The United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Dagmar Topf Aguiar de Medeiros is reading for a PhD in Law, and is an intern at UN House Scotland. As a member of a delegation from Scottish civil society, she recently attended negotiations in New York on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted 7 July 2017, at the United Nations.

The United Nations has aimed to ban nuclear weapons since it was established in 1945.[1] In fact, the very first UN General Assembly resolution established a Commission to set in motion measures towards nuclear disarmament.[2] Until recently, the most important instrument to this end was the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).[3] Recent years have seen growing discontent with the discriminatory nature of the NPT, which distinguishes between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states. Additionally, the NPT faces criticism with regard to the stagnation of nuclear disarmament. Although the treaty includes an obligation to work towards nuclear disarmament, Article 6 has not, as of late, provided sufficient incentive for nuclear weapon states to act.

With an aim to finally move forwards, in October 2016 the UN disarmament and international security committee saw 123 nations voting in favour of meeting to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination. These negotiations have taken place throughout spring and summer 2017 and have culminated in the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on the 7th July this year.

The treaty prohibits member states from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, and disallows them from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to participate in such activities. Furthermore, it has become forbidden to allow nuclear weapons to be stationed or deployed on member states’ territory. Of equal importance are the positive obligations in the treaty to provide adequate victim assistance and to take measures towards the remediation of environments contaminated as a result of the use or testing of nuclear weapons. Although not explicitly mentioned, there is a growing understanding that financing constitutes ‘assistance’ with prohibited acts.

The text and preamble of the ban treaty reflect the efforts of civil society by emphasising the humanitarian and environmental impact of any nuclear detonation, be it accidental or intentional. The humanitarian initiative proved successful in shifting the debate out of the security argument stalemate states had become entrenched in. At the negotiations, civil society had the opportunity to share the experiences of victims of nuclear weapons and nuclear testing, and to highlight the devastating impact of any detonation and the lack of adequate emergency-response capacity.

By placing human welfare and safety at the centre of the treaty, it is hoped that the ban treaty will have a ripple effect similar to that of the Conventions prohibiting Biological and Chemical weapons. Therefore, even though none of the nuclear weapons states have expressed any interest in joining the negotiations or the treaty, it is hoped the legal norm combined with continued pressure from civil society will eventually convince governments to discontinue nuclear deterrence policies.

The ban treaty is of particular interest to Scotland because of the country’s unique position of having to facilitate nuclear weapons without having any say in the decisions involving them. This is because nuclear weapons are considered a matter of national security and as such fall outside the scope of Scotland’s devolved powers.

[1] https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/ (last visited 9 July 2017).

[2] General Assembly Resolution VIII, Establishment of a commission to deal with the problem raised by the discovery of atomic energy (24 January 1946), available from http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/1(I) (last visited 9 July 2017).

[3] Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (5 March 1970) 729 U.N.T.S. 161.

If you are interested in reading more about the negotiations on the ban treaty, including daily reports from the Scottish civil society delegation to New York, visit http://www.nuclearban.scot/ and http://www.icanw.org/

If you want to find out more about civil society engagement surrounding nuclear disarmament, please visit:

http://www.banthebomb.org/

http://www.nukewatch.org.uk/

http://www.article36.org/

If you’re interested in reading twitter updates, the handle to follow is #nuclearban

More about the author:

Dagmar Topf Aguiar de Medeiros is reading for a PhD in Law. She holds an LLM in Private Law from the University of Leiden and an LLB from the Utrecht Law College of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Dagmar’s research interests span public international law, specifically environmental law, climate change law and human rights. Her current research relates to the international constitutionalism in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Thomas Hobbes: a philosopher of peace?

The Edinburgh Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) recently hosted a workshop on “Thomas Hobbes and Peace”. The event brought together political theorists, intellectual historians, and specialists in international relations theory, and received funding from the Global Justice and Global Development Academies’ joint Innovative Initiative Fund. Dr Maximilian Jaede, a postdoctoral fellow at IASH, summarises the papers and key themes discussed at the workshop.

The event was aimed at reconsidering Hobbes’s conception of peace, its place in the history of political thought, and its reception today. Speakers approached this theme from a variety of perspectives. While all participants highlighted Hobbes’s commitment to peace, there was debate on what precisely Hobbes means by being at peace, and on the interpretation of his ideas in relation to other conceptions of peace.

Prof. Glen Newey (Leiden) highlighted the puzzle of why elements of war seemingly persist within the Hobbesian civil state. In particular, the paper examined Hobbes’s distinction between citizens, who are at peace, and slaves, who remain in a state of war towards their master. This suggests a juridical distinction between the states of war and peace. However, the distinction between war and peace may be less clear-cut. Newey emphasised the resistance rights of citizens and the possibility that a Hobbesian state might enslave its own people. In the discussion of this paper, participants expressed different views on the question of whether, and in what way, Hobbes envisions the sovereign and citizens to be at peace with one another.

Prof. Deborah Baumgold (Oregon) offered an interpretation of Hobbes as a political philosopher of peace inspired by Hugo Grotius’ The Rights of War and Peace. She presented new historical evidence for Hobbes’s likely personal acquaintance with Grotius, and highlighted the similarities of both thinkers’ political projects. Like Grotius, Hobbes’s aim was to create peace, which Baumgold described as the supreme good (summum bonum) of society. The discussion of this paper raised the questions of whether there is a difference between pursuing peace and merely avoiding war, and what it ultimately means to be a philosopher of peace.

