Catastrophe: Critical Legal Conference 2017 Call for Streams

Ten years ago, the so-called ‘Invisible Committee’ urged that ‘It is useless to wait…. To go on waiting is madness. The catastrophe is not coming, it is here. We are already situated within the collapse of a civilization. It is within this reality that we must choose sides.’ Over a decade before, Leonard Cohen had written; ‘This is the darkness, this is the flood. The catastrophe has already happpened and the question we now face is what is the appropriate behaviour.’ The 2017 Critical Legal Conference thus calls for streams, panels and papers that reflect upon ‘catastrophe’; on the catastrophes of our time and upon their interrelations; upon the questions of appropriate behaviours that might emerge and sides that might…

Spatial Justice and Diaspora: Foreword by Parvathi Raman

Spatial Justice and Diaspora, edited by Emma Patchett and Sarah Keenan, has just been published by Counterpress. We are pleased to republish the following foreword by Parvathi Raman, Chair of the Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies, SOAS. When Emma Patchett and Sarah Keenan asked if I would write a foreword for their new edited volume, Spatial Justice and Diaspora, I was delighted to be able to make a small contribution to this important and timely new book. In our current political moment, we urgently require engaged scholarship on questions of space-making, the politics of diaspora, and the racialization of inequality. Global disparity has reached unprecedented levels. Mass displacement, fuelled by wars, environmental change and the gross disparity of wealth and opportunity,…

Boycott the National Student Survey

We are facing a truly pivotal moment in higher education. This government is set to usher in the full marketisation of the sector, with a wave of reforms which represent the most drastic shake-up in decades. Under the new proposals, market-oriented metrics will be used to raise tuition fees even further beyond the current £9000 cap, students will be pitted against academic staff who will have to endure even greater pressures, and the establishment of for-profit providers – which will run in direct competition with public institutions – will be actively encouraged by the government. Faced with multifaceted and somewhat unprecedented attacks to higher education, it is clear that today’s student movement must seek to deploy a diversity of different…

Mourning from Aleppo to Cairo: An Insight into Gillian Rose’s Third City

Be ahead of all departure, as if it were already behind you, like the winter which is almost over. For among winters there is one so endlessly winter, that, wintering through it, may your heart survive.1   In times when mourning is not allowed Rose’s insights echo the importance of mourning. In Mourning Becomes the Law, Gillian Rose drafts a path for mourners, one that is neither passive nor vengeful. It is a path of overcoming the limits of modernity and post-modernity, or maybe it was her path of working her way to death. These days Rose’s mourning has become abrogated to a passive form of mourning, one that doesn’t resolve our anger but grows it. Let me start by mapping…

We are the enemy: on scholarly resistance to the conservative crush

Like many of my friends in academia, when Trump was elected I went online, just as I had done after Brexit, and Turnbull, and Abbott, and every other major election and political ‘event’ in the last decade or so. Facebook—the Facebook I inhabit—was on auto-pilot. First came the shock, outrage and despair, then the think-pieces. Class-based critiques, race-based critiques, gender-based critiques, intersectional critiques of those critiques, critiques of the polling industry, critiques of the electoral college system, critiques of the Right, of the Alt-Right, of Populism, of Neoliberalism, of the Left, of the Republican party, of the Democratic party, of the Media, of Social Media…and so on ad nauseam: control, copy, paste, repeat. I read and agreed with all of…

The End of the City and the Last Man: Urban Animals and the Law

If we begin to think about law and the absence of urban animals, or of law and the urban and the absence of animals, or even of the law and its production of lawful animals, we are overwhelmed by the evidence of what John Berger calls ‘the loneliness of man as a species’. I was asked to write on law and urban animals. When I went to put pen to paper, I found I could not visualise this field or that relation. The law of rats? Of bacteria? Of crows? Most laws that mention animals (for example those relating to welfare and vivisection) are regional or national, rather than municipal. Those kinds of laws, in any case, afford animals every…

