On a Recent Change of Tone in Politics and Law

Abstract rendering of the cover of Law & Critique in Central Europe

This is the foreword by Costas Douzinas to Law and Critique in Central Europe: Questioning the Past, Resisting the Present, eds. Rafał Manko, Cosmin Cercel, and Adam Sulikowski (Oxford: Counterpress 2016). I am writing this preface in the Chamber of Hellenic Parliament a little after giving my maiden speech as a newly elected Member of Parliament for Syriza, the radical left party and current government of Greece. It is only a short six weeks since I gave the opening address at the amazing Critical Legal Conference (‘CLC’) on 5 September 2015 in Wrocław, Poland, the first CLC in Central Europe. The change in my life since this historic meeting in Wrocław is momentous. I was asked to stand for the Greek…

How do you recognise an Assadist?

“Platform-34.532298,69.153442” (2014). Mixed media on canvas. Image by Waseem Marzouki.

Some people whose interest in the Middle East is recent think that Assad is a uniquely Syrian phenomenon. I think the excessively harsh despotism and the equally excessive ability to cruelly exterminate your own population while believing yourself to be setting your nation on the road to modernity are quite unique in terms of their degree and intensity, but Assadism is nonetheless a more widespread political disposition in the Arab world. It can even be described as a mode of being. How do you recognise an Assadist? Here are some helpful suggestions for the newcomers: • An Assadist is anyone who pretends that the tension between a local population’s aspirations for freedom, justice and dignity and geo-political anti-imperialist posturing (i.e., being…

A feminist case for Basic Income: An interview with Kathi Weeks

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Katie Cruz: Since you wrote The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries in 2011, the demand for a basic income has received increasing attention from those of us on the Left. But I think what differentiates your work on basic income from much of what has been published is that yours is a Marxist feminist perspective. Social reproduction is central to your work in general and on a basic income. Could you start by outlining your expansive definition of social reproduction and how you arrived at it in conversation with earlier Marxist feminist approaches? Kathi Weeks: Marxist feminism’s focus on social reproduction is probably the main reason I keep coming back again and again to that…

When Seeing Isn’t Believing: On Images of Police Brutality

Eric-Garner-Cover-Picture

Our TV screens and social media feeds are saturated with images of police brutality towards African Americans; the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling among the most recent. While visual proof of police violence towards African Americans is not new — as images of the 1935 Harlem race riot reveal — it is now more prevalent than ever. The increased visibility of police violence is commonly understood as an unambiguously positive development in the fight for justice. Belief in the power of photographs and videos has seeped into the very language of social change; to “bring an issue to light” or “expose abuses by the state” is to hasten justice. Visual materials are seen as objective records of moments in…

Criminal Law to the Rescue? ‘Wolf-Whistling’ as Hate Crime

Eugène Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People

On July 13, 2016 Nottinghamshire police became the first force in the UK to recognise misogyny as a hate crime. Hate crime is defined as ‘any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a personal characteristic’. In practical terms, this means that in Nottinghamshire police can record reported incidents such as wolf whistling, verbal abuse, taking photographs without consent, and using mobile phones to send unwanted messages with an additional ‘flag’ or qualifier on their incident log as hate crime. It appears that the move is largely symbolic, as gender animus is not a relevant aggravating factor for the purposes of sentencing under relevant UK ‘hate crime’…

The Iraq War, Brexit and Imperial Blowback

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Brexit is a disaster we can only understand in the context of Britain’s imperial exploits. A Bullingdon boy (Oxford frat boy) gamble has thrown Britain into the deepest political and economic crisis since the second world war and has made minority groups across the UK vulnerable to racist and xenophobic hatred and violence. People of color, in particular those in the global South, know all too well what it is to be at the receiving end of the British establishment’s divisive top-down interventions. Scapegoating migrants is a divisive tool favored by successive governments, but the British establishment’s divide and rule tactic was honed much further afield in the course of its colonial exploits. Britain has a long history of invading,…

Three Brexit lessons from our work at Kent Law School.

