International Law 1914/​2014

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Looking back to mid-​1914 from mid-​2014, it is hard to see beyond the piles of bodies. History barely seems up to the task of grappling with this tumultuous interstice. Perhaps, rather than approaching this interval as a sequence of historical contexts, we might conceive of it – and our relationship to it – in terms of a welter of styles, or as a ‘storage room for costumes’ as Nietzsche suggests the ‘hybrid European’ makes of history. Now, as in the immediate aftermath of World War I, Dada seems the only way to concoct something approaching a response to that war and what we’ve done since. So, trying on hobble skirt and tunic: What among the ways international law might have been thought and done in 1914 seem to…

Civilians, Combatants, and Histories of International Law

If the only deaths worth mourning are those of children, we have become complicit with the oppression that dehumanizes their communities. Image by Israeli artist Amir Schiby in tribute to four boys killed on a beach In Gaza

In the media coverage of war, whether reports on individual incidents or the numbing tallies of casualties, the distinction between civilians and combatants is central and frequently contested. The killing of the four boys who had been playing soccer on a Gaza beach has become emblematic for Israeli violence against Palestinian civilians because the boys were clearly recognizable as children and therefore civilians. When news outlets report the death toll of the uneven conflict, they give details that bolster and yet complicate the distinction between civilians and combatants. For example, the Washington Post reports that as of July 26th, 41 Israeli soldiers and 3 Israeli civilians were killed in the recent war, whereas 129 armed Palestinian militants, 119 Palestinians with unknown roles,…

Repetition and Death in the Colony: On the Israeli Attacks on Gaza

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At the moment of writing these lines, the BBC reports 100 deaths thus far in Gaza in the recent Israeli onslaught. As we have seen these scenes before, the invocation of repetition comes naturally. “Once again” is a commonly used word when it comes to death and suffering under occupation in Palestine and specifically Gaza.1 It can be a rhetorically deployed knee-​jerk reaction (as in: once again Israel is killing Palestinians; or: once again Israel has to defend itself against Palestinian attacks). It can also be deployed by a well-​meaning third party who perceives the rhetorical deployment of “once again” as a propaganda war between two parties involved in a tragic conflict. Repetition is equated with futile death. Repetition outside context But “once again” is…

Should we value academic fashions?

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Fashions come and go, but what about academic or intellectual fashions? Are they like any other, with the same pleasures and limitations? Or should ideas be protected from the vagaries and currencies of what is current? Googling the phrase “academic fashion” produces a lot of hits — almost all address the question of what to wear. Very few tackle the problem of which academics are well aware — that ideas go in and out of popularity. “Academic fads” as a phrase gets closer to this truth, but fads are derided — their lack of staying power evidence the idea was not a committed one, not a good one. But are fashions in ideas all bad? Can anything good be said about them? The academic world I inhabit, that corner where social and…

The Infinity of the Silent Strike

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We know from Burke that it is the noise of the crowd or throng which leads to the expe­ri­ence of the sub­lime. The cacoph­ony of the many, gath­ered in their dis­charged state, draws us like a mag­net. But the crowd in strike has a num­ber of very dif­fer­ent dynam­ics to our open, closed and occu­pa­tion crowds. Let us begin with this ques­tion of the crowd’s noise. The brief spell of rev­o­lu­tion­ary Syn­di­cal­ism in France between 1886 and 1914 pro­vides a use­ful start­ing point for think­ing about the func­tion of noise and silence.1Canetti begins this: Within the actual strike it is essen­tial that every­one should abide by the under­tak­ing not to work. Spon­ta­neously from within the crowd itself there springs up an orga­ni­za­tion with…

Civilisation & the Savage Crowd

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Any­one famil­iar with ‘crowd the­ory’ will have been told repeat­edly that Gus­tave Le Bon is an ori­gin. This asser­tion is quickly masked by obfus­ca­tion. He is not a first, of course, pre­ceded by the his­to­rian Taine and the early crim­i­nol­o­gists Lom­broso and Sighele. But Le Bon is the one who draws these dis­persed though influ­en­tial works together into a tra­di­tion or a the­ory. He con­sti­tutes an iden­tity of crowd psy­chol­ogy, crowd the­ory or even social psy­chol­ogy. Le Bon was a pop­u­lar­izer and a syn­the­sizer, rejected by the aca­d­e­mic and sci­en­tific estab­lish­ment, he writes for pop­u­lar audi­ences. And with The Crowd he cer­tainly finds one. In a sense, Le Bon per­fectly instan­ti­ates the para­dox of ori­gins. They do not begin any­thing but are still the begin­ning. Le Bon is not the start of…