Prof. Patricia Springborg (Humboldt, Berlin) challenged the view that Hobbes was a predecessor of realist theories of international relations. Her paper contrasted realist approaches to war with Hobbes’s political theory of peace. Specifically, Springborg discussed Hobbes’s opposition to colonial adventurism and emphasised his insistence on the need to maintain a well-balanced political economy. Commentators questioned whether Hobbes’s political theory contains a norm of non-interference in other states’ affairs. Another theme of the discussion was the possible anachronism of viewing Hobbes as advocate or critic of empire in the modern sense.

Dr Gabriella Slomp’s (St. Andrews) talk focused on the connections between peace and friendship in Hobbes’s political thought. Hobbes is sometimes blamed for the decline of friendship as an ethical or political ideal in the modern period. Yet, Slomp rejected the view that Hobbesian friendship is necessarily confined to the private sphere. Hobbes was highly conscious of possible political implications of friendship, which he considered to be a source of corruption and a threat to civil peace. The presentation concluded that Hobbes advocated an attitude of universal friendliness, as opposed to bonds of friendship between citizens, as a condition of peaceful coexistence.

Luca Tenneriello (Sapienza Rome) addressed the question to what extent Hobbes considers religious conscience a challenge to civil peace. The paper outlined different meanings of ‘conscience’ in Hobbes’s works, and examined his reasons for considering appeals to religious conscience politically dangerous. In Tenneriello’s view, Hobbes insisted on public education as a means to counter this threat. The subsequent discussion focused on differences between Hobbes’s views and liberal accounts of liberty of conscience. It was also noted that Hobbes does not seem to acknowledge any positive role of private conscience in regards to making peace or refusing war.

Dr Max Jaede (Edinburgh) presented parts of a book that examines Hobbes’s conception of peace in light of debates about liberal world order, international intervention, and peacebuilding in war-torn societies. He rejected the view that Hobbes advocates a negative peace that is based on mere coercion. Rather, Hobbes aims for a positive peace that is realised in accordance with certain principles of justice. Jaede also argued that the internal pacification of Hobbesian states leads to more peaceful international relations. Commentators raised questions such as in what way Hobbes may be said to anticipate liberal conceptions of peace, and how Jaede’s interpretation can account for authoritarian elements in Hobbes’s political thought.

 

More about the author:

Dr Maximilian Jaede is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of St Andrews and has taught political theory at the University of Stirling. He has published articles on Hobbes’s political thought in History of European Ideas, Hobbes Studies and the Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy.

Towards a radical digital citizenship in digital education

Dr Callum McGregor (Lecturer in Education, University of Edinburgh) reports and reflects on a recent Edinburgh lecture on digital citizenship and digital education, funded by the Global Justice Academy’s Innovative Initiative Fund

In collaboration with the Global Justice Academy, a number of people recently eschewed the rare evening sun in favour of assembling at Moray House School of Education for a public lecture entitled ‘Towards a radical digital citizenship in digital education.’ More noteworthy still, was the palpable enthusiasm in the room for striking up a sustained dialogue on social justice and digital education, across a range of standpoints and disciplines. This event, made possible with the support of the Global Justice Academy’s Innovative Initiative Fund[i], was organised by a small group of academics, tentatively titled the Forum for Digital Culture and Social Justice (DCSJ)[ii]. The DCSJ forum is at the initial stages of adumbrating a cross-disciplinary research agenda at the confluence of social justice, digital culture and education. The purpose of this event was to catalyse this process by creating space for an inclusive conversation about what digital citizenship is and what it might be, if re-framed as a political project for social justice.

The event was co-chaired by Dr Karen Gregory (Lecturer in Digital Sociology at the University of Edinburgh), and Dr Jen Ross (Senior Lecturer in Digital Education) who fielded questions and comments from participants using the hastag #deresearch, who were watching via the livestream (click here to watch the recording). Proceedings began with an input from members of the aforementioned DCSJ forum, Dr Akwugo Emejulu (Professor of Sociology, University of Warwick) and Dr Callum McGregor (Lecturer in Education, University of Edinburgh). They offered a polemical intervention that sought to disrupt the ways in which dominant cultural narratives construct digital citizenship, by explicating a concept of ‘radical digital citizenship’, and its implications for digital education. The arguments they advanced drew on a co-authored paper, published in Critical Studies in Education. Professor Emejulu and Dr McGregor argued that radical digital citizenship must push beyond ameliorative conceptions of digital citizenship, wherein the role of education is to bridge the ‘digital divide’ for the benefit of groups failing to be flexible enough to survive under the conditions of neoliberal techno-capitalism. They proposed that such an educational task involves two co-constitutive elements: (1) critical analysis of the political, economic and environmental consequences of digital technology in everyday life; (2) collective deliberation and action to build alternative and emancipatory techno-social practices.

This was followed by a response from Dr Emma Dowling[iii] (Senior Researcher, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Sociology at the University of Jena) and Dr Huw Davies[iv] (researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute and Convener of the BSA’s Digital Sociology study group). These inputs acted as stimuli to a lively and convivial discussion with attendees over tea and coffee. Below, respondents Emma and Huw share their reflections:

Emma Dowling

“The crucial question Akwugo Emejulu and Callum McGregor ask is what makes the digital possible, looking at the extraction of natural resources and gendered, racialised and classed human labour that the development of digital technologies is premised upon.  Their analysis makes three core proposals that could orient a radical digital education. First of all they caution against the instrumentalisation of digital education for neoliberal ends and urge for an understanding of what global social relations constitute the digital and condition the effects that digitalisation has. Moreover, their approach signals a commitment to social justice that insists on a critical pedagogy with the capacity not just for an analysis of the power relations behind digitalisation, but a commitment to transforming them. Transforming these power relations requires the identification of key sites of transformation. Undoubtedly these are conflictual terrains of struggle about how the materiality of the digital is spoken about and organised. Naming forms of exploitation is part of the struggle to transform them. A recent example is the way in which critical voices have refused to settle on the term ‘sharing economy’ that makes invisible the hyper-exploited forms of work undertaken by people providing services such as driving, delivering food or cleaning houses in platform capitalism. The more recent term ‘gig economy’, while in and of itself not changing those conditions, nonetheless gives a name to these activities as work and draws attention to the precarious ways in which this work is organised. Making sense of the affective structures of precariousness is another way in which agencies for transformation can be unearthed, because this allows for subjective everyday experiences to be deindividualised and related to the social structures that produce them. Critical pedagogies for digital education must do so much more than provide mere skills to process information and compete in an ever-more precarious labour market. Instead, radical digital citizens committed to social justice must be able to question and challenge the forms of exploitation, expropriation and oppression that are entangled in today’s algorithms.”

Huw Davies

“I found Emejulu & McGregor’s Towards a radical digital citizenship in digital education  (2016) inspiring. Their paper shows some of the most cited scholarship on digital skills and literacies is ‘sociology-lite’. This literature draws-up taxonomies and descriptions of normatively defined skills and literacies which once translated into curriculum plans become part of the problem of digital inequality rather than its solution. Emejulu & McGregor argue we shouldn’t disengage ‘the digital’ from the all the historic and continuing struggles for equality because, despite the utopian rhetoric, digital technology is quickly maturing into another exclusionary and privileging technology of power.

For example, every child from years 1 to 9 in England is to study Computer Science before being offered it as an option at GCSE. However, there is growing concern that the digital economy–far from being the meritocracy that is suggested in the discourse about the 4th industrial revolution–is becoming a ‘ruthless stratifier’ (Posner, 2017). This is because the dominant mode of production for the digital economy is ‘platform capitalism’ (Srnicek, 2016): a winner takes all system (Kenney and Zysman 2016) that allows the owners of platforms to operate exploitative employment practices that harness the affordances and fragilities of immaterial labour (Friedman 2014; Hill 2015; Leyshon et al. 2016), such as the ability to code. One of the myths of anti-immigration discourse is that if we close our borders natives will no longer have to compete with foreigners for jobs. But platform capitalism’s use of immaterial labour to create a transnational playing field (so that jobs with digital outputs such as software engineering can be put out to tender to an international workforce) means young people will be competing in global market place while having to pay for local living expenses. Therefore, to avoid their exploitation we can’t just rely on teaching young people to code (or skills and literacies) they need to be thinking about they can use these skills to challenge the architectures of digital economy’s dominant socio-technical structures (Davies & Eynon, forthcoming).

As a respondent, I took the opportunity to argue the most constructive contribution I can make is to help transform Digital Sociology into a respected mainstream subject that can influence the content of curriculums for all ages and levels. I described Digital Sociology as the most effective discipline for challenging platform capitalism. I argued that sociologists are able to draw on strong traditions to challenge the ideologies behind platform capitalism, but to understand code and digital infrastructures and their relationship to the political economy we have some way to go. Then (Digital) Sociology can offer a critique, which can become the foundation ethical alternatives to platform capitalism’s monopolies.”

[i] The public lecture was also funded with the support of the Institute for Education, Community and Society and the Centre for Research in Digital Education. Also, thanks to Dr Karen Gregory and Dr Jen Ross, who acted as chair and digital chair, respectively. Finally, particular thanks to learning technologist Barrie Barreto for livestreaming and recording the event.

[ii] If you are interested in participating in this group and helping it to develop, please contact Karen Gregory (karen.gregory@ed.ac.uk), Callum McGregor (callum.mcgregor@ed.ac.uk), or Jen Ross (jen.ross@ed.ac.uk).

[iii] Emma’s interests cover global social justice, feminist political economy and affective and emotional labour. She is the author of a forthcoming book on the Crisis of Care to be published by Verso Books.

[iv] Huw’s research combines social theory with mixed, digital and ethnographic, methods to help critically re-evaluate how we approach young people’s digital literacies.

 

Photography for Peace: Masterclass & Competition

The Global Justice Academy (GJA) and Political Settlements Research Programme (PSRP) recently hosted a free Peace Photography Masterclass at the University of Edinburgh. The workshop discussed the visual representation of peace and conflict transformation, led by world-leading photographers Martina Bacogalupo, Colin Cavers and Paul Lowe. The photographers discussed their own work, as well as images produced by Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and Nanjing Institute of Industry and Technology students for the Global Justice Academy’s photography competition, to invite participants to view peace with a new, critical and artistic eye.

Introduced by Professor Jolyon Mitchell (Director of the Centre for Theology and Public Issues) and chaired by the Global Justice Academy’s Astrid Jamar, the workshop began with lectures from three professional photographers, who explained the vision behind their work as well as the challenges involved in visually capturing peace and post-conflict societies.

The first speaker, Paul Lowe (London College of Communication, University of the Arts London), discussed the use of photography in social and ethical discourses using examples from his exhibition project ‘Picturing Moral Courage: The Rescuers’. By capturing the portraits and stories of individuals who risked their own lives to save the lives of others in instances of mass violence and genocide, Lowe invites audiences to hear the testimonies of those pictured with empathy and recognition: to bring to light the personal and human sides of global issues and to make accessible the narrative of the ordinary hero. Lowe’s portraits capture powerful, emotionally charged moments of reunion and testimony. His exhibition aims to provide relatable moral role-models for recovering post-conflict communities to spark positive, active participation in peacebuilding efforts. To this end, the photographs have been made available online and as a travelling outdoor exhibition in order to bring Lowe’s work and its messages to new, usually untargeted audiences. The exhibition has become a focal point for youth workshops across the globe, bringing together different ethnic groups to consider issues of violence, human rights and peace. Responding to audience questions, Lowe expanded on the difficulties of capturing portraits in fraught communities where individuals are afraid of being outspoken, yet ultimately stressed that working together on common creative projects allowed participants to enter into new discursive and collaborative territories.

