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States of Need / States of Emergency: Towards a Political Grammar of Exigency


NOT is a critical study of the emergency-discourse of modern European politics. My thesis is that the political preoccupation with states of emergency tends to overlook – with dire consequences – underlying chronic and ostensibly less urgent socio-economic and ecological conditions, or what I call states of need. This structural relation is captured in the ambivalence of the German word 'Not,' which means at once emergency and need. Since the French Revolution, the history of European politics has been defined by an always asymmetrical negotiation of the tension between emergency and need. This asymmetric articulation of political life is perpetuated by habits of speaking about politics, which are in turn rehearsed in literary and historiographical genres for representing the political theater. For this reason, NOT is an exercise in political philology. I analyze the way in which the grammar of modern politics reproduces the myopic, dramatic, subject- and anthropocentric perspective that privileges emergency over need by addressing a diverse archive of literary and theoretical texts from the 18th century to the present. My research historicizes this political grammar with attention to biopolitics, revolutionary rhetoric, political economy and development economics, human rights discourse, and ecological and Anthropocene debates. In doing so my aim is to excavate alternative forms of expression that do justice to the nexus of need/emergency and thereby recover ways to better articulate the political challenges we face today. In the spirit of Horizon 2020, appreciating the place of Europe in the contemporary world involves understanding the complex legacy of emergency/need that continues to inform national and global politics – as the European migrant crisis, the climate emergency and now the corona crisis have made clear. NOT is a second-book project supplemented by satellite conferences, edited publications, a public lecture series and teaching at the LMU.

Call for proposal

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Funding Scheme

MSCA-IF-EF-ST - Standard EF


Geschwister Scholl Platz 1
80539 Muenchen
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 174 806,40