Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Review of the ‘two Princes’

29 September 2013

Nigel Clark’s review of Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics and The Prince and the Wolf: Latour and Harman at the LSE in the August 2013 issue of Contemporary Political Theory [PDF].

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Occupy Bournemouth leaves university

28 March 2012

If you’re wondering what happened to the Occupy Bournemouth (University) episode, well, it has ended yesterday:

OCCUPY protesters yesterday ended their 18-day long protest at Bournemouth University. The group moved from their temporary home at the Talbot Campus entrance near the Boundary Roundabout shortly before bailiffs arrived at 2pm. It followed a hearing at Poole County Court where a district judge granted Bournemouth University a full injunction to exclude the protesters from university land. The judge also issued court costs against the protesters.

As far as I understand, there were two different legal proceedings, one brought by the owner of the land, Talbot Village Trust (which concerned the actual eviction), and the other concerned the above-mentioned injunction by Bournemouth University, to prevent the protesters from relocating to other parts of the campus.

Talbot Village Trust is a charity that was established in the 19th century by aristocrats to provide social housing for the poor in the area, so it is somewhat ironic that this time they were involved in chasing a protest movement off their land that also concerns itself with social and economic inequality.

Here are a few more articles on the key moments of the occupation:

Bournemouth Uni fences in protest – The Breaker

Protesters willing to leave ‘if Chancellor listens’ – The Breaker

Student union’s statement

UCU lecturers’ union motion

Occupy Bournemouth protesters to be evicted – BBC

Occupy comes to Bournemouth

12 March 2012

One thing I would have definitely not predicted about the likely evolution of the Occupy movement is that its next flashpoint would be my own town, the quiet seaside holiday resort of Bournemouth. But apparently after the protesters were evicted from the St Paul’s camp in London a few weeks ago, they somehow figured out that the Chancellor (a largely ceremonial role) of Bournemouth University is Lord Nicholas Phillips, who also happens to be the President of the UK’s Supreme Court. So last Friday they set up camp on the lawn at the rear entrance of Bournemouth University’s Talbot Campus, with one of their demands being a meeting with Lord Phillips.

This is happening literally on my doorstep, so on Sunday evening I grabbed my camera, got on my bike and paid a visit to the Occupy Bournemouth movement. There were two middle-aged guys busying themselves at the site, writing messages on the pavement with chalk, putting up posters, and setting up a tent, which one of them told me was going to be the “library,” where people will be able to educate themselves about the movement and other political matters. Both men had their Guy Fawkes masks resting on the top of their heads, ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. They were happy to put it on for me, and indeed whenever someone showed up with a camera, the masks came down. When I took a break from photographing and was chatting with one of the protesters, I saw from the corner of my eye that another protester also took a photo of me chatting to his comrade. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve turned up in one of their social media streams already.

The protester I was chatting to told me that today they found out that the piece of land they are occupying is owned by the local council, rather then Bournemouth University. He thought that was good news for them, as for some reason it would take longer for the council to evict them, than for the university. He also told me he came from the St. Paul’s camp, where he spent several months. “We are really big,” he said, “we are all over the world.”

The camp is situated right next to a busy roundabout (Boundary Roundabout), on the border that separates the towns of Bournemouth and Poole, and is very visible to passing traffic. Drivers periodically honked in support, as they glimpsed the camp’s banners asking them to do so. It is also right next to the footpath at the rear entrance of the campus, where thousands of students and staff pass by every morning and afternoon. It will be interesting to see the next move of the University and/or the Council. But my interlocutor gave me the impression that they were in for the long haul and the camp was only just in the initial stages of being constructed.

P.S. My blog post title and the first paragraph are somewhat misleading, as it suggests as if the Occupy movement had only just arrived in Bournemouth. But actually the Occupy movement has been around at least since November 2011, when they got evicted from outside the town hall, and there is another Occupy camp in Boscombe. Their Facebook page dates back to 21st October 2011. So I should have titled the post “Occupy comes to Bournemouth University.”

Update (13/3/2012):

Further coverage: Protesters ‘Occupy’ BU

Plus photo of the sign on the rear gate.

(Photos taken around 6pm on 11 March 2012. Click on Permalink for larger image, if you get the gallery view.)

