Giorgio Agamben: Oath

Key Concept Today, the oath seems to us obscure and obsolete. As an enigmatic relic of earlier times, it invokes the authority of sacred and supernatural powers that go beyond the scope of human capabilities, and by doing so it realizes its aim—namely, truth-telling. Since these powers are no longer as effective as they used to be, at least in public and political life, the oath as an act of speech appears to be in danger of extinction, losing its force day by day. The prominent Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, however, thinks otherwise. The oath for sure is in decline, yet an investigation into its hidden layers, he argues, will not only show why it sounds us so archaic and…

Demands Against the Long Crisis of the University

Next week the UCU (University and Colleges Union), which represents most people working as lecturers and researchers in universities, is beginning a wave of strikes. The strike is about cuts to pensions. Since there is a large financial hole in the main pension fund, the bodies that administrate that fund are hoping to lessen it by reducing pay outs in retirement. If this happens lecturers could lose up to £200,000 (or £10,000 per year over 20 years). This is certainly a bad state of affairs, and one worth striking about, but it barely reflects any of the problems for workers in a sector that has now been in a permanent state of crisis for decades. In fact a large proportion…

Fee Strike

The University and College Union (UCU) is going on strike. Following the refusal of the employer’s association (Universities UK – the UUK) to negotiate on their proposed cut to pensions, the UCU balloted members and 88% voted in favour of strike action. Barring a massive volte-face by the UUK, lecturers from 61 of the oldest Universities will walk out of classrooms, stop marking, leave committee meetings and libraries for at least 14 days this semester, and more after that if the UUK do not begin to negotiate. Usually students are sometimes relatively passive bystanders in such strikes. But what if they could use the lecturer’s strike to their advantage? What if students demanded that Universities should repay them the fees…

Space, Assemblages, and the Hostile Border

Last year, I went to an art exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Bonn by the Swedish duo Lundahl & Seitl. After trailing around the gallery led by text messages from an unknown sender called “the Collector”, we were asked to don headphones and sightless goggles before we entered the second stage of the exhibition. The sensation of being lost at the periphery of boundless space was acute, as the voice told us to delve into the previously viewed artworks – the spatio-temporality of a series of maps would unfold with each unsteady jerk of our limbs, or we became trapped inside the glass of Max Ernst’s lantern, a moth to the synchronised light, party to the throbbing beat behind our eyelids.…

The New Thesis Eleven

Domination rests to such a degree on the society/nature duality that no liberation struggle will ever succeed unless that duality is overcome. In 1845, shortly after he published the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Karl Marx wrote his Theses on Feuerbach. The Theses were his first attempt at building a materialist philosophy that was centred on transformative praxis and radically different from dominant thinking, whose main exponent at the time was Ludwig Feuerbach. The famous thesis eleven, the best known of them all, reads: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” The word “philosophers” is used here in a broad sense, as referring to the producers of erudite knowledge, which…

Safe Spaces for Colonial Apologists

The recent controversies about Oxford Professor Nigel Biggar’s “Ethics and Empire” project and UK Universities Minister Jo Johnson’s attack on “safe space culture” have both been defended on freedom of speech grounds. However, they are better understood as retrenching colonial thinking in universities. Nigel Biggar’s research project proposes to take a cost-benefit analysis of British imperial history, weighing the bad things against the good. In defending the project he called on “us British to moderate our post-imperial guilt” (emphasis added) in an article in The Times. There have been some excellent critiques of the naive simplicity of the research methods proposed, most notably an excellent open-letter drafted by a range of prominent Oxford academics of different disciplinary backgrounds. This led to a backlash from…

Evgeny Pashukanis: Commodity-Form Theory of Law

Key Concept Whether one believes that law is provided by God (Natural Law), is created by human intellect (Positivism), a gendered institution perpetuating patriarchy (Feminism) or the maintainer of the status quo against marginalised groups (Critical Legal Studies), undergirding those beliefs is the assumption that law is autonomous. In its autonomy, law operates as an impartial arbiter of “right”. Law sustains society through universal regulation. Law is considered autonomous because it is considered to have a “mind/logic” of its own. However, for Pashukanis and Commodity-Form Theorists such as Isaac D. Balbus and China Miéville law slaves for Capitalism. The state as an organization of class domination, and as an organization for the conduct of external wars, does not require legal…

