From Dynastics to Genealogy

I’ve written about The Punitive Society course by Foucault before, particularly in a review essay which appeared in Historical Materialism, and then in my book Foucault: The Birth of Power which appeared with Polity in 2017. That was a book based on both textual and archival research, an attempt to trace how Foucault moved from The Archaeology of Knowledge in 1969 to Surveiller et punir, Discipline and Punish in 1975. I did this by privileging two main sources of information – his early courses at the Collège de France, and his political activism. With the courses, I was particularly interested in how each of the first three courses took a particular schema of power-knowledge as its principal focus: measure, inquiry, examination; in Lectures on the Will to Know, Penal Theories and Institutions, The…

Mob Constitutionalism: The Riot in the Rights

The Trump presidency has been a rocky road for pretty much everyone to the left of Trump himself. Nonetheless, the lethal efforts of the President’s supporters, at his command, to storm the Capitol and overturn 2020’s supposedly ‘fraudulent’ result by force, seems to have been the final straw. Many of the Trump machine’s most loyal enthusiasts have now broken ranks. As for the sceptics both in the US and internationally, this attempted takeover, which left dozens injured and seven people dead, has been met with a torrent of condemnation (laced, every so often, with a splash of Schadenfreude).  In the UK, for example, Boris Johnson condemned this as ‘disgraceful’ episode in the history of a country that ‘stands for democracy around the world’. India’s Prime…

Trump won’t take cyanide

Trump is not Hitler, the US is not Nazi Germany, no invading army is heading toward the White House. All this notwithstanding, it is impossible not to make a comparison between Trump these last few days and Hitler’s last days. Hitler in his bunker, Trump in the White House. Having lost all sense of reality, both of them give orders no one obeys and, when disobeyed, both of them cry treason, an accusation eventually directed at even their closest and most unconditional supporters: Himmler, in the case of Hitler, Mike Pence, in the case of Trump. Just as Hitler refused to believe that the Soviet Red Army was only ten kilometers from his bunker, so Trump refuses to accept that…

Moving Beyond Being Punitive

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This text was presented in a seminar on ‘Beyond the Punitive Society’ on 7th January 2021, as part of the seminar series ‘Abolition Democracy 13/13’, co-hosted by the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought at Columbia University and the Centre for Research in Post-Kantian European Philosophy at the University of Warwick. My reflections here will focus on one aspect of the punitive society that I believe needs to be particularly emphasised and investigated – especially today. The punitive society is not simply the society that punishes; it is a society that is punitive. Being punitive is about more than simply delivering punishment; it is about reproducing punitive logics that are, or have become, inherent to social order and therefore to…

My favourite CRT: Cathy Park Hong, Minor Feelings

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Cathy Park Hong is a poet of South Korean descent, raised and living in the US. In 2020 she published her book of creative non-fiction, “Minor Feelings: A Reckoning on Race and the Asian Condition”. She calls minor feelings: “the racialized range of emotions that are negative, dysphoric, and therefore untelegenic, built from the sediments of everyday racial experience and the irritant of having one’s perception of reality constantly questioned or dismissed” (p 55). Her book is a mix of autobiography, historical accounts, stories and biographical incidents of other people that inspired her – like Richard Pryor, the Black American stand-up comedian, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, the South Korean American artist and poet, or Yuri Kochiyama, the Japanese American civil…

Anthropocenic Pandemic: Laws of Exposure & Encounter

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A human body, at any given moment, might be inhabited by over 380 trillion viruses, traversing internal and external bodily surfaces. This community, known as the human virome, forms part of a holobiont – a term used to describe the obligatory symbiosis of an organism.[1] The human body is one such organism, which does not form a privileged and discrete part of this community but is functionally continuous with its other members. Our increasing awareness of this bodily continuum is made violently explicit in the viral contagion of a global pandemic. While the language of battle, conquest and defeat dominates political and scientific narrativisation of COVID-19, human and inhuman entanglement is exemplified in an evolved human virome, as well as in the viral zoonosis and…

