International Economic Law & COVID-19

International economic law (IEL), broadly defined, refers to the rules governing the cross-border movement of goods, people, technology and finance capital, as well as the institutions created to design and enforce such rules. IEL has, over the past three decades, developed exponentially as a field of study, evolving from a sub-field of public international law into a multi-layered, highly specialized discipline of its own, encompassing areas such as trade, investment, finance, intellectual property, business regulation, energy and competition law. As an arena of scholarship, policy and practice, IEL has largely been dislodged from the broader social, economic, political, ecological and historical context in which it operates. At the heart of our current global order are profound dislocations between the economy,…

Must Society be Defended from Agamben?

Many European countries have by now been in lockdown for more than a week. This has given everyone ample time to reflect on our current condition. Many of the world’s leading critical thinkers have shared their thoughts with us through op-eds, blog posts, and so on. Among the more troubling are three opinion pieces Giorgio Agamben wrote for his Italian publisher Quodlibet. As one could have expected, Agamben vehemently opposes the use of the state of emergency to control this crisis. For the majority of patients, COVID-19 poses no more trouble than a regular flu. Agamben thus fears that exceptional measures pushed through today are dangerously disproportionate. If the reader thinks that makes Agamben sound like coronavirus denialists such as…

A Corona Utopia in Three Parts

“This episode of Black Mirror sucks!” The slogan that briefly went viral in the United States after the election of Trump has now acquired an even more infectious, irresistible irony for many in coronavirus-stricken Europe. The fear of loved ones and ourselves getting infected by the inconspicuous threat that is Covid-19 has merged with confusion about the unprecedented, sweeping emergency measures that have been imposed in an increasing number of liberal European democracies, and with a vague sense that we cannot even begin to imagine the scale of this pandemic and its lasting consequences. If any of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror episodes comes close to depicting current anxieties, it may well be the particularly dark and enigmatic “Metalhead”. Merciless robotic…

Covid-19 and the Continuity of the Familiar

The outbreak of Covid-19 is billed as a ‘once in a century event’. It has appeared as the prophesised rupture in our social, economic and political fabric of the world, with the recognition that what follows may not resemble what humanity has become used to. It is posed as a discontinuity in the normality of everyday life; a panic-inducing pandemic that threatens our collective existence across political borders and socio-economic and geographical locations. But the genetic novelty of the virus is one thing; there is nothing novel in how we have individually, collectively, politically or culturally responded to this challenge. Covid-19 is a strong question, borrowing from Boaventura De Sousa Santos, which not only demands an answer but also probes…

Never Waste a Crisis: A Practical Guide?

It is too early to predict how the COVID-19 pandemic will unfold and over what period of time. But we should expect that, much like September 11, the world afterwards will be very different to the world before. We know we should never waste a crisis, but the right seems more adept than the left at making use of them. Now is a good time for progressives to think about what we should encourage and what we should resist during the current crisis and in the reconstruction which will follow. The last thing we need is a repeat of the 2008 global financial crisis. Then, the eye-wateringly large taxpayer bailouts of financial institutions were accompanied by short-lived expressions of banker…

Virus: All That Is Solid Melts into Air

There is a debate within the social sciences about whether it is easier to ascertain the truthfulness and quality of a society’s institutions under normal daily circumstances or in exceptional situations, during times of crisis. One can probably learn from both types of situation, but each of them is certain to bring to the fore and teach us different things. What is the potential knowledge to be derived from the coronavirus pandemic? The Normality of Exception The current pandemic is not your typical crisis scenario, in sharp contrast to a normal situation. Since the 1980s – as neoliberalism established itself as the leading version of capitalism, which in its turn became increasingly dependent on the logic of the financial sector…

Against Agamben: Is a Democratic Biopolitics Possible?

