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The Need for Public Protest

Earlier last week, Trenton Oldfield was convicted of ‘Causing a Public Nuisance’ by a jury at the Isleworth Crown Court. Previous instances of this rarely prosecuted offence include impregnating the air with “noisome and offensive stinks and smells” causing “a nuisance to all the King’s liege subjects living in Twickenham” But Oldfield was the man who had the temerity to disrupt the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race last April, by choosing to take a swim, just as both boats were getting into their stride.

The prosecutor explained to the court that his actions had “spoiled the race for hundreds of thousands of spectators” and for this, the judge has adjourned sentence, commenting that she is not ruling out a prison sentence.

The Politics of Spinozism – Composition and Communication (Part 2 of 2)

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Étienne Balibar approaches Spinoza as a thinker of interaction, of the constitutive character of relations. Spinoza’s question, in Balibar’s view, is the following: ‘What is the mode of reciprocal action that characterizes the existence of a body politic?’

In this respect, the uniqueness of Spinoza is that of taking the movement (both outer and inner, so to speak) of the masses as the object of political science, and not just the legitimacy of sovereignty or the claims of order. (Of course, we may be tempted to ask, to what extent are the masses, or rather the multitude, the subject or object of politics?)

From here derives, in Balibar’s reading, both the centrality and aporetic character of the notion of democracy. Democracy is defined as a ‘united body of men which corporately possesses sovereign right over everything within its power’, as the combination of the reciprocity of duties and the equality of rights. As both Macherey and Negri note, this is not to be understood simply as another figure in a political typology of forms of government, but is an immanent tendency of political life, inscribed in the dynamic of reason and into the vicissitudes of human nature. Or, as Balibar puts it, democracy is both a kind of political order and the truth of every political order. Democracy can also be understood as the power of the multitude coordinated, cultivated and instituted without the imaginary displacement represented by sovereignty, by the alienation of the power of human singularities into the empty and formally unified place of power (the Hobbesian option, as it were). Whence the radical novelty of Spinoza’s question: How does power originate in the multitude? And, one should add, how does it continue and persevere, how is power not just originated, but also continuously constructed, in and by the multitude?

The Politics of Spinozism – Composition and Communication (Part 1 of 2)

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As many schol­ars have noted, Spinoza’s rela­tion to the his­tory and prac­tice of philo­sophy is unique. Though often por­trayed in the academy as a thinker integ­rated into the ‘ration­al­ist’ tra­di­tion, Spinoza has repeatedly emerged as what Ant­o­nio Negri fam­ously called a ‘sav­age anom­aly’. Whether in the rad­ical enlight­en­ment of the late 17th and 18th cen­tur­ies, the Pan­the­ism con­tro­versy that played such a form­at­ive role within Ger­man Ideal­ism, or in the philo­soph­ical rad­ic­al­ism cata­lysed by May 1968, Spinoza has been repeatedly invoked as a point of ref­er­ence and inspir­a­tion at moments when the very mean­ing of philo­sophy and its link to the con­tem­por­ary world was at stake. Toscano’s ini­tial ques­tion is there­fore the fol­low­ing: How is it that a philo­sopher renowned for think­ing, with supreme detach­ment, ‘sub specie aetern­i­tatis’, could play such a force­ful part in debates over what Michel Fou­cault called ‘the onto­logy of the present’? In order to address this mat­ter, Toscano con­cen­trates spe­cific­ally on the latest ‘wave’ in the long his­tory of Spinozism, and focuses on three thinkers who have played a cru­cial role in the recent resur­gence of interest in the work of the Dutch philo­sopher: Gilles Deleuze, Etienne Balibar, and our guest in this col­loquium, Ant­o­nio Negri. More spe­cific­ally, Toscano is con­cerned with how Spinoza has served as a spur for these three thinkers in their rad­ical inter­rog­a­tions of the mean­ing of polit­ics, demo­cracy and the com­mon. He does this by flesh­ing out three con­cepts through which Deleuze, Balibar and Negri respect­ively affirm the rel­ev­ance of Spinoza’s onto­logy and eth­ics to any reflec­tion on the con­tem­por­ary status of the polit­ical: com­pos­i­tion, com­mu­nic­a­tion and constitution.

