What does ‘the crowd’ Want? Populism and the Origin of Democracy

The liberal critique of the recent rise of populism reveals an uneasiness toward ‘unruly’ emotional crowds and their leaders’ anti-democratic postures – albeit these figures have captured political power through democratic means.[i] Trump, Le Pen, Modi, and Erdogan have indeed stirred nationalist emotions and collective energies in explosive directions. Erdogan’s purge of the Turkish state is just one of the recent examples of the potential of bloody nationalist effervescence, while Modi’s anti-Muslim rhetoric has rendered a new life to violent Hindu nationalism in India.[ii] Crowds were objects of scientific fascination and civic concern for the bourgeoisie in nineteenth century Europe, and researchers, like Gustave Le Bon, and later Sigmund Freud, closely studied them. Le Bon postulated that crowd possessed a…

Macron & Africa’s ‘civilisational’ problem

Mr Macron has been nostalgic lately. First, he was nostalgic for the 18th century and hereditary rule asserting that the French people did not want to execute the king and that the revolution has left a (king-shaped) void at the heart of the Republic that only other paternal figures can fill. Then, Mr Macron was nostalgic for the 19th century. Responding to a question about the possibility of a Marshall Plan for Africa, the French President dismissed the idea purporting that, unlike Europe after 1945, Africa’s problem is ‘civilisational’ and, therefore, an intervention along the lines of the Marshall Plan would be a waste of billions that would not stabilise anything. Macron’s response is striking, and telling not only of…

Protecting Public Space: The Gypsy and Traveller Community

The Gypsy and Traveller community is obliged to have respect for a system which both marginalises and excludes them. On 5 July 2017, a community of Travellers pulled up to Preston Park in Brighton. The council and the police soon descended on them to inform them that they were ‘trespassing’, as the land was covered by a Public Space Protection Order [PSPO]. They were told that if they did not vacate the land they would be liable for fixed penalty notices, and were directed to another transit site using police powers under s.62 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Introduced in 2014 under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, PSPOs enable councils to criminalise particular, non-criminal,…

History and Historical Mystification: Critical Observations on Badiou’s Politics

Alain Badiou is one of continental philosophy’s most original and creative minds. His politics can be understood as evading both the temptations of analytical political theory and post-modern skepticism through his metaphysics. According to Badiou, the multiplicity of Being guarantees that the old social totality will break down, and a new one will emerge through subjects who show fidelity to the truth of this radical event.  In this way, he seeks to capture what is best in the classical Marxist (materialist) project as read through Althusser and others, while still leaving more room for subjectivity than orthodox Marxism would allow. This is a fine line to walk, and to his credit, Badiou often does so successfully.  In many ways, his…

Looking in the mirror: reflections on the DUP and ‘the Irish problem’

The chatter, comments, and headlines are clear: the perennial ‘Irish problem’ has returned to haunt the British stage. But what is there to hear in the silence that frames the chatter? To the surprise and unease of many in Britain the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has been thrust front-and-centre onto the political stage of their liberal democracy. While this appearance has elicited much comment and chatter amongst the good people of that liberal democracy, the real question perhaps should be, beyond this comment and chatter which will undoubtedly die down when the ‘coalition of chaos’ comes to its inevitable end, what does this appearance tell us about British society and politics at a more general level? In Britain, since the first mention…

Radical Reconfigurations? Old and new futures in Northern Ireland

As the Conservative Party’s majority evaporated in the early hours of 9th June 2017, the new parliamentary power of the DUP quickly came into focus. With Sinn Fein resolutely abstaining from taking their seats, the Democratic Unionist Party find themselves in a position to enter a formal coalition or, more likely, a confidence and supply agreement with the Tories. On the straightforward arithmetic, there is no reason that such an arrangement cannot last a full five-year fixed term. Politically, however, it seems impossible. For the immediate future, however, it suits both Labour and the Conservatives to let the dust settle, make necessary internal changes within their parties, and allow new political distinctions to emerge in particular with regards to Brexit…

