Nigel Clark @ Birkbeck, 2 March 2017

Nigel Clark is speaking at the Human/Nonhuman Seminar at Birkbeck next month. Here are the details:

Thursday, 2 March 2017, 2-4pm.

Room B02, Gordon Square.

All welcome, RSVP via Eventbrite.

Description

“The GEDS Human/Non-Human Working Group is pleased to host a seminar by Professor Nigel Clark (Lancaster University). Professor Clark’s work focuses on how social life is shaped and perturbed by physical forces. The idea of the `Anthropocene’ prompts us to see human beings as geological agents, but to also ask how our species acquired its geological agency: what physical forces we’ve tapped into and joined up with. Professor Clark is currently exploring how humans have used fire to transform `earthy materials’, and in the process how we’ve shaped our social and physical worlds. This leads to the question of what kinds of material and social experimentation we should be considering in times of rapid climate change. During record warm temperatures in 2016, forest fires in Alberta led to the evacuation of Fort McMurray – service centre for the Athabasca oil sands. Though mining operations were shielded by firebreaks, the collision of climate change with hydrocarbon exploitation was hard to ignore. In 2014, bushfire set alight Victoria’s Hazelwood open cut coalmine, pointing up Australia’s ambivalent positioning as the world’s leading coal exporter and as part of the front line of climate change-related extreme events. Meanwhile, Indonesia – world no2 coal exporter – struggles to contain its vast forest fire problem. This talk presents research with Lauren Rickards (RMIT) about fearsome and growing `synergies’ between climate-related extreme events and hydrocarbon extraction. More than just an issue of nature-culture entanglement, this `species of trouble’ summons us to think at once in terms of the circulations of the Earth system and the layering or stratification of our planet. Acknowledging the fraught and complex politics of the events in question, we also begin to ask what role frontline communities might play in renegotiating relationships with the strata and flows in question.”

The turn to the right: Opposition on what terms?

The present turn to the right is giving rise to a seemingly unceasing flow of disastrous policies and actions. Every few hours of so we receive another devastating piece of news, accompanied by an avalanche of online and print commentary. It is these responses that are almost as frightening as the shocks from the top. And I do not mean the comments from those who celebrate their own self-oppression, but by those who consider themselves in opposition. While it is understandable that people suffer from overload, this is not a good moment for clinging to straws offered by the very same people one is opposing. These false friends tend to manifest as follows:

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1) ‘National values’. Whether it is appeals to ‘British values’ and ‘Americanness’, or concerns about embarrassing the Queen, emphasis on ‘national values’ as a counter-strategy is not only disturbing, but increasingly bordering on the bizarre. From reading the protest signs at the London march on Monday against the ‘Muslim ban’, one gets the impression that some people seriously think of the UK Government as being capable of decent actions. We are talking about the same government that ran racist Brexit and anti-immigration campaigns and is radically disenfranchising its own people. But, apparently, there is still hope that they’ll do super nice things, because of British values and all that truthful stuff that abject non-Brits have to learn about this country in the citizenship test.
But then you say: appealing to ‘national values’ helps me speak to the nationalist constituency and not just preach to the converted. Great move! But: while you have correctly identified that nationalists do not fully understand their own ‘values’, perhaps you as an Enlightened Being at least could be a bit more reflexive about what these might be. After all, such values have historically been used to devalue those of other people, specifically, as writers such as Hoda Katebi have pointed out, under colonialism and ‘development’. From this perspective, if there is something such as ‘British values’, it could be described as ‘killing with kindness’.

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2) Nationalism.
Some writers feel no need to bother with the lame illusion of ‘national values’ and go for straight, undiluted nationalism. This economic gesture is popular, because it neither requires much elaboration nor reflexivity: take back the nation, make it great again! Oh wait, doesn’t that sound familiar? In the past, nationalism has led to real revolutionary fervour that resulted in some brilliant dictatorships and mass deportations/executions, or, if you don’t want to go full drama, failed alliances (I’m not talking EU here) and some really sound delineations of who belongs. But for many people it means such beautiful things as re-nationalising the railways, keeping more of their money, preserving the fragile local ecology of non-standardised bathtub plugs, saving the health service from the likes of Richard Branson – or being saved by the almighty Nicola Sturgeon. Of course, nationalism is totally going to deliver on that, because there is going to be so much more accountability…