Giorgio Agamben’s recent intervention which characterizes the measures implemented in response to the Covid-19 pandemic as an exercise in the biopolitics of the ‘state of exception’ has sparked an important debate on how to think of biopolitics. The very notion of biopolitics, as it was formulated by Michel Foucault, has been a very important contribution to our understanding the changes associated with the passage to capitalist modernity, especially in regards to the ways that power and coercion are exercised. From power as a right of life and death that the sovereign holds, we pass to power as an attempt to guarantee the health (and productivity) of populations. This led to an expansion without precedent of all forms of state intervention and coercion.…

Covid: The Ethical Disease

This morning, as I was cycling down a road I frequently take on my way to work, I came across a blockage, big orange plastic net boards cutting across the way, stopping all traffic from going through. Some road works, nothing out of the ordinary. It just meant I could not pass through, had to find another way. While manoeuvring my bicycle backwards, a word rose up to my mind like undigested breakfast, an unrelated word, nothing to do with the situation in hand really, where did it come from, such nonsense The word was covid. My mind was toying with me. Freely associating while cycling, automatic writing of words on the bitumen, whiffs of syllables from passers-by: covid is…

Decolonisation Is Not About Ticking a Box: It Must Disrupt

As academics in a post-truth world, I believe we have an urgent and important task. In a world where emotional appeals and emotive decision-making are seemingly the norm, academia should be in the business of truth. Rather than lament reality, we should be revealing the reasons for the possibility of our reality and charting a path that unveils the possibility for change. I believe that, as academics, we have a responsibility to shine a light into the darkness of post-truth, to reveal the illusions and historical erasures that have enabled post-factuality. Thus, decolonisation continues to be urgent, timely and necessary. But how can we decolonise anything, if we do not know what decolonisation means? Tshepo Madlingozi, Chair for Critical Studies…

Achille Mbembe: Necropolitics

Key Concept The economic and political management of human populations through their exposure to death has become a global phenomenon. Wars, genocides, refugee “crisis”, ecocide and contemporary processes of pauperization and precarization reveal how increasing masses of individuals are now governed through their direct and indirect exposure to death. In order to unpack those processes, Achille Mbembe came up with the notion of necropolitics, first in 2003 with an essay bearing the same name, and then in 2016, with the book Politiques de l’inimitié, translated and published in English in 2019, as Necropolitics. With this latter notion, Mbembe explores and radicalizes Foucault’s concept of biopolitics. In the last lecture of “Society must be Defended” and in the last chapter of…

From historiography to historiographical theory, or looking for politics where there can be none

Not long ago, at an international law conference, in my panel was a scholar whom I admire a lot (still do). After presenting their paper, said scholar was asked a methodological question to which they briskly retorted—I quote—that they don’t give a shit about methodology. And that we would be much better off if we did away with it, is the kernel of what immediately followed. It would not be fair to name the author of those remarks. In any case, their identity is beside the point. What matters is that, at first, I more or less consciously dismissed the episode as an assertion of professional authority. (Having always entertained an uneasy relationship with authority, I tend to see its…

Toward a New Universal Declaration of Human Rights (I)

Baruch de Spinoza, the great 17th century philosopher, wrote that the two basic human emotions (or “affections”, as he called them) are fear and hope, and he suggested that a balance needs to be struck between the two, because fear unmingled with hope leads to despair and hope unmingled with fear can lead to destructive self-confidence. This very idea can be applied to contemporary societies, especially at a time when, what with cyberspace, instant interpersonal digital communications, the massification of industrial entertainment and mass customization of commercial and political microtargeting, collective sentiment is becoming more and more “like” individual sentiments, even if it is still made up of selective aggregates. That is why identification with what you hear or read…

Digging for Failure

Dig Station is an idle tapping game, with grinder overtones, produced by C6H6 and available on the Amazon app store. The premise is that you are in control of a station that is digging into the earth’s crust in order to mine resources. You begin simply with a drill: your ‘core drill’, which slowly and inexorably extracts resources that amass at the top of the screen—indicated by an ever-increasing yellow number. As this number increases, you are able to use the resources you have mined to upgrade your drill. The effect of this is to enable the drill to extract resources at a greater rate, with this rate increasing as you increase the drill’s level. Eventually you can upgrade the…

