The Pandemic and Us: Enemy, Resistance, Desire

Much has already been written about the coronavirus’s impact on the legal phenomenon, as well as about the use of national laws in response to the contagion. In this post, I would like to pursue what David Graeber indicates as a compelling line of inquiry. Accordingly, I will consider three broad contemporary trends which law played a role in shaping, with a view to problematising their development in a time of pandemic. How to resist? Many analyses of the health crisis share a key commonality in the injunction to engage in acts of resistance and mobilisation. Catherine Connolly, for instance, argues that gestures of solidarity are badly needed to appease such forms of alienation as inevitably ensue from social distancing.…

On Colonial Universality and other Legal Prerogatives: Reflections on Peter Fitzpatrick’s The Mythology of Modern Law

Following the death of Peter Fitzpatrick this month, we are reposting this series on The Mythology of Modern Law, originally edited by Brenna Bhandar & Sara Ramshaw, to mark the 25th anniversary of the book. 2017 marked the 25th anniversary of Peter Fitzpatrick’s The Mythology of Modern Law. An eloquent and incisive critique of Occidental law’s pretensions to secular origins, Fitzpatrick’s text remains of prime significance to scholars engaged with the constitutive forces of race, racism, and colonialism in the structure and political, philosophical and psychoanalytic imaginaries of modern law. The significance of the book cannot be understated; simply put, it laid the groundwork for the development of studies in law and colonialism and elevated race – perhaps one of the…

Remembering Peter Fitzpatrick

In her beautiful piece for CLT on the life and career of Professor Peter Fitzpatrick, Sundhya Pahuja offers a provocation for someone to write more on Peter’s years in Belfast, teaching Law at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) in the late 1960s/early 1970s. While others are much better placed to write about that time, especially Professors Abdul Paliwala and Tom Hadden, who were his colleagues at QUB, I do have a couple stories, which I would like to share. These were told to me by Peter and his wife, Shelby, after taking up my first academic position at QUB School of Law in 2005.  In particular, I recall their reminiscences about working on the political and cultural magazine, Fortnight, which was…

Vale Peter Fitzpatrick (1 November 1941 – 20 May 2020)

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Peter Fitzpatrick was widely revered as one of the most influential and original critical legal theorists in the English-speaking world.  His work on the colonial and postcolonial dimensions of modern law changed the field of legal theory and inspired the research of many scholars who have themselves gone on to make important contributions to legal scholarship and activism. Since his death from cancer on Wednesday May 20 at the age of 78, there has been an outpouring on social media of sadness from students, supervisees, colleagues, collaborators and interlocutors from all over the world. Two things stand out about those messages. First, almost without exception, every message has mentioned the word ‘generous’. Second, no one has expressed regret that they…

Democratic Biopolitics Revisited: A Response to a Critique

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In his recent intervention on CLT, Bryan Doniger offered a critique of my short intervention ‘Against Agamben: Is a Democratic Biopolitics Possible?’. The main points of this critique are (a) that I do not pay enough attention to the notion of biopolitics as it is indeed articulated in the work of Michel Foucault, confusing anatomo-politics and biopolitics and (b) that as a result I do not realise that the notion of democratic biopolitics I tentatively tried to suggest is indeed already put in practice by contemporary neoliberalism with catastrophic results. Actually my intervention was aimed more at one of Giorgio Agamben’s early interventions on the pandemic and it was a protest against simply thinking of any collective behavioural change as…

Zoomism and Discipline for Productive Immobility

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The virus lurks on car door handles, on doorknobs and the floor, on the breath of others or in a friend’s hug, on onions in the supermarket, and on the hands of the valet who parks your car. If you venture outside, everything and everyone is a threat. So, it is better to stay home, safely locked away with your previously disinfected computer which connects you to a world that is innocuous because its virtual and therefore “virtually” harmless. What makes you sick lurks outside your door. The fear of what we know to be real, but which only materializes in suspicion, is enough to keep us locked away. This individual sensation of anguish in the face of a threat…

A Foucauldian enquiry in the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic management (Critique in Times of Coronavirus)