Unforming Police: The Impossibility of abolition

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The many riots and anti-police demonstrations this year have led to long-fought movements for prison and police abolition being brought into mainstream media and policy – with calls to defund police and divert money towards community support issuing from across the western political left. But in this same moment we have also witnessed calls for hugely expanded police powers in response to COVID-19 from across the political spectrum. For instance, Britain prepared for lockdown amidst a discourse underpinned by brutal militarised nationalism, nostalgic exceptionalism, and a bill of new powers to restrict movement and investigate without the typical warrant process. This desire for increased policing was met with police hotlines and “snooper” forms that were overwhelmed by over 200,000 reports in their first week…

Life and Language in the Virocene

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The Virocene Sorry, this seat is taken. Move out Anthropocene, enter the Virocene. Actually, the seat was never really for Anthropos. It was meant for a parasite that could take over this planet. Oh, wait. The Virocene is the age of the parasitical, the viral, the airborne. The Virocene is the epoch in which the conative force of the nonhuman (in this case, the viral) vies with that of the human on an unprecedented scale of contingency and uncertainty, as a consequence of a multitude of unintended entanglements between the human and the nonhuman. At the core of the Virocene is a simple acknowledgement inspired by Spinoza: all bodies, human and nonhuman, material and immaterial, animate and inanimate, are driven…

Fascism 2.0: An Intensive Course

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It is impossible to predict what will happen in the US in the coming weeks. As I write, a number of crucial questions remain unanswered. Was there electoral fraud or not? If there was, was it enough to reverse the outcome? Will the transition be from Trump to Biden or from Trump to Trump? Or will it be from Trump to a Congressional agreement by means of which, just as in 1876-77, the winning candidate will take over the presidency on condition that he accept an extra-electoral compromise? Will there be violence on the streets no matter what solution is reached, given that any solution is bound to marginalize a significant and polarized part of society? All these remain major…

Online Book launch: Constituent Power (14 January 2021)

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Welcome to the online book launch seminar of Constituent Power: Law, Popular Rule and Politics (EUP 2020), co-edited by Matilda Arvidsson (Gothenburg), Leila Brännström (Lund) and Panu Minkkinen (Helsinki). Recent social and political developments, including the presidential elections in the United States, antidemocratic state policies in Hungary and Poland, and the political climate in the rest of Europe have brought questions relating to the position and composition of ‘the people’ in constitutional democracies to the forefront. This book confronts these questions head on as leading scholars across the fields of law, legal theory, political theory and history explore the contemporary problems facing constitutional democracies. With a strong focus on constitutional law, this book examines the legal as well as the political power of ‘the people’…

Our Favourite CRT: Steve Biko

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Steve Biko, I Write What I Like (A Stubbs. ed) (Heinemann 1978) Although she was writing about the black existentialist novelist Ralph Ellison, Hortense Spillers could easily have also been referring to Stephen Bantu Biko when she invokes the figure of a Black thinker who revises “’blackness’ into a critical posture” – “a strategy [and] process of culture critique” – and harnesses it to “a symbolic program of philosophical ‘disobedience’” understood as “systematic scepticism and refusal”.[1] This rendering of Biko and Black Consciousness in philosophical terms allows us to overturn a set of distortions and commodifications that would reduce him to empty catchphrases and quotations; exploit his image on T-shirts; falsely associate him with “post”-apartheid rainbowism; and consign him to a deserted past.  Biko’s search for a liberated…

Our Favourite CRT: Michelle Alexander

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Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow (The New Press 2010) When I was a wandering recent law graduate, I found myself washed up in the murky bayous of New Orleans, working at an under-resourced, over-stressed Capital defence law firm.  After a few weeks of preparing case work at my desk, I make my first trip to speak to our clients based at Louisiana State Penitentiary, better known by the its ominous name of Angola Prison. The prison is called Angola because it is located on a former slave plantation that was itself called Angola due to many of the slaves were brought from Angola in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, Angola is the largest maximum-security prison in America, with Louisiana holding the highest incarceration…

Our Favourite CRT: Gloria Anzaldúa

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Gloria Anzaldúa, ‘The Coming of el Mundo Surdo’ in AnaLouise Keating (ed), The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader (Duke 2009) How can we make sense of a global order that is founded upon the act of making “most of the world”[1] out of place, through the motions of the global economy and those divisions from which it has always fed from, their race, gender, class, ethnicity, culture, country of origin and so on? And, more to the point here, how can we even exist when we become aware of this widespread out of placeness? Queer, chicana, mestiza social theorist, Gloria Anzaldúa’s speaks of the power of Critical Race Theory to conceptualise this state of affairs, while building upon the strength of those differences and dislocations that assumingly…

