Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Workshop - Related Reading

In addition to the texts from which Hugo Gorringe and Tobias Kelly will be speaking (highlighted below), participants of the upcoming workshop on Violence may find the following texts useful:

Das, Veena (1990), Mirrors of Violence: Communities, Riots and Survivors in South Asia (Oxford UP)
--- (2000), ed. Violence and Subjectivity (U of California P)

Rosie, Michael and Hugo Gorringe (2011). ‘It’s Grim down South: A Scottish Take on the "English Riots"’, Scottish Affairs 77 (Autumn): 79-89
Gorringe, Hugo and Michael Rosie (2011). ‘King Mob: Perceptions, Prescriptions and Presumptions about the Policing of England
s Riots’, Sociological Research Online (Rapid Response) 16.4
Gorringe, Hugo (2006). ‘Banal Violence? The Everyday Underpinnings of Collective Violence’, Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 13.2: 237-60
--- (2006). ‘Which is Violence? Reflections on Violence and Social Movement Activity’, Social Movement Studies 5.2: 117-36

Kelly, Tobias 
(2008). ‘The Attractions of Accountancy: Living an Ordinary Life during the Second Palestinian IntifadaEthnography 9.3: 351-376
--- (2006). Law, Violence and Sovereignty among West Bank PalestiniansCambridge: Cambridge UP
Kelly, Tobias and Alpa Shah (2006). ‘A Double Edged Sword: Protection and State ViolenceCritique of Anthropology 26.2: 251-57

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Violence: Workshop, with Hugo Gorringe (Sociology, University of Edinburgh) and Tobias Kelly (Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh) 2-5 pm, 18 October 2012, IASH

Focusing on acts of ‘everyday’ violence in South India and the West Bank, the aim of this interdisciplinary workshop is to interrogate the impact that forms of ‘political violence’ may have on the lives and mindsets of those who are caught up, with a view to examining how such acts of violence problematise or inform prevalent theorisations of political violence. Hugo Gorringe will be speaking on his essay ‘Banal Violence’?: The Everyday Underpinnings ofCollective Violence’ (in Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 2006); Tobias Kelly will be discussing his work ‘The Attractions of Accountancy: Living and Ordinary Life During theSecond Palestinian Intifada’ (in Ethnography, 2008).*

Gorringe’s work on outbursts of collective violence in South India and Kelly’s research on political violence in the West Bank invite reconsideration of the ‘ordinary’ or ‘banal’ in understandings of political violence. ‘Ordinary’ activities and processes can work to render violence routinely acceptable in some sites of conflict, while, in others, they can come to represent a different lived experience situated within the conflict and shot through with boredom as well as promise. As well as these differing forms that the ‘ordinary’ can assume in relation to political violence, the workshop is an opportunity to examine how these (and other) forms of violence impact on theories of violence current in our political and intellectual culture.

The workshop is a spin-off of the Intellectual History reading group that, formed by students and staff from across the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures of the University of Edinburgh, has been running since October 2011. Meeting monthly to read works of thinkers including Proudhon, Sorel, Gobetti, Keynes, Forster, Luxemburg, Trotsky and Berlin, among others, discussions have hinged on issues including: the use/effect of violence in/on politics; violence and liberal democracy; violence and anarchism; perceptions and judgments of violence; terrorism; and institutional/structural violence.

The event will be held at IASH: 2 Hope Park Square, off Meadow Lane and beside the Meadows (see map at

To reserve a place, please e-mail by Monday 8 October 

*The speakers' papers are available through the Edinburgh Main Library e-journals database. If you are unable to access them, please send us an e-mail - we will happily send them on as .pdf attachments. 

Monday, 27 August 2012

call to arms

In anticipation of our workshop on Violence, to be held at IASH on October 18, featuring Dr Hugo Gorringe and Dr Tobias Kelly as speakers, we invite all reading group members and other interested participants to help us start a discussion around the topic.

Please feel free to post relevant texts or links with appended comments - either by uploading posts on the blog directly or by e-mailing one of us. 

We will be distributing a description of the event, and suggested readings, shortly. 

Friday, 27 July 2012

workshop on Violence: 18th October 2012, IASH

We are delighted to announce a workshop on Violence, to be held at IASH on 18th October 2012, 2-5pm. Speakers include Dr Hugo Gorringe (Sociology) and Dr Tobias Kelly (Social Anthropology), both from the University of Edinburgh. Fuller description to follow - please watch this space.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

my two bits

As there was some interest in Berlin's essay on Sorel, I am reproducing some passages from it below (from 'Against the Current'). It was written in1971, expanded in 1974:

The weapon of the workers is violence. Although it gives its name to Sorel's best known work, its nature is never made clear. Class conflict is the normal condition of society, and force is continuously exerted against the producers, that is, the workers, by the exploiters.Force does not necessarily consist in open coercion, but in control and repression by means of institutions which, whether by design or not, have the effect, as Marx and his disciples have made clear, of promoting the power of the possessing class. this pressure must be resisted. To resist force by force is likely to result, as in the case of the Jacobin revolution, in the replacing of one yoke by another, the substitution of new masters by old. A Blanquist putsch could lead to more coercion by the state -- the dictatorship of the proletariat, perhaps of its own representatives, as the successor of the dictatorship of the capitalists... Force, by definition, represses; violence, directed against it, liberates. Only by instilling fear in the capitalists can the workers break their power, the force exerted against them. 321-22
This, indeed, is the function of proletarian violence: not aggression, but resistance. Violence is the striking off of chains, the prelude to regeneration... renewal of life, rejuvenation, the liberation of creative powers [etc]
How the use of power in practice can be distinguished from the use of force is never made clear. it is merely postulated as the only alernative to peaceful negotiation which, by presupposing a common good, common to workers and employers alike, denies the reality of class war. ..322
Does violence mean more than this? Does it mean occupation of factories, the seizing of power, physical clashes with police or other agents of the possessing class, the shedding of blood? Sorel remains unclear... Anything that increases militancy but does not lead to the formation of power structures among workers themselves, is approved. The distinction between force and violence appears to depend entirely on the character of its function and motive. Force imposes chains, violence breaks them. Force, open or concealed, enslaves, violence, always open, makes free. These are moral and metaphysical, not empirical concepts. Sorel is a moralist and his values are rooted in one of the oldest of human traditions. 322-23

After reading Christos's post and looking at a little bit of Zizek's 'Violence', I wonder if we can call Zizek (or anyone else) a Sorelian moralist? Supposing we can, is it fair to say that the violence-menu the Sorelian moralist is limited to:

1-- 'a truly Gandhian level of non-violence' (215) in which 'abstention goes further than intra-political negation, the vote of no confidence: it rejects the very frame of reference' (216). This Zizek says is more-violent-than-violence violence. 'If one means by violence a radical upheaval of the basic social relations' ...[then] sometimes doing nothing is the most violent thing to do' (217) (and we never read Gandhi...)
2-- the radical upheaval: 'the emancipatory dimension of the category of divine violence' (204); this is: 'when those outside the structured social field strike 'blindly', demanding and enacting immediate justice/vengeance [It's hard not to insert an exclamation mark here]. Recall, a decade or so ago, the panic in Rio de Jeneiro when crowds descended from the favelas to the rich part of the city and started burning and looting supermarkets. This indeed was divine violence' (202). This divine violence is not 'merely' subjective but 'its status is radically subjective, it is the subject's work of love' (203). What is the difference between the radically and the merely subjective violence? Zizek quotes Che Guevera. It seems that the feeling of love that marks radical subjectivity is that which guides the true revolutionary -- and the true revolutionary is he who exhibits the aforementioned radical subjectivity (circular definition). 'To paraphrase Roberspierre and Kant: love without cruelty is powerless, cruelty without love is blind, a shortlived passion with no persistent edge. The underlying paradox is that which...elevates love over mere pathetic and unstable sentimentality is its cruelty itself, its link with violence' (204). Note that 'those outside the structured social field' and cruelty are both blind when divine violence/love make them 'strike'. When violence is divine, the mob's blindness is radical sight. 'Sometimes [presumably when divine violence is involved] hatred is the only proof that I really love you' (204) -- and, by implication, a blind strike at the supermarkets the only proof that divine violence exists.
Love advice for the philosophical? 

Thursday, 17 May 2012

(Christos) - Utopianism and Violence

Ok, here it is...sorry it's long and incoherent.

In our final meeting, I would like to address two concerns, both of which are rather nebulous (the first more than the second) and which should therefore be taken as bases for discussion.

The first takes as its point of departure Berlin’s thesis in ‘The Decline of Utopian Ideas in the West’ from 1978, succinctly presented in the following two statements (the emphasis in both occasions is mine):

The idea of a perfect society is a very old dream, whether because of the ills of the present, which lead men to conceive of what their world would be like without them - to imagine some ideal state in which there was not misery and no greed, no danger or poverty or fear or brutalising labour or insecurity - or because these Utopias are fictions deliberately constructed as satires, intended to criticise the actual world and to shame those who control existing regimes, or those who suffer them too tamely; or perhaps they are social fantasies - simple exercises of the poetical imagination. (20)


What is common to all these worlds, whether they are conceived of as an earthly paradise or something beyond the grave, is that they display a static perfection in which human nature is finally fully realised, and all is still and immutable and eternal. (22)

What interests me here is that Berlin’s anti-utopianism, meaning his mistrust of all political systems that assume that ‘human nature is … immutable and eternal’, shares something (if only in spirit?) with the notion of ‘Original Sin’ that takes on a revolutionary/radical significance in Sorel/Proudhon (according to Blanton, also in Marx) AND that is also at the heart of various brands of conservatism (Quinton, Gray). I know that this is not to say much – for the key to understanding the politics of Sorel and Proudhon and the politics of conservatives such as Burke, Coleridge, Eliot rests in how they interpret ‘Original Sin’ – to distinctly antithetical ends. Yet Berlin’s formulation, and the place occupied by this notion (traditionally a theological doctrine but argued in the works of the above thinkers on entirely secular grounds) in his thought, at least merits, I think, our attention. Does it appear in the works of other thinkers studied in our reading group? Is it a dated/anachronistic framework through which to approach politics?