Trials Begin in Turkey for Academics for Peace

International solidarity is crucial at this time when our colleagues are facing criminal trials. On December 5, 2017, the trials began for those who signed the Academics for Peace petition in January 2016. Conducted by High Criminal Courts in Istanbul, these trials focus on a single individual at a time. Currently 148 trials are scheduled through to May 2018, with new hearings expected to be announced in the coming weeks and months. But the indictment is the same for all of them. Each signatory is charged with “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” and if found guilty, each will face a prison sentence of up to seven and a half years. In the petition entitled “We will not be a…

Martti Koskenniemi: Indeterminacy

Key Concept In From Apology to Utopia (1989), the Finnish jurist and former diplomat Martti Koskenniemi presents his thesis on international law’s fundamental indeterminacy. This would come to epitomize a critical moment in international law. Rather than repeat the classical legal view concerning “relative indeterminacy” (where, in some difficult but marginal cases there might not be one correct understanding, “rule-making authority must exercise a discretion” [Hart: 128]), Koskenniemi claims that indeterminacy cannot be reduced to an external distortion. It does not refer to difficulties in the application of international law arising from the semantic ambiguities of legal rules or to the ambivalences of legal argument or the inconsistencies in conceivable legal interpretations. In the end, indeterminacy, a variously applied trope…

Trump’s Upside Down

We have not lately – not until Trump’s election – seen or heard the dog whistle politics of racism, sexism, Nativism, and homophobia so eagerly thrust aside by a Presidential candidate and, with such glee: traded for openly racist invective, division, misogyny, nativism, and more… It is no accident, as the historians love to say, that this past television season, the breakout show was Stranger Things, which I watched and loved, along with many of you, I am sure. Stranger Things is a romp through 80’s nostalgia, from Steven Spielberg’s E.T. to Alien and more. Aspects of the 80’s for which I myself am less nostalgic were also peddled by the show – in particular the Reaganist antipathy to government, as…

Is Fascism Making a Comeback? (Part II)

Continuing the reposted series from State of Nature, the question is whether Fascism is making a comeback? Laurence Davis Seventy-two years after the end of World War II, the spectre of fascism is again haunting the globe. The important questions we should be asking are why, and what can be done about it. The evidence of history suggests that fascism thrives in periods of severe capitalist crisis by redirecting fear and anxiety about socioeconomic dislocation onto easily scapegoated ‘outsider’ groups, who must be brutally repressed in order to reaffirm society’s ‘natural’ hierarchies and enable national rebirth. Just as Mussolini and Hitler capitalised on the economic and political crises of their time, so too contemporary fascists are endeavouring to tap into…

Is Fascism Making a Comeback? (Part I)

Each month, the wonderful State of Nature blog asks leading critical thinkers a question. This month that question is Fascism. Chiara Bottici In fact, fascism has never gone away. If by fascism, we mean the historical regime that created the name and embraced the ideology explicitly, then we have to conclude that the concept is only applicable to the political regime that reigned in Italy between 1922 and 1943. This, however, amounts to little more than a tautology: ‘the Italian fascist regime’ = ‘the Italian fascist regime’. History clearly never repeats itself, so any attempt to apply the category of fascism outside of that context would be doomed to fail. That may be a necessary cautionary remark for historians, but…

The Politics of Recognition and the Limits of Emancipation through Law

There is much to celebrate about the BVerfG gender recognition decision. The court held the sole availability of M/F gender markers, combined with the obligation to register a gender, to be unconstitutional as it violates the right to ‘positive recognition’ of the intersex claimant’s gender. It asked Parliament to resolve the situation by either adding a 3rd gender option (inter/diverse) or scrapping gender registration altogether, by end 2018. Intersex erasure is a serious issue, and 2017 could go down in history as the year intersex reached a tipping point of visibility: supermodel Hanne Gaby Odiele comes out as intersex in the US Teen Vogue, generally intersex activism is picking up media time around the world, and now Vanja has won…

