Content note: academic discussion of consent, rape, and sexual harassment
This week we welcomed Dr Elinor Mason from the University of Edinburgh’s Department of Philosophy. Elinor presented her paper entitled ‘Rape, Harassment, and the Silencing of Sexual Refusal’, which takes as its point of departure a well-known debate in the philosophy of language regarding the effect that mainstream pornography has on women’s rejections of sexual advances: this is the idea that pornography, along with other cultural representations of women’s sexuality, somehow renders the refusing ‘no’ ineffective, either by distorting its meaning or the credibility of the refuser. The focus of the paper is whether we might fruitfully conceptualise the persistent failure of women’s refusals as failures of their authority to refuse. To argue for this position, Elinor suggests that we can distinguish between a moral conception of authority – that which we always retain over ourselves and our bodies – and conventional authority. This is what fails when a man disregards a woman’s refusal, and it relates back to pornography’s and other media representations of women’s sexuality through their portrayal of women as sexually subordinate and ignorant of their own sexual desires.
Thanks to the rich mix of pertinent philosophical and political issues in the paper, a spirited discussion ensued. Several responses focused on the question of how to apply the related but analytically distinct concepts of blameworthiness and wrongdoing. One of the features of the paper was its attention to cases of rape where the perpetrator has, unwittingly or otherwise, failed to obtain consent, or where he has misconstrued a ‘no’ as a ‘yes’ but has lacked the intent to commit rape. This heralded a further consideration; namely, whether we need to take into account, for example, ideologically constructed gender roles – hegemonic norms of masculinity and femininity – and how these influence our cultural understandings of rape and consent. Discussion also centred around the different conceptions of authority: how can and should we distinguish between the conceptions outlined in the paper? Is the presence of authority a binary matter? How do we gain or lose authority? These were just a few of the many topics of discussion covered in a lively and productive session.
Edinburgh doctoral candidate Louis Fletcher presented his paper on civilization and globalism at this week’s PTRG. A work in intellectual history, Louis’ paper charts the decline of civilization as an organizing concept in global political thought, and the birth of globalism in the interwar years in Europe. Drawing on the work of two liberal internationalists who wrote extensively on civilization and the emergent global order following the First World War, Louis explores how these thinkers, Arnold Toynbee and Quincy Wright, eschewed ‘civilization’ as a temporal achievement eventually reached by all cultures, embracing instead a cyclical understanding of the fortunes of history’s many civilizations. The twilight of the European empires and the catastrophe of war heralded a new era for Toynbee and Wright, as institutions such as the League of Nations and seismic shifts in the balances of power across Europe, the Americas, Russia, India and the Antipodean colonies transformed the global political order in this exceptional period.
A productive and collaborative discussion ensued, with matters of interest ranging from the meaning of globalism as a concept and as a project, to questions regarding methods and approaches in the history of political thought. One issue receiving particular attention was the idea of the organization of global space raised in the paper, and the extent to which concepts such as civilization and globalism can be seen as constructing, delineating or delimiting that space. The discussion also occasioned several recommendations for further reading and some lively exchanges regarding the role of an imaginary in global political thought.
