H01 - Voice and Violence in the Public Sphere
Date: Jun 2 | Time: 08:45am to 10:15am | Location:
Chair/Président/Présidente : Lev Marder (Queens University)
Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Anna Drake (University of Waterloo)
A Spotting Fire: Embodied Political Resistance and the Struggle Against Gender Apartheid: Sara Hassani (The New School)
Abstract: This paper explores the historically elevated and gendered rates of self-immolations among young, poor, married women in the Persian belt countries of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Drawing on interviews with survivors of self-immolation in all three countries as well as interviews with burn doctors, epidemiologists and civil society actors, I challenge the gendered and pathologizing language of the state that dissimulates these acts through the familiar language of ‘suicides’ and discuss the culturally-embedded and conflictual language of affect forged via the incineration of the body. I argue that the material and symbolic power of women’s self-immolations defy both cultural forms of patriarchy at the family level and its refracted power in structures of the state, thereby grounding the importance of embodied acts of resistance occurring within the confines of the private sphere for the study of politics. Offering up the image of a ‘spotting fire’ – one that travels from the western most regions of Iran (in Iranian Kurdistan) eastward, through central Afghanistan and southern Tajikistan – as a way to conceive of the historical emergence of self-immolations as a common signifier for women’s resistance to the harsh demands of gender apartheid, I challenge the narrowness of predominant views which insist that social movements and political resistance are to be found ‘out on the streets.’ As I demonstrate, these approaches neglect to consider the structural and subjective realities shaped by gender, ethnicity and class and their impacts for how political resistance is articulated across various cultures and political landscapes.
Rethinking the Democratic Value of Public Policy Debates: The Case of the 'Munk Debates': Simon Lambek (Vanderbilt University)
Abstract: I explore the effects of public policy debates on 21st century democracies through an examination of a high-profile and controversial 2018 “Munk” policy debate between David Frum and Steve Bannon. I ask: When policy debates simultaneously solicit significant public interest and applause as well as anger, condemnation and calls for protest, censure and boycott, how should normative and critical theorists respond? Moving beyond a free speech paradigm, I leverage a rhetorical and hermeneutic framework in order to investigate the constitutive effects of public debate on contemporary democracies. I argue that, in contrast to monological rhetoric (such as political speeches), debates broadcast a spectrum or range of opinions which often purport to represent the breadth of the public sphere rather than just a single perspective. In so doing, public debates help to construct, constrict or expand the boundaries of the public sphere, demarcating the acceptable limits of reasonable opinion on matters of political importance. For this reason, public debates present a unique case and merit specific normative and critical attention.
Lockean Equality: Mary Jo MacDonald (University of Toronto)
Abstract: Locke’s Two Treatises of Government defend a principle of natural equality—no person is naturally subject to another. Despite his rejection of natural hierarchies, Locke does seem to make an exception. Describing the relations of husband and wife, Locke claims that the wife should defer to the husband since he is “the abler and the stronger” (par. 82). To make sense of this apparent contradiction, I argue that we need to understand the role of the family in Locke's overall argument. Locke discusses the family at length in this work because he is giving a genealogy of the state beginning with the household. This genealogical approach is fundamentally anti-absolutist—by highlighting how the organization of power has changed over time, Locke shows that power is not absolute, but is something that should be limited by the purpose of the association. This interpretation helps reconcile Locke’s comments on natural equality and conjugal authority. Since Locke gives a genealogy, he discusses the family in two different contexts: the family as the origin of political society and the family in political society. While Locke thinks that wives should be subject to their husbands in the state of nature because the purpose of these associations is warfare, he does not think this is the case in civil society. Strength is no longer a relevant basis on which to distribute authority in civil society. Since women are only subject to men in one context, I argue that Locke's claim about women does not violate his principle of equality.
On the Epistemic Possibilities of Violence: Grant Andersen (York University, Ontario)
Abstract: From the perspective of political thought which views action in terms of speaking and initiating, or in terms of communicative action, violence is distinguished from normative concepts of political action by its muteness. For this reason, violence appears to promise very little for the purpose of disclosing political phenomena. However, in political thought there is a distinct tradition, with a surprising degree of continuity, of viewing politics in terms of struggle, and interpreting politics through analogies drawn from strategic action and warfare. This tradition is versatile, occupying fields as diverse as history, political analysis, arts of statecraft, and moral philosophy. The following essay describes the properties, themes, and epistemic properties of this tradition by examining how it is employed in Niccolò Machiavelli’s statecraft, Henri de Boulainvilliers’ histories, and Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy. Special attention will be given to the anthropological dimensions of this tradition, and to the way it is altered as it is applied in new fields and to new objects of criticism.