Seminar – Marie Kolkenbrock on ‘Hedgehog Humanities: On the Ethics & Cultural Politics of Distance’

In the seventh paper in our 2020/21 seminar series, Marie Kolkenbrock from King's College London asks what role is played by the concept of 'distance' in contemporary responses to the question of how to live together.

Through the current pandemic, my project on the cultural history of ‘distance’ has gained a new and rather uncomfortable urgency. The project’s leading goal is to examine the following question: what function does the concept of distance have in the twentieth and twenty-first century responses to the fundamental question of how to live together? The pandemic throws into sharp relief how spatial, social, and emotional conceptions of distance intersect and how these intersections inform our ‘ethics of cohabitation’ (Judith Butler). In the current crisis, we have experienced first-hand how a lack of conceptual clarity regarding distance has profound implications. Early injunctions to ‘social distance’ were eventually replaced with the awareness that it would be more precise to speak of physical distancing, and that excessive interpersonal distance may lead to wide-spread mental health problems that could arguably be as harmful as the virus itself.

The talk will introduce the key hypotheses of my project and give an account of the concept of ‘distance’ in twentieth century and contemporary political ethics, showing that ‘distance’ is not a neutral concept but functions as a shifting metaphor in different ideological contexts. As we now are forced to cultivate several new forms of distancing practices, it may be worth taking a look at some examples from the cultural theory and history of distance in order to reflect on their potential impact on our sense of ‘togetherness’ in private relationships, within our societies, and across nation states.

This seminar will take place online.

All are welcome but booking is required. Please click here to register your attendance.