The Erosion of the Civilian

A guest post by Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon. 

On the 16th of November 2018, speakers from different parts of the world and different backgrounds—academics, human rights and humanitarian practitioners, policy makers, and investigative journalists—interrogated and debated the status of civilians in armed conflicts.The Erosion of the Civilian was the first of two events that Neve Gordon, Professor of International Law at Queen Mary, Jonathan Whittall, Director of the Analysis Department at MSF in Brussels, and Nicola Perugini are organizing. The second workshop will take place in London at Queen Mary on the 14th of December. The aim of these two workshops is to create a dialogue across different disciplines and areas of expertise and to try to establish a thinking group on the topic of civilian protections and erosions.

The Edinburgh workshop was organized through collaboration between the University of Edinburgh, the School of Law at Queen Mary University of London, and the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Analysis Department in the Operational Centre in Brussels, and was sponsored by the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, the Global Justice Academy, the Global Development Academy; the Centre for Security Research (CeSeR); Politics and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh; and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action 703225 “On Human Shielding” for funding this event. What follow are the introductory notes to the Edinburgh workshop.

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Peacebuilding and Syria: What Hope?

Between 13-15 October 2018, the Global Justice Academy co-hosted a weekend of events joining Relief & Reconciliation for Syria with peacebuilding communities in Scotland. This post from Dr George R. Wilkes, reflects on the series of events that took place.

The prospect of an inclusive peacebuilding process in Syria looks bleak now. From the perspective of millions of Syrians who have fled regime controlled areas, atrocity, terror and armed extortion all confront attempts to straddle divisions to talk about peace. Refugees face daily existential pressures in the face of which peace talks appear distant and untimely. Critics of regime ‘reconciliations’ see the concept reduced to the mechanics of overpowering the regime’s outlaws. In regime territory, a more inclusive embrace of populations controlled by Islamist armed groups is undercut by the sense that violence and terror were the inevitable result of a religious fundamentalism shared widely within those populations, and by the international supporters of those forces.

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Reflections from the Tenth Aniversary Edition of the Edinburgh Legal Theory Festival: Workshop on Virtue Ethics, Markets, and the Law

The Global Justice Academy recently sponsored one of the workshops at the 10th Anniversary Edition of the Edinburgh Legal Theory Festival. In this blog post, the co-convenors of the Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group—Richard Latta and Joaquín Reyes—report on the issues raised during the workshop.

The workshop on ‘Virtue ethics, Markets, and the Law’—held on Tuesday 5thJune, the second day of the week-long Edinburgh Legal Theory Festival (4th-8thJune)—was devoted, as its name suggests, to explore the implications of a virtue-centred approach to legal theory for a wide-ranging variety of related topics, including the relationships between power, virtue and the constitutional state (Dominic Burbidge), algorithmic governance (René Urueña), the Rule of law and the law of equity (Irit Samet), intent to contract and trust (Prince Saprai), and the future of virtue jurisprudence (Chapin Cimino). All sessions were followed by a lively discussion in which the participants had the opportunity to give and receive important feedback on their ongoing research projects.

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Legacies of Human Rights Violations: Beyond the Legal Paradigm

In this blog, the organisers of this IIF-sponsored film series reflect on the three events and issues raised. The series took place which took place between January and April 2018 at The University of Edinburgh.

The film series ‘Legacies of Human Rights Violations’ addressed the contemporary legacies of human rights violations from an artistic, cinematic perspective. The series involved showing four films: I Am Not Your Negro, My Beautiful Laundrette, REwind: A Cantata for Voice, Tape and Testimony, and Kamchatka. The selected films tackled issues as diverse as racial oppression, gender norms and agency and institutionalised state violence. Specifically, the films focused the experiential reality of human rights issues that stands beyond the grasp of the legalist perspective and its disembodied standards of right and wrong. Indeed, our purpose was to shed light on how the structural, deeply entrenched practices of oppression and discrimination affect people’s everyday lives, intimate domestic spheres and interpersonal relationships, while also unearthing the everyday, relational forms of dissent, solidarity and resistance that arise in response. The film screenings ensued in a fruitful dialogue across the fields of political theory, anthropology, law, film and music studies. They were well attended and engaged students, staff and the broader public in a discussion on the ethical potentials and limitations of cinema as a mode of creative learning and democratic education.

