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School of Law

Torture: The Marks of Civilisation

Date: 2 March 2021

The International State Crime Initiative is delighted to welcome Dr Michelle Farrell (University of Liverpool) for the talk Torture: The Marks of Civilisation. The online event will be chaired by Dr Tanzil Chowdhury (Queen Mary School of Law).

The prohibition against torture in international law is absolute. Yet, torture is a historical and contemporary constant in democratic states, and it is often understood and rationalised by democratic societies as an intentional act for the purposes of obtaining information. In this virtual talk, Dr. Farrell considers what are seemingly irreconcilable phenomena: that civilised states abhor torture, but use torture as an instrument of the civilising mission. To bridge this irreconcilability, Farrell explains how states torture bodies that they ideologically construct and stigmatise as less than human, and theologically interpret as requiring pain and suffering in the process of becoming human. Drawing upon extensive research she unveils why we should understand torture as a complex practice with no straightforward end or easily discernible meaning. She further explains how this complex practice has constructed a reality whereby torture may be seen as acceptable.

Dr Michelle Farrell is a Reader in Law in the School of Law and Social Justice. She currently holds a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship for her project on the political theology of torture. Michelle‚Äôs research interests span international law and human rights law; the histories and practices of torture and its prohibition; conflict, and counter-terrorism and states of emergency from historical, theoretical and human rights perspectives. She is the author of The Prohibition on Torture in Exceptional Circumstances (Cambridge University Press 2013) and co-editor of Human Rights in the Media: Fear and Fetish (Routledge 2019), which examines the representation of human rights in the media in the context of the UK Human Rights Act repeal debates.

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