Vulnerable Empire 

Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb


In the years after 9/11, terrorism was increasingly described in the West as an “epidemic” – a language peculiarly targeting Muslim populations and Muslim-majority countries. Acts of mass violence were conflated with contagion and illness; they were explained by resorting to the same imaginary of random, unknowable threats to the social body. Such metaphors are not a contemporary phenomenon but can be traced back to the early days of epidemiology in the 1850s and its roots as a tool of imperial management – when the colonised masses were regarded as a public health threat, and acts of resistance were portrayed as terrorism. The way epidemiological language has been deployed to feed racial constructs – and Islamophobia in particular – calls into question the very foundations of modern medical knowledge.

Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb is Associate Professor of English at the University of Toronto, where she teaches poetry and postcolonial literature and theory. Her academic research explores how science, medicine, natural history, and other kinds of colonial knowing reshaped literature, culture, economy, and politics. Her first book, Epidemic Empire (2020) uncovers the history behind the dead metaphor of the “terrorism epidemic”. Kolb’s poems, translations, and essays have appeared in various venues and are in conversation with the traditions of Urdu poetry, contemporary queer poetics, and lyric memoir.


Graphic design by Omnigroup. Photo: By Agency.

Vulnerable Beings builds on long-term research by Andrea Bagnato and Ivan L. Munuera which thinks about space and cohabitation through the lens of infectious diseases. In a two-part public assembly at maat – Tuning In (29–31/10/2021) and Sounding Out (26–28/11/2021), guests from different disciplines and backgrounds will come together for a dense sequence of lectures, dialogues, performances, screenings, and music. This is the first part of a multi-sited project curated by Andrea Bagnato and Ivan L. Munuera, which will continue with an exhibition opening in the summer 2022 at La Casa Encendida.



The lecture and reading “Vulnerable Empire” by Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb, followed by a Q&A moderated by Ivan L. Munuera, was recorded at maat (Turbine Hall, Central) in the context of Vulnerable Beings (Assembly 1: Tuning In, 29–31/10/2021).