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  We are some of the staff who work at Kent Law School, one of the UK’s leading critical law schools. We value working in a place where people disagree with each other, where diverse colleagues, often from different schools of thought and political convictions, feel a sense of shared belonging, and where our jobs give us the chance to meet wonderful people from all over the world. But while many of those who voted for leave may have been celebrating this week, we have been feeling shocked, subdued, and concerned. As a result, we have been uncharacteristically quiet during the most significant period in the UK’s recent legal and political history. People with different kinds of jobs, as well…

The Unbearable Weight of Staying

The Host (Cropped)

On the paradoxical semantic ambivalence at the root of the unrooted concept ‘host’ On Wednesday 22nd June 2016, during Refugee Week, Adbul Rahman Haroun was sentenced to nine months in prison under the Malicious Damage Act 1861, prosecuted for ‘dangerous obstruction’ of traffic. This ‘obstruction’ of which it speaks concerns the evasion of high speed trains going through the Channel Tunnel during his 31 mile walk in 12 hours of near total darkness, in August 2015. After first escaping persecution in Sudan in 2004, making the perilous journey to Europe and then jumping the fence in Calais following months in the refugee camp, Haroun was arrested by the police at Folkestone. He was detained at HMP Elmley in Kent until…

Disorder under Heaven

Img: Reuters/Reinhard Krause

A crisis is to be taken seriously, without illusions, but also as a chance to be fully exploited. Late in his life, Freud asked the famous question “Was will das Weib?”, “What does a woman want?”, admitting his perplexity when faced with the enigma of the feminine sexuality. A similar perplexity arouses today, apropos the Brexit referendum: what does Europe want? The true stakes of this referendum become clear if we locate it into its larger historical context. In Western and Eastern Europe, there are signs of a long-term re-arrangement of the political space. Till recently, the political space was dominated by two main parties which addressed the entire electoral body, a Right-of-centre party (Christian-Democrat, liberal-conservative, people’s…) and a Left-of-centre…

After the Referendum: What’s Left?

Sorry Closed

There is nothing to celebrate today. The vote by a small (but significant) majority of people in the UK to leave the EU is not a victory for working people, for migrants, for socialists or left activists of any stripe. It could have been: if Labour and the main trade unions had seized the moment and set out a strong, principled, anti-racist and anti-capitalist case for leaving the EU. They didn’t, and the moribund radical left was so fragmented and disorganised, that it’s interventions had little or no bearing on the debate. As a result charlatans such as Nigel Farage are able to portray themselves as champions of “ordinary people” standing up to the “elites and fat cats”. Race and…

Europe at the Crossroads

Earthlights

Brexit campaigners would have us abdicate at the global level, all potential for the re-establishment of political and social self-determination over the economy. We, by contrast, should take our fight for the soul of economic liberalism to Europe. Order in Chaos Even as it is wholly ill-informed, the Brexit debate is dominated by a battle for facts. In the one corner, those determined to catapult the UK out of the Union have been evermore inventive (mendacious) in their pursuit of figures that ‘demonstrate’ the unbearable strains of integration upon the UK population Exchequer. In the other, Vote Remain’s assertion that a no vote will lead to economic shock is better backed up by reputable research, but the campaign is nonetheless…

Brexit as Nostalgia for Empire 

Zong Massacre

The run up to the EU referendum has shown Britain for what it is. Woodwork: the washed-up bracken of the British Empire, and the ugly flotsam of its legacy of racism. This week Jo Cox, a pro-immigration Labour MP was brutally murdered by a man who shouted Britain First as he killed her and who gave his name in court on being charged with her murder as “Death to traitors. Freedom for Britain”. Jo Cox was killed a week before the referendum on Britain’s EU membership and following months of campaigning which has been dominated by the topic of migration. This referendum has not felt like an exercise in democracy. There is something painfully undemocratic about denying EU citizens from…

Hans-Georg Gadamer: Hermeneutics

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Key Concept Hermeneutics concerns itself with the philosophy of interpretation, initially oriented toward the interpretation of texts. Indeed, though its origins lay in Greek antiquity, ‘advances in the formulation of methods of interpretation had to await the Reformation and the attack on the Church’s authority to interpret the bible.’1 Thus, hermeneutics was a branch of theology that dealt specifically with the interpretation of holy scriptures but has since expanded beyond textual interpretation to encompass the interpretation of verbal (speech) and non-verbal (conduct) expressions. The use of Gadamerian hermeneutics in legal interpretation is well documented. Indeed, Gadamer regarded law as having ‘exemplary significance’ in developing his Post-Romantic interpretation that moved beyond methodological variations of attempting to determine authorial (specifically here, legislative)…

‘Internalised homophobia’: The exception or the paradigm?

