IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Christine HentschelIN THE SPOTLIGHT: Christine Hentschel

Christine Hentschel is a professor of criminology, security and resilience at the Social Sciences Department at the University of Hamburg. Her interests revolve around apocalyptic imaginations with regard to the climate crisis, right-wing sentiments and thought, the sociology of in/security and


What were your first thoughts when you saw the call for applications for the fellowship?

Mine! Seriously, it was quite an immediate ‘I have to try’ impulse and I had fun imagining my project.

What does the apocalypse and/or post-apocalypse mean for you?

I don’t mean apocalypse as something that is, was, or will come; even though I am writing from a world that is falling apart. I am interested in the apocalypse in the present progressive, e.g. how we are facing, narrating, or prepping for apocalypse; or as an adjective, as in apocalyptic attunements, apocalyptic sensitivities, or apocalyptic imaginations. This allows me to create an approach for thinking of our world at the edge of ecological devastation, planetary insecurity, and unbearable injustice, as well as how “we” work through all that. 

I depict apocalyptic mobilizations in the face of ultimate ecological ruination as edgework. By edgework I mean the modes of attending to, living with, and struggling over catastrophic realities and prospects that come with intense emotional, physical, and intellectual demands. Take the apocalyptic and postapocalyptic tones in contemporary climate activism who call out last chances, put their bodies on the line, and declare themselves to be the last generation (of this world and the first generation of the new world). Apocalyptic matters are not necessarily a common sociological theme but I believe them to be very important for understanding how societies are struggling with and making sense of dark futures and catastrophic presents.

What is your fellowship trying to achieve, which questions is it addressing, and with which methods?

The apocalyptic lens of my work helps me to critically read the present and societies’ dis/engagement with the future: What does the widespread apocalyptic sense of the present tell us about our times and how does it shape political capacities for radical transformation? How can we grasp the affective sway and imaginative force of apocalyptic attunements in a world at the edge? I am building an inventory of devices that can make sense of all the different affective investments at play. My affective devices are also, in a way, methods: not as ethnography, narrative analysis, or interviews (which I all use in my work) are methods, but as enablers that operate through questions and areas of attention. So, it is this book project that I am kickstarting in these 5 months of my fellowship.

How does the fellowship project build on or connect to your previous career or biography?

I am a professor of criminology, security, and resilience at a social sciences department and I have always interpreted the discipline as “looking at the world from its dark sides”: i.e. how societies deal with radical uncertainty, insecurity, and the destruction of our living resources. In a way, the project is a continuation of this in a more extreme forcefield, as the climate crisis and planetary insecurity are worsening. I have also worked on the apocalyptic excitement about a “great awakening” prevalent in right wing milieus and in the protests against the pandemic measures in the last years and have taught classes on “feeling catastrophic” or “the revenge of the apocalypse”. But to be in a setting that is all dedicated to apocalyptic reasoning is really special and absolutely inspiring.

What do you hope to take with you from the project and its results?

At CAPAS, I hope to experience the miracle of focused time-space; until now it has really been working. Right next to my office is the CAPAS library which is superb, around me other fellows that I can chat to and distract from their work. So: inspiration, time, and developing something that I wouldn’t be able to develop in my everyday life at Hamburg University. And in terms of content: to get this book rolling that I strangely enjoy writing.

What are the aspects you are looking forward to at CAPAS?

Ideas on apocalyptic reasoning, readings I have never heard of, as well as more Spanish seeping into my system in this astonishing bilingual context. I also look forward to concrete ideas for future collaboration and I enjoy witnessing how interdisciplinarity, exchange, and outreach in such a centre works, e.g. when CAPAS takes part in urban festivals or helps inspire a dance company to kick off their apocalyptic piece.

To get some practical advice: What are the three things you would definitely need in a post-apocalyptic world?

Would need to know what kind of postapocalyptic world we are imagining here (e.g. nuclear winter or super heat?). Let’s say I need something warm: woolen socks and good shoes (can we say that counts as one?) and then chewing gums (just kidding), and lots of seeds with the hope that there is water.

What are some of your favourite pop culture references to the/an (post)apocalypse?

I am ridiculously bad at this, and at CAPAS I have already doubled my reference points within a few weeks…but I was touched by Parable of the Sower and The Road, in both books the ambiance still sticks with me. For a more informed opinion on that matter I suggest you read the interview with Daniel Barber.

Interview with Daniel Barber