Film Series Complicity

Film Series


How are we to judge actions, inactions and rationalisations of people who find themselves in a murky grey zone of complicity with violence? What does ethics demand of us in dreadful, even impossible, situations? The film series explores cinematic depictions that bring the thorny issue of complicity to the fore, focusing on Nazi-occupied France, apartheid South Africa, Argentina’s Dirty War and Communist Romania. In selecting these four critically acclaimed films, we aim to provoke reflection on ambiguous aspects of violence and human rights abuses. A guiding premise of the event is that reckoning with such experiences is essential to learning from past atrocities and preventing future catastrophes.

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Cian O’Driscoll – Keeping Tradition Alive: Just War and Historical Imagination

A bas-relief of Persian soldiers, c.515 BC. Source: Aneta Ribarska

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.

Chiming Zhong – On the Legal Methodology of Rights Theory

Source: James Shelley (Flickr)

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

Report from Edinburgh-St Andrews PhD Political Theory Workshop


On the 13th of January 2017, doctoral students from Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities met in Edinburgh University’s School of Social and Political Science for the day-long collaborative PhD Political Theory Workshop.  We covered a wide range of issues in political theory including genealogy, intellectual history, gender and moral agency, methodology of political theory, global justice and responsibility, caring cosmopolitanism and narratives, issues in liberalism, and rights theory. Continue reading

Nicola Perugini – The Apparatus of Distinction and the Ethics of Violence: On the Construction of Liminal Subjects and Spaces

PTRG seminar series: 14 Dec 2016

Photo: Moyan Brenn

The last Political Theory Research Group seminar of 2016 brings Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon’s interesting paper The Apparatus of Distinction and the Ethics of Violence into discussion. At the very beginning of the paper, the authors quote that “Enemy Leaders look like everyone else. Enemy combatants look like everyone else” and it is this new reality of modern wars that challenges the notion that we are able to make distinctions between combatant and non-combatant, and military and civilian sites. In this paper, they argue that, due to the introduction of the new technology, a status of liminal subjects and spaces is created to legitimize the violence in war. Continue reading

Edinburgh-St. Andrews Political Theory PhD Workshop

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 Programme Term II 2017

PTRG Programme Term II 2017


18 January, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Chiming Zhong (PIR), On the Methodology of Rights Theory


25 January, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Cian O’Driscoll (Glasgow), Victory in the Just War Tradition


1 February, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Masa Mrovlje (PIR), Judging Violent Resistances


8 February, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Anca Gheaus (Pompeu Fabra), The Best Available Parent


15 February, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Kerri Woods (Leeds), TBA


1 March, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Chandran Kukathas (LSE), TBA


8 March, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Hugh McDonnell (PIR), TBA


15 March, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Thomas Fossen (Leiden), Legitimacy, Judgment, and Utopia 


22 March, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Lorna Finlayson (Essex), False Consciousness and the Politics of Austerity


29 March, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Joe Carens (Toronto), TBA


5 April, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Matthew Festenstein (York), TBA


26 April, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Raúl Madrid, (Pontifical Catholic University, Chile), Is academic freedom a relative notion? 


3 May, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Matthew Chrisman (Philosophy), The Speech Act of Protest


10 May, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Tim Hayward (PIR), TBA


17 May,3 pm, CMB 2.15

Cormac Mac Amhlaigh, (Law), (Suprastate) Constitutionalism as Ideal Theory


22 May, time and location TBC

Amy Allen (Penn State), Joint lecture PTRG and GENDERPOL


24 May, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Cat Wayland (PIR), TBA


31 May, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Philip Cook (PIR), TBA


7th of June, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Jill Poeggel, TBA


14 June, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Monica Brito Vieira (York), TBA 


21st of June, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Kieran Oberman (PIR) TBA


5th of July, 3 pm, CMB 2.15

Alia Al-Saji (McGill University) Glued to the Image: A phenomenology of racialization through works of art (Joint event PTRG, Philosophy, Centre for Cultural Relations)


Guy Fletcher – Needing and Necessity

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

Duncan Bell – Scripting the City: J. G. Ballard among the Architects

This is a write-up of the meeting of the Political Theory Research Group, 30th November 2016.

(Source: Amber Case,

(Source: Amber Case,

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

Mathias Thaler – Hope Abjuring Hope: On the Place of Utopia in Realist Political Theory

PTRG report, 23 November 2016

(Source: RA.AZ on Flickr, CC license)

(Source: RA.AZ on Flickr, CC license)

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