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Durham University

University College


Durham Castle Lecture Series - Prof. Alex de Waal

21st November 2018, 20:00 to 21:30, Great Hall, Durham Castle

The Reckless Anthropocene

Anthropogenic biospheric disruptions, notably climate change, are creating a volatile global ecosystem. Resource disruptions and associated changes are contributing to political (dis)orders. Meanwhile, states are retreating from taking responsibility for governing global public goods, including the ecosphere, peace, finance, and a deliberative public sphere.

In this lecture, I argue that understanding these phenomena requires a deeper analysis of the dimensions of political disorder. I further suggest that a starting point for such theorization is the historic experience of persistently turbulent post-colonial societies and ‘fragile’ states. Based on such perspectives from the political margins, I develop a five-fold typology of disorder: lawlessness, chaos, incommensurability, instrumental disorder, and revolutionary disruption. Each of these is simultaneously beyond the frontier of political normalcy and embedded at the heart of power.

Liberal multilateralism, despite its flaws, is the best available governance system for responding to these challenges.


Alex de Waal is Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation and a Research Professor at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Considered one of the foremost experts on Sudan and the Horn of Africa, his scholarship and practice has also probed humanitarian crisis and response, human rights, HIV/AIDS and governance in Africa, and conflict and peacebuilding. Professor de Waal received a D.Phil. from Oxford for his thesis on the 1984-1985 Darfur famine in Sudan. He worked for several Africa-focused human rights organizations, focusing on the Horn of Africa, and especially on avenues to peaceful resolution of the second Sudanese Civil War. He also researched the intersection of HIV/AIDS, poverty and governance, and initiated the Commission on HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa. De Waal was a fellow at the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard (2004-2006), and Program Director at the Social Science Research Council. He was a member of the African Union mediation team for Darfur (2005-2006) and senior adviser to the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan (2009-2012). He was on the list of Foreign Policy’s 100 most influential public intellectuals in 2008 and Atlantic Monthly’s 27 “brave thinkers” in 2009.

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