Toscano on capitalism and panorama

18 February 2012

Alberto Toscano’s forthcoming lecture at Simon Fraser University on 6 March 2012, among others deploying Latour’s concept of the ‘panorama:’

Capitalism and Panorama: Staging Totality in Social Theory and Art

Can, or should, social theory try to ’see it whole’? This paper addresses the representation of social totality along theoretical, political and aesthetic axes. It considers the demand for orienting and totalizing representations of capitalist society present in the programmatic notions of ’sociological imagination’ in C. Wright Mills and ‘cognitive mapping’ in Fredric Jameson. Mills and Jameson converge on the need to mediate personal experience and systemic constraints, knowledge and action, while underscoring the political urgency and epistemic difficulty of such a demand.

This lecture will contrast these perspectives with the repudiation of a sociology of totality in the actor-network theory of Bruno Latour. It will explore this contrast through the ‘panorama’, both as a theoretical metaphor and as the object of different visual and artistic practices.

Bio: Alberto Toscano teaches in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of Fanaticism (2010) and The Theatre of Production (2006). He is an editor of the journal “Historical Materialism”.

Václav Havel or Kim Jong-il?

20 December 2011

Ex-president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic Václav Havel died on Sunday; the North-Korean dictator Kim Jong-il’s death was announced on Monday. If you were the Russian President or Prime Minister, who would you express your condolences to first? To the democratically elected representatives of the Czech people who had lost a much loved champion of democracy who led them to freedom in a bloodless revolution, or to Kim Jong-un, the unelected heir to the throne of an unelected dictator who had tormented his people for decades and had been threatening the world with nuclear weapons?  The Kremlin rushed to send its condolences to North Korea, but it has not demonstrated any expression of  sympathy towards the Czech people for the second day running. That tells you everything you need to know about the values of the Russian government of today.

Material participation

1 December 2011

Economy and Society special issue on “Materials and Devices of the Public,” edited by Noortje Marres & Javier Lezaun (h/t STS Oxford):

This introduction provides an overview of material- or device-centred approaches to the study of public participation, and articulates the theoretical contributions of the four papers that make up this special section. Set against the background of post-Foucauldian perspectives on the material dimensions of citizenship and engagement – perspectives that treat matter as a tacit, constituting force in the organization of collectives and are predominantly concerned with the fabrication of political subjects – we outline an approach that considers material engagement as a distinct mode of performing the public. The question, then, is how objects, devices, settings and materials acquire explicit political capacities, and how they serve to enact material participation as a specific public form. We discuss the connections between social studies of material participation and political theory, and define the contours of an empiricist approach to material publics, one that takes as its central cue that the values and criteria particular to these publics emerge as part of the process of their organization. Finally, we discuss four themes that connect the papers in this special section, namely their focus on (1) mundane technologies, (2) experimental devices and settings for material participation, (3) the dynamic of effort and comfort, and (4) the modes of containment and proliferation that characterize material publics.

Power and anti-knowledge workshop

2 November 2011

Workshop organised by the University of Essex Department of Sociology, Centre For Theoretical Studies and Essex Business School, 12-6pm on 10 November 2011 (Seminar Room, Ivor Crewe Lecture Hall).

‘Power and Anti-Knowledge: The Politics of Knowledge in Crisis’

From ‘Climategate’ to ‘Murdochgate,’ explosive political crises dominating media attention in recent years have shared a common denominator: they have centred on the politics of knowledge and nonknowledge. In each case, claims of expertise were predicated on the ability to deny knowing about the effects of contentious decisions. Ignorance – not knowledge – is often harnessed and exploited in order to cement authority, underlining the importance of ‘antiepistemology’ (Galison) in achieving political objectives. The usefulness of nonknowledge as a key resource during political crises – whether ‘natural’ crises such as the BP oil leak, or ‘manufactured’ disasters such as recent rogue trading and phone hacking scandals – has put knowledge itself in crisis. Popular and scholarly perceptions of epistemology are being challenged as a result of the increased recognition of the political usefulness of nonknowledge, ambiguity and uncertainty as tools of governance. This meeting brings together social theorists and philosophers to consider the politics of knowledge and its antitheses.