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Is the substantially global management of the coronavirus pandemic a novelty or would it be possible to trace its origin in an earlier order of things? Could the specific model selected for the governance of the ongoing pandemic be subjected to a certain genealogy? According to the text on “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” (1971), Michel Foucault defines genealogy, or otherwise “effective” history, as a method of analysis of the descent, or the emergence of a specific practice. Referring to descent in the context of Foucauldian genealogy entails analysing the nexus of complex, multiple and multiform relations of power and knowledge at the origin of a given practice. In his lecture on January 15th, 1979, which is included in the volume Abnormal.…

Crisis and Resistance at the Periphery: Bosnian responses to Covid-19

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My mother tells me that it’s lucky that this time around we have electricity. She was two years older than I am now when the siege of Sarajevo began. I was born during the first summer of the siege and so she had found herself caring for a premature infant in the midst of a war. There was no food that summer, no water, no gas, and no electricity, which meant that for two years my mother had to hand wash my white cotton diapers in water which she had carried for over a kilometre under sniper fire. This is a thing she remembers, as do the joints in her hands, and it is the absence of this burden that…

The Unjust City: Mapping Exclusion through Aesthetics

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Imre Azem’s documentary ‘Ecumenopolis: City Without Limits’ and the research of Manis K. Jha and Pushpendra Kumar help us to explore on the project of neoliberalism, offering a scathing critique of the exclusion and inaccessibility that accompanies its political logic. While the documentary is a comprehensive work that traces the rapid urbanisation of Istanbul and its problems; the article meticulously chronicles the plight of the urban poor, namely the homeless migrant workers, in Mumbai through ethnographic accounts. Common to the urban spaces of Istanbul and Mumbai is a vision of their transformation into ‘global cities’ by developing as cultural and financial nodes within the broader fabric of the economic world order. This vision centres on the idea of an aestheticized city life.…

The Plague was Already Present (Critique in Times of Coronavirus)

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No philosopher took as brave a stand against the political approach of the Coronavirus than the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben. Although his thoughts were for the most part rejected by both the academic world as public opinion, he stood his ground. What a majority of his commentators failed to see, is that Agamben does not deny the Coronavirus or the threat that it poses to public health. Granted, titles such as that of his first article – L’invenzione di un’epidemia – are not helpful, but Agamben’s worries lie with the political logic that is being displayed combatting this health crisis. His intention is not to question the health hazard itself. Language is crucial part in politics. In his latest opinion…

A Violence Which Must Be Named (Critique in Times of Coronavirus)

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Across the UK two narratives currently dominate and frame much of the critique of the British government’s current response to the Coronavirus pandemic. The first is that of incompetence. The story so far unfolding is that of a government which has ignored both the World Health Organisation’s advice and the experience of numerous other countries in their approach to limiting the spread of Coronavirus, as well as ignoring earlier recommendations and warnings within UK government commissioned contingency planning. The picture is that of a Prime Minister and Cabinet drastically out of their depth, with little experience of crisis management or detailed planning. It is an image of a government disorganised, acting too slowly, ignoring the pleas of many within the…

Prisoners of State (Critique in Times of Coronavirus)

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We have all become prisoners of the State. Wherever we are across the whole planet. It’s a time like no other time in human history or natural history. Is it a force of Nature as virus Covid-19 that has brought this about; or is it something to do with the nature of our State? In our near universal confinement we understand that it’s all for our protection. On that there is no argument here. We also understand that just as the immune system in our own bodies produces antibodies to protect us against an invading pathogen, so does the State in its means of protection. But we know that by the reaction of our bodies, it is our own antibodies that…

Two Problems with Democratic Biopolitics (Critique in times of Coronavirus)

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COVID-19 has led to renewed interest in Michel Foucault’s concept of biopolitics, but it has also revealed that this concept is widely misunderstood. Too many commentators have relied upon an overly broad definition of biopolitics as a ‘politics of health’ or a ‘politics of life.’ Panagiotis Sotiris’ popular recent article ‘Is Democratic Biopolitics Possible?’ exemplifies this problem. Sotiris gives definitions of both ‘biopolitics’ and ‘democratic biopolitics’ that we should reject. Let’s turn to these definitions: Sotiris understands ‘biopolitics’ as a set of political practices that “attempt to guarantee the health (and productivity) of populations.” He relies upon this broad definition because he wants to use the term ‘biopolitics’ to discuss a wide range of political practices related to health. For…