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3) Who is this about? At the supposed anti-Muslim-ban march on Monday, most of the signs read something like ‘fuck this shit’, ‘fuck Trump’ and ‘grab him by the balls’, combined with some more polite British variations (see point 1). As some Muslim (and also non-Muslim) writers have pointed out, no white person actually gives a fuck about them. As a white non-Muslim, you might be hurt by bad man Trump, but, most likely, you are going to be able to carry on live as usual, even if you join the odd travel boycott. So, basically, you get to vent your frustrations at that whatsitorangefuckface, look great in front of your friends AND continue to enjoy your privileges – after all, even the most disenfranchised white person has greater freedom of movement – a brilliant win-win situation. Of course, it is totally okay to make this all about personal pain and not about your embeddedness in structural oppression (see points 4 & 5). After all, this is not making things worse for anyone else, is it?

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4) Self-victimisation. A familiar face from anti-racism debates, white self-victimisation is a totally great way of ensuring that we can all be happily oppressed together without having to make special concessions for anyone. As they say, we’re all in this together. In fact, all the hard-done by white people that have suffered from the clout of the English upper class, evil Germans and so on, are much worse off than, for example, those dirty refugees that don’t even have a concept of the struggles in the countries they are rushing to for salvation. You seek salvation from us wretched white people? Sorry about those unfortunate bombings, but haven’t you looked at how much we are suffering ourselves? Some of the brilliant logic from this camp has even resulted in calls to support Trump, because Angela Merkel, the apparent source of all of this suffering, rejects him. The enemy of my enemy is my…

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5) Externalising white supremacy. Congratulations – you have correctly identified sources of modern day Nazism: Trump, the KKK, the Christian right, Theresa May, Nigel Farage, the Sun, Steve Bannon, the BBC, and sometimes even Jeremy Corbin when he dabbles in half-hearted attempts at immigration policy. Down with them all, and the world will be a better place. Of course, as a white middle-class political commentator, it is sheer talent and ambition that has given you a position at a major news outlet, and it is sheer coincidence that pretty much all of your colleagues have the same background, too. You probably all love Hannah Arendt and her poignant analysis of totalitarianism. But you are really not sure what to make of that ‘banality of evil’ talk. Evil that can’t just be conveniently isolated in scapegoat-type effigies? Evil as a process that we may all be part of? But I’m such a good guy!

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6) Fantasies of violence. Along the same lines, a popular sport at the moment is virtual ‘Nazi bashing’. Devised as a critique of the wimpy left and its amnesia regarding bodies that could potentially be hurt, because it’s usually not theirs (and wasn’t there this Fanon guy, too?), some people haven’t quite got the irony and have discovered ‘Nazi bashing’ as an online spiritual relief that helps make the world a better place for others – a bit like Fight Club meets Live Aid. It’s so romantic to be a black clad street fighter, a hero fighting for… what was it again? And it’s unlike the less visible forms of violence that are so hard to make fashionable. Recommended watching: The Dreamers.

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7) Bad shit from nowhere. OMG – where did all this suddenly come from?? We’ve never seen such racism, sexism, homophobia, etc before! What has gotten into people? I’m afraid, you are so right! This is a total anomaly, probably having to do with a bad constellation of planets or something. I’m sure I read some of this my horoscope: people will turn really fucking scary from 2016 onwards. Of course, this has nothing to do with present economic and political systems which reward a dismantling of public services or just the public in general. It also has nothing to do with any sort of racist, sanctimonious rhetoric from the top, used to cover up self-enrichment and nepotism. So what are we supposed to do?? We can’t really think of anything, because really don’t understand why people act like this!!

Ongoing Reading List (recommendations welcome!)

Demir, Ipek (2017) “Brexit as Backlash Against Loss of Privilege and Multiculturalism” Discover Society

Goodfellow, Maya (2017) “Theresa, Trump and a Culture of Demonisation” Media Diversified

Katebi, Hoda (2017) “Please keep your American flags off my hijab” JooJoo Azad

Ko, Lisa (2017) “20 Lessons on How to be American” The Offing

Holloway, Lester (2016) “White tribalism was not made by Trump. It already existed in America as it does in Britain” Media Diversified

Weber, Cynthia (2016) “Sovereignty, Sexuality And The Will To Trump: A Queer IR Analysis And Response” The Disorder of Things

Wolfe, Ross (2017) ““Everyone’s a victim”: Relativizing Auschwitz with Adorno” The Charnel House

Yerbamala Collective (2017) “Our vendetta: Witches vs Fascists”

Big thank you to Gesa Helms and Anja Kanngieser for comments. All mistakes remain my own.

