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
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.
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. Continue reading
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