Speakers

  • Andrew Barry, University of Oxford, ‘The political situation’
  • Peter Fleming, Queen Mary University, ‘Exit Work: Withdrawing from the Ideology of Labour’
  • Andrew Goffey, University of Middlesex, ‘Grey Media and Production of Stupidity’
  • Michael Guggenheim, Goldsmiths College, ‘Leviathan and the Water Pump: How Britain Learnt to Stop Worrying and Love Disaster Exercises’
  • Linsey McGoey, University of Essex, ‘Knowledge alibis’

For further details or to reserve a place, please contact Sian Savage at ssavage@essex.ac.uk

Linking politics, economics and religion

2 November 2011

The Occupy London movement is a fabulous case study for the actor-network theory notion of translating and aligning interests and enrolling new allies. The anti-capitalism protesters in front of St Paul’s Cathedral managed to enrol Jesus himself, at least in the way he is incorporated by the Church of England. Suddenly even the mighty City of London (the British Wall Street, as it were) had to back down.

St Paul’s and Corporation of London halt legal action against Occupy camp” – The Guardian

Cathedral announces U-turn and initiative to ‘reconnect financial with the ethical’ – but corporation qualifies its move as a ‘pause’

“The alarm bells are ringing all over the world. St Paul’s has now heard that call,” said the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, who was called in to help the cathedral change course after its dean, the Rt Rev Graeme Knowles, resigned on Monday following heavy criticism of the decision to close St Paul’s for a week and cut off all contact with the protest camp.

In a statement that drew repeated cheers as protesters read it aloud at their daily assembly, Chartres said the doors of St Paul’s were now instead “most emphatically open to engage with matters concerning not only those encamped around the cathedral but millions of others in this country and around the globe”.

Palestine UNESCO vote

1 November 2011

After hearing about the Palestine vote in UNESCO, I became very curious about how various countries voted. I thought the breakdown of the votes would be an interesting snapshot of the balance of power in the world today, possibly revealing some new fault lines and alliances that otherwise would be difficult to detect. The question of Palestine must be among the top international controversies of our day, combining historical, political, economic, religious, military and many other kinds of disagreements. Although I didn’t have time to conduct extensive research, I was surprised how difficult it was to actually find a detailed list of the voting results. What is that about? Surely there must be loads of people wondering how their countries had voted. Yet the international media only mentions a handful of countries, and I couldn’t find any details on the UNESCO or UN website.

Eventually I came across a link to this blog at an unlikely place, the comments section of a Slovakian newspaper, where also a lot of readers were looking for such a list. But even this list is a reconstruction via unofficial sources and guesswork, as far as I can tell (although I’m grateful to the author to have made the effort to assemble it). Let’s assume that the list is correct. First, it is interesting to see is how isolated the “no” voters are. Fourteen countries vastly outnumbered by the “yes” voters and the “abstentions” and “no shows.” And a lot of the “no” countries are very small ones, such as Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. There are only five EU member states among them (Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Sweden). At the same time there are eleven EU countries that have voted “yes”.

One can speculate about which countries fall into which other country’s sphere of influence or which countries would be likely to vote “no” because they have similar problems at home. However, these assumptions don’t seem to work in this case. E.g. I was surprised to see Serbia voting “yes,” considering that one would expect them to be wary of supporting the recognition of new countries in general, given their Kosovo problem. It’s also interesting to see the differences between neighbouring countries with historical ties (e.g. Czech Republic voting “no,” Slovakia abstaining; Austria voting “yes,” Hungary abstaining; the Netherlands voting “no,” Belgium voting “yes”). But I’m not an expert in this field, and according to Sean (who had constructed the list) “most of these are no surprise.”

Update (1-Nov-11)

I suppose what’s particularly disappointing from a European perspective is that the EU is not capable of forming a common position on this foreign policy issue. The European vote was split three ways, which really makes you wonder of the effectiveness of their co-ordinating mechanisms and the strength of the European voice in the world.

Slavoj Žižek interview

28 October 2011

Slavoj Žižek on capitalism, communism and other such things, on 26 October 2011. Finally someone (Charlie Rose) who knows how to interview Žižek. Clue: just let the guy talk! (Hat tip Object-Oriented Philosophy.)