Academic Boycott of International US conferences in Solidarity with People Affected by ‘Muslim Ban’

You can sign the letter here.

London Demo at Downing Street today (30 January 2017) 6-8pm. Demo at Warwick (Piazza) 2pm. More demos around the country/world.

“On 27 January 2017, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order putting in place a 90-day ban that denies US entry to citizens from seven Muslim majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia. So far, the ban includes dual nationals, current visa, and green card holders, and those born in these countries while not holding citizenship of them. The Order also suspends the admittance of all refugees to the US for a period of 120 days and terminates indefinitely all refugee admissions from Syria. There are indications that the Order could be extended to include other Muslim majority countries.

The Order has affected people with residence rights in the US, as well as those with rights of entry and stay. Some of those affected are fleeing violence and persecution, and have been waiting for years for resettlement in the US as refugees. Others are effectively trapped in the US, having cancelled planned travel for fear that they will be barred from returning. The order institutionalises racism, and fosters an environment in which people racialised as Muslim are vulnerable to ongoing and intensifying acts of violence and hatred.

Among those affected by the Order are academics and students who are unable to participate in conferences and the free communication of ideas. We the undersigned take action in solidarity with those affected by Trump’s Executive Order by pledging not to attend international conferences in the US while the ban persists. We question the intellectual integrity of these spaces and the dialogues they are designed to encourage while Muslim colleagues are explicitly excluded from them.”

Catastrophe: Critical Legal Conference 2017 @ Warwick – Call for Streams

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Image: “Catastrophe” by Lala Gallardo

Thought this conference might be of interest to readers, and it’s happening here at Warwick:

“Ten years ago, the so-called ‘Invisible Committee’ urged that ‘It is useless to wait…. To go on waiting is madness. The catastrophe is not coming, it is here. We are already situated within the collapse of a civilization. It is within this reality that we must choose sides.’ Over a decade before, Leonard Cohen had written; ‘This is the darkness, this is the flood. The catastrophe has already happpened and the question we now face is what is the appropriate behaviour.’ The 2017 Critical Legal Conference thus calls for streams, panels and papers that reflect upon ‘catastrophe’; on the catastrophes of our time and upon their interrelations; upon the questions of appropriate behaviours that might emerge and sides that might be taken. In particular we hope to encourage streams on:

  • Increasing brutality and violence of the carceral and security state;
  • War, migration, and refugee crises;
  • Racism, xenophobia, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia and countless forms of day to day violence;
  • On the atmospheres of violence under regimes of Modi, Temer, Trump, Brexit or Erdogan
  • Natural disasters and the effects of climate change in the anthropocene;
  • Forms of colonialism, neocolonialism and economic imperialism driven by capitalism and neoliberal ideologies;
  • Crises of care and depletion of the social reproductive capacities under global capitalism;
  • Rampant fear-mongering and the political exploitation of deprivation.
  • Catastrophe, disaster and crisis as modes of biopolitics, governance or accumulation

However, these catastrophes are only the most obvious effecting us today. Catastrophe does not necessarily imply a sudden fright or a grand world-historical moment that is evident to all. We also want to emphasise: the slow violence of catastrophe; the gradual and often imperceptible disintegration that is neither spectacular nor instantaneous; the ‘human catastrophes’ fostered by capitalism in its crises of social reproduction; intimate catastrophes, moments of collapse and calamity that concern the subject and the psyche, as well as the domestic.

Taking a cue from Bonnie Honig, we might identify the genre of this mode of critique as containing something of the dark romantics. The catastrophe is that chasmatic void into which we are about to fall (or perhaps we have already fallen). We are pervaded by a sense of the coming (or already arrived) doom. But despite this, catastrophe also suggests an opening to something beyond. It creates new spaces for resistance and solidarity, while potentially strengthening old ones. Catastrophe names the end in ancient Greek music and theatre, an unravelling and return to context. It was coupled with anakrousis – a sonorous explosion that was played at the beginning of a performance to clear the ears and so make space for a cosmos to be created. Catastrophe announced the overturning of that world and prepared the listeners to leave the theatre, to return to the street and to the context of popular life. Tolkien coins the term Eucatastrophe to signify the sudden positive resolution of a seemingly impossible situation. Thus, continuing from the hugely successful 2016 CLC focus on ‘turning points’, the theme of catastrophe asks us to consider the day after the moment of rupture, the period after the turning point.