The second speaker, Martina Bacigalupo (Agence VU), discussed her time living and working in Central East Africa as an independent photojournalist and stressed the importance of lived experience when visualising peace and post-conflict societies. Bacigalupo described her own experience of falling into the journalistic trap of producing westernised images of Africa that follow preconceived, mainstream modes of discourse. Deliberately attempting to counter this, Bacigalupo crafted a new body of work that aims to encapsulate the intimacy and vibrancy of everyday life in Africa: the ordinary, complicated humanity of local communities and not the sensationalised images of war and violence that permeate mass-media depictions. Bacigalupo described a desire to use photography to challenge patronising European views and to create new visual narratives of Africa based on collaboration and equality. Her latest photobook ‘Gulu Real Art Studio’ reprints scraps from an African portrait studio in which the faces have been cut out for ID photos – only the clothing and posture of the sitters remain. By examining that which is usually left out of the frame, Bacigalupo captures rich details about contemporary life in Eastern Africa, revealing insights into the tensions and nuances of post-conflict communities.

Finally, Colin Cavers (Edinburgh College of Art, Edinburgh Napier University) introduced his work for the Global Justice Academy’s annual photography competition. Cavers looked at classic examples from protest photography to illustrate the pitfalls and binary stereotypes that typically inhabit peace photography – those of male/female, floral/industrial divisions – and advocated a move towards more interpretative – rather than literal – modes of image production for the GJA commission. Using a selection of work from the past photography competitions (and previews of the recently announced 2017 winners), Cavers demonstrated how students from the Edinburgh College of Art and the Nanjing Institute of Industry and Technology came together to reinterpret traditional thematic associations of peace and create new subversive images that provoke thought and discussion.

A full selection of entrants’ submissions to current and previous GJA photography competitions can be found here.

After the opening talks, participants engaged in an ‘interactive lunch break’; each used a photograph they felt illustrated peace to briefly introduce themselves and spark discussion on the topic. Groups discussed the idea that peace may be something more than the mere absence of violence, contemplated the intense longing for, and absence of, peace often found in post-conflict images; and debated the importance of disagreements and conflict even within peaceful communities. In a final round-table discussion, participants shared their reflections on the photographers’ work and the themes that had been raised during the afternoon, looking to the future of photography as a means of challenging assumptions about peace and conflict and as an important tool for provoking and facilitating discussion.

Blog post by Heather Milligan, Communications Intern for the Global Justice Academy. This event was supported by a generous grant from the Social Trends Institute, the GJA, the Binks Trust, and the Centre for Theology and Public Issues (CTPI).

Sexual Intimacy, Gender Identity & Fraud: A Conversation

This blog post was written by Heather Milligan, Communications Intern for the Global Justice Academy. The blog reports on a recent seminar event hosted by the Centre for Law and Society at The University of Edinburgh and led by Professor Alex Sharpe of Keele University on sexual intimacy, gender identity and fraud. 

The Centre for Law and Society at the University of Edinburgh recently hosted a presentation and seminar discussion on sexual intimacy, gender identity and fraud. Participants from a range of interdisciplinary backgrounds compared legal, cultural and ethical standpoints to debate convictions of gender identity fraud: either as demonstrating respect for the sexual autonomy of female complainants, or as a concerning example of criminal law overreach. The discussion was framed and contextualised by a series of sexual offence prosecutions brought against young gender non-conforming people (designated female at birth) in recent years in the United Kingdom on the basis of gender identity fraud, all of whom were convicted and placed on the Sex Offenders Register. Professor Alex Sharpe (Keele University) introduced the topic with a brief film clip from the 1992 film ‘The Crying Game’ in order to illustrate the type of intimate encounter between cisgender and transgender individuals that has led to such convictions. The film also served to demonstrate the complainants’ typical responses to cis-trans intimacy, in which the defendant’s gender history is (apparently) not disclosed and this non-disclosure is later perceived as deceptive and harmful.

Professor Sharpe put forward a persuasive argument for bringing an end to the criminalisation and prosecution of these cases, advocating greater individual responsibility for sexual intimacy while remaining sensitive to the difficulties involved in questioning the statements of rape complainants. Her initial presentation was structured around three key philosophical and criminal law concepts: consent, harm and deception. Firstly, the point was made that claims of non-consent in the discussed cases relied heavily on a ‘right to know’ ideology, in which complainants foregrounded an entitlement to the defendants’ gender history, simultaneously dismissing and overruling the defendants’ rights to privacy and dignity. The seminar group discussed the idea that this apparent right to know is often conflated with a desire to define transmen as women against their will: an act of degradation. The discussion prompted resonant legal and ethical questions: should there be an obligation to disclose information prior to intimacy, or should our ethical response be to scrutinise the cisgender demand to know? With implications for sexual offences more broadly, for consent to be informed, how transparent must sexual partners be, and at what cost?

Other examples of desire-led intimacy were put forward to suggest that individuals may wish to know many facts about their sexual partners – for example age, income, drug use, criminal conviction – yet the omission of this information would never lead to prosecution. The specific targeting of gender history is an issue of inconsistency further indicative of the discriminatory effects of civil society and criminal law. These cases seemed motivated by the underlying transphobic (and homophobic) assumptions that no cisgender person would, with full disclosure of their gender history, willingly have intimate relations with a transgender person. This led to interesting audience reflection that complainants often only come forward when encouraged to do so by family or community members, and that the pressure of homophobic society, the fear of being identified as a lesbian by others and internal crises of identity and sexuality, may have motivated the complaints. The societal presumption that any non-cis non-heterosexual intimacy is inherently harmful was identified as an aggressive amplifier in these cases.