Of Critique and Straw Men: A Response to El-Enany & Keenan

“We must practice revolutionary democracy in every aspect of our [movement] . . . Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories”. – Amilcar Cabral Academics should welcome the prospect of their peers thoughtfully engaging with their work. It is unfortunate, therefore, that Nadine El-Enany and Sarah Keenan’s article fails to engage with our commentary on the Miller case, despite purporting to do so. In their rush to score points, El-Enany and Keenan misrepresented our views, as expressed in the specific article they refer to. They set up a straw man that bears no resemblance to our article in order to declare…

Beware the Ivory Dwellings of the Left: Political Purity in the Face of Fascism

For some time we have been witnessing the rise of racist nationalism and fascism in many parts of the world. In Europe and North America, significant elements of both the Brexit and Trump campaigns propagated explicitly racist ideals, albeit to varying degrees. Whether you understand Brexit and Trump as having triumphed despite or because of the racism that dominated both campaigns, the reality is that these victories have legitimised white supremacy in alarming ways. Despite the increasing rise in racist violence and rhetoric, some on the Left are reluctant to acknowledge the severity of this political development, in part because of a preference to perceive the Brexit and Trump victories as anti-establishment movements/the end of neoliberalism/expressions of the legitimate grievances…

The (in)stability of change: The Italian constitutional referendum

Basta un SI [a YES is enough], is the slogan coined by the campaign for the approval of the Italian constitutional reform to be either confirmed or rejected on December 4th, in the nth referendum of these troubled European years. If the reform is rejected, according to the YES campaign, ‘everything will remain the same’. 60 years after the publication of Tomasi de Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard, with its (in)famous passage – ‘everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same’ – the Italian political rhetoric is yet to be updated. While change is apparently constant (one point will suffice: 63 governments in 70 years), the story goes, everything remains the same. Widespread corruption (according to Italians’ perceptions), systematic…

Going Rogue

Though I do like breaking femurs You can count me with the dreamers Like everybody else, I got a dream… (I’ve got a dream, Tangled) The jig is finally up, politics isn’t running as normal anymore (although ‘the oppressed’ always knew that the ‘state of emergency’ was normal, reminding us that our ‘amazement’ revealed the paucity of geopolitical and chronopolitical maps). The unanticipated and unpredicted – Brexit, the growing popularity of the right across Europe, and now, my focus here, the election of Trump in the US – have illuminated key blockages and sites of struggle in the contemporary political and economic and cultural landscape as, using proper names as improper political shorthand for what are really movements, Sanders, Corbyn,…

Seven Theses on Trump

The response to the election of Donald Trump has been sweeping and swift. Massive and continual protests have taken place in a number of cities across the United States. Students have led walkouts and called for the creation of sanctuaries on many university campuses. A petition calling on the members of the Electoral College to vote in favor of Hillary Clinton, the clear winner of the popular vote, has already gathered millions of signatures. Progressive organizations such as Black Lives Matter and Our Revolution have begun a coordinated fight back against Trump’s openly fascistic agenda. On the other side, a spate of hate crimes—over 700 as we write this, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s tabulations—has spread across the…

Darker with the Day: Notes on Fascism, Exception & Primitive Accumulation

The particular historical juncture in which we find ourselves raises more than obvious concerns with regards to the status of our polities. To be sure, things were never neat and clean, as most things are within the capitalist horizon. Ominous signs of the looming catastrophe were already out in the open for a long time, at least ever since the fateful 9/11 or the 2008 Wall Street stock market crash. The archive of this blog can easily attest for these worrying trends. It was up to the attentive observer to follow and to reflect on the historical unfolding of the state of exception[1] and of the crisis of the capital. The conjunction between the two is crucial. On one hand…

You want it darker? Trump’s aberrant community & why he still won’t win

Trump comes as the deranged savior, channeling all the frustration and spite towards the ruling class, a sort of dark Angel of political retribution. But if anything, he will intensify the Washington Consensus, he will govern for the Davos people, with the Davos people in a world tailor-made by the Davos people. He incarnates savage capitalism without mediating institutions, without the disguise of a correct discourse which mutates as soon as it crosses the threshold of law and civility. In this sense he is a glitch in the machine that allows us to see the objects and discourses of domination literally. With Trump´s outlandish election, the more progressive Liberals in the US are nauseated because they are coming to terms…