What are the traps of thinking through ‘catastrophe’? Does catastrophe require redemption? Certainly modes of Christian theology imagine the katechon – the worldly suspension of the end times in which we are situated – as the holding-off of the justice of the end of the world. But by thinking our situation in other cosmologies, does the question of the catastrophe disappear, or appear differently? Or in a more profane sense, what are the problems of thinking through the lens of the catastrophe – is there a catastrophe (for us) in thinking catastrophe? Should we move away from the thought of the catastrophe and think more hopefully or joyfully?

Finally, we hope the question of catastrophe also invites a certain critical self-reflection. In liberal accounts, law seems to stand out against the catastrophe: the catastrophe is the perversion of legal rationality or the inability of pure legal norms to reach their proper context. Critical fields seek to undermine this claim, but to what extent and what effect? And what of the left’s own catastrophes, what of the co-option of resistance in human rights or development, or of the various collapses or exhaustions of left political and legal projects?

So we invite participants to the coming Catastrophe of the 2017 Critical Legal Conference at the Warwick Law School and in conjunction with the Social Theory Centre. It will take place on the 1st-3rd of September. Further details can be found on the conference webpage (Link). Please send your stream proposals to clcwarwick@gmail.com. The closing date for streams will be the 28th of February, the call for papers will open after that.”

http://criticallegalthinking.com/2017/01/19/catastrophe-critical-legal-conference-2017-call-streams/

‘Blow up my town’ @ Market Gallery, Glasgow

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Image: Bhanu Kapil, Performance for Ban at Pratt Institute, New York, April, 2013

An interesting discussion is taking place in Glasgow on Sunday 22 January 2017. Entitled “Blow up my town: Perspectives on self-abolition, the body, and transgression”, it is a one-off “reading/group/discussion” that takes inspiration from artists and writers such as Chantal Akerman, Bhanu Kapil, Jack Halberstam, Nathaniel Mackey, Pipilotti Rist and Marina Vishmidt. They seem to be fully booked, but the website already has some interesting materials that may be interesting to readers. I’ve been told that the website will continue as a resource – and hopefully as a platform for future events!

RGS-IBG 2017 RACE Working Group Call for Sessions

The Race, Culture and Equality (RACE) Working Group would like to invite proposals for sessions to be sponsored by RACE at the RGS-IBG annual conference 2017 titled ‘Decolonizing geographical knowledges: opening up geography to the world’. A key objective of the RACE Working Group of the RGS-IBG is to promote scholarship on topics of racial inequality, colonization, decolonization and whiteness, and to encourage dialogue on race that advances academic knowledge and progressive practices. The RACE Working Group therefore welcomes proposals on these topics more generally, but we strongly encourage proposals that critically and creatively engage with these topics in relation to the conference theme specifically, for example; by exploring the limitations, contradictions and injustices of organising a conference on the topic of decolonization in western neoliberal academic settings; and/or by examining the contemporary co-option of decolonial thinking in a range of settings. We are also interested in sponsoring sessions and activities by activists and scholar-activists, as well as artists and scholar-artists, that propose and explore practical initiatives for dismantling colonial processes within the discipline, within the university system, and within the RGS-IBG.

Please email proposals to raceworkinggroup@gmail.com by 22 January 2017. Submissions should include a title, an abstract (max 250 words), the format of the session or activity, the number of timeslots requested (if applicable), and name(s) and affiliation(s) of the organizers. The guidelines for organising sessions can be found here http://tinyurl.com/pdrjfek. We will endeavor to respond to organizers by the end of January 2017.

  1. For more on decolonization, please see Tuck, E. and Yang, K. W. (2012) Decolonization is not a metaphor, Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1), p. 1-40.

Race and the Academy events at Warwick

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Image source: Warwick Anti-Racism Society

Two events coming up at Warwick (where I currently work) that may be of interest to readers. They are organised by the Warwick Anti-Racism Society.

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Antinormalisation: Academic Action in the Political Present

The Role of the Academic in the Current Political Context: Working Against Normalisation

University of Warwick OC1.01 The Oculus
5-7pm

Recent political events have taken a dangerous turn: white supremacist actors are taking up prominent positions within formal politics, while far-right groups in society are becoming increasingly emboldened, vocal, and violent.