 
Finally, a distinction between acts of omission and acts of deception was drawn. It was argued that in cases of gender history and identity disclosure, most often these were instances of ‘not saying’ rather than active or intentional deception, and that these entailed a variety of valid justifications – not least the physical and psychological risk involved in acts of disclosure. Professor Sharpe invited the audience to understand these cases as a balancing of potential harms, weighing the complainants’ feelings of betrayal and distress (potentially a response conditioned by transphobic and homophobic anxieties) against the defenders’ risk of degradation and abuse. Opening up questions and discussion to the audience encouraged a lively discussion on related issues such as the ethics of sexual preference and the reproduction of power dynamics; the (positive) ambiguity of desire; what acts can really be said to constitute disclosure; and, ultimately, whether pleasurable acts retrospectively re-imagined can truly be labelled as harmful.

This event was presented by Law Reform and Social Justice, and The Centre for Law, Arts and Humanities and the Gender Institute.

Re-thinking ‘the commons’: examining dilemmas, exploring solutions

Dr. Leila Sinclair-Bright is a Career Development Fellow in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. In this article, she reflects on the notion of ‘the commons’ as recently debated in an interdisciplinary, open forum discussion event in Edinburgh.

 

Common Dilemmas

This open forum discussion was designed as a starting point for an interdisciplinary exchange of empirical and conceptual work exploring the theme of ‘the commons’ and collective ownership across different contexts. Excellent papers were presented by Dr. Tahl Kaminer (Edinburgh College of Art), Dr. Marisa Wilson (GeoSciences) and Dr. Kieran Oberman (Politics and International Relations) and followed by open discussion with the audience.

Dr. Kaminer’s presentation focused on the influence of the idea of ‘the commons’ in contemporary urban agriculture and regeneration movements. Kaminer opened by distinguishing the commons from the public space. Originating during the enlightenment, the notion of ‘public space’ has always been linked to civil society ideals. However, public spaces have long been as much about keeping particular elements of society out, as they have been about providing an arena for open movement and debate. In contrast, within contemporary urban agriculture and regeneration, ‘the commons’ has become a political movement that seeks to undermine and critique the control of urban space, as well as current economic and political conditions. Here then, the notion of ‘the commons’ is actually used to challenge the idea of a controlled public realm by various super-structures, from the state to corporations. As a movement, Kaminer suggests that ‘the commons’ provides an ideal but unachievable horizon that ‘rallies the troops’, but does not necessarily offer activists achievable, immediate objectives. Kaminer ended by pulling into question the efficacy of the commons movement, positing it more as a conceptual spring-board deployed by a variety of movements to gain traction and raise support for their campaigns, but often not leading to practical change.

Dr. Marisa Wilson’s paper examined local modes of governing food commons and how those interact with state and market models of the commons in Cuba. At what scale do we define food sovereignty? While sovereignty is usually defined at the national scale, how do localised models of food sovereignty fit into the national project? Since the late 19th century, food sovereignty has been promoted as a national ideal in Cuba, with individual profiteering denounced as against the national interest. From 1959, this became a top down institutionalised model of food ‘commoning’ that aimed to redistribute and provide basic food needs for Cuba’s population. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cuban state was increasingly unable to adequately provide for its population’s food needs, and practices of local level food provisioning increased and/or became more visible. Local food industries were, however, still justified in terms of a local level fight for collective national food commons, and denunciations of private profit from food sales were equally prevalent at this scale. Simultaneously, powers in the agro-food industry were gradually devolved. More recently, the Cuban state has even begun, somewhat ambivalently, to support local level food networks, but maintains strict controls on their capital inputs. Local food providers thus rely on transnational remittances to supplement their capital input needs. Yet these local/transnational networks are still justified and framed into terms of contributing to the national food sovereignty cause. This fascinating case study revealed the multiple complexities at play around food commoning, and raised questions about the relationship between practices of ‘commoning’ and scale which also pertain to current discussions around food sovereignty in other contexts, such as Latin America and Scotland.

Dr. Kieran Oberman’s presentation, provocatively entitled: ‘Against the commons: an egalitarian argument for privatisation’, provided a schema of three different models of ownership: egalitarian collective ownership; common ownership; and equal ownership. In the egalitarian collective ownership model, a collective body owns the resource, say land, and everyone has an equal say on how it is used. In the common ownership model, everyone has use rights, but no one has individual ownership rights (so you could not sell the land, for example). In equal division, everyone has an equal share of the property, or the value of the property (for example basic income), and can choose what to do with their share. Collective and common ownership both curb individual freedoms. In the first, one can only act according to the agreements of the collective body; in the second, one only has use rights and individuals cannot enjoy the other rights that might come with ownership. Thus, Oberman suggests that equal ownership should be the starting place for those things which the majority believe should be commonly owned, such as the planet earth and its natural resources. Individuals can then choose to opt for a collective ownership model and pool their resources if they so choose. Oberman’s schema provided a useful starting point for assessing why and how different groups chose different models or combinations thereof, as well as highlighting a consideration of what rights are gained or lost in each case.

