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Infocus War & Peace

Investigations into CRISIS and SHOCK


To Investigate War, Peacebuilding, and Just Society during the 2018-19 Academic Year, Moravian College will focus on the related topics of CRISIS and SHOCK. CRISIS and SHOCK are embodied experiences and and also interpretive frames through which we are encouraged to understand and adapt to war and militarism. Public intellectual Naomi Klein developed the theory of “The Shock Doctrine” to investigate “disaster capitalism” -- the social and economic re-engineering of societies reeling from shock (i.e., The 1973 coup in Chile, Falklands War in 1982, Tianamen Square Massacre in 1989; collapse of Soviet Union in 1991; the United States post 9/11, etc.).

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines CRISIS as “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.” In his Prison Notebooks, Antonio Gramsci expands the functions of CRISIS. He writes “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” Indeed, when conflict or problems get defined as being a CRISIS, war is often presented as the solution.

SHOCK, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary is “a sudden upsetting or surprising event or experience”. As an umbrella term, the concept of ‘SHOCK’ is central to contemporary understandings of war. SHOCK helps us to understand how war is waged (‘shock and awe’; ‘blowback’ as a form of ‘aftershock’) and it helps us to understand the costs of war, especially those borne by people engaged in fighting wars (PTSD, Moral Injury).

We invite the Moravian College community to interrogate and investigate, from all disciplinary perspectives, the ways in which CRISIS and SHOCK are mobilized as cultural, political, economic, biological, social etc. frameworks to promote and wage war and militarism; and the way these experiences, rhetoric and interpretive frames also impact the ongoing consequences of war. We propose examinations that explore connections between economic policy, “shock and awe” warfare, the increase of institutions of militarism, surveillance and control, the dismantling of structures of social welfare; the use of the rhetoric of SHOCK to frighten, silence, discourage critical thought, and emotionally manipulate the populace; and more.

We also invite the community to think about how CRISIS and SHOCK might be utilized to counter the destruction of war and instead be used in the service of peacebuilding to build a more just society. In particular, given the strange and widespread disassociation of the American public from the longest wars in U.S. history, and feelings of helplessness and disempowerment with regard to imagining a different response and promoting peacebuilding, we will explore ways to promote the SHOCK of emotional reaction to potentialities such as nuclear war, and political action calling for deep change; and investigate how we may move past the CRISIS of disimagination in which we are mired to develop just and peaceful pathways to a more just society and world.