For this week’s seminar, Mihaela Mihai presented a paper on complicity, hope, and imagination in the context of systemic political repression. Part of her greyzone project researching the potential of art to illustrate the contribution bystanders, collaborators, and beneficiaries make to political violence and widespread injustice, this paper explores the complex temporal dimension to navigating the social world. Its effects on how hope, resistance, and solidarity are perceived and structured. To achieve this goal, Mihaela initially puts forward a critical review of existing complicity literature, in its dominant moral and legal framework insufficiently attentive to humans’ positionality, e.g. how action is part of enduring social processes. This raises serious doubts about its ability to capture the relationship between complicit and resistant action in the messy context of the greyzone as further clarified using the example of Vichy France. In moving beyond the paradigm, her paper offers an analysis of agency and subjectification that helps broaden our understanding of the context of complicity without denying its connection to questions of blame and responsibility. Continue reading →
We are delighted to have invited Professor Henry Shue from Oxford University as the presenter for PTRG yesterday. In the presented paper, Professor Shue critically reflects upon his earlier argument: that it is important to make a distinction between ‘subsistence emissions’ and ‘luxury emissions’, and that this distinction should be incorporated into climate policy intended to achieve mitigation. ‘Subsistence emissions’ are emissions necessary for securing the basic right to subsistence, whereas ‘luxury emissions’ are those that exceed a minimally adequate level of emission. According to Professor Shue, it is morally unacceptable to ask the poor to sacrifice subsistence emissions so that the affluent can maintain their luxury emissions. Continue reading →
Sunday’s images were shocking: polling stations stormed, elderly voters with bloodied faces, fire fighters (of all people) beaten by police. Coverage in the press and widespread sharing on social media ensured a PR disaster for Spain. Catalonia’s separatists have, for the moment at least, gained the world’s attention and a share of its sympathy. But how far should this sympathy extend?
One can condemn the violence and leave it there (as, for instance, Belgium did). But the more fundamental question is whether Catalonia has a right to secession. That is not just a question about Sunday’s poll. Even if one rejects the legitimacy of that poll, one still faces the question of whether another should be held. There is no reason why Catalonia could not hold an orderly referendum of the Quebec and Scotland kind. What has been stopping it so far is Spanish opposition. So, must Spain give way? Continue reading →
In June 2018 the University of Edinburgh is hosting an interdisciplinary Summer School entitled “Illuminating the Grey Zone: Complicity, Resistance and Solidarity.” This event targets PhD students and early career researchers (within 4 years of obtaining their doctorate). We will explore the complexities of complicity in and resistance to systemic human rights violations. Moreover, we will consider the ethical and political value of art for shedding light on the ambiguous reality of political responsibility and fostering relations of political solidarity. The Summer School is part of the interdisciplinary ERC research Project GREYZONE, and we aim to bring together perspectives from political theory, political science, law, history, sociology, cultural studies, aesthetics and art. The main goal is to give participants the opportunity to interact across disciplinary boundaries with several international experts and to receive critical feedback on their own projects. The Summer School will Continue reading →
Opening this academic year’s Political Theory Research Group on 20 September, we had the pleasure to discuss Mathias Thaler’s paper Peace as a Minor, Grounded Utopia: On Prefigurative and Testimonial Pacifism. Here, Thaler utilises the distinction between two types of utopias, minor and major, to advance a (minor) utopian argument for pacifism. According to how Just War Theory, the most influential strand of the ethics of violence, understands pacifism, it is variably immoral, inconsistent, and impractical. Thaler draws on two examples, radical US postwar pacifism and Amnesty International, to show how minor, grounded utopias can be politically powerful. Both of these show that pacifism is not simply a means-oriented strategy. Therefore, we should not judge the success of pacifism along the lines of its short-term, practical political impact, but in how it can envisage and embody alternative worlds. These worlds are not fully detached and wholly imaginary: utopias are always formed from existing social structures and situations.
Here’s a thought many of us find uncomfortable. When we tally up the ways our individual behaviour increases carbon emissions – flying, driving, eating animal products – there’s one thing we should put at the top of the list: having babies. Each time you do that, you effectively create another lifetime’s worth of pollution. On one estimate, the average US woman increases GHG emissions by 5.7 times her own lifetime average by having a child. Continue reading →
Protesters in San Francisco International Airport. Photograph: Josh Edelson.
By Alvaro Candia Callejas and Andrew Mousseau
Recently, we had the opportunity to welcome Professor Chandran Kukathas to discuss a chapter from his new book project, Immigration and Freedom with our class Contemporary Political Theory: Engaging with Current Research. In his book, Kukathas gives a new perspective on familiar moral and political problems. He argues that immigration control undermines—and perhaps even threatens—the ‘rule of law’. This causes significant social problems that must be addressed regardless of one’s personal views on immigration. Continue reading →