The Coming Culture Wars in Trumplandia

War was declared in United States of America last Tuesday. There was no official signing of authorisation, it was announced through the proliferation of images and slogans across 24-hour news-cycles, like our contemporary wars on drugs or terror. Following from those wars on abstracted symbols, this war will be one waged over meaning itself, of the ways people understands themselves within history. Benjamin’s Angel warned against presupposing the linear progress of history and last week, the victory of Donald Trump’s promise to ‘Make America Great Again’ heralded not just the eruption of a new political moment but one that will, within itself, seek to redeem and condemn different revolutions of the past. April 2011 American conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart releases…

Judith Butler: Performativity

Key Concept Butler’s notion of ‘performativity’ is most famously associated with her views on gender and is important for critical legal thinkers because performativity is deeply entangled with politics and legality. Her focus on performance has been widely influential because performance and performativity enable discussants to move beyond analyses of legal definition or status to consider the political and social discursive forces that construct and normalize legal or political practice. For Butler, performativity is not solely an extension of discourse theory as her later works suggest bodies “speak” without necessarily uttering. This brief review will provide an abbreviated history on the conceptual genesis of the term “performativity,” how Butler (re)defines and employs it, and finally how Butler’s account may be…

Give back the Gweagal shield

Even if you are a regular visitor at the British Museum, you probably haven’t noticed the Gweagal shield. It hangs on a hoall of the ‘Enlightenment’ room, a long regal chamber lined with glass cabinets and dotted with shiny white busts of colonial explorers. It has the feel of an imperial trophy cabinet, displaying a large collection of unrelated objects from taxidermied rare birds, to Chinese porcelain bowls, Ancient Egyptian and Greek statues, Roman jugs, Native American totem poles, Maori tikis, fossils, shells and the jaw of an extinct elephant. The Gweagal shield is wedged to the wall by nails in a cabinet at the far end of the room, hovering above this brief explanation: This thin and banal description…

Trump, Mair and the Gods that Failed

 The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, much like the Brexit vote in the UK earlier this year, has been greeted by mainstream commentators with a mixture of vapid incomprehension and shrill, moralistic denouncement. The emptiness of these responses reflect a central problem for liberals, centrists, so-called ‘leftists’ and others in advanced capitalist countries, namely that their gods have failed them. Capitalist development and competition, wedded to (and notionally tempered by) limited, representative democracy and consensus politics have all proven inadequate to the historical tasks before them. The capitalist system is in profound crisis, dating from at least the 1970s, and as a consequence traditional models of acceptable politics are collapsing. This tendency has been well…

The US election & the systematic failure of modern politics

Should we be surprised by Donald Trump’s new position as President Elect?  According to exit polls, and the weight of media and expert opinion, we should be.  Yet the highly unlikely, if not absolutely impossible, has happened, and with Hillary Clinton’s phone call to the Trump campaign conceding the election, Trump has secured the Presidency of the United States.  This has caused understandable outrage, and indeed fear, particularly amongst minorities.  Internationally, the markets that had strongly bet on a Clinton win panicked, then rallied, and now sit in fragile stability, waiting for the next shock.  Yet should we be surprised? Really, we shouldn’t.  In his apparently unexpected win, Trump follows a number of unexpected results, another example of those things…

First Thoughts on Trump

Just woke up in Beirut to US Brexit surprise. Retitling my lecture this afternoon to WTF?? First thoughts: There are at least 4 big things going on–class, race, global context and gender. 1) Class: The neoliberal governing consensus is collapsing and the elites can not believe it. The polls, pundits and media were wrong all through primary season, underestimating both Sanders and Trump. The big money donors could not believe that Sanders could almost win the nomination, that JEB Bush could fail. In the US, this collapse could cut either left or right. Sanders pulled it left, Trump pulled it right. Meanwhile no elite institution in the country could read the tea leaves–because the interests of Wall St, MSM, global traders, Dem…