The first film, I Am Not Your Negro, perhaps most explicitly exposed the limits of the Western liberal understanding of democracy and the supposed neutrality of its legal institutions, as revealed by the structural nature of racial oppression. In the film, the director Raoul Peck tells the story of James Baldwin, an American novelist and social critic, based on his unfinished manuscript Remember This House. At the forefront stands Baldwin’s conversations and friendships with prominent figures of the American civil rights movement, such as Medgar Evers, Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr, bringing forth an emotional insight into the struggles for racial equality in the US.

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Incarceration in Scotland: a system with positive evolutions in need of a generalisation of its good practices

In this guest post, Coline Constantin reflects on the recent seminar that tackled issues around incarceration in Scotland. Coline is reading for an LLM in Human Rights at Edinburgh Law School, and applied for funding for this event from the Global Justice and Global Development Academies’ Innovative Initiative Fund.

Scotland has the second highest imprisonment rate in Europe. Although English headlines for issues of overcrowding, under staffing, rising rates of self-harming cases do not find an echo north of the border, the statistic still makes it worth taking a closer look at its system. On Thursday 26 April, an engaged audience gathered at the University of Edinburgh to hear more about the positive developments and challenges of the Scottish system of detention.

Three panellists from different fields of expertise and different view angles on the Scottish situation were invited to cover topics from policy-making, to the implementation and analysis of these policies. Professor Richard Sparks, Convenor of Howard League Scotland and criminologist specialised on the different systems of detention in the UK, took us through his analysis of the particularities of the Scottish case within the UK and European context. Tom Halpin, Chief Executive of Sacro and prominent figure in the reduction of inequalities in the Scottish criminal justice system, gave us a sense of the work that is being done with communities and specific groups of people with convictions to go towards better mentoring and guidance throughout the process. Pete White, Chief Executive of Positive Prisons? Positive Future and fascinating storyteller, treated the audience with a story of his personal experience from his time inside and the aftermath of this life-changing event.

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Recent Discussions in Legal Theory at the Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group

In this post, the Co-Convenors of the Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group for 2017-18, Richard Latta and Joaquin Reyes, report on their recent Winter/Spring seminar series and the topics discussed.

The Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group is very grateful for the support of the Global Justice Academy for the Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group’s Seminar Series of Spring 2018. This semester we hosted speakers from all over the world to discuss issues in legal theory and beyond legal theory. Continue reading

Liberating Comparisons: Report from the Workshop

The Liberating Comparisons network emerged out of a workshop by the same name in Edinburgh on 8 December 2017. The workshop drew together scholars from across the UK to explore the potential of comparative methods.

From back left: Jonathan Spencer, Sneha Krishnan, Kesi Mahendran, Juliano Spyer, Sarah Linn, Ian Harper, Mikal Woldu, Patrick Mutahi, Simone Lamont-Black, Indrajit Roy

The workshop started from the premise that comparative methods had the potential to reify or disrupt the way we see the world and our place within it. Our workshop drew together scholars who were interested in the latter: the transformative insights that comparative methods could bring to the complex and important issues of our day.

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Reflections from the Edinburgh Legal Theory Group Past Convenors’ Colloquium

The Global Justice Academy recently sponsored the Edinburgh Legal Theory Group Past Convenors’ Colloquium in collaboration with the Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group. In this blog post, Paul Burgess – a third year PhD candidate in the Edinburgh Law School and Co-Convenor of the Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group – reports on the issues raised.

 

The Colloquium was well attended by staff and students from across The University of Edinburgh. This included several new PhD candidates who had only arrived in the university for the first time that week. Some participants and presenters had travelled from other parts of the world.

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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.