Re-thinking the Commons

The three presentations provided rich material for further discussion. We began by identifying the need to separate out what different kinds of rights inhere in particular claims of ownership (sale rights, use rights, etc…) rather than simply working with the oversimplified binary of individual ownership/privatisation/commodification: collective ownership/commons/non-commodified realm. Four themes for further enquiry also emerged: how the transition between different ownership models works; how governance affects the very framing of the ‘problem’ of the commons; what is a common/practices of commoning, and (how?) does transitioning between different ownership models actually change the ‘object’ in question. It is hoped that this event was the beginning of a set of interdisciplinary working relationships that may lead to further collaboration as a group or between individuals whose research interests intersect.

More about the author:

Dr. Leila Sinclair-Bright completed her doctorate entitled, ‘This Land: politics, authority and and morality after Zimbabwean land reform’ in 2017 (University of Edinburgh). Her research interests are in labour, property, conflict and politics. While her regional expertise lies in Southern Africa, she is in the early stages of developing her next research project on common property regimes in the UK.

 

Thinking Without Bannisters: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt

Dr Hugh McDonnell is based in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh as a Postdoctoral Fellow on a project assessing complicity in human rights violations. In this blog post, he discusses a recent film screening and round-table discussion event on the work of Hannah Arendt.

The enduring fascination of one of the twentieth century’s leading thinkers, commonly celebrated as highly original and unclassifiable, was explored in ‘Thinking Without Bannisters: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt’. The afternoon event brought together specialists and interested amateurs alike to view Ada Ushpiz’s new documentary ‘Vita Activa – The Spirit of Hannah Arendt.’ This was followed by a round-table session, featuring three foremost Arendt scholars: Professor Patrick Hayden from International Relations (University of St Andrews), Liisi Keedus from Politics (University of York), and historian Stephan Malinowski (University of Edinburgh).

Ushpiz’s documentary explored Arendt’s life and thought in their mutual interconnections. This included an overview of her formative years as a child in a German-Jewish family in Königsberg and Berlin, before discussing her developing and already prodigious intellectual curiosity at the universities of Marburg and Heidelberg, and the formative intellectual and personal influences of philosophers Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers.

Naturally, Arendt’s experience and reflections on the Second World War loom large in the film. Her own experiences disposed her to reflect on the condition of being a refugee, to think through the radical rightlessness that this implied. Consideration of Arendt’s famous formulation of the ‘banality of evil’ drew on fascinating original film footage of the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, which Arendt attended. Ushpiz does not circumvent controversies surrounding Arendt herself, as interviewees reflected on hostile reactions to Arendt’s work, particularly Eichmann in Jerusalem, as well as, more specifically, her controversial analysis of the Judenräte.

The round-table discussion was opened by Patrick Hayden’s evocative and thought-provoking disquisition on Arendt’s metaphor of the desert as her attempt to understand individuals’ thoughtless flights from the strangeness and suffering of the political world. On this basis, he developed Arendt’s insights into suffering as the other side of action, that at the same time extends an appeal to our joint responsibility to say “enough” and reaffirm the boundaries of politics. Liisi Keedus spoke next about the intellectual history of ‘thinking without bannisters’, tracing its roots to the modern gap between past and future, while revealing its broader purchase as condition of resistant action. And before opening the floor to questions, Stephan Malinowski reflected on the originality of Arendt’s work from a historian’s perspective, suggesting the fertility of the ideas and questions she raised, and the distinctly interesting character of the answers she reached, even when they strike us as mistaken. Questions from the floor prompted the panel to further reflect on the contemporary relevance of Arendt’s thought: the novel insights she offered in terms of the systemic rather than personalised logic of injustice and violence, her attentiveness to the vulnerabilities of democracy, or her staunch resistance to truth claims that have lost an anchor in political reality. Audience members were left with plenty of food for thought to consider further the meaning of Arendt’s independent thinking, judgement, and responsibility at the present historical juncture.

This event was hosted at the University of Edinburgh, and was made possible by the funding of the Global Justice Academy and Global Development Academies’ Innovative Initiative Fund, as well as the School of Social and Political Science through the Research Student-Led Special Projects Grant. 

More about the author:

Dr McDonell completed his PhD at the University of Amsterdam where he worked between the Department of European Studies and the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis. His work Europeanising Spaces in Paris, c. 1947-1962 (Liverpool University Press, 2016) examines ways in which ideas about Europe and Europeanness were articulated and contested in politics, culture, and the Parisian urban landscape. McDonell is also working as a Postdoctoral Fellow on a European Research Council Starting Grant ‘Grey Zone’ project examines complex complicity from historical and theoretical perspectives. More about the project is available here: http://blogs.sps.ed.ac.uk/greyzone/ 

You can read more about complicity in human rights violations in this blog by Dr Mihaela Mihia, Senior Research Fellow in Political Theory at the University of Edinburgh: http://www.globaljusticeblog.ed.ac.uk/2017/02/20/peace-and-conflict-series-4/

 

Just Justice – how can we achieve the fair distribution of legal resources?

The Edinburgh Centre for Legal Theory organised an author-meets-critics workshop on the manuscript of the book Just Justice by Frederick Wilmot-Smith. This workshop was funded by the Global Justice Academy’s Innovative Initiative Fund.  Lucas Miotto, a PhD candidate in the Edinburgh Law School, introduces the key issues and questions raised by this soon-to-be-published book.

Resources must be fairly distributed. Hardly anyone would disagree with this statement. Besides, most people would agree that the fair distribution of resources is something valuable which we should care about. And people do care about it. Many of the heated debates about social security, social benefits, education, public health and immigration which have recently caught the attention of the public and the media are – or at least are connected to – debates about the fair distribution of resources. It is no exaggeration to say that debates about the fair distribution of resources are at the core of past and present public debate.

