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Speaker Series: Annelise Riles, Law, Northwestern University

  • When: September 30, 2020, 12 pm
  • Where: Zoom: To register, contact Sophie Kofman at

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Crisis Thinking

Social, economic political and environmental crises are often also crises of expertise—-points at which expert knowledge about risk management encounters its own limits and tensions between experts and publics arise.  At the same time, moments of crisis are often also moments of intensive collaboration, as ordinary cultural, social, institutional and political barriers are cast aside in the face of urgent political economic or social needs. 

This chapter, from a book manuscript in progress on the stakes and challenges of collaboration, ethnographically describes efforts by prominent Japanese intellectuals and their counterparts around the world to reframe and reposition “crisis thinking” in the aftermath of the crisis at Fukushima.  In particular, they sought to address, on the one hand, political problems associated with inward turning societies in Europe, the United States, and Asia, and on the other, the limitations of universities as sites of knowledge production, and to respond to these limitations by emphasizing practices of amateurism, risk-taking and play which, for them, stood in implicit contrast to the knowledge work of the university.

 This ethnography of expertise at a point of crisis offers not simply a theory of crisis or of expertise but a template for collaborative intellectual work around and within moments of crisis such as our own.  It suggests that the current political and epistemological moment demands of scholars something different, something even risky.   Although this collaborative experiment ultimately faced institutional and conceptual limitations, it challenges us to consider what the current crisis demands of experts and of the university.

Photo and bio courtesy of Northwestern University

Annelise Riles is the Executive Director of the Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Studies at Northwestern University, enhancing Northwestern’s reputation for cutting-edge, interdisciplinary programs and research on globally relevant topics. Riles will also be the Associate Provost for Global Affairs and a professor of law and anthropology. 

Her scholarship spans a wide range of substantive areas including human rights, managing and accommodating cultural differences, and the regulation of the global financial markets.

Key areas in legal studies include comparative law, the conflict of laws, financial regulation, socio-legal studies and international law. In anthropology, her work is known for its methodological contributions as well as for its contributions to the study of international institutions and expertise.

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