Watching Women’s History in the Irish Pro-Choice Referendum

“None of this is happening. We think we’re here but we aren’t.” I am in Tigh Neachtain in Galway with Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A.on the 10th of April.  We are having an abortion referendum in Ireland on May 25, to repeal the anti-abortion Amendment they put into the Constitution in 1983. All over the country, there are canvasses, there are gatherings.  I have been talking at my first of manyTogether for Yesmeetings. The Imeldas, weary, sharp, wise,  have come from London and travelled the country interviewing rural organisers for abortion law reform in Ireland. They have been to markets and town squares. They came to Galway from the cattle mart in Ennis. They joke that they almost bought a bullock. We…

Did Baudrillard foretell the advent of fake news? From disinformation to hyperinformation

Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) is not the most often cited of the post-war French philosophers. Yet, radical, nihilistic, prophetic, Baudrillard’s philosophical critique of post-modern society, and specifically his idea of the ‘hyperinformation society’ emanating from his more well-known concept of ‘hyperreality’, is surprisingly apt for understanding the current climate of fake news. Today, ‘fake news’ has become a ubiquitous term. Itself a misnomer, the recent EU Report on Fake News and Online Disinformation notes that fake news is ‘not only an inadequate’ term ‘but also misleading’.1 Without any specific reference to Trumpism, the EU report goes on to name fake news as ‘a weapon with which powerful actors can interfere in circulation of information and attack and undermine independent news media’,2…

On Rosa Parks’ Tomahawk, or, The US Strikes in Syria

In the wake of the most recent USA airstrike in Syria, Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former president of the American Society of International Law and U.S. State Department Director of Policy Planning between 2009 and 2011, took to Twitter to think through some of the legal and moral arguments justifying the use of force: I believe that the US, UK, & France did the right thing by striking Syria over chemical weapons. It will not stop the war nor save the Syrian people from many other horrors. It is illegal under international law. But it at least draws a line somewhere & says enough. — Anne-Marie Slaughter (@SlaughterAM) April 14, 2018 Some aspects of this point are more persuasive than others.…

The Proposed Amendment to the South African Constitution: Finishing the Unfinished Business of Decolonisation?

On 27 February 2018, an overwhelming majority of members of South Africa’s National Assembly adopted a motion to begin the process of amending the ‘property clause’ in the constitution. Given the befuddled nature of the present clause, the proposed amendment seeks to clarify and simplify the powers of a hitherto pro-market and thus lackadaisical state to “expropriate land without compensation”. One impetus of this historic event is a November 2017 Department of Rural Development and Land Reform’s Land Audit Report 2017. This Audit, unsurprisingly, concluded that white people continue to own the lion’s share of the land: on the one end of the spectrum, white South Africans (8% of the population) lord it over 72% of farms and agricultural holdings…

On Corbyn, Antisemitism and Things Jewish

Yet another episode in the story of Jeremy Corbyn’s antisemitism. This time from 2012, in expressed support for a graffiti artist’s free speech rights after the artist’s painting of white bankers playing monopoly on the backs of the globe’s dispossessed was declared offensive for its racist caricatures of Jews. And as others have said, this time follows earlier times; Corbyn as a member of a facebook group where anti-Jewish statements were posted; Corbyn’s friends and allies posting antisemitic stuff on their own facebook pages; Corbyn hosting antisemitic visitors, appearing on platforms with spokespeople from antisemitic organisations. And each time these stories come to light, Corbyn apologises, affirming he was unaware of what was being said and done. He did not…

Being set up to fail? The battle to save the UK’s Universities from speculative finance

When Sam Gyimah announced a traffic light rating system for universities this week many poured scorn on the ineptness of the attempt to classify higher education by a simplified metric drawn, no doubt, from Mr Gyimah’s previous life as an investment banker. Yet the analogy does not appear so inapt if we consider rather that the intention is to present the academic wearer of this ill-fitting suit much like Joe Gargery in Great Expectations – as a human out of place in the proper clothing. It appears that universities are being geared up not just for financialisation – a process already well underway – but for failure. As Philip Hales has written for FT’s Alphaville blog, HM Government are actually…

Law is a Fugue

Law is, metaphorically speaking, a fugue.1 This metaphor is intended to compare law with the form, structure, and spirit of fugue, and by doing so to provide yet another way to (partially) reveal the nature of law. The fugue is the highest point of contrapuntal development in Western tonal music. The word “contrapuntal” comes from contrapunctum, from which we also derive “counterpoint”, the art of overlaying independent melodic voices to generate polyphonic harmony. The most basic kind of counterpoint, which has been around since the 12th Century, is known as the “round”. A common example is when two or more voices sing Frère Jacques starting two bars apart: The fugue takes this seemingly simple technique of counterpoint to the highest levels…

UCU Strike Action – Open Letter

We the undersigned, Call on the UCU national leadership to reconsider its position reached in ACAS negotiations with UUK on the 12th March 2018. The current agreement kicks a serious solution to the pension dispute in the long grass, committing to a three year process of re-evaluation. It further does so at the very moment we are strongest and able to force a more decisive victory. The employers’ valuation has been demonstrated to be bogus, yet the UCU leadership is now accepting to increase our contribution while we re-evaluate. Employers’ contribution however will rise by only 1.3%. In three years time we will be demobilised and pressured to accept a worse deal. In our opinion we should keep going and…

Crises of Constitutionality

A Marxist problematization of the concept of constitutional crisis. Originally published by Legal Form. Republished by permission. What is a constitutional crisis? Can a diverse array of observed phenomena — such as the slow-motion coup in Brazil, the legal and jurisprudential uncertainty that will attend any possible Brexit, or the attempts to consolidate ethnically and religiously chauvinist regimes from Poland to India, to take but a few examples from the current moment — be united under the banner of a single concept? Or would such a project inevitably collapse into theoretical shoehorning, through which social reality is made to conform to the parameters of an ideal construct? In what follows I pursue a Marxist problematization of the concept of constitutional crisis.…

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…