Anthropocene Globes 7 by Audra Mitchell. All rights reserved.

Anthropocene Globes 7 by Audra Mitchell. All rights reserved.

In this podcast for Security Dialogue, I talk with Claudia Aradau  about worldliness, critical security studies, new materialism and global ethics. We also discuss the future contributions that more-than-human thinking can make to security studies, and vice versa. The discussion relates to my February 2014 article “Only Human: Beyond Worldly Security”. More information about the article and can be found here.

You can listen to the podcast here.

The meaning of extinction: ABC National Radio interview

What does it mean to go extinct? And what does the prospect of the sixth mass extinction mean for global ethics? In this interview with Joe Gelonesi on ABC National Radio’s The Philosopher’s Zone, Thom Van Dooren and I discuss the ontological, ethical and relational aspects of mass extinction. The discussion ranges across a number of topics: the difference between extinction and death; the challenges mass extinction raises to global ethics; and  the modes of violence involved in conservation practices. It draws on my new project on mass extinction and global ethics, and on Thom’s recent work on relations of ‘violent care’  established between humans and endangered bird populations around the world.

The full podcast can be downloaded here, or on the Philosopher’s Zone website .

You can also read Joe’s blog post about the broadcast here.

Bird Silhouette by Pontla. Licensed Under Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivs 2.0http://bit.ly/1HA2WJj

Bird Silhouette by Pontla. Licensed Under Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivs 2.0http://bit.ly/1HA2WJj

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