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Round table „Powerless Empowerment? Critical Reflections on Dealing with Flight” at the Akademie der Künste

Katharina Lorenz

As part of the lecture series “Emotions and their Effects. Affective Dynamics of Flight and Migration” the round table discussion “Powerless Empowerment? Critical Reflections on Dealing with Flight” took place on Friday the 6th of January 2017 in the thinking space of the “Uncertain States” exhibition at Akademie der Künste. The lecture series is a cooperation between the Collaborative Research Center “Affective Societies” at FU Berlin and the Akademie der Künste. In establishing dialogue between artists, the exhibition and scientists, it reflected on emotions and affectivs in the context of flight, migration and mobility.

Moderated by Olaf Zenker, various actors critically discussed the possibilities and limits – their experiences of empowerment and powerlessness – in dealing with flight.

In the first part of the event, all panel participants offered insight into their personal involvement and engagement with the topic. The panelists were: Denise Garcia Bergt from the International Women Space, Hansjörg Dilger, Professor at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at FU Berlin, Mara Erlenmaier, student at FU Berlin and participant in a research project on the situation of refugee women in Berlin (conducted by Hansjörg Dilger and Kristina Dohrn), Manaf Halbouni, artist working in Dresden, Carolina Knerr, student at FU Berlin and participant in a research project on the situation of refugees in Berlin (conducted by Olaf Zenker), Marion Neumann, from the Akademie der Künste and Christian Torenz from the sports club Roter Stern Berlin. Their experiences covered a broad spectrum, from feelings of powerlessness in the face of overnight-deportations of acquaintances and friends, confrontations with racist thinking, and experiences of one’s own limited agency to moments of empowerment in common sport and art activities, when resisting deportation or trying to shape the public discourse.

Subsequently, the discussion opened up to the audience of over 90 visitors. This second part highlighted and illustrated shared experiences through additional examples. Visitors likewise talked about their own forms of engagement which were brought into dialogue with the panelists’ own experiences. In the course of the discussion, cross-cutting themes emerged such as the question as to what kind of generalizations about “the refugees” were justified based on one’s own limited experiences or the crucial importance of gender-related issues and problems of refugees. Furthermore, a comment from the audience about who’s powerlessness was actually the object of the discussion, and the observation that there might be other actors who are feeling powerlessness as well, sparked a debate about the focus of the event and questions of positionality when dealing with flight. All in all, the event thereby succeeded in creating a space for exchange and critical reflections on people’s varied experiences of empowerment and powerlessness when dealing with flight.

More information here.

From left to right: Olaf Zenker, Denise Garcia Bergt, Carolina Knerr, Mara Erlenmaier, Marion Neumann, Manaf Halbouni, Christian Torenz and Hansjörg Dilger. Photo: Marisa Maza