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Department of Social Sciences
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
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Doerthe Rosenow is Senior Lecturer in International Relations. She received her PhD and MA from the Department of War Studies/King's College London, and her first degree (Mag.Art.) from the University of Muenster/Germany. Before joining Brookes she taught at Royal Holloway University of London and King's College London. Her research is interdisciplinary, crossing over the boundaries of International Relations, human geography, anthropology and continental philosophy. She is particularly interested in the theorisation and analysis of political struggle in relation to understandings of nature, particularly from perspectives that engage notions of materiality and decoloniality. More recently she has turned to engage these questions in the context of settler colonialism and the writings of North American Indigenous scholars. Her book Un-making Environmental Activism: Beyond Modern/Colonial Binaries in the GMO Controversy was published by Routledge in 2018. Together with her colleague Lara Montesinos Coleman from the University of Sussex she is also working on a broader critique of poststructuralist International Relations, with a particular focus on how discipline-specific boundaries continue to constrain radical thinking and action.
Doerthe's research is situated in the interstices of theories of coloniality, decoloniality and materiality, questions of nature and environmental activism, as well as political struggle more generally. Using theories, methodologies and concepts from different disciplines, such as International Relations, human geography, anthropology, sociology, and continental philosophy, she understands her work as genuinely transdisciplinary. This has become manifest in many of her publications to date: she has published articles in both IR and geography journals, a monograph in a geography series, and has convened a cross-disciplinary British Academy conference on the theme of vulnerability and care together with a philosopher and an anthropologist that will be published as an edited volume in the Proceedings of the British Academy in 2019.
Her monograph Un-Making Environmental Activism: Beyond Modern/Colonial Binaries in the GMO Controversy was published in the Routledge series ‘Research in Space, Place and Politics’. This book has concluded a research project on how to critically theorise and analyse political struggle (particularly environmental activism) from perspectives that engage notions of materiality and decoloniality; unravelling how the fundamental modern dichotomy between the human and the natural has historically come about through the colonial oppression of other, non-Western and often non-binary ways of knowing nature and living in the world. Bringing the thought and practices of anti-GMO activists at various sites into critical dialogue with the thought of Gilles Deleuze, Bruno Latour, María Lugones, and Gayatri C. Spivak, as well as a broader range of postcolonial and decolonial bodies of thought, the book develops different, decolonised environmental activist strategies that move away from this epistemology.
Doerthe is currently developing a new research project that is interested in substantially engaging what Walter D. Mignolo calls the ‘outside’ of modernity/coloniality – those bodies of knowledge and ways to live which have been suppressed and eliminated by the universal aspirations and colonial practices of modernity. In this context, she is particularly interested in how practices and logics of settler colonialism are made sense of by North American Indigenous scholars; drawing in particular on the work of Glen Coulthard, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, and Audra Simpson.
Another strand of Doerthe's work is based in her continuing collaboration with Lara Coleman from the University of Sussex. They are working on a broader critique of the constraining impact of disciplinary boundaries and paradigms, particularly in relation to critical security studies and poststructuralist IR, on critical/radical thought and action. In a major paper that is currently under review they are reflecting on the need to develop a new approach to critical IR that attempts overcome the dilemma of recognising (based on Foucault) the historical contingency of any claims to truth while at the same time forwarding a new understanding of theory that allows us to develop general (though never quite stable) categories for making sense of structures of power and domination at particular historical conjunctures.
In February 2017 Doerthe convened, together with two colleagues, a British Academcy Conference on the theme Vulnerability and the Politics of Care: Cross-Disciplinary Dialogues which was funded by the British Academy.
Calls for decolonising IR are often focused on the need to decolonise dominant epistemologies. This article explores whether a shift towards decolonising ontology is able to provide a more profound challenge. Decolonising ontology implies acknowledging that there are multiple actual “worlds”, rather than just multiple perspectives on THE (“one”) world. However, I argue that this approach is limited by the representational strategies that are used for making the encounter of multiple worlds legible for an academic audience. Drawing on ethnographic work that anthropologists have undertaken in relation to the GMO controversy as well as broader decolonial work in IR, I maintain that the writing-up of research often entails the settling and stabilising of ontological encounters that have been experienced as unsettling and disconcerting. This move towards stabilisation is grounded in hegemonic, colonial understandings of which questions should be pursued and why: questions that continue to be about determining what “is” (rather than asking what questions would lead to rightful action), that can be answered with the help of all-encompassing concepts (such as the concept of the “pluriverse”), and that provide insights for entire disciplines (such as IR). The article shows to what extent this is detrimental to projects of decolonisation.
The point of departure for this article is the question of how to pursue and encourage political contestation from a position that acknowledges the significance of binary conceptualisations, but that is at the same time uncomfortable with a mode of politics that is exclusively geared towards them. The limitations of this traditionally modern conceptualisation of politics – and life more generally – calls for an ontological move away from the prioritisation of bounded entities and clear-cut (oppositional) identities in order to explore other dimensions of political action. While there has been a turn to such new ontologies – in critical geography and beyond – in the last decades, there has been less exploration of what this could mean concretely for a political activism that aims to go beyond mere ‘micropolitical’ transformation. To address this lack, this article examines the tensions between binarity and complexity through an engagement with political resistance against genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This brings to light that the ontology of complexity pursued by some anti-GMO activists is ultimately grounded in a binarisation of both politics (one is either ‘for’ or ‘against’ GMOs’) and life (which is either ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’). Whilst problematic in its limitation and specification of what kind of politics and life is considered ‘right’ and ‘natural’, this binarisation also informs the success of anti-GMO activism. An engagement with the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari, especially through the notion of the ‘encounter’, brings out this paradox and serves to radicalise the ontology of complexity argued for by anti-GMO activists in order to open up different avenues for thinking about and ‘doing’ political resistance.
A variety of scholars in critical security studies have recently argued that new modes of neoliberal world order are influenced by the emergence of complexity theory in the sciences, which manifests itself, for example, in the discourse of resilience. By contrast, this article aims to point at the number of governmental discourses and practices in which ‘old’ understandings of order are persistent. What will be argued is that such a set of practices can be found in the regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), in which the dominant approaches and strategies still rely on an understanding of life that is bound to a more traditional episteme that expresses the desire for predictable management with clearly controllable effects. The article then moves on to discourses of resilience to show how they are equally characterized by this episteme. In unravelling the struggle that exists between ‘old’ and ‘new’ epistemes, the article aims to elaborate on the potential of complexity discourses for challenging particular governmental rationales, manifested in both the resilience context and the GMO controversy.
Rosenow D (2018) Un-making Environmental Activism: Beyond Modern/Colonial Binaries in the GMO Controversy. London and New York: Routledge.