Just as we talk about the distribution of economic or educational resources, we can talk about the distribution of legal resources. The public needs lawyers and courts. Like any other resource, lawyers and courts are scarce and access to them doesn’t come for free. So, how about the fair distribution of legal resources? What sort of distribution would count as fair? Curiously, and unfortunately, questions like these are under-appreciated. Not only has the public been timid in addressing questions about the fair distributions of legal resources; an in-depth philosophical treatment of the topic has been entirely missing. Frederick Wilmot-Smith’s Just Justice attempts to correct this.

The book directly engages with many puzzles associated with the fair distribution of legal resources. It starts by questioning the very object of distribution. What should be fairly distributed? To say ‘access to lawyers and courts’ would be too simplistic an answer. The object of fair distribution, Wilmot-Smith argues, is broader than this. Of course, he doesn’t deny that it is important to fairly distribute access to legal resources such as lawyers and courts. But the questions about the fair distribution of these legal resources hang on a broader debate about the fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of the justice system. It is only after we have sound principles for the fair distribution of such benefits and burdens that we will be able to address the fair distribution of legal resources (e.g., access to lawyers and courts).

The core part of the book puts forward principles for the fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of the justice system. In a nutshell, the principles defended in the book support the establishment of a justice system in which benefits and burdens are equally distributed among citizens. Practical implications are myriad, and some of the institutional reforms required to meet the proposed principles radically clash with established views about the justice system. The book, however, doesn’t shy away from defending these radical implications and objecting to established views. In fact, some of these implications are defended at length. For, example, the book has an entire chapter dedicated to defending the view that the justice system should be financed by everyone – which is perhaps the most controversial implication of the principles defended throughout the book. Discussions about the privatisation of legal resources and alternative dispute resolution systems also receive an extensive treatment. The book is no doubt an extremely timely and important contribution to legal philosophy and to the public debate in general. It sharply allies care for philosophical rigour with readability and public relevance.

The Edinburgh Centre for Legal Theory had the pleasure of hosting an author-meets-critics workshop to discuss Frederick Wilmot-Smith’s Just Justice on May 24th, 2017. The event, jointly organised by Luís Duarte d’Almeida and Euan MacDonald, featured a total of eight commentators – ranging from philosophy to criminal law and political science – each of which focused on a different chapter of the book manuscript.

Participants were keen to engage in discussion and offered both critical remarks and constructive feedback. As a result, discussion was very lively, friendly and informal. We look forward to the publication of Just Justice, and we would like to express our gratitude to the Global Justice Academy, whose support made this event possible.

Turning Off the Light: Protecting Survivors of Torture (Peace and Conflict Series)

Publicising Human Rights violations and holding perpetrators of torture accountable has been guiding practice for much human rights work. As Prof. Tobias Kelly shows in this contribution to the GJA’s Peace & Conflict blog series: rather than shining light into dark places, many victims want the lights switched off. Kelly suggests that that the need for protecting victims may be more important than the need to hold perpetrators accountable.

By Tobias Kelly

Perpetrators need to be held to account and victims need redress. This has been the central principle of human rights work against torture for the past fifty years. However, collaborative work we have been carrying out in Kenya, Bangladesh and Nepal suggests that for many survivors- especially amongst the poorest and most vulnerable in society- the emphasis might be in the wrong place. What most survivors want, above all else, is to feel safe and secure, and accountability has only an indirect relationship with the desire for protection.  Continue reading

Colombia’s peace process: reflections

This post was written by Sara Valencia and Alejandra Londoño. It reports from a series of recent workshops on the Colombian peace process, led by Colombian students at The University of Edinburgh. The Global Justice Academy and the Global Development Academy supported the workshops.

Colombia’s peace process and Latin America

The first workshop examined the impact and influence of the Colombian internal conflict in the Latin America region. The methodology employed in this workshop was a Collaborative Critical-Thinking Sheet, in which the participants reported the main reflections emerging from the discussion.

The discussion highlighted the role of the Latin-American community in the peace process. This has been crucial for the exploration phase of the Peace Processes with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). On the one hand, for example, Venezuela, Cuba, and Chile played a central role to build a bridge of trust between the Colombian Government and the FARC guerrilla, a process that started with the FARC in 2012 in La Habana Cuba and concluded with the signing of the agreement in Bogotá on November 24th of 2016. On the other hand, Ecuador has been a crucial actor in the peace process with the ELN guerrilla, offering a neutral space to host the negotiations that started on January 7th of 2017.

During the implementation phase of the Agreement with the FARC guerrilla, the monitoring and checking mechanism of the Agreement on the Bilateral and Definitive Ceasefire and Cessation of Hostilities were explicitly limited to countries of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) on behalf of the United Nations. These are just a few examples of the level of commitment and active participation of Latin American States in Colombia’s peace processes.

The direct impact of the peace process in Colombia on the commercial dynamic of Latin America was then discussed. The strategic geographic position of Colombia makes it an important route for transportation between the West and the East (Pacific- Atlantic Ocean) and North and South. The pacification of the country will not only allow the improvement of the Colombian economy, but also may have a direct impact on Mexico, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela because of a reduction in illegal activities like drug production and trafficking; human trafficking and the illegal immigration routes to the United States. In addition, the shift in the Colombian Foreign Policy since 2010 has strengthened the integration process of Colombia in Latin America. Blocks like the ‘Alianza del Pacifico’ and the formulation and implementation of Bi-national Integration Plans with Ecuador and Peru will be strengthened by the implementation of the Peace Agreements.

