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Author: Janet Roitman

We now live in perpetual crisis: ‘an age of crisis’, ‘times of crisis’, ‘chronic crisis’ and so on. These expressions seem to merely describe a state of affairs, but they are foundational claims. The concept of crisis qualifies a world: it determines what gets to count as an event and what gets inscribed as history in the ongoing stream of competing phenomena. Crisis is a naturalising category that subsumes specificity. It has colonised the life-worlds of communities across the globe and become foundational to knowledge production despite its Christian-European genealogy. Analyses that attempt to gain insights by elucidating discourses of crisis, or how people use the term ‘crisis’, and the experience of crisis, or how people narrate crisis, disregard the constitutive questions that make crisis a primary means of qualifying the observable world. Asking those constitutive questions has political import because they raise the long-standing problem of representation – of the Other, of alterity, of language and of experience. The problem of representation has been a central topic of epistemology and the principal subject of critique in the social sciences and humanities. It should not be ignored, and it compels us to ask: what becomes of the concept of crisis when we problematise practices of representation?

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