Statement by Legal Scholars and International Lawyers Against Holding ESIL Forum at the Hebrew University in East Jerusalem

To add your name, please email: palpetition17@gmail.com. The statement is open to all law academics and international lawyers. You do not have to be a member of ESIL or based in Europe to sign. The European Society of International Law (ESIL) is holding its Research Forum at the Hebrew University in February/March. Ten Palestinian human rights organisations have condemned this decision calling on ESIL to reconsider its decision and urging international lawyers and academics to not participate in this event. Explanatory Note Location of the Hebrew University During the 1948 war, it was agreed between the Israeli and Jordanian military commanders that the Mount Scopus area, which included the Hebrew University (HUJI) buildings, would be a demilitarised zone. After Israel…

Welcome to the Molysmocene

As environmental law reveals, we now live in a new era: the Molysmocene, a geological era shaped by human waste and its management. The climate talks of 6–17 November 2017 in Bonn are now over. This 23rd Convention of the Parties of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP-23) was tasked with the implementation of the Paris Agreement, which entered into force on 4 November 2016. Despite the renewal of past commitments rebranded as new alliances [see the “Powering Past Coal” initiative led by Canada & the UK; the transfer of the Adaptation Fund from the ineffective Kyoto Protocol to the Paris Agreement], the COP-23 has failed to match global environmental commitments with a commensurate action plan. Little has been achieved…

Michel Foucault: Discourse

Key Concept The idea of discourse constitutes a central element of Michel Foucault’s oeuvre, and one of the most readily appropriated Foucaultian terms, such that ‘Foucaultian discourse analysis’ now constitutes an academic field in its own right. This post therefore sets out to describe Foucault’s notion of discourse, and to define in broad terms the task of Foucaultian discourse analysis. Foucault adopted the term ‘discourse’ to denote a historically contingent social system that produces knowledge and meaning. He notes that discourse is distinctly material in effect, producing what he calls ‘practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak’.1 Discourse is, thus, a way of organising knowledge that structures the constitution of social (and progressively global) relations through the…

Michel Foucault: Archaeology

Key Concept In 1968, Jean Hyppolite,1 chair in ‘The History of Systems’ at the Collège de France, died. By 1970, Michel Foucault had been elected into Hyppolite’s vacant position, as the Chair of ‘The History of Systems of Thought’.2 It was a position he, too, remained in until his death in 1984. But it was a title, unlike many others, that Foucault readily accepted.3 Moreover, it was a title which stood at the midpoint between his work on archaeology and that of genealogy, two concepts he developed as tools to for conducting a historical analytic. This post sets out Foucault’s ideas on archaeology. Foucault’s notion of archaeology can be broadly understood as an analytical tool for uncovering alternative and disturbed…

Private Security: Twin Indignities

The privatisation of criminal justice practices is an affront to human dignity. When we are acted upon for profit as well as for justified ends, the proper link between coercion, rights, and authority is lost. Ministry of Justice proposals could mean that all collection of court fines — powers normally exercised by Civilian Enforcement Officers, employees of HM Courts and Tribunals Service — will be granted to private contractors. There is extensive evidence of how private contractors (principally G4S, Serco, and Sodexo in the UK) are both systematically failing in the provision of public services and are too big to fail. Despite high-profile cases of failure in standards, of deaths in custody, misuse of restraint techniques, provision of abhorrent accommodation conditions,…

Britain: The Empire that Never Was

Why Brexit is the culmination of a British national project which weaponises imperial amnesia and nostalgia. Brexit sold the country a dream; ostensibly a project built on anti-migrant sentiment, it also invoked delusions of grandeur, rooted in reanimating the glorious days of imperial rule and global British hegemony. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit speech announced a vision for a ‘Global Britain’ – ‘a great, global trading nation that is respected around the world and strong.’ Boris Johnson, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, hammered home the image of an ‘astonishing globalism, this wanderlust of aid workers and journalists and traders and diplomats and entrepreneurs.’ In a speech promoting ‘Global Britain’ to the Commonwealth trade ministers’ meeting, Secretary of International Trade Liam Fox…