The Open Crowd & The Kettle

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Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power pro­vides a use­ful start­ing point for this project. In it, he iden­ti­fies a wide num­ber of dif­fer­ent crowds. They are deter­mined by the tem­po­ral­ity of their aims, the space in which they man­i­fest them­selves, the ori­en­ta­tion of their activ­ity, the man­ner in which their togeth­er­ness is con­ceived. In fact, the axes of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion mul­ti­ply to such an extent that what ini­tially began as a sim­ple tax­on­omy, frac­tures and mul­ti­plies to reveal crowds as always too com­plex and con­tra­dic­tory to explain or under­stand in their total­ity. As a begin­ning, then, Canetti under­lines pre­cisely the mul­ti­plic­ity of the crowd. Despite this mul­ti­plic­ity, let me focus on two types of crowds, in Canetti’s eyes. The open crowd is ‘open’ in the sense that it is…

About ‘Crowded Sovereignty’

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The crowd is not a technology or a subject of sovereignty. It is neither the ‘agent’ who could take, create or destroy sovereignty; nor a ‘means’ for others to become sovereign. The crowd is remarkable because of its prevalence and excision. It is often there in those paradigmatic moments of sovereignty, but generally maligned and denigrated. This site is designed to investigate the intuition that today the crowd presents a distinct way of thinking. Unlike the nation, people or proletariat, the crowd has remained something to be reviled, and as such it remains unburdened by the weight of idealisation. The crowd is crucial, but not in its rationality, its wisdom or its possibilities to provide capital efficiently. As Freud or Canetti saw clearly,…

The Prospect of Harmony and the Decolonial View of the World: Weihua He Interviews Walter Mignolo

Knowledge is always situated. As a young scholar from China working on western theories, I always felt frustrated with the eurocentrism embedded within them. The frustration comes first because they are not addressing the problems lingering in my mind; and second at the moment I realized that I had the wrong expectations: why should theories developed to deal with European issues and problems address issues and problems in China? During my yearlong stay at Duke University as a visiting graduate student from 2008 to 2009, I attended Professor Walter Mignolo’s seminar. Participating in class discussion, talking with Professor Mignolo, reading the materials assigned, and delivering class presentations with other students, I was ushered into the exciting world of decolonial thinking. It offered to me a totally new perspective…

Politics in Times of Anxiety

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Politics in Times of Anxiety springs from the 9/​11 attacks, when public safety and security turned into a central concern across the globe. The subsequent economic crisis that broke out in 2008 in the USA and its gradual spread across Europe initiated a protracted period of global slump and distressed views of political representation to be found in the Occupy movement, for example, the Indignados, or, more recently, uprisings in Greece, Turkey, and Brazil, to name but a few. In these instances, fear about environmental sustainability, economic stability, or social exclusion has permeated the public discourses, creating a strong narrative of an immanent threat or uncertainty about the future. These expressions of uncertainty and dissatisfaction are more than mere signs of insecurity. They are also attempts…

The Past and Future of the Legal Left: Celebrating Duncan Kennedy’s Scholarship

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Below you can watch the conference on ‘The Past and Future of the Legal Left: Celebrating Duncan Kennedy’s Scholarship’ which was held at SOAS, University of London on 22 May 2014. This conference honoured Professor Duncan Kennedy, one of the most influential legal theorists and left critics of our time. After teaching for more than four decades at Harvard Law School, Professor Kennedy announced his intention to retire. Kennedy’s brilliant contributions have challenged our thinking on law and its role in society. He never shied away from controversy and engaged in a variety of academic and political debates. Admirably, he was able to commit simultaneously to both an intellectual critique and left-​wing politics, without the political stifling critique or the latter undermining…

Language: Notes on the Thought of Luce Irigaray

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Luce Irigaray’s critique of masculine language systems follows logically from her broader critique of history and culture first elaborated 40 years ago in Speculum.1 Irigaray’s thinking on language is so complex and informed by so many difficult methodological frameworks, when approaching it for the first time I think it helps to look at her corpus chronologically. In her vast critique of language systems, Irigaray argues that systems of parole, discourse and logic rather than being universal and neutral are set up and maintained to serve male interests. Irigaray’s psychoanalytic reading of language is informed primarily by her insight that through a process of specularisation man projects his own ego on to the world which is then reflected back to him with his own image. Woman, as…