The second concern has to do with the role assigned to violence by thinkers including Sorel, Gobetti and Proudhon (and the opposition to violence of others). In thinking about the question of violence, I would like to bring in – dear-oh-dear – Žižek. Very briefly, Žižek dinstinguishes between two different kinds of violence: subjective and objective (a category that, in turn, includes symbolic and systematic violence):

This is the starting point, perhaps even the axiom, of the present book: subjective violence is just the most visible portion of a triumvirate that also includes two objective kinds of violence. First, there is a “symbolic” violence embodied in language and its forms, what Heidegger would call our “house of being” … this violence is not only at work in the obvious – and extensively studied – cases of incitement and of the relations of social domination reproduced in our habitual speech forms: there is a more fundamental form of violence still that pertains to language as such, to its imposition of a certain universe of meaning. Second, there is what I call “systemic” violence, or the often catastrophic consequences of the smooth functioning of our economic and political systems. (1)

The “catch” in understanding this ‘systemic’ violence is that it is ‘invisible since it sustains the very zero-level standard against which we perceive something as subjectively violent … something like the notorious “dark matter” of physics, the counterpart to an all-too-visible subjective violence. (2)
Žižek proceeds to examine ‘the hypocrisy of those who, while combatting subjective violence, commit systematic violence that generate the very phenomena they abhor’, locating – as he always does! – the ultimate cause of violence in what he terms the ‘fear of the Neighbour’. He bemoans post-political bio-politics (‘an awesome example of theoretical jargon which, however, can easily be unpacked: “post-political” is a politics which claims to leave behind old ideological struggles and, instead, focus on expert management and administration, while “bio-politics” designates the regulation of the security and welfare of human lives as its primary goal’ (34)).

There’s also plenty of Lacanian and Heideggerean reading of violence inhering to language itself. I was interested in his discussion of Heidegger on violence in Introduction to Metaphysics – a fundamental violence that exists in the ‘essencing’ of language:

Violence is usually seen in terms of the domain in which concurring compromise and mutual assistance set the standard for Dasein, and accordingly all violence is necessarily deemed only a disturbance and an offence… The violence one, the creative one who sets forth into the unsaid, who breaks into the unthought, who compels what has never happened and makes appear what is unseen – this violent one stands at all times in daring… Therefore the violence-doer knows no kindness and conciliation (in the ordinary sense), no appeasement and mollification or prestige and by their confirmation … For such a one, disaster is the deepest and broadest Yes to the overwhelming … Essential de-cision, when it is carried out and when it resists the constantly pressing ensnarement in the everyday and the customary, has to use violence. This act of violence, this de-cided setting out upon the way to the Being of beings, moves humanity out of the hominess of what is most directly nearby and what is usual.

Žižek interprets this ontological violence as at the centre of Heidegger’s reading of the chorus from Antigone on the uncanny/demonic character of man. He writes:

As such, the Creator is “hypsipolis apolis” … he stands outside and above polis and its ethnos; he is unbound by any rules of “morality” (which are only a degenerative form of ethos); only as such can he ground a new form of ethos, of communal being in a polis… Of course, what reverberates here is the topic of an “illegal” violence that founds the rule of the law itself … the first victim of this violence is the Creator himself, who has to be erased with the advent of the new order that he grounded. (59)

Right – so assuming Žižek is right and provided that his analysis is a useful and pertinent frame, several questions arise:

(1) Is the kind of violence advocated by Sorel/Proudgon subjective, objective, subjective and complementary to objective violence?
(2) Does it prevent or lead to the politics of fear (bio-politics)?
(3) Does it renounce the political (politics based on a set of universal axioms)?
(4) Must the intelligentsia (Heidegger’s Creator) die?
(5) Finally, what are we to make of recent instances of violence (London Riots, for example?). For Žižek instances of violence such as the Paris outbursts of 2005 constitute a ‘a passage a l’acte’ or ‘an impulsive movement into action which can’t be translated into speech or thought and carries with it an intolerable weight of frustration’ (65). Because it lacks utopian vision, this violence should be understood in terms of ‘a vague, unarticulated ressentiment’ (63). Another kind of violence – Žižek finds this in Saramago’s Seeing – involves abstaining through anti-social (non-political) behaviour: ‘If one means by violence a radical upheaval of the basic social relations, then, crazy and tasteless as it may sound, the problem with historical monsters who slaughtered millions was that they were not violent enough. Sometimes, doing nothing is the most violent thing to do’ (183). Is this relevant to Gobetti’s anti-social behaviour?