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
PTRG 13 Oct 2017
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
PTRG 27 Sept 2017
This week Political Theory Research Group welcomed back Professor Tim Hayward’s book chapter: Constituting Finance as a Global Public Good. Continue reading
PTRG 3 May 2017
Today’s Political Theory Research Group seminar brought Dr. Matthew Chrisman’s paper The Speech Act of Protest. The paper aims at examining the conditions under which protests, as a speech act, are felicitous by deploying the speech-act theory. The paper argues that there are three constitutive norms of the speech act of protest: first, the act must aim to express disapproval of something; second, it must aim to demand some change in response to this disapproval; third, it must do both of these things by appealing to some presumed shared conception of what is fair. Because of these conditions, a protest which indicates insincerity or hypocrisy. The paper ends with comparing the liberal and republican accounts of civil disobedience, but Chrisman argues that the speech act theory developed above is a more general and neutral alternative to both liberal and republican accounts. Continue reading
PTRG 10 May 2017
Summary of the paper
The economic premises of the Western liberal democracies are unsustainable in the light of social justice and ecology. This indicates the ‘necessity’ of conceiving of an alternative to the existing global economic institutions. The global financial system, too, needs to be reorganised and reoriented. But how? Answering this question may indicate the ‘possibility’ of conceiving of alternative constitutional arrangements concerning global finance. Continue reading
“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. Continue reading
This week’s PTRG session discussed ‘The Tory Consequences of Whig Foundations’ by Chandran Kukathas. In this paper, Chandran defends David Hume’s critique of social contract theory and demonstrates the broader implications this has for certain strands of liberalism today. He begins with a historical account of the emergence of the modern nation state before discussing attempts at its justification by social contract theorists. What unites the disparate theories provided by thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant is the idea that the legitimacy of the state comes from its embodying the abstract, collective will of the citizens who comprise it. Chandran contrasts this with the approach taken by Hume who rejects the idea of such a will and bases the endurance of the state on its ability to satisfy particular interests. This latter perspective is beneficial in outlining a more realist account of politics which acknowledges the sectional nature of society as a contest between competing interests. In attempting to justify the state in terms of the collective will of the governed, social contract theory can serve to obscure the particular interests which underpin the governance and institutions of the state. Continue reading
This week the PTRG welcomed Anca Gheaus from Universitat Pompeu Fabra. In her paper, ‘The Best Available Parent’, Anca argues against the widely-held assumption that children’s biological parents have an automatic moral right to
exercise exclusive parental control over their children. Her argument rests on the liberal assumption that it is only justifiable to exert control over another individual when that individual has given their consent or, if consent cannot be given, when it is in the controlled individual’s best interests. Given that children fall into the latter category it is necessary that any controlling action is conducted in their best interests, which entails giving parental control to the best available parents.
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
Last week we had the pleasure of hosting Cian O’Driscoll from the University of Glasgow, presenting a draft of his latest intervention in just war theory. Below, I recollect the basic moves of his paper.
Cian O’Driscoll sets out to redress one of the dangers of locating oneself within the tradition of just war theory: of lapsing into a kind of traditionalism that contrives a fixed canon around which all debate must orbit. This is not only an artificial self-limitation, but one which can lead to a kind of intellectual conservatism. How do we preserve the wisdom congealed within the recognised tradition of just war theory, but avoid the pitfalls of traditionalism? O’Driscoll offers a simple solution: we must extend its ambit to include previously neglected thinkers. In this paper, he looks to the figure of Xenophon, with two key provisos. First, Xenophon did not write in the first-person. His writings offer a rich collection of observations of ancient Greek thought and practice. Second, clearly Xenophon antedates the actual ‘just war tradition’ – however fragile a historical basis that tradition has – and cannot be directly read through its categories. O’Driscoll reveals that Xenophon’s observations do, however, have a startling affinity with just war thinking. The one complements the other. We find in Xenophon a highly agonal conception of war that, in contrast to modern incarnations of just war theory, places especial weight on the restraint of force – not simply the enactment of justice.
Written by Louis Fletcher.