Within academia itself, however, established technologies of exclusion — including Prevent, migration monitoring, and the exploitation of racialised labour — have already been normalised by our institutions. How might these existing structures articulate in oppressive ways with a broader renewed politics of exclusion?

In this critical context, this event draws together members of the Warwick community in order to discuss, and commit to, ways of counteracting the normalisation of white supremacist and fascist politics. We will use the session to work towards a collective statement of purpose setting out a series of common commitments to building solidarity with students and protecting our intellectual environment in the present context.

Gurminder K. Bhambra, Shirin Rai, Pablo Mukherjee, Goldie Osuri, Lara Choksey, Adam Elliott-Cooper, Kathryn Medien, Nicola Pratt, and other members of the Warwick community will make interventions in order to build the conversation.

There will be a planning meeting open to students and staff immediately following this event, from 7-8pm, in the same room (OC1.01). We’ll discuss the following:

1. A BME staff-student network
2. A Race Equality pressure group with staff from across the university
3. Responding to racist incidents on campus.

Abstract

Political shifts around the world are becoming increasingly indicative of the onset of a global fascist era. In the US, the election of Donald Trump has come to pass after a campaign period in which he referenced his own sexual violence, labelled Mexicans as ‘rapists’, and pledged to collate a register of, deny entry to, and deport Muslims on the basis of their faith. Prominent white supremacists have already been appointed to the White House, while far-right groups, fortified by their access to mainstream politics, have become more prominent and outspoken.
Meanwhile, the UK has witnessed the recent political murder of MP and anti-racist campaigner Jo Cox by a white supremacist connected to far-right networks, while the post-Brexit context has been marked by widespread racist and xenophobic violence and abuse brought to bear against persons racialised as ‘non-native’.
Further, regimes in Turkey, India, and the Philippines are intensifying racial, ethnic or religious forms of exclusion and increasingly using violence and other means of oppression against their own people.
In parallel to, and in support of, fascist politics at the formal level, neo-nazi (so-called ‘alt-right’) supremacist movements are gathering strength globally and becoming more active online, on our campuses, and in other social spaces.

As members of the Warwick community, we do not take these grave social and political changes lightly and we are particularly concerned about the impact of fascistic actions and discourses on our own students. This event is therefore intended to provide a platform for us to confront our own responsibilities, both as citizens and academics, in this political moment. It will also be an opportunity to consider the technologies of exclusion which have already been normalised in our institutions — from the Prevent strategy to the monitoring of migrants — and to consider how these might be further countered.

During this session we will address the following questions:

What is the role of the academic, and the university more broadly, in an age of resurgent white supremacy?
In what ways can we show support and solidarity to our students of colour, migrants, and other targeted minorities as racist discourses and actions become ever more prominent in the public domain?
How can we collectively stand together to reject the fascist, racist, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic politics and sentiment which is gathering pace?
What can we do to resist the normalisation of the politics of exclusion?
How can we reconsider concepts such as no-platforming, non-cooperation, anti-normalisation, academic freedom, and freedom of speech in the urgent context of the rise of deadly political ideologies?
How can we construct spaces of sanctuary within our own flawed institution for students who feel as though they are in danger?
How can we counter those technologies of exclusion which have already been normalised?

This event is organised by Lisa Tilley (PAIS)

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Racism on Campus: The BME Attainment Gap in Higher Education

The Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Attainment Gap in UK Higher Education: A Student-Staff Roundtable

Wednesday 18th January
OC1.06 (Oculus Building)
4-6pm

This event invites students and staff to participate in a roundtable on the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) attainment gap in UK Higher Education. National data suggests that BME students routinely get lower grades than their white peers even when they enter on the same grades. Why does this occur? What are the barriers that BME students face in attaining higher grades? What practices at universities could support a fair, equitable system? Is blind-marking an effective insurance against institutional bias? What are the processes available to students who experience institutional discrimination?

This event will provide a forum for students and staff to learn about the BME attainment gap and to discuss ways of addressing it.

With Robbie Shilliam (QMUL) and Paul Warmington (Warwick), chaired by Gurminder Bhambra (Warwick).

This is the second event in the ‘Racism on Campus’ roundtable series, and is co-hosted by Warwick Anti-Racism Society. All welcome.