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:

It is a great pleasure to announce that our proposal to organize a workshop at the 2016 ECPR Joint Sessions in Pisa has been successful. Our proposal is entitled “Imaging Violence: The Politics of Narrative and Representation”. This is, essentially, a subtheme of JUDGEPOL that has emerged to much more prominence over the past few months. I will host the workshop together with Dr. Mihaela Mihai (currently at York), who will soon begin work in Edinburgh as a Senior research Fellow and PI on an ERC Starting Grant project dealing with complicity and the arts.

The ECPR describes the Joint Sessions in the following way:

The Joint Sessions of Workshops have been hosted annually in March or April in an array of different European cities since 1973. They have been referred to as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the ECPR and are recognised as one of the major highlights of the world’s political science calendar. The workshops are designed to be a forum for substantive discussion on research in progress and collaboration among scholars. […] The main objective of the workshops is to facilitate and encourage participation, equality and collaboration between younger and newer members of the profession, advanced students, and well-established professors. In order to achieve this, the size of each workshop is strictly limited.

As a former participant of one such workshop (organized by Sorin Baiasu and Sylvie Loriaux in 2011, on sincerity in ethics and politics), I can attest to the fantastic scholarly and friendly atmosphere of this event. We will strive to follow in Sorin’s and Sylvie’s footsteps when organizing our workshop.

Our workshop abstract is here:

Understanding political violence involves many different intellectual and societal operations: from examining the social macro-structures that enable and constrain actors engaging in violence, to investigating the motives and drives of individual perpetrators. One aspect, however, has received relatively little attention, even though it is central to a holistic approach to political violence: the faculty of imagination. This workshop will interrogate which role the faculty of imagination can play in understanding past as well as on-going instances of political violence. Several questions motivate this workshop: Can certain kinds of imagination help us tackle the challenge of responding to unprecedented forms of violence? What is the political value of literature recounting human rights violations in the aftermath of conflicts? What about the use of counterfactuals in justifying policy measures with regards to violence? Can media representations of distant suffering facilitate processes of understanding, build solidarity and catalyse action? Political theorists, IR scholars as well as comparativists have recently begun to raise these questions by looking into the politics of representation and narrative in the context of violence. We will create a forum for discussion among four established constituencies within ECPR: (1) political theorists working on the faculty of imagination and how it relates to other human capacities essential to political action; (2) students of transitional justice who examine the role of art in promoting reconciliation and democratic values in the wake of conflict; (3) IR scholars working at the intersection between politics and aesthetics; and (4) comparativists who investigate the institutional and informal mechanisms of tackling violence contextually. The interdisciplinary nature of the workshop will facilitate an inclusive and reflexive debate on the role that imagination as a faculty – and its artistic and methodological expressions – can play in unpacking complex issues of political violence.

In August 2015, we will open the Call for Papers. If you are interested in joining us in Pisa, please do get in touch!

The full programme of our Summer School on political violence is now ready. We had many very strong applications, and selecting participants hasn’t been easy, but we are very happy with this interdisciplinary and international group of scholars.

We look forward to welcoming participants from more than 10 different countries in Edinburgh. More information about the social programme shall follow soon!

On June 20, 2014, Mathias Thaler (University of Edinburgh) organized a workshop dedicated to the tension between spectating and acting in democratic politics. The event drew an engaged audience of about 40 participants, both from Edinburgh and from outside Scotland. Apart from Law School and School of Social and Political Science staff (such as Zenon BankowskiChristine Bell and Jonathan Hearn), the event also attracted academics from farther abroad (like Phil Parvin from Loughborough University, Cara Nine from the University College Cork and Audra Mitchell from the University of York). Furthermore, many PhD students attended and contributed to the workshop.

The initial plan was to bring together various positions that would speak to each other in constructive and unexpected ways. The vibrant discussions during each session proved that this goal was fortunately achieved. The first speaker, Jeffrey Green (University of Pennsylvania), made the case for an Epicurean cure to the “plebeian” suffering many citizens need to endure in our mass democracies today. Starting from realist assumptions about politics, Green pointed out that the strains of being a spectator to the democratic process must be remedied by temporal, “extra-political” (as opposed to a-political) withdrawals from active citizenship. Mathias Thaler responded to this proposal that, if the argument was that Epicureanism served as a remedy, measures would have to be in place to induce citizens to return to the political forum at some later stage. During the question period, various members of the public raised insightful issues about the power asymmetries within the Epicurean garden, the role of political theory in relation to the ideological status quo, and offered constructive suggestions to overcome the limits of Green’s theoretical model.

The next speaker, Carol Gould (City University of New York), started from radically different premises when she tried to demonstrate that democracy could be understood as a form of human interaction. By engaging with examples of successful connectedness, such as varieties of workplace democracy and transnational social movements, Gould managed to outline a vision of democracy that was deeply embedded within the practices of people cooperating with each other. Rowan Cruft (University of Stirling) objected that Gould’s view was perhaps too optimistic as regards people’s ability and willingness to actually work together. The debate that followed revolved around issues of political efficiency, the democratic impact of social media and Gould’s use of case studies to illustrate her analytical observations.

The third speaker, Mihaela Mihai (University of York), delineated a novel understanding of artistic denunciations of past injustices: as disclosing new perspectives of what it means to live together in a democratic community. Her two case studies comprised the Argentinian escraches – non-violent performances through which perpetrators of the Dirty War were faced with public exposure and condemnation – and the Austrian playwright and novelist Thomas Bernhard, whose piece Heldenplatz caused enormous controversy due to its provocative depiction of Austrian society as essentially unchanged since the end of World War II. Philip Cook (University of Edinburgh) called into question the suitability of denunciations for democratic politics and pointed out that strict limits should be placed to keep denunciations within democratic boundaries. The audience was divided between two camps: moral philosophers were worried about the dangers associated with denunciation, while critical theorists questioned the radical nature of the denunciation. Christine Bell suggested that such acts should always be analyzed within their historical-political context and in relation to moments of constitutional opening/closure.

The final speaker, Andrew Schaap (University of Exeter), compared the interpretations of the “people”, and its constitution, in the work of Carl Schmitt’s and Jacques Rancière respectively. Affinities and differences were explored in much detail and with great care. Both Schmitt and Rancière, Schaap showed, acknowledge democracy’s dependence on the people for its legitimacy – and its incapacity to permanently capture it. The differences emerge when we analyze the goals of their theoretical enterprises: whereas Schmitt is essentially interested in the stability of the constitutional order, Rancière pleads for its continuous politicization. Neil Walker (University of Edinburgh) offered an excellent commentary that challenged Schaap’s choice of authors and highlighted an alternative way of looking at constitutional moments. Walker also helpfully drew all the presentations together and discussed the upcoming Scottish referendum as an illuminating occasion for scrutinizing the spectacle of the people. This triggered a heated and insightful controversy, involving all the presenters and members of the audience.

The event benefitted from the administrative assistance of Eirini Souri (School of Social and Political Science). Videos of the workshop’s sessions will in due time be posted on the project website.