Five theses on youth & the sociology of the UK election

(or some quickly gathered thoughts) Thesis 1. Contemporary capitalism rarely appears simple. Back in 1848 Marx wrote in the opening of The Communist Manifesto about how “Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other — Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.” But already things were more complicated. Marx’s analysis hinged on showing how the opposition of these two classes was founded in the relation of domination of capital and wage labour. Suddenly, unable to leap into pure identification with a class, people become split and split up. For Marx, only in…

Words Matter: Titles and Framing in the International Justice Scene

Sacrificing nuance, sensitivity and specificity for the sake of a ‘catchy’ title is not a neutral choice, but reiterates dominant narratives and is violently short sighted. Scrolling through my social media feed one evening last week, I came across an announcement advertising an event at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut in The Hague titled “Can Africa prosecute international crimes? – The DRC Example”.  Sponsored by the Asser Instituut, the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) and the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies of Leiden University, in cooperation with Open Society Foundations, the event was part of a popular series of Supranational Criminal Law (SCL) lectures organized by the Asser Instituut. The series has run for years, is generally well…

Editorial: Labour’s Insurgent Electoral Campaign

Whatever happens in today’s election in the UK, Corbyn’s campaign has been a success. Not in generations has there been an insurgent electoral campaign from the Labour party. By this we mean a campaign that faced down almost universal media antipathy (even hatred) but sought to turn Labor’s unpopularity with the establishment against the establishment itself. Because that is what Corbyn and Milne and the whole team have done. They have insisted that the establishment rejection of the Labour party under Corbyn is nothing more than an elite protecting its own interests. In this Labour have performatively revealed the political reality of even the most (apparently) liberal of media sources. At the outset one of the BBC commentators asked whether we…

The ‘Right to the City’ Emerges? Moscow’s Anti-Regeneration Protests

Last month saw some of the most populous and socially significant protests in Moscow. A series of rallies was held against the plans by the Moscow authorities to demolish old ex-public housing stock and resettle over a million residents. What was supposed to be an uncontroversial policy and in the run-up to the municipal and federal elections may have been seen as a vote-winner, led to an unprecedented mobilisation of residents. The protesters see the plans as an unconstitutional attempt of a grand-scale expropriation in favour of city authorities and developers, and believe that they risk social cleansing and the change of the city in the interests of those who do not live there.  Local activism, lawsuits, engagement with parliamentary…

Why is it difficult to accept foreign policy plays a part in terrorism?

In the travel documentary, In America, Stephen Fry visits a tea party in Massachusetts to speak with Harvard Professor Peter Gomes. The conversation discusses the re-imagined history of the United States, describing how American political solutions are sought for global and local problems. Gomes goes on to suggest ‘the many things one can say about this country is that we dislike complexity- so we’ll make simple solutions to everything we can.‘ In one sense, this also speaks to the British people. Explanations of complex problems are frequently reduced to a simple calculus, often at the expense of nuance and sometimes with compromises of difficult truths. As a response to the tragedy in Manchester, Jeremy Corbyn has criticised the wholesale shortcomings…

Black Skin, White Masks? Training African Leaders in the Art of Universality

  I was intrigued to see the recent advertisement for the Academy Africa Fellowship at Chatham House, a prestigious, London-based think tank on international affairs, with a Royal Charter granted in 1926, and originator of the famous ‘Chatham House Rule’. In its advertisement, Chatham House seeks fellows who will, as part of their Leadership training, undertake a research project of their ‘own design’. The project must be conducted under one of four Chatham House programmes, including the International Law Programme. It is here that my interest was piqued. The named research topic is ‘African Perspectives on international law’. You can see the full advertisement here: https://www.chathamhouse.org/academy/fellowships/africa ‘African governments may differ from those in the West and elsewhere in their perceptions…

The Empire Strikes Back: On the recent general strike in Brazil

In a recent review of Alex Cuadros’ 2016 Brazzillionaires: Wealth, Power, Decadence, and Hope in an American Country (astonishingly, yet unsurprisingly, still unpublished in Portuguese and in Brazil) Patrick Iber, writing for the New Republic, declared that ‘if Brazil’s inequality shocks the conscience, we must recognize that, as a global community, we are all Brazil.’ Indeed, the fascination of Brazil, not least in the current ‘close to boiling point’ climate that has come to dominate the political weather across the globe, consists not in its being an exotic outlier but rather, as Iber concludes in his perceptive piece, a magnifying mirror that shows in sharp detail the ruptured macrocosm of neoliberal techno-capitalism, its violence and cruelty, but also the beauty…