Omar Mateen

Shortly after the 11 June anti-LGBT massacre, it became clear that the perpetrator, Omar Mateen, had a gay profile of his own. Commentary poured out associating Mateen with internalised homophobia. What shall we make of that diagnosis? It’s not necessarily wrong. Given our long and complex histories of sexual taboo, psychological explanations for gays aggressing others as gays are certainly plausible enough. Throughout much of the media, however, ‘internalised homophobia’ is recited not to enhance the public’s insight into the politics, but to write politics out of the analysis altogether. If the killer was gay himself, it seems, then maybe his crime wasn’t really about politics. Far from surpassing the age-old medical model of non-normative heterosexualities as disease (memorably documented by…

Focus on the Funk: Review

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Between 20–23 May 2016, a community of academics, activists and artists met at Birkbeck School of Law under an invitation to ‘Focus on the Funk.’ Over three days, the likes of Gayatri Spivak, Alicia Garza, Nina Power and Lewis Gordon all took up the task of trying to think through ‘the funk’. We felt fortunate to have attracted such a cast of speakers, considering how unappealing the prospect of joining a law school threatening to ‘get funky’ must have appeared upon first reading. ‘Law’ and ‘Funk’ are understandably imagined as diametric opposites; the transgression implicit in bringing them together being what initially excited us as organisers. Funk most immediately invokes a genre of music, yet the notion of ‘the funk’ transcends…

Jacques Derrida: Deconstruction

The last word on the word (artist Annie Voight)

Key Concept Deconstruction by its very nature defies institutionalization in an authoritative definition. The concept was first outlined by Derrida in Of Grammatology where he explored the interplay between language and the construction of meaning. From this early work, and later works in which he has attempted to explain deconstruction to others, most notably the Letter to a Japanese Friend, it is possible to provide a basic explanation of what deconstruction is commonly understood to mean. Three key features emerge from Derrida’s work as making deconstruction possible. These are, first, the inherent desire to have a centre, or focal point, to structure understanding (logocentrism); second, the reduction of meaning to set definitions that are committed to writing (nothing beyond the…

Livability: Notes on the Thought of Judith Butler

Figure Divided – William Scott

Key Concept Livability is a term increasingly detectable in Judith Butler’s work from the early 2000’s onwards. The concept emerges as intimately caught up with Butler’s discussion of grievability and her wider question of “how can we have more viable and livable lives?”, which in many ways ties together her whole corpus of writing.1 Thus, while a concept explicitly used only in her more recent work, concerns with livability, and the drive to challenge restrictive possibilities for livable life, characterise all of Butler’s work. Engagement with livability in the sense of asking critical questions about which lives are viable and flourishing in particular socio-political contexts is a fundamentally political activity, and one which, for Butler, holds possibilities to direct towards…

The Rise of Luxury Communism

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In a post-capitalist world how will we establish a system which provides for the needs of all? The solution to this in a world with mechanized labor is clear: luxury communism The failing of the American liberal lies not in his or her message, which purports to be one that is anti-oppression and anti-capitalism. The failing of the American liberal in recent times has become one which must be expanded well past the traditional thinking of a non-radicalized populace. The liberal encourages in his passivity a state and capital system which allows for the expansion of a system he proposes to be opposed to. The passive act of being governed by voting rather than exercising self-governance can be heard in…

Critique, Contradiction and the Law: Brit Crit History – The 1986 CLC

1986

In 1986, people were wearing shoulder pads, watching Neighbours, and listening to Bananarama. Spain and Portugal had just joined the EEC (there was no EU), the London Stock Market had its big bang (massive deregulation), computers looked like the one below, and Margaret Thatcher was at the height of her powers, declaring a year later that ‘… there is no such thing as society …’ 1986 was also the year of the first major Critical Legal Conference (CLC). Archive documents kindly released by Kent Law School show details of the first discussions, committee meetings, and organisational questions, and that it eventually went under the title ‘Law, Critique and Social Transformation’. One text in particular stands out entitled ‘… on Critique, Contradiction and the Law’ and…