The University of Iowa

Spring 2011 Events

“Notes Towards an Anthropology of Nothing: Humanitarianism and the Void”

When: Wednesday, February 16, 4-6 p.m.
Where: IP Commons, University Capitol Centre
Who: Elizabeth Cullen Dunn, Department of Geography, University of Colorado at Boulder

Abstract: In 2008, nearly 30,000 people, mostly ethnic Georgians, were ethnically cleansed during a short, brutal war in South Ossetia. In the wake of the war, over $3.7 billion in foreign aid poured into Georgia, with more than 96 NGOs and donor governments providing relief to the displaced. Within a few months most internally displaced people (IDPs) were given a small cottage or an apartment, furniture, secondhand clothing, hygiene kits, food deliveries from the World Food Organization, and more. Yet, oddly enough, despite this outpouring of aid, nearly every interview I had with IDPs began with the same plaintive litany: "They do nothing for us. The government is not helping us, they do nothing for us. We are getting nothing from the NGOs, just little things that don't help much. We are alone, we are abandoned, nobody will help us, and we have nothing."

What is "nothing" in the context of the humanitarian experience? In this paper, I use "nothingness" as a means of staying morally proximate to IDPs in order to understand why the activities of humanitarians, so carefully documented for donors, fail to register as gifts or as statist care in the eyes of their beneficiaries. Using Alain Badiou's concept of the void, I examine the problem not only of "having nothing," but also "doing nothing" and "being nothing." In doing so, I begin to go beyond Badiou's formal presentation and to develop nothingness as anthropological concept and lived experience.

Elizabeth Cullen Dunn is Associate Professor of Geography and International Affairs at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In 2009-2010, she spent 16 months in camps for displaced people in the Republic of Georgia, a few miles from Russian-occupied South Ossetia. With anthropologist Erin Koch, she is working on a project that investigates the linkages between global humanitarianism, state formation, and illness among displaced people. Dunn's first book, Privatizing Poland, was the winner of the 2005 Orbis Book Award from the Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies. She was also the first non-economist to win the National Council on East European and Eurasian Research's Ed. A. Hewett prize. She has also written extensively about food, agriculture and cuisine in both Poland and Georgia, including a recent article titled "Grief, Loss and Macaroni," about refugees and the World Food Program. Her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Commission, the International Research and Exchanges Board, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation.

Sponsors for this event include ESG, UI International Programs and the UI departments of Geography and Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“The Human Body and Mind: Endangered Ecosystems?”


When: Wednesday, March 9, 4:30-6:00 p.m.
Where: IP Commons, 1117, University Capitol Center
Who: Michael Bess, Department of History, Vanderbilt University
Sponsors: ESG, International Programs and the UI Department of Biology

Abstract: The presentation will address the ethical and social implications of new technologies for human biological enhancement – the reconfiguring and boosting of our physical and mental capabilities. The technologies of human enhancement are developing ever more rapidly, along three major fronts: pharmaceuticals, bioelectronics, and genetics. Over the coming decades, these technologies will reach into our lives with increasing force: it is likely that they will shake the moral foundations on which contemporary civilization rests, and raise profound questions about what it means to be human. The goal of this talk is threefold: to assess the major areas in which this destabilization will occur; to explore the assumptions about human identity prevalent among those who are addressing this emergent phenomenon, both inside and outside of academia; and to propose strategies for responding constructively to these developing technologies as they come into being.

Michael Bess is Chancellor's Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. He is the author most recently of Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II (Knopf, 2006); and The Light-Green Society: Ecology and Technological Modernity in France, 1960-2000 (Chicago, 2003), which won the George Perkins Marsh prize (2004) of the American Society for Environmental History. Bess has received fellowships or grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Institutes of Health / National Human Genome Research Institute, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Fulbright research grants program, and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Bess received his Ph.D from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1989, and has been teaching at Vanderbilt ever since.

"The Czech Republic, the European Union and the United States in a Tumultuous World"


When: Friday, March 11, 11:30-2:00 p.m.
Where: IP Commons 1117, University Capitol Center
Who: Jiří Ellinger, Political Section, Embassy of the Czech Republic, Washington, D.C.

Abstract: Jiri Ellinger, head of the Political Section of the Czech Embassy in Washington, DC, talks about the Czech Republic´s road to the European Union, the Czech EU Presidency in 2009 and current Czech positions in EU foreign political as well as economic debates, while framing it into the continuous Czech striving for a strong alliance with the United States.

Jiří Ellinger currently serves as the Head of the Political Section at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Washington DC. He previously served as the director of the cabinet (Chief of Staff) of the Minister of Foreign Affairs (2005-2006). He joined the Czech foreign service in 2001. Mr. Ellinger studied history at Charles University in Prague (1992-1997) and at Queen´s College, Oxford, UK (1999-2000). He obtained his PhD in modern history from Charles University in 2006. He is co-author of Czech Lands in European History After 1918 (in Czech, 2006) and author of From Appeasement to War: Neville Chamberlain (in Czech, 2009).

Fall 2011 Events

European Studies Group Conference

Keynote Speaker:“Green Politics II”
Date: Dec. 2-3, 2011
Location: 315 Phillips Hall
See the full schedule
Read abstracts for conference presentations

Miranda Schreurs, Freie Universität Berlin
"European Energy and Environmental Policy in the Lead Up to Rio +20"
Saturday, Dec. 3, at 1:30 p.m.

Co-sponsors: European Studies Group; International Programs; UI Departments of French and Italian, German, and Cinema and Comparative Literature; and the Division of World Languages, Literatures & Cultures.

The European Studies Group Fall 2011 Lecture Series


These events are sponsored by the European Studies Group within UI International Programs and the UI Departments of Political Science, History, and Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies, all within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“Tensions In Political Inclusion: Women And Minorities In Electoral Politics”
Mona Krook – Political Science and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Washington University-St Louis
Sept. 23, 2011, at noon
Room N202, Lindquist Center

“Jesus Rides a Bike: Oberammergau On Stage and Off”
Glenn Ehrstine – DWLLC (German), Iowa
Oct. 14, 2011, at noon
Room 1124, University Capitol Centre

“Herbert Tobias and the Optics of Desire”
Jennifer Evans – History, Carleton University
Nov. 3, 2011, at 4:30 p.m.
Room 302, Schaeffer Hall

"'Down and Out' but in the 'Works': Homeless Soldiers and Homeless Youth in German Literature and Film"
Kirsten Kumpf – DWLLC (German), Iowa
Dec. 9, 2011, at noon
Room 1117, University Capitol Centre