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THE INVASIVE OTHER / Vol. 84, No. 1 (Spring 2017)

Miriam Ticktin, Guest Editor
Arien Mack, Journal Editor

Invasive Othercover


This issue of Social Research, based on a conference held April 20–21, 2016 at The New

School, is grounded on the premise that while seemingly of different orders, invasive others—whether people, plants, pathogens, or ideas—are often described in similar ways, and patrolled and controlled through similar technologies, logics, and policies, and that these overlaps have real consequences. In the most basic sense, the idea of invasion in all these cases implies a metaphor of war and attendant processes of militarization, and helps to frame responses accordingly, ie, one has to fight back. Of course, we ask when and how these orders influence one another and when they have their own logics, but broadening the frame to understand them together can help us understand the construction and management of Otherness in new ways.


One fundamental dimension of political repression works through assessing measures of

who and what counts, and who and what does not. The nature of governance in part

depends on the tools and standards of assessment considered reliable to make that

accounting and to be deserving of public trust. Within this dark logic, some kinds of beings, things, and practices are made to matter, qualified as worthy of inclusion in the catchment of attention and urgencies; some are disqualified as exceeding countability or knowability within the rubrics of how we imagine knowing the world. But there are other means of asserting priorities that are as forceful in conveying assessments of worth, if more elusive as identifiable measures.

In 2015 more than one million people entered the European Union, many fleeing wars in the Middle East. There was a strand of hostile media coverage that represented migrants as vermin or insects. This paper examines the context of this representation and argues that that association of vermin—waste, numbers, and threats to the home—provides useful insights into the anxieties underpinning negative responses to asylum seekers. Analyzing these representations offers insights into the kinds of political questions that must be tackled in struggling for more positive responses.

Karl Schmitt warned that the erosion of nation-state borders would lead to increasing conflicts waged by “humanity” against its nonhuman others. While those concerned with life in the Anthropocene seek to unseat the destructive privilege of the human species and flatten the boundaries that set apart species and partisan identities, a fervent, all-too-human politics pushes back against this, seeking to recreate the borders that mobilize solidarities and inclusion. The widespread preoccupation with invasive plants in recent times is a vehicle of this impetus. It resonates with the populist urge to build walls that ensure competitive advantage within a borderless world of economic and geophysical “free trade.”


The two essays in this section give us scientifically and medically grounded ways to uncouple pathogens from people when we think of infection or invasion; and they suggest that neither should be approached through the metaphor of invasion. What’s more, they offer more responsible ways to recouple pathogens and politics, in the service of more egalitarian futures.

Research on the relationship between self and other is today mediated by new knowledge that forces us to ask questions regarding connections between the biological and social sciences. Such research also demands a reconsideration of the possible effects of answering those questions on age-old forms of discrimination and xenophobia. Indeed, today we stand at a crossroad that demands our rethinking the ancient idea that foreigners (refugees, immigrants) carry diseases and should be feared—that foreigners are, primarily, invasive. If science is to be taken seriously, not only is this picture incorrect, but also the metaphors that sustain this view may be equally wrong. The old moral divide between those who dislike outsiders and those who behave charitably toward them needs retooling, given what new science suggests about the relevance of others to individual health.

The 2015-16 Zika virus outbreak, emerging at the dawn of the Anthropocene era of anthropogenic ecological change, resists easy classification under public health's standard conceptual frames. That is, portraying Zika (along with its Aedes mosquito vector) either as emblematic of classic dialectical relationships between pathogen and victim, or as an ethically neutral product of increasingly complex global interspecies interactions, fails to capture something essential about our human role in laying the groundwork for direct harms to future life, human and other. This paper proposes a framework of intergenerational invasiveness to properly situate (and address) the primary human role in facilitating such emergent pathogens.


