This academic year, a collective of staff and students have continued the Political Theory Reading Group initiated by Mihaela Mihai. We have made good progress: Beginning with Antonio Negri’s early book Insurgencies, we then read Twenty Theses on Politics, one of the most important books by Latin American philosopher Enrique Dussel. This was followed by reading On the Postcolony by one of the most influential African and postcolonial philosophers, Achille Mbembe. We are currently reading a series of texts by Amy Allen, in preparation for her visit the University of Edinburgh in May. After this we will most likely read Friedrich Nietzsche.
This is a write-up of the meeting of the Political Theory Research Group, 15th March 2017.
“Tetanus of the Imagination”: Violence, Imagination and Memory. Soldiers’ Testimonies of the Algerian War of Decolonisation. 1954-1962, in Les Temps moderns and Esprit
For this week’s seminar, Hugh McDonnell presented a paper on the testimonies of soldiers during the Algerian War of Decolonisation, 1954-1962. In this paper, Hugh seeks to capture the relationship between violence, imagination, and memory, with a particular focus on how imagination helps make sense of violence, but also how it is impeded, breaks down, and facilitates violence. He draws on two influential journals of the time, which reproduced these testimonies and played an important role in providing an alternative narrative to the general French disengagement with the cruelties committed in Algeria. For this, Hugh identifies two central strategies, firstly, mobilisation of imagination by connecting the occurrences in Algeria with the painful memory of German occupation for the French population during World War II. Secondly, the production of imagination, by actively analysing and challenging the institutionalisation of a culture where violence became normalised. Hugh is thus able to build a complex picture of the various instances of imagination surrounding the Algerian war on the French side, and thus the limitation and potential of imagination and memory in responding to violence.
The ensuing discussion covered a wide variety of topics and drew attention to many of the insights this paper provides. Questions focused among other things on the broader context of the testimonies considered in the paper and the role of testimony more generally. Further, on the story about imagination it may provide beyond the concrete context of the Algerian war. Lastly, the discussion considered wider methodological questions about approaches to history and the value of comparative analysis.
Written by Gisli Vogler
Hugh McDonnell is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, working on the Greyzone project.
In this week’s meeting of the Political Theory Research Group, we discussed a draft on “Judging violent resistances: Camus, Fanon and the grey zone of rebellion” by our group member Maša Mrovlje. In this paper, Maša sets out to discuss two things: first, she criticises current transitional justice scholarship for failing to attend to the complexities of violent resistance that cannot be understood in terms of victim-perpetrator dichotomies. In order to make sense of this ‘grey zone’, she introduces the reader to the ‘artistic inside’ the works of Albert Camus can offer. In contrast to Frantz Fanon for whom violence is needed — and justified — to counter the violent system of colonialism, Maša argues, Camus emphasises that this violence is necessarily an “involvement in the very injustice that needs to be overthrown” (9). In a second step, and with this perspective in mind, the paper turns back to questions of transitional justice by looking at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Through the analysis of three artistic examples — the novels David’s Story (Zoe Wicomb) and The Innocents (Tatamkhulu Afrika) as well as the film Homecoming (Norman Make) –, various problems of the judgment of violent resistance regarding the Apartheid regime are pointed out. Continue reading
The first PTRG meeting of 2017 saw a discussion of Chiming Zhong’s ‘On the Legal Methodology of Rights Theory’. In this paper Chiming looks to move beyond what he sees as conventional, philosophical approaches to understanding rights, focusing instead on more practice-oriented models derived from legal theory. A particularly important example of the latter is found in H.L.A. Hart’s methodology of rights theory and the first half of Chiming’s paper is dedicated to clarifying Hart’s position with regards to rights, as well as legal theory more broadly, and defending both from various challenges. Continue reading
On 13 January, our Edinburgh-St.Andrews PhD Political Theory Workshop is taking place. This is an opportunity for PhD students across the two institutions to present and receive feedback on their work. The programme is below. Interested guests are welcome to attend, although please note this is a pre-read event. A write-up of the workshop will be published next week.
PTRG Write-up: December 7
In “Needing and Necessity,” Guy Fletcher argues that we can better understand thought and talk about ‘needs’ if we learn from recent work on modal terms ‘ought’ and ‘must.’ Further, once we understand what is going on in much of existing needs theory, we have reason to be skeptical of the added value of talking about ‘needs’ rather than the more fundamental moral concept of ‘harm.’ Continue reading
This is a write-up of the meeting of the Political Theory Research Group, 30th November 2016.
The Political Theory Research Group was delighted to welcome Duncan Bell, University of Cambridge, who provided a paper on the English writer J.G. Ballard entitled Scripting the City: J. G. Ballard among the Architects. Continue reading
PTRG report, 23 November 2016
In this week’s PTRG meeting we discussed Mathias Thaler’s paper ‘Hope Abjuring Hope’. In this paper Mathias seeks to demonstrate the role which radical, utopian thinking ought to play within ‘realist’ political theory. Continue reading
On 21 October, the Just World Institute (with the support of Social Responsibility and Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh) organised an Ethics Forum with the title ‘Should Universities Revisit their Colonial Legacies?’. Four speakers presented their views: Dr Nuala Zahedieh (History), Dr Emile Chabal (History), Dr Hazel Gray (African Studies), and Dr Hugh McDonnell (Politics). Read Dr Hugh McDonnell’s talk below:
“The days of Britain having to apologise for its colonial history are over. We should move forward.” So announced former student in the history department here at Edinburgh – Gordon Brown. Speaking in 2005, his remarks chimed with a growing trend of revived imperialism, enlisting a range of opinion from Tony Blair’s advisor Robert Cooper, historian Niall Ferguson, Michael Gove, and even travel presenter Michael Palin.