Hong Kong, or How Social Struggles Can Reinforce the Cartography of Capitalist Enclosure

If the debates incited by the 2019 Hong Kong Protest Movement, known as the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill (or Anti-ELAB) Movement, have revolved around conflicting interpretations that favor differently weighted readings of geopolitics and more fundamental questions about the extent to which geopolitics can serve as a reliable index for understanding local insurrection, the bulk of commentary, which we have attempted to follow as closely as possible in Chinese, English, and French, seems to us almost unified, despite the important differences, in its inability to help us situate not just the Movement, but the entirety of our global conjuncture in terms of a particularly problematic relation to bordering. For those “outside” of Hong Kong – a qualification whose problematic nature…

Dangerous Spaces

In radical or alternative left movements, the idea of safety is paramount. It is rare to go to a meeting about feminist, anti racist, queer, or otherwise progressive politics without a safe (or safer) spaces policy being presented. This document, whether read aloud or pinned to a wall, is implicitly a contract between participants regarding suitable conduct. The idea of ‘safe spaces’ has been mocked, derided, and obsessed over by the right wing, viewed as idealistic, authoritarian, or both, though these policies are also subject to significant internal debate in alternative left spaces, whether at the level of specifics or as a mode of organising more generally. Sometimes there is furious and exciting debate on the limitations of safe spaces,…

Marxist Legal Theory: Dictatorship of the Proletariat

1917 Petrograd Soviet

This is one of a series of key concepts in Marxist legal theory organized in collaboration with our friends at Legal Form: A Form for Marxist Analysis of Law. All articles in this series, including the present one, will appear concurrently on Legal Form and Critical Legal Thinking. The Marxist concept of dictatorship has a different meaning from one-man rule or state of siege. It is a central concept of the political theory of Marxism, referring not just to the form of government but to the question of which class is politically dominant. This is why its analysis cannot be carried out in the abstract, but always in concrete relation to the rule of a specific class. When we speak of the…

Marginalisation of Expertise & Media Bias

We write as members of the UK academic community. We are deeply concerned by the marginalisation of expertise in the media coverage of the general election. In particular we would like to highlight the lack of attention paid to recent analyses by economists and employment lawyers in relation to the possibilities that the Labour Manifesto presents for revitalising and positively transforming the UK economy.  Together with these 163 economists and 54 employment lawyers, we would like to emphasise the Labour Manifesto’s proposals for more equitable global economic relations and its commitment to a more ecologically sustainable and socially just international economy.  We therefore endorse these letters by our colleagues and call upon the media to refocus the debate on the policies…

Dear White, It’s OK to be white

In October 2018, the motion ‘It’s OK to be white’ was introduced in the Australian Parliament by White Supremacist Senator Pauline Hanson. The motion called for the ok-ness of Whiteness while denouncing ‘anti-white racism’ and ‘attacks on Western civilization.’ Astonishingly, it was only narrowly defeated 31-28, with many members of the ruling conservative Liberal-National Party coalition supporting it. This short text was written in response to this vote. In the text, I use white to mean a white-skinned person (which as many academic works have shown is a far less straight-forward description than it might first appear). On the other hand, I use White with a capital W to indicate a White who has a conscious or unconscious investment in…

Refugee Struggles: From Helsinki to Paris

Even if refugees have lost their political community, their “society of equals” comprising “reciprocity and commonness” and “mutual agreements and promises,” as Hannah Arendt says, they are able to become and act as political subjects. Refugees create new kinds of political communities through their collective actions. These events generate the “we” of political subjects between refugees and citizens that binds them “together in a relationship of political reciprocity.” I will present two cases of refugee struggle both of which, first, make universal claims, second, turn urban spaces and symbolic places into stages of struggle, and third, create non-hierarchical political movements. Right to Life – A Protest Camp The Helsinki Right to Life demonstration started in front of the Museum of…