Our Favourite CRT: Lewis Gordon

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Lewis Gordon, Disciplinary Decadence: Living Thought in Trying Times (Routledge 2007) I’ve been called ‘Paki’, ‘flaco n*****’, ‘Ethiopian’ or ‘too Latin American’ more times than I care to count. Including during and about my teaching. But CRT is not about who I am or what names I’ve been called. It isn’t about self-victimhood or identity-politics. It’s about agency, position and creative institutional attitudes. In its most influential form, CRT can be traced back not only to 1980s America but also, to the older tradition focusing on institutional creolisation, trans-continentalism and amphibian cultures in the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas. Upon arriving in North Africa to join the anti-fascist struggle, the 18-year-old Martinican writer Frantz Fanon observed: “the French hate the Jew.…

Our Favourite CRT: Kimberlé Crenshaw & Patricia J Williams

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Kimberlé Crenshaw, ‘Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics.’ University of Chicago Legal Forum (1989) 139; Patricia J. Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights. (Harvard 1991). Sometimes our language fails us.  We observe things in daily life—about our social interactions, our institutions, or the ways that laws are written and applied—and when we do not have the language to describe or measure these observations, then we innovate. We develop a vocabulary to express the experiences and patterns that we can substantiate but cannot yet name. This is the very essence of critical thought, and it means the difference between learning and mimicry. Two writers who have been formative in my thinking about…

Our Favourite CRT: Donna Awatere

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Donna Awatere, Māori Sovereignty (Broadsheet 1984) My mother’s people are from Ōpōtiki on the East Cape of Aotearoa and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I came to have some understanding of my Māoritanga, or our people’s history. Our iwi (tribe) Whakatōhea are widely acknowledged to have been among those ravaged the worst by successive colonial and white settler governments. My grandmother was the last of 10 children and carried with her until death a deep sense of shame and anger at her brown skin. I never heard her speak te reo (Māori language), though she must have grown up with it as even her Lebanese father was a fluent speaker.  It was in this context that I came to read Māori…

Our favourite CRT: James Baldwin

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James Baldwin, Speech at Berkeley (1979) I call myself a child of this world of empire. The colony I was born in bore recent witness to British district officers who met with one of my grandfathers. My other grandfather was schooled by Scottish missionaries. Colonial anthropologists and sociologists took intrusive photographs of the women of my family. My mother marched at an independence day parade… a parade to mark the removal of the physical signs of empire, while its puppets and economic as well as epistemological machinery remained… like a spectre at the feast, keeping the power in place… out of sight. Out of sight.  As a child, I was told stories of empire by my grandparents and my parents. I was…

Our Favourite CRT: Attia Hosain

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Attia Hosain, Sunlight on a Broken Column (Chatto and Windus 1961)  A few years ago, I was offered the opportunity to participate in a workshop in India to support early career academics with their writing. The workshop was geared towards addressing the countless issues with academic publishing and the ways knowledge production in the “Global South” is treated. One of the main consequences of these problems is that academics based in the “Global South” are hugely underrepresented as authors in academic journals. We are simply not publishing enough of their work and editors need to do more about this. I was excited about the prospect of visiting India because my personal history leads back there. My father was born in Multan in…

Our Favourite Critical Race Theory – Introduction

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As if this annus horribilis wasn’t horribilis enough in the last few weeks the Conservative government, the depth of whose depravity is impossible to fathom from one day to the next, have commenced a McCarthy-esque censorship initiative that would be comical if it wasn’t a widely recognised harbinger of fascism. These brow-beating heroes of ‘free speech’ dissatisfied only with an edict censoring the teaching of ‘anti-capitalist’ material in schools, announced on 20 October that the Government “stands unequivocally against critical race theory” and that teachers promoting ideas like ‘white privilege’ or “partisan political views such as defunding the police without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views” will be breaking the law. The body of work referred to as ‘critical race theory’ (CRT) emerged around the 1980s and is usually…