22 Feb 2024 17:00 - 19:00 Online & Room SG2 Alison Richard building, CB3 9DP


An event by the Military Surplus: Toxicity, Industry and War research network.


  • Ayesha Siddiqi (University of Cambridge)
  • Leila Papoli-Yazdi (Linnaeus University)


Ayesha Siddiqi
‘Affectation and Subaltern Agency: Neoliberalism in individualising disaster risk in Mocoa, Colombia.’

If poor subaltern communities hold their neighbours and acquaintances entirely responsible for their own safety, or label them irresponsible for taking risks after conflict and during disasters, it is normally argued that this is because neoliberal governmentality rationalised through disaster risk regimes has produced perfectly disciplined societies. Are subaltern subjectivities towards those affected by conflict and disaster perfectly conditioned or do they, the subaltern, have any agency to resist? The paper examines the case of a landslide that affected the city of Mocoa in southern Colombia in 2017 to illustrate that affectation (to be affected) by conflict and disaster was governed as personal responsibility ‘from above’. In the eyes of the state, it was because los afectados (the affected) were living illegally in risky settlements they invited the disaster. I argue that this by itself does not explain the degree to which los afectados were being held responsible, even blamed for their own fate by neighbours, acquaintances and family members. Neoliberal government does not simply work with ‘other rationalities of rule’, such as patronage, kinship and religion as to govern risk in the contemporary Global South. It also connects with logics outside of itself to emerge as embodied ‘subjectivities and tactics of everyday life’ including through ontologies and cosmologies privileging religious and cultural interpretations. These are not in fact other rationalities but simply the way neoliberalrationalities of risk are produced ‘from below’.

Leila Papoli-Yazdi
‘Whispers to Wildfire: Analyzing the Spread of Rumors Linking the State’s Militaristic Activities to Natural Disasters in Iran’

There is a huge valley between the propaganda of the state and people’s beliefs in Iran. In a situation where a big part of the nation does not believe the news spread by the media, they start to exchange their own ideas to explain natural and cultural disasters. During the last two decades, I have witnessed how people attribute natural disasters to the military and nuclear activities of the state in Iran. My first encounter with these rumours happened in Bam. Bam is a city located in southeastern Iran which was entirely destroyed by a strong earthquake in 2003. At the time, a vast majority of people believed that the earthquake’s cause was not natural. Is there any origin for such rumours? During the last three years, I regarded the genealogy of such explanations and found out that they are rooted in a conflict between the pre-1979 monarchy of Iran and opposition groups over the causes of the drastic earthquake of 1978 in the city of Tabas (eastern Iran). Later, in 1980, American troops tried to launch ‘Operation Eagle Claw’ to release the diplomats who were held hostage in Iran. The helicopters fell down near the city of Tabas, presumably due to a sandstorm. The incident reinforced all those rumours about natural disasters. In this talk, I will discuss the complicated process that has resulted in the spread of rumours that attribute natural disasters to military activities in Iran by giving examples from archaeological studies in disastrous contexts.

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