Frederic Jameson: Vanishing Mediator

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Key Concept Frederic Jameson coined the term ‘vanishing mediator’ in an article from 1973 called “The Vanishing Mediator: Narrative Structure in Max Weber”. In that article, he used the vanishing mediator in his analysis of Max Weber and Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Etienne Balibar explains that the vanishing mediator is, essentially, the figure (admittedly presented in speculative terms) of a transitory institution, force, community, or spiritual formation that creates the conditions for a new society and a new civilizational pattern – albeit in the horizon and vocabulary of the past – by rearranging the elements inherited from the very institution that has to be overcome. When the transition to a new society has occurred, then…

Responding to gender critical feminism: On gender, sex and a generous feminist politics in anxious times

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Can feminism develop and grow if the room for reasonable divergence between us becomes ever narrower? We need spaces where we can discuss feminist politics to improve all our feminisms. The cheerleading, backslapping and feuding of twitter is not a good substitute. I’ve been wondering how to respond to the social media attacks we’ve been receiving ever since our project, The Future of Legal Gender, launched its survey in the autumn of 2018. The survey was intended to explore how people, in Britain, thought about gender and, more specifically, their views on proposals to reform gender’s place within legal personhood. Writing the survey in ways that would speak to very different constituencies, however, was a challenge given the lack of…

Law & Critique: Chile’s ‘Constituent Moment’

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Few documents speak more clearly of the alliance between market thinking and authoritarian constitutionalism than a letter written by Margaret Thatcher in February 1982 in response to a letter sent to her by Hayek and, more likely, to a conversation that took place possibly a few days before during a dinner organised by Walter Solomon and attended by both. From the letter, one can infer what was already known: Hayek’s positive judgment on the performance of the Chilean economy under Pinochet.  After all Hayek had first-hand evidence of Chile’s economic ‘miracle’ having personally visited Chile twice: first in 1977 and then in 1981. In both cases, he wrote articles for European newspapers criticising the bias toward Pinochet’s Chile exhibited in…

Humanity’s Catastrophe: Following Sylvia Wynter in the Age of Coronavirus

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The news of Kayla Williams, a black woman from Peckham, dying of suspected Covid-19 after being rendered “not a priority” by paramedics on the scene has sat like a stone within me. Apart from being further proof that communities sitting at the intersection of racial and wealth inequality bear the burden of dying from preventable causes disproportionately, her death is symptomatic of a deeper current of structural prioritising of some and de-prioritising of others that predates this crisis. In this blog I want to explore the socio-economic dynamics driving the responses to and effects of this health emergency. In a world ordered by racist and capitalist mechanics, forces of inequality are informing and being re-inscribed cyclically by the measures being…

‘The King is Naked’: Bolsonaro & the Pandemic (Critique in times of Coronavirus)

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The current president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has been relentlessly downplaying the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic comparing it with a simple flue. He has claimed that the lowest social categories of the Brazilian population would be immune to diseases (“the Brazilian jumps into the sewer and doesn’t get anything”) [1]. Bolsonaro’s main point is that the Brazilian economy cannot stop because of the pandemic. He has a two-fold argument. First, at least 40 million Brazilians need to continue to work in order to make a living. If complete lockdown is imposed, they will not be able to survive. Second, the confinement measures (similar to those introduced in Spain, France or Italy) will eventually bring about a major economic crisis in Brazil.…

Begin from the Beginning: Revisiting Agamben (Critique in times of Corona)

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The overcharged attacks on Agamben don’t come as a surprise. Since we are amidst a pandemic, there is an urgency palpable in people’s writings. For a reader of Agamben, it should be clear not to place an unfair burden on a philosopher who primarily deals with metaphysics to be read as offering a political program. Yet, commentators are more concerned with his apparent ‘undermining’ of the present crisis save for a few. There was much outrage about how he called the State’s response to contain the virus, an ‘overreaction,’ as if his guilt lies only in his short-sightedness and is just wrong due to his denial and refusal to seriously condemn the state we are all in. Anyone familiar with…