The Political Economy of Indigenous Dispossession: Bare and Dispensable Lives in the Andes

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The expan­sion of the extract­ive indus­tries has, as coun­ter­parts, first, the reac­tion of indi­gen­ous com­munit­ies in the defense of their com­munal goods (land, water, graz­ing, etc.), and second, the viol­ent counter-​​attack of the state through police and mil­it­ary repres­sion, legit­im­ated many times by the of excep­tion (in Peru the “state of emer­gency”, a kind of state of excep­tion, has been applied by gov­ern­ments in pre­vi­ous years to con­trol socio-​​environmental protests). Polit­ical eco­nomy and legal policy are both rel­ev­ant to this situ­ation and both are func­tion­ally connected.

In respect of polit­ical eco­nomy, let us bring to mind what David Har­vey calls “accu­mu­la­tion by dis­pos­ses­sion”, which is just the the­or­et­ical update of the “prim­it­ive accu­mu­la­tion” described by Karl Marx, that is to say: cap­it­al­ist expan­sion requires the viol­ent trans­form­a­tion of com­mon goods into com­mod­it­ies in order to be appro­pri­ated and then used by exchange mech­an­isms.

Interview with ‘Bifo’: Reactivating the Social Body in Insurrectionary Times

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David Hugill and Elise Thorburn [1] have kindly agreed to publish this extended dialogue with the Italian  Autonomist Marxist theorist Franco Berardi – known as  ‘Bifo’. It has just been released in the Berkley Planning Journal as part of an excellent special issue on ‘New Spaces of Insurgency’. The Italian theorist Franco “Bifo” Berardi has spent a…

CFP: Except Asia – Agamben’s Work in Transcultural Perspective

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Over the past several decades, Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s work has attracted a growing amount of interest spanning a wide range of disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences, including philosophy, literary theory, political philosophy, migration studies, security studies, geography, social and cultural studies of science and medicine, etc. The increasing recognition accorded to…

When capitalism is defended with legitimate violence

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It has been a long fortnight for South Africa, which has unmistakably shown all the flaws and fallacies of its post-apartheid ‘rainbow nation’, along with the weaknesses of a non-racialist society deeply riddled with economic and social asymmetries. More importantly, it has shown that capitalism cannot conclude compromises with the excluded and exploited, and that…

Pussy Riot: Maria Alyokhina’s Closing Statement

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This trial is illustratory and illuminating. Not once will the authorities blush over it and be ashamed of it. Every stage of it is quintesential of iniquity. How has this happened that our performance being initially a small and somewhat awkward act has grown into a big disaster? Obviously in a healthy society that is…

ECB Frankfurt Occupy camp cleared

The Occupy camp situated in Frankfurt’s financial district, at the foot of the European Central Bank, was cleared this afternoon in a lightning raid, approved by the city’s Administrative Court.  The police admitted they had chosen a moment when the majority of activists were engaged elsewhere in the city.  Members of the Left Party and…

Capturing The Social Sciences: An Experiment in Political Epistemology

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According to the title that identifies this panel, we are here to enter into a discussion around the productive powers of something called “critical theory”. At first sight, critique and productivity might strike anyone as being opposite terms. Isn’t critique related to a certain form of negativity? To saying “no” to power? And isn’t the demands for capitalistic “productivity” what some of us criticise, or at least attempt to do so?

The title of this panel, however, seems to put such a taken-for-granted relationship at risk. “The Productive power of critical theory”– can we think of a productive criticality? or a critical productivity? What might it mean to engage in a form of critical-productive thought and how might such engagements contribute to challenging and transforming our knowledge-practices within the social sciences and the humanities? These are some of the questions with which I will attempt to experiment in what follows.

To be sure, these questions are not new, and many researchers and thinkers in the social sciences and the humanities are becoming increasingly interested in them, to the extent that arguably none of the latest so-called turns within these fields, be it the “ontological turn”, the “practice turn”, the “affective turn” and so on, leave the question of the relation between critique and productivity untouched.

UPDATED Occupy in Frankfurt – rally against eviction

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UPDATE: on 31 July 2012 Frankfurt’s Lord Mayor (Oberbuergermeister) Peter Feldmann (SPD) granted cautious support to the aims of the Occupy Camp insofar as these were about initiating a dialogue about the financial system.  This effectively amounts to granting a stay of execution on any eviction, pending the outcome of legal appeals against the decision…

Melbourne Doctoral Forum on Legal Theory: ‘Grounding Law’ 6–8 December 2012 – Call for Papers

The fifth annual Melbourne Doctoral Forum on Legal Theory will be held at the Melbourne Law School, Melbourne, 6-8 December 2012. It will again bring together higher research students and early career researchers, who in different disciplines and across diverse fields of scholarship, engage with law and its theoretical and methodological questions. This year the…