On an international level, it was argued that Colombia’s peace offers a historic opportunity to rethink the position, role and contribution of the Latin American bloc in the 21st century. Through these peace processes, the Latin America states can have the opportunity to project themselves in the international community as a region which supports dialogue, openness, interdependence and inclusion where other regions like North America and Europe have begun to shift to a more closed, controlled and independent dynamic within the regional and international systems. The peace process in Colombia is an opportunity to strengthen the regional economy, increase foreign investment, trade and governance in the border areas, and overcome the USA military influence in the region.

A new topic emerged as discussion continued, namely, the popular mobilisation in support of the peace processes following the rejection of the comprehensive peace agreement via referendum on October 2, 2016. The feeling among youths that their agency was weakened by corrupt powers and misinformation, it was argued, catalysed mass mobilization. From this discussion emerged questions like, ‘which factors inspire citizens to mobilise at a personal and collective level?’ ‘How can citizen participation be strengthened after a collective mobilisation?’ ‘What is the role of the citizen as an agent for change within its community in a context of post-truth?’

These questions become the base for our second workshop.

Citizenship in the 21st century: dialogue and mobilisation

In response to the rejection of the peace agreement in Colombia, a massive social mobilisation emerged under a social movement called “¡Paz a la calle!” (Peace to the streets!). This movement reunited social groups and individuals who marched on the streets across the country demanding the Government and FARC guerrilla maintain the bilateral ceasefire and include the proposals of the 50.2 per cent of the electorate whose turn-out did not approve the text. The objective was to claim only for an outcome shared by both parties: peace.

However, the Colombian case of mobilisation is not unique. Other mobilisations like the Women against Trump movement in the United States or the massive protests against corruption in Romania are clear examples of citizen mobilisation. Nonetheless, these types of national dialogues and social mobilisations have not been so evident in the UK after Brexit.

As this workshop opened up many questions on the role of the citizen as an agent of change within processes of public participation and deliberative democracy, this became the focus of our final workshop, which was particularly interested in how such participation might be strengthened.

Reflections

Diana Diajer (University of Edinburgh) and Dr Oliver Escobar (University of Edinburgh), researchers on citizen participation, were event panellists at our final workshop. Diana highlighted the need to generate spaces free from violence with guarantees to enforce participation. Unfortunately, in countries like Colombia, citizen participation is associated with communism and creates a stigmatisation of this type of participation as well as discouraging public participation. In countries where leaders have been constantly murdered, a cyclical process of fear and death prevent participation. For Diana, there are four main challenges to encourage citizen participation in peace building: A highly polarised society, the lack of a national peace movement that articulates the local initiatives, lack of trust, and apathy produced by corruption. Therefore, she proposed six elements to trigger citizen participation for peace: provide security and protection to leaders, use of an offline-online coordinated strategy, create a state of articulation and coordination, create meaningful dialogues among people, strength state capacity, and enforce individual incentives to participate.

In the Colombian case, the process to build peace initiates with what people understand for peace. She has identified four understandings of peace: peace as a social inclusion process, peace associated with transparency in elections, peace as the empowerment of people to have a possibility to have a word, and reconciliation. Nonetheless, this last understanding is one of the most difficult to reach. For example, people at the local level do not talk about reconciliation, they talk about co-existence or tolerance despite differences – so it is a long path to follow.

Oliver focused his talk on the micro-dynamics that take place in peace processes and civic participation, paying attention to the need to promote spaces for dialogue and deliberation to enhance citizen participation. Nonetheless, the creation of these spaces must overcome challenges that emerge at the individual level.

First, Oliver addressed the tendency of people to avoid conflict, which creates the first barrier to participating in spaces where their ideas are challenged. The lack of diversity and segregation in groups give place to like-minded groups, which create polarisation. Oliver highlighted the ‘Spiral of Silence’, as another barrier to participation. This is a scenario where people think that they are part of a minority and they are not going to be listened to. For this reason, they silence themselves, creating a polarisation by omission in the group, where apparently one idea prevails. Also, in groups where individuals are exposed to opposing views, if they are strongly attached to a position they will tend to avoid any evidence, processing only those messages that confirm their own perspective, so dialogue and deliberation are less possible. Therefore, the lack of views in any conversation reduces the opportunities to be exposed to alternate points of view, furthering polarisation.

According to Oliver, dialogue takes time and is a painful process, but in safe spaces, people can engage with their diverse perspectives and a constructive dialogue can emerge. The creation of these spaces is not simple and requires the work of facilitators to promote spaces where people listen and engage in the conversation. In this way, the facilitator helps the participants to suspend their immediate reactions and reflections, allowing a fluid communication through active listening. However, the communication can be influenced by several factors like different standpoints, communication norms, and a lack of information. In these dialogues, storytelling becomes the most effective way of communication. In the narrative of these stories, emotions play a fundamental role because, as some neuroscience studies reveal, people can only think and reason about things that they care about. One of the challenges for mediators in dialogue spaces, then, is how to channel emotions in a positive and constructive way to promote a constructive process. In conclusion, in safe spaces, dialogue and participation can be fostered, creating a sustainable and legitimate way forward by becoming more open minded.

As Oliver explained that such micro-dynamics in groups matter at the global level because if social movements make an attempt to welcome different positions, there is a risk to only mobilise the like-minded people, which prevents public dialogue and deliberation, thus creating elites of power and micro-worlds in the society. Therefore, mobilisation and public dialogue have a different role and various functions in the political sphere. Social mobilisation is right to create an agenda, paying attention to one issue. However, dialogue allows the inclusion of different perspectives to create not only a shared understanding of complex issues but also by co-producing solutions.

 Note of thanks:

This series of workshops was made possible through the generous support of the Global Justice and Global Development Academies’ joint Innovative Initiative Fund. Special thanks to the organiser team Alejandra Londoño, Ana Chaparro, Natalia Salamanca and María Gundestrup.