Loss as Commodity: the Logic of Dispossession and Restitutive Humanitarianism

Stream: Panel 58 - Political Theory: Politics of Memory, Mourning and Repair 
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 4.00 pm – 5.30 pm


The mechanism of restitution-making has become the default option for redressing violent dispossession in armed conflict as evidenced by the right to a remedy and reparations for gross and serious human rights violations. The contemporary humanitarian approach to material dispossession marks a significant moment in the history of the modern restitutive tradition, which so far has attracted little critical attention in regard to, for instance, the reproduction of Western norms of ownership within the global politics of repair. Rather than only focus on the (gendered and other) exclusions that restitutive humanitarianism risks to reproduce and exacerbate through these discursive operations, I consider the way in which the very idea of loss figures in the modern restitutive tradition and in the global reparative project. In these contexts, loss designates something calculable, measurable and rectifiable. I argue that the figure of loss in restitutive humanitarianism functions as a “double” or a “twin” of how commodity operates in neoliberal economies; loss (even in the discourse of so-called “intangible injuries”) is viewed as capable of economic assessment and as, in a sense, fungible: the subject position of the victims of human rights violations is set up as that of exchange (giving up) of resentful and vengeful affects for the restitutive and compensatory measures that she/he acquires. This discursive-political link between loss and commodity illuminates the complex connection between contemporary humanitarianism and neoliberalism.


Magdalena Zolkos (Presenter), Institute for Social Justice, Australian Catholic University
Magdalena Zolkos is Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Justice, Australian Catholic University. She works in the area of political philosophy, democratic theory and memory politics. She is the author of Reconciling Community and Subjective Life. Trauma Testimony as Political Theorizing (Continuum 2010) and the editor of On Jean Améry: Philosophy of Catastrophe (Lexington 2011), and the co-editor of Child Meets World: Interdisciplinary Thinking Through Childhood (Lexington 2011).