This short piece was written, at the invitation of Alessandro Ferrara, to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Prague Conference Philosophy and Social Science, where each year critical theorists from around the world come together to discuss their research. The founder of the event, originally situated in Dubrovnik, was Jürgen Habermas, and today’s directors include Amy Allen, Bill Scheuermann, María Pía Lara, Rainer Forst, Alessandro Ferrara and others.
What is to Be Done? Political Ontology, Critique and Democratic Politics Roundtable
University of Edinburgh, 18th November 2016
On 18th November, the University of Edinburgh hosted a roundtable entitled What is to Be Done? Political Ontology, Critique and Democratic Politics. The roundtable investigated the exciting linkages between inquiries into the ontological underpinnings of politics, and the possibilities and limitations of critique at the present historical juncture. It brought together three renowned scholars on the topic – Aletta Norval (University of Essex), Lois McNay (University of Oxford) and Oliver Marchart (University of Vienna) – who were invited to address three interrelated questions:
We are doing a roundtable in Edinburgh and a pre-read workshop in St Andrews. Our goal is to explore the contentious relationship between ontology, critique and democratic politics, by simultaneously engaging with recent scholarship on the “ontological turn” in political theory and with reflections around the interface between varieties of critique and democratic agency.
Our workshop on “Imagining Violence” during the ECPR Joint Sessions went really well. Not only were the discussions extremely interesting, we also had a great time in Pisa, meeting up with old friends and making new ones. It will take a few weeks to process all the feedback I received! One of the participants was so kind to share the following impression with us:
It really was the kind of rare and wonderful event that reminds me why I love to be in academia. I learned so much and feel lucky to have been a part of it!
Maša Mrovlje and Hugh McDonell, the two postdocs on Mihaela’s GREYZONE project, have now written up a report on what we debated during the workshop. You can find it here.
From June 24 to 26, 2015, the JUDGEPOL project organized a Summer School on political violence, in collaboration with the Global Justice Academy and HCA. Dr Mathias Thaler (PIR) and Dr Niall Whelehan from History planned and convened this event. Their preparatory research was funded through two different Marie Curie grants. 18 doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty from more than 10 countries were chosen through a competitive selection process. Five of those received scholarships and fee waivers to ensure attendance.
The three days were dedicated to a multi-disciplinary and comparative debate about political violence, bringing into a conversation voices from law, history and political theory. Each of these days comprised morning sessions with staff from Edinburgh (Prof Christine Bell, Prof Donald Bloxham) and abroad (Prof Kimberly Hutchings, London; Prof Elizabeth Frazer, Oxford; Prof Manfred Nowak, Vienna; and Prof John Horne, Dublin), as well as afternoon sessions with research-based presentations from the participants.
On the first day, legal perspectives on political violence were examined. Both Prof Nowak and Prof Bell connected theoretical explorations of international law to their professional and personal experiences in post-conflict societies. The second day focused on historical perspectives and brought together reflections on the emergence of paramilitaries in the aftermath of WWI (Prof Horne) with a detailed analysis of escalating mass atrocities, from the Armenian genocide to the Holocaust (Prof Bloxham). Finally, the last day dealt with perspectives from political theory. Prof Hutchings and Prof Frazer made use of innovative methods in participatory teaching to probe ideas on what constitutes political violence and how, if at all, we may draw a line between politics and violence.
The participants’ presentations in the afternoon revealed the manifold and interesting ways in which political violence can be approached in today’s scholarly landscape. From the recruitment strategies of Kenyan terrorist organizations to a critical reading of left-wing endorsements of non-violence in the US to the practical difficulties of contemporary resistance, a broad range of topics was scrutinized during the Summer School. The faculty members offered generous and constructive feedback on the presentations and helped facilitate discussions of wider relevance.
The social programme included an evening event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, a guided historic tour of Edinburgh and a closing dinner. The feedback from the participants indicates that the Summer School initiative was very well received and will be extended in future years, perhaps again with a multi-disciplinary and comparative orientation.
Mathias Thaler is co-organizing a commemorative event for the Srebrenica massacre on Wednesday June 24. The panel will feature, amongst others, Manfred Nowak, who has been centrally involved in the transitional justice process in Ex-Yugoslavia, as well as other experts in the field.
This event, whilst set up in collaboration with other institutions at the University of Edinburgh, is also part of the JUDGEPOL Summer School. More information about this panel, including how to register, can be found here: