Law & Critique: Technology elsewhere, (yet) phantasmically present

While in some corners it has been argued that “post-modernism” (in these tellings, usually a metonymy for any theory that questions authority, the stability of meaning and the normalization of various forms of sovereignty and their violence) bears a certain level of responsibility for the supposed rise of “post-truth” politics, for us the situation is directly the inverse. The problems that are being discovered today under the various monikers of crises of truth, institutions, ruleof law, etc. are in fact the generalised perception of the long-term impossibility of securing and regulating text that well predates the contemporary technological milieu. “New” contemporary technologies are not all that new.[1] The computer page for example “remains a screen” belonging to a “digital history”…

Pierre Bourdieu: Habitus

Key Concept In Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977) Pierre Bourdieu provides a framework both for understanding the way that cultural settings (re)produce the means of their own production, and for analysing the effect of this (re)production on the particular subjects of a given ‘habitus‘. For Bourdieu, the term habitus refers to the collective entity by which and into which dominant social and cultural conditions are established and reproduced. In Bourdieu’s words, habitus refers to “a subjective but not individual system of internalised structures, schemes of perception, conception, and action common to all members of the same group or class” (p.86). These “internalised structures” and “schemes of perception” structure the subject’s (shared) world-view and their “apperception” of the world…

What now, Brazil?

The words that come to mind the most are astonishment and perplexity. The Brazilian government has slipped into the abyss of absurdity, into an absolute trivialization of abuse and aggression, into a gross violation of the most basic rules of democratic coexistence — not to mention the law and the Constitution —, while spewing hatred and negativity as its sole political weapon. Not a day goes by that we are not bombarded with bits of news and comments that seem to come out of some ideological sewer overflowing with years or centuries of rancid decay, exuding the most pestilential stench as if it were the very perfume of novelty and candor. All this is cause for astonishment among those who…

The Politics of International lawyers: Whose Legacy Is at Stake? Reflections on Martti Koskenniemi’s series on ‘The Politics of International Law’

The latest issue of the European Journal of International Law opens with the third instalment of Martti Koskenniemi’s The Politics of International Law series. This post offers some reflections on Koskenniemi’s article, although it is not intended as a full response to it. First, a disclaimer in the style of Liliana Obregón1 and many others before her is in order. I am a strong supporter of the structural understanding of international law that Koskenniemi has theorised in his work. Unsurprisingly, my approach to the field underwent significant and irreversible changes after reading From Apology to Utopia (FATU). The reason for this is, I believe, that FATU represents the perfect gateway to critical approaches to international law – in a loose…

Hannah Arendt: The Right to Have Rights

Key Concept Shortly after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, the English translation of Hannah Arendt’s essay was published under the title ‘The Rights of Man: What Are They?’1 This essay was later incorporated in Chapter 9 of The Origins of Totalitarianism and became known as one of the most influential critiques of the document. In her writing, Arendt claims the declaration itself embodies a contradiction: the declaration requires states to protect the ‘universal’ and ‘inalienable’ rights of all human beings, whereas the modern institution of the state is grounded on the principle of national and territorial sovereignty. This paradox, according to her, can only be resolved by the recognition of the ‘right to…

Law & Critique: Property and the Interests of Things

We take it for granted that the very wealthy use trusts to leave their wealth to their children. Have they not always done so? After all, the aristocracy has used one or another variant of the trust form for centuries to pass on rolling hills, country piles and precious heirlooms. So what has changed? A number of cases[i] have recently come before the courts that deal with one specific issue in the law that concerns what one may call donative or family trusts. In these cases, trustees and settlors that wish to vary an existing trust (usually for tax reasons) ask the court to hear their application in private. So what, one may think. After all, it is not surprising that…

The Future of Sex Work: Labour unfreedom & Criminality at work

The central and uniting demand of the sex worker rights movement around the world is the decriminalization of consensual adult sex work. This is based on the recognition that criminal law intervention makes sex workers less rather than more safe, and that sex workers are engaged in a legitimate form of work, not the commission of a crime. A core task of activists and academics has been amassing evidence that criminalization of the seller, buyer, and associated activities impacts negatively on the safety and well-being of sex workers. For 10 years I have conducted empirical work and have organized with sex worker rights and anti-capitalist feminist groups in London and Jamaica, as well as European based organizations that support decriminalization. As a result, I agree that criminalization makes sex work less safe for those selling sex and normalizes…

Brasília: Constituent Power, Architecture, Urban Planning

These notes belong to the same project on constitutional spaces that Panu Minkkinen has been working on for some time, and this piece was first published on his own blog. He says there that these notes represent a first attempt to look at the intersections of constituted power, architecture, and urban planning.  ‘Plano piloto’ Perhaps the most iconographic ‘new capital’, that is, a city that is specifically built to be a seat of power, is Brazil’s federal capital Brasília. The plan to move the capital from Rio de Janeiro on the coast to the inland plateaus closer to the country’s geographical center was already initiated in the early 19th century. But it was only President Juscelino Kubitschek who began to put the…

Art, Law and the Elements: The Turn of the Venice Biennale

58th Venice Art Biennale ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ The 58th Venice Art Biennale is a sweeping turn towards the elemental. Aligned with many practices and disciplines (law and art amongst them), this turn to the elemental is everywhere in the Biennale: in the choice of materials, of forms, of artists by the main curator, even in the choice of the name: the ironic title of this year’s Biennale, ‘May you live in interesting times’, refers to life in a world that is collapsing but remains “interesting” (arguably, the second most meaningless word in the English language after “nice”). This is irony at its most elemental — nothing grand or evocative as was the going habit of most of the previous…

The Far-Right in Austria; Or why ousting the current government won’t change an extreme consensus

On Monday May 27th, a no-confidence vote against chancellor Sebastian Kurz’ (ÖVP) provisional minority government was successfully held in Austrian parliament.[i] This vote followed a political crisis provoked by a video recently circulated, which shows former Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache (FPÖ) and his close associate Johannes Gudenus (FPÖ) in a meeting with an alleged investor, discussing avenues for illicit party funding and campaign support. However, excessive jubilation over this outcome risks masking the long-standing problematic of Austria’s right-wing mode of business as usual. Better than the movies: A video displaying Austrian political leader’s art of government Social media channels fumed when a videorecently became known to public, showing FPÖ politicians Johannes Gudenus and Heinz-Christian Strache in summer 2017, prior to Austrian elections.…

Rights as a Distraction from ‘Belonging’: A Response to the Shamima Begum Ruling

I’m not an accomplished Tweeter. When I tried to Tweet about an event I spoke at recently and typed ‘Shamima’, the autocorrect changed it to ‘shaming’.[1]It’s funny how often that happens – some unintended link to a truth identified by autocorrect (my own surname autocorrects to Sikhism – which is part of who I am). It’s a truth of Shamima’s identity – there has been an active shaming of who she is, what she represents, to how she doesn’t belong and is not Britain’s problem/ question to deal with. My question, in the face of this shaming, was: dorights work? The Begum case is about many things; a lack of empathy or mercy, Islamophobia, misogyny and, crucially, everyday violence as…

A Short History of Throwing Food at Fascists

In the last month, milkshakes have been lobbed at several far right candidates in the Euro elections. First it was former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson, then UKIP’s misogynist YouTuber Carl Benjamin and now Nigel Farage as he was out campaigning in Newcastle for his new Brexit Party. When Farage visited Edinburgh, the local police advised McDonald’s not to sell milkshakes and there has been further news that Farage refused to step off his tour bus after being threatened with further milkshakings. This has followed on from the egging of right-wing politicians in Australia and of neo-Nazis in the United States. Some commentators have argued that these milkshakings and eggings are a form of political violence, while defenders of…

The Cost of ‘Justice’: Sexual Offence Complainants and Access to Personal Data

Monday last week saw the announcement of a new UK national policy requiring criminal complainants to sign consent forms authorising detectives to access data in their mobile phones. Conveyed in a joint briefing by Metropolitan police assistant commissioner Nick Ephgrave and director of public prosecutions (DPP) Max Hill QC, the new policy is designed to ‘ensure all relevant lines of enquiry are followed’ and that any material that undermines the case for the prosecution or assists the case for the accused is detected and disclosed to the defence.  While the forms are not to be used solely for sexual offence complainants the use of the forms in these cases was a major focus of Monday’s briefing.  While the CPS noted that…

The Mytho-Poetics of Critical Legal (secret) Society

By all accounts the secret society began before the Boston body was found. It started in many different places, small groups began to form who consumed the scraps and leftovers from other tables. Clusters of interested people had been gathering in smoky rooms for decades. And they would have been like all those other small groups in academia who persist for some time, sharing an interest before the connections break and the energy dissipates. Perhaps something similar would have happened to these ‘crits’, were it not for the discovery of the Boston body. The corpse was discovered on the front steps of an august American institution, some time in the late eighties. No one appears certain whether death came naturally…

Law & Critique: Law of Denial: The Armenian Genocide at the European Court of Human Rights

On 24 April 2019, France held its first official Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day, marking the 104th anniversary of the 1915 genocide. The national day of commemoration fulfilled an election pledge by President Emmanuel Macron, and drew the predictable angry tu quoque from Ankara, with Turkey’s President Erdoğan accusing France of hypocrisy and of trying to teach lessons to others when it has failed to face its own bloody past. France’s decision to instate a national day of commemoration was also the subject of a protest by diaspora Turks in Strasbourg, held in front of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and organised by members of the so-called Talât Pasha Committee, an ultranationalist denialist group named after the Ottoman statesman…

Law & Critique: “Life is not simply fact” – aesthetics, atmosphere & the neoliberal university

What should we understand under neoliberalism in the context of the university? Anderson (2016:735) argues that neoliberalism should not be seen as something ‘singular, coherent … with a simple origin point. … New hybrids are formed as neoliberal styles of reasoning and techniques encounter diverse political-economic forms and logics of governing’ (2016, p. 735). He warns that we should not rely on neoliberalism as a catch phrase to capture anything. He explains his own use of ‘neoliberal affects’ as firstly referring to atmospheres that influence neoliberal reason and secondly referring to the ‘structures of feeling’ that ‘accompany the translation of neoliberal reason into policies and projects’ (2016, p. 736). Anderson’s comment about the relation between neoliberalism and everyday life (or…

Extinction Rebellion: Credit, Criticism & Cops

Last thursday at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, London, Extinction Rebellion (XR) drew their ‘phase one’ of protest to a close with a ceremony which – like the rest of their efforts over the previous 11 days – was moving, peaceful, and emphatic. The scale of the XR achievement is huge and difficult to overstate. Though there have been the usual fingers-in-ears responses (and worse) from sections of the right-wing press, the key XR message – that the inhabitants of the Earth are facing extinction due to human-made climate change unless dramatic action is taken immediately, and on a far faster timescale than any government hitherto has been willing to contemplate – has landed. Though XR hasn’t positioned itself as…

The Age of Pardon or the Age of Aggression?

Throughout the 20th century there were frequent apologies and claims for reparations for the atrocities committed in the context of the relations between peoples and countries, as illustrated by Germany’s initiatives with regard to the Holocaust and by the US response in the case of the Japanese Americans kept under arrest during World War II. In the 21st century there has been an insistent (and not always heeded) demand for apologies regarding atrocities, violence and crimes committed in the more or less distant past under European colonialism. Sometimes the demands for an apology are accompanied by claims for reparation or compensation. Here are a few examples: In 2004, the German government recognized the violence committed against the people of Namibia…

One Token, Two Sides: Data Dysphoria & Fantasies of Control

New data horizons Cyberspace, as a shared dimension but unequal community, is in a moment of unease and alienation over the ways and means of data creation, dissemination and preservation, including methods of storage on- and offline. Communication and circulation of commercial and personal data increasingly occurs amid threats of intermeddling and exposure to varieties of fraud and exploitation. This unease is symptomatic of scandals involving the ‘psychological profiling’ of personal data in the course of supposed civic and democratic processes, and the growing uncanniness of digital social spaces. The company Cambridge Analytica, whose ‘data harvesting’ practices and psychographic analyses of user content from sources such as Facebook led to accusations of dubious interventions in and effects on the US…