Michel Foucault: Biopolitics and Biopower

Key Concept Despite their prominence in subsequent academic writing,1 the concepts of “biopower” and “biopolitics” are perhaps the most elusive, and arguably the most compelling (given the attention they have subsequently received), concepts of Michel Foucault’s oeuvre. Within his published work, these concepts featured only in the last chapter of the slim first volume of History of Sexuality (The Will to Knowledge: History of Sexuality Volume I 1976).2 And, while biopolitics and biopower can be seen to figure within broader conceptualisations and genealogies of power and governmentality3 of his lecture series at the Collège de France (largely, 1975-76 ‘Society Must be Defended’4; 1977-78 Security, Territory Population5; and 1978-79 The Birth of Biopolitics6) these references remain ‘speculative’7 and incomplete, in part…

How Long Will Critical Human Rights Theory Continue to Ignore Race and Gender?

Human rights need to be released from the confinements of whiteness and sexism. In a debate that took place in 1993 about the “reinvention of the left”, Tariq Modood highlighted that ethnic diversity and racial equality were new challenges for the left and thus, also, for critical theory in general. Being Pakistani and Muslim, he sought to prove that without the full participation of individuals in all social areas, without the need for anti discrimination procedures, without recognising that racism is ‘broader than colourism” and without allowing communities to use their own customs and values to address their problems and obstacles, it is impossible to conceive of an effective multiculturalism that would have as its foundation “remodeling concepts of equality”.1…

Doing the Russian Revolution Justice

The centenary of the 1917 revolution can be seen as a diversion from the trauma still fresh and experienced by every living Russian except the youngest. The Russian revolution of 1917 indelibly marked the course of the 20th century. Its centenary comes into a world once again seized with turmoil, and its import is far from settled, most importantly, in Russia itself. The stakes for Russian society are high: successful appropriation of mutually incompatible narratives about the past will allow Russia a viable future, indeed without it we may struggle to talk meaningfully about ‘Russian society’ at all. The Western coverage of the centenary of the February revolution has been, with few exceptions, faintly disapproving and dismissed the government’s approach as…

Moving towards Meta-Politics: Notes on Alain Badiou’s Political Criticism

Since the publication of Being and Event1 in 1988, Alain Badiou has established himself as inarguably the most ambitious philosopher in the Continental tradition in quite some time. His rapidly growing oeuvre has come to encompass metaphysics, ethics, politics, art, cinema and more. Badiou has truly taken it upon himself to build and defend a genuine philosophical system (once a faux pas par excellence) intended to stand next the great architectural edifices of Hegel, Kant, and of course Plato. The result has been something of a philosophical epiphany, with many scholars nostalgic for grand systematicty taking Badiou at his word that he is the real deal,2with other being more critical.3 All this makes thorough engagement with his work ever more…

Trump’s Law: Toward a Necropolitical Humanitarianism

On 5 April 2017, one day before authorizing missile strikes against Syrian targets, Donald Trump remarked during a press conference in the White House Rose Garden, ‘I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me — big impact.’ He elaborated: ‘When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal — people were shocked to hear what gas it was. That crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line. Many, many lines.’ Described as a visceral and instinctual reaction to the deaths of innocent children, Trump’s account of this event plays upon tropes of a break or conversion, a ‘flexible’ turn from the ‘America First’ paradigm…

A World of “Sound” and “Clash”: An Interview with Taru Dalmia (Part III of III)

We want to know more about the roots of your music. As we understand it, your music brings together a particular new take on reggae, ska, and techno sounds with powerful lyrics. How does this mixture relate to your aim to engage with social struggles? We are thinking here too about ‘tradition’ – an idea that for legal scholars simultaneously denotes social power, respect, order, patterns of thought, and, of course, obedience: inheritance, and mixing? T: In music as opposed to prose it is not just lyrics but sound that becomes a carrier of meaning. Bass music, dub music, deeply impacts upon people and can be powerful expressions of emotion, of political sentiment, even of metaphor. In the case of reggae in particular we feel that it lends itself very well to expressing the fractured militarised reality that we are engaging with…