Author: Jenny Edkins

Despite the imperative for change in a world of persistent inequality, racism, oppression and violence, difficulties arise once we try to bring about a transformation. As scholars, students and activists, we may want to change the world, but we are not separate, looking in, but rather part of the world ourselves. The book demonstrates that we are not in control: with all our academic rigour, we cannot know with certainty why the world is the way it is, or what impact our actions will have. It asks what we are to do, if this is the case, and engages with our desire to seek change. Chapters scrutinise the role of intellectuals, experts and activists in famine aid, the Iraq war, humanitarianism and intervention, traumatic memory, enforced disappearance, and the Grenfell Tower fire, and examine the fantasy of security, contemporary notions of time, space and materiality, and ideas of the human and sentience. Plays and films by Michael Frayn, Chris Marker and Patricio Guzmán are considered, and autobiographical narrative accounts probe the author’s life and background. The book argues that although we might need to traverse the fantasy of certainty and security, we do not need to give up on hope.

The first child-witch in Rothenburg, 1587
Alison Rowlands

3 ‘One cannot … hope to obtain the slightest certainty from him’: the first child-witch in Rothenburg, 1587 It is, of course, only with the benefit of hindsight that we can draw conclusions about the relative restraint with which the council in Rothenburg treated witchcraft during the early modern period; this restraint was never a foregone conclusion in any particular witch-trial. The intricate web of factors which accounted for it could be tested to the limits in certain cases when an individual’s story of witchcraft and the manner in which the council chose

in Witchcraft narratives in Germany
David Rieff

. If humanitarian certainties have been upended, it is not in Sri Lanka, or even Syria or Afghanistan, but in the NGO response to the migration crisis in Greece and in the Mediterranean. For here, whether they like it or not, when they rescue people at sea who are trying to get to Europe, relief NGOs are involved not just in caritative work, whose deontology is relatively straightforward ethically; here, they are important actors in a profound political struggle, whose outcome, along with the response or non-response to climate change, is likely to

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Editor’s Introduction
Michaël Neuman, Fernando Espada, and Róisín Read

‘irreducible uncertainties’ of the situations encountered by teams on the ground. As Champy argues ( Champy, 2018: 17 ), ‘when action is required in highly singular and complex situations, common solutions that can be automatically inferred from routines, rules or scientific knowledge, might lead to mistakes and damages. Indeed, the singularity of the situation may imply that… the situation does not allow for a high degree of certainty’. In such situations, transmission of knowledge between

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Brendan T. Lawson

violence to economic prosperity, are ‘presented as unambiguous and objective’ because they ‘are grounded in the certainty of numbers’. Such a conception of numbers is encapsulated by Desrosières (2001 : 348) when he talks of ‘metrological realism’. This viewpoint holds that ‘computed moments (averages, variances, correlations) have a substance that reflects an underlying macrosocial reality, revealed by those computations’. In other words, numbers reveal something about the

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Sophie Roborgh

, and even physical presence of the verifying actor at the site of attack. The WHO’s SSA aims to capture ‘any and all attacks’ ( 2018 : 5), but pairs their relatively inclusive approach with strict verification protocols and a certainty-level differentiation method, without reflecting on the potential consequences of this approach ( 2018 : 19). Verification also leads to less incorporation of attacks among other initiatives, as visible

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
A Congolese Experience
Justine Brabant

to think about whether those loans were apt. As it is not my aim to single out any particular colleague or media outlet, I will use a few of my own errors and questions by way of example. One of the certainties and obvious facts I took with me during my early investigations in the Congo was this: that there was a distinction between civilians and combatants. My reasoning went more or less as follows: ‘Once I’m there, I’ll start with an article on civilian

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Megan Daigle, Sarah Martin, and Henri Myrttinen

); the COVID-19 pandemic only underlines how humanitarians, in our certainty that we can be solutions to crises of all kinds, can exhibit an inability or indeed unwillingness to perceive our own position within matrices of colonialism, white saviourism and gendered power relations – we can literally become the problem, bringing sickness with us from abroad to areas previously not affected by it. There is a clear need for a different framing of security threats based on a more

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Jenny Edkins

9781526119032 PRINT.indd 1 22/02/2019 08:34 2 change and the politics of certainty abstractions of geometry – useful as they are – into the approximations that produce a workable edifice. And yet such abstractions form ‘the categories and assumptions’ that constrain ‘attempts to think otherwise about political possibilities’.3 Importantly, we are not encouraged to examine them, but to take them for granted. Rather than seeing our assumptions as ‘historically specific understandings of space and time’, we treat them as common sense.4 The ‘we’ here stands outside history

in Change and the politics of certainty
Open Access (free)
Jenny Edkins

214 change and the politics of certainty Conclusion In this book I have attempted to challenge a number of the assumptions academics commonly make: assumptions that problems are to be solved and questions answered; that certainty and security are possible; that academics can take an objective position and pronounce on how the world works and what should be done; and, most of all, that we can change the world. I have tried to develop a different view, one that sees academic engagement as a careful, slow, step-by-step making or remaking of the world, often in

in Change and the politics of certainty