Research colloquium features faculty investigations in science and philosophy

Torsten Menge, assistant professor, discusses his paper “Immigration, Self-Determination, and the Ontology of Political Communities.”

This year’s first NU-Q research colloquium featured faculty research on the topics of the socio-technological impact of natural disasters, and a nation’s right to closed borders.

Anto Mohsin, assistant professor of science and technology studies, discussed his examination of the 2006 mudflow disaster in Sidoarjo, Indonesia; and Torsten Menge, assistant professor of philosophy, discussed whether Western democracies have the right to exclude incoming immigrants on the grounds of self-determination.

“I became interested in examining the mudflow catastrophe after learning that scientists did not agree on the cause of the mud eruption and several attempts to stop the mudflow failed,” Mohsin said. “There are very few ongoing disasters in the world and this one provides a way to investigate how survivors have been dealing with a continuing disaster.”

Actions of resilience in the Indonesian community have included operating a community radio station, getting involved in the 2014 presidential campaign, holding collective prayers, using alternative media to voice their stories, and holding annual commemorations of the disaster.

Menge’s paper, “Immigration, Self-Determination, and the Ontology of Political Communities,” explores the moral weight of a country’s interest in self-determination.

His interest in the topic, he said, comes from his experience as a German citizen during the recent waves of refugee migration to Europe.

“Even the liberal center of German society raised the question: ‘Shouldn’t we as the members of a democratic society be able to shape our community? Shouldn’t we be able to exclude newcomers to maintain the character of our community?” he said. Menge is skeptical that the idea of democratic self-determination can support a right to exclude would-be immigrants, at least in the case of Western countries that have a history of colonialism.

“I’m inspired by philosophers such as Charles Mills, Iris Marion Young, and many others who argue for a non-ideal theory that takes seriously the materiality of social life and the consequences of past injustices that are materially entrenched in our societies. My goal for this research project is to understand border regimes and immigration control from this perspective,” Menge said.

Research colloquia are organized to allow faculty members to present ongoing research activities and to get feedback from their colleagues as well as to provide workshops in research training. They take place every month during the semester. “At these meetings, we hope that the audience may have inspiring questions for the speakers, tips, or even may want to collaborate with the presenters,” said Klaus Schoenbach, senior associate dean.