Gezi: One Year On

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It has been a year since the most outstanding and extensive uprising in modern Turkish history took place. On the night of 31st of May 2013, no one thought such a groundbreaking civil revolt would occur across the whole country, gathering millions of individuals from various backgrounds and ideological dispositions. Founded upon a language of solidarity and freedom, the Gezi movement gave way to myriad forms of highly creative and non-​violent forms of protest that drew their power from symbolic politics, premised, inter alia, on humor, art and performance. There is still an ongoing discussion about what compelled these people, most of whom were participating in a protest for the first time of their lives, to take their claims out on to the streets. Despite growing out of such diversity, one…

Putin’s Dissertation and the Revenge of RuNet

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The spectre of academic plagiarism by high-​ranking officials is affecting much of Europe. Germany especially has been in the news: on 9 February 2013, the German Education Minister, Annette Schavan, resigned her position after the Heinrich Heine University in Duesseldorf voted the previous week to remove her doctorate following a review. The University decided to look into Ms Schavan’s 1980 doctoral thesis, after an anonymous blogger raised questions about it. The faculty committee found she had ‘systematically and intentionally’ copied parts of her thesis, ‘Person and Conscience.’ In a statement declaring the doctorate invalid and withdrawing it from Ms Schavan, the faculty head Bruno Bleckmann said they had ‘decided by secret ballot, by 12 votes to 2, with one abstention.’ Germany’s biggest selling…

Wealth inequality denial

Ceci n'est pas l'inegalité des fortunes http://www.cbo.gov/publication/42729

In the week a report established that 97.1% of scientists publishing on the subject have concluded that man-​made climate change exists, it seems the right have re-​opened an old front in their war on reality. In Saturday’s Financial Times the normally sober paper appears to have fancied a day masquerading as Fox News as it piled into Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, arguing that its main thesis — broadly that wealth inequality is rising at Belle Époque rates — was undercut by flawed data.1 Picking apart the analysis is fair enough you might argue, and Piketty would agree; that’s why he put all his data on his website so it could be checked by third parties (compare the secrecy of right-​wing think tanks, especially…

A Brief Reflection on the Hard Left

If the only deaths worth mourning are those of children, we have become complicit with the oppression that dehumanizes their communities. Image by  Israeli artist Amir Schiby in tribute to four boys killed on a beach In Gaza

Why use the term ‘hard-​left’ to describe candidates to the left of the Labour Party? What is ‘hard’ about these candidates, by contrast with political parties who oversee draconian cutbacks to expenditure in health and education and social services, or parties who set the police on social welfare claimants whilst releasing fraudulent figures on fraud, or parties who normalise forced and unpaid labour in order to keep unemployment high and wages low? Such parties do all of the above, then tell us it’s all for our own good and puff out their chests telling us how brave they are, and how they saved the State. How hard must the candidates to the left of Labour be, then, when the softest part…

Is there a Right to Resistance and Revolution? Lecture by Costas Douzinas

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Professor Costas Douzinas delivered this year’s annual talk of the Post-​structural and Critical Thought Cluster at the University of Manchester. This event also officially launched a 2-​year cluster run project entitled Politics in Times of Anxiety. The project sets its context in the wake of the 9/​11 attacks, when worries over public safety and security became a central issue across the world. The subsequent crisis that broke out in 2008 in the USA and gradually spread in Europe initiated a protracted period of global slump and distressed views on political representation, for example the Occupy movement, the Indignados, or, more recently, uprisings in Greece, Turkey, and Brazil, to name but a few. In these instances, fear about environmental sustainability, economic stability, or social exclusion…

The Slave Ship Embodies the Whole Story of Slavery

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The man refused to eat. He had been sick, reduced to a ‘mere skeleton.’ He had apparently made a decision to die. Captain Timothy Tucker was outraged, and probably fearful that his example might spread to the other 200-​plus captives aboard his ship, the Loyal George, as it made its way across the Atlantic to Barbados in the year 1727. The captain turned to his black cabin boy, Robin, and commanded him to fetch his whip. This was no cat-o’-nine-tails but rather something much bigger, a horsewhip … All the while the man made no resistance and said nothing, which incensed the captain, who now threatened him in his own language: ‘He would tickeravoo him,’ that is, kill him, to which the…

A Walk in Yarl’s Wood

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On a fine winter’s day, the first fine day after weeks of storms and rain, I went for a walk in the country. I found myself in a typical English rural landscape, driving down hedge-​lined lanes that grew progressively narrower. A couple of dead badgers lay whitening on the edges of the road. At the gate of a farm the road turned abruptly into mud track. Three men were digging a ditch at the entrance to the farm. I got out and asked them if I could get up the track. They spoke no English, their accents from some new-​entrant country to the EU I couldn’t identify. I gestured up the track and one of them said, “No,” and shook his head. There was no way through. I decided to start my walk, not…