Eva van Gemert: Scape of Exception

Scape of Exception: Imagining the Mediterranean Sea as a Humanitarian Space

Photo Eva van Gemert

Eva van Gemert

Since the beginning of 2015, over one hundred thousand people have crossed the Central Mediter­ranean Route, connecting Libya with Lampedusa, Italy. While the majority made it to Europe’s shores, more than two thousand drowned along the way. Arrival and death have become intertwined in what have been named both Europe’s ‘migration’ and ‘humanitarian crises’ in the Mediterranean Sea. Moved by the appeal to save lives at sea, various humanitarian actors launched a series of rescue operations of an unprecedented scale, including the non-governmental organization Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF), and two philanthropic rescue initiatives, the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), and SeaWatch. This paper approaches their interventions as constituting a spatial technology that poses an alternative to territorial sovereignty, namely one in which ‘humanity’ is the governing principle. Analyzing the online representations of these actors, it follows three separate, yet interrela­ted paradoxes that emerge from the humanitarian imagination, constituting the Mediterranean Sea as a ‘scape of exception’. In the scape of exception, drawing upon saving lives as the highest moral principle enables one to dismiss existing borders in the name of humanity, but only when death is maintained through the practice of ‘non-saving’; when coincidental presence becomes routinized, and when the ‘human’ becomes a contested concept.

Eva van Gemert (born 1992, The Netherlands) is a graduate student from the research master’s in Social Sciences at the University of Amsterdam. In 2013, she finished her bachelor’s degree in sociology (with honors) at the same university. In 2014, she studied seven months at the University of Washington, Seattle. Specializing in migration and qualitative research methods, her MA thesis, titled ‘Scape of Exception’, deals with the imagination of the Mediterranean Sea as a humanitarian space, which she will defend in July 2016. While still writing her thesis, she is currently involved with the research project ‘Monitoring Modernity’ at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Next to that, she is employed as a junior lecturer in the department of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam, where she teaches courses in Sociological Theory, and Social Institutions and Organizations.

Situating her work at the intersection of sociology, political geography, and philosophy, Eva has a strong commitment to produce scientific work that is critical by radically engaging with the mundane. Her research interests include migration, borders and bordering, moralities and humanitarianism, dynamics of citizenship and the (welfare) state, actor-network theory, governmentality studies, ethnography, policy analysis, and (critical) discourse analysis.

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