This piece offers a general introduction designed to frame papers emerging from a special panel on "ideas" during The Invasive Other conference hosted by the New School in 2016. It focuses especially on the role and depiction of social media as a viral vector for unwanted ideas, unfazed by physical borders or territorial barriers. It asks whether ideas might be intrinsically invasive, coming, as they inevitably do, from "elsewhere."

What kind of freedom of speech and what kind of control over ideas deemed invasive have emerged in the digital world? This article seeks to answer this question by examining the regulation and censorship of “invasive” ideas in the pre-digital and digital liberal system. It shows that the post-WW2 international legal system drew a distinction between a legitimate control of invasive ideas (often referred to as content regulation) and an illegitimate censorship. The distinction between regulation and censorship, never as neat in practice as it was in the texts of international conventions, has crumbled in the digital world under the pressure of factors both external and internal to the communication technology and environment. Focusing on two case studies, the control of “terrorist” ideas and the “right to be forgotten,” the article highlights the interplay of traditional and new modes of control over invasive ideas, and the widespread use of technologies of control, along with the globalization, privatization, and ultimately normalization of control over ideas. It concludes by suggesting that control over invasive ideas in the digital age is as ubiquitous as digital information itself is.

Daily life has become suffused by constant, ever-more granular surveillance. From smart homes to mobile devices, human activity produces a constant flow of data and information describing people's lives, behaviors, emotions, habits, and beliefs. With this welter of data, traditional notions of privacy have broken down, and so have social contexts, in what many media theorists term “context collapse.” What happens to personal privacy in this regime of surveillance capitalism, where machines know more about us than we do? What are the effects of automation, algorithmic secrecy, and hidden bias on the individual in an ever-more individualistic society? Where can revolt come from when we are simultaneously dependent on and manipulated by these systems of algorithmic control?


One way we might think about invasiveness is in relation to a series of oppositions. Some of those oppositions are politically generative in troubling ways, in particular in the opposition of invasiveness to nativeness and purity. This sense is frequently invoked especially when invasiveness is discussed in an ecological setting, partly in debt to ecology’s own language and history of thinking in terms of invasive species and native species, and with an eye to the troubling ways that this has sometimes been read from or back onto political projects of nativeness and purity.

This paper takes as its starting-point an op-ed column the author wrote in the New York Times and the reaction the column generated among readers, to explore some of the ways that intersecting racial and ecological preoccupations with purity animate contemporary politics.

Wherever the body, be it physical or political, is conceptualized and experienced as an autonomous and self-contained reality, the fear of dangerous intrusions caused by the inevitable necessity of ingestion is often palpable. Food and eating become fields in which the Other—over which we feel we have limited control—is resisted and often fought against. Viruses, pests, GMOs, hormones, pesticides, fertilizers, and any kind of impurity can elicit strong reactions. It is not surprising then that politics often returns to strategies that regard food as one of the crucial—albeit shifting—ingredients for ensuring recognizable identities.

This paper analyzes the relations of invasiveness and parasitism between humans and birds on a remote island in the contested waters between the two Koreas. In the context of the Anthropocene and mass extinction, humans may seem the ultimate “invasive other,” threatening the survival of all nonhumans. But I show how, when scaled down to specific spaces and relationships, conservation biologists are more like parasites, rather than straightforward invaders, who enact a “strange kinship” with the creatures they cherish and hope to save. In conclusion, I offer the “flyway” as a non-anthropocentric model for envisioning interspecies relations of interdependency.


A liberal politics is, in moral principle at least, a universalist politics. By moral universalist, I mean a politics that assumes that there is no “other.” In the liberal conception, there is only “us,” agents like ourselves entitled to respect and equal treatment. The moral force of liberalism—and its chief historical achievement—has been to discredit all forms of exclusion, whether justified by race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. Liberalism’s core moral premise has been to claim that difference itself is morally irrelevant. The chief subject of politics is the human agent, the universal individual. Liberalism’s most hopeful insight is that human beings are tied to others by a primal human bond, and when we accord rights to refugees, we are recognizing our common humanity.


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