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Editor: An unfortunate flip remark from former Australian Labor Prime Minister.

Kevin Rudd: Foucault’s more painful than the knife in my back
The Sunday Times, November 19 2017.

PDF of article

Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister ousted by his deputy, tells Leaf Arbuthnot his Oxford PhD course can be brutal too,

Kevin Rudd, the apple-cheeked former prime minister of Australia, is not going gently into that good night. Aged 60 and four years out of office, he has just embarked on a PhD at Oxford and seems exhilarated to be learning again.

[…]

Rudd was prime minister not once but twice. His first stint, as leader of the Labor Party, was in 2007-10; his second was in 2013.

Although we talk under the silent stare of one of his minders, Rudd is evidently throwing himself into student life. He enthuses about the “great minds” he is encountering and taking part in Oxford’s “weird” rituals — including the matriculation ceremony at the start of the academic year, where new university members parade through town in gowns.

[…]

Yet he is clearly still adjusting to the demands of academic work. “The other day I endured my first lecture on Derrida and Foucault,” he recalls with a laugh. “I’m still in the recovery ward.”

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Casey Williams, Has Trump Stolen Philosophy’s Critical Tools? The Stone, The New York Times, April 17, 2017

Truth is pliable in Trumpland.

In March, the president fired off a tweet accusing former President Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower. Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, dismissed the claim. But the Trump team doubled down, writing off media reports and insisting that evidence of wiretapping would soon surface. It didn’t.

[…]

For decades, critical social scientists and humanists have chipped away at the idea of truth. We’ve deconstructed facts, insisted that knowledge is situated and denied the existence of objectivity. The bedrock claim of critical philosophy, going back to Kant, is simple: We can never have certain knowledge about the world in its entirety. Claiming to know the truth is therefore a kind of assertion of power.

These ideas animate the work of influential thinkers like Nietzsche, Foucault and Derrida, and they’ve become axiomatic for many scholars in literary studies, cultural anthropology and sociology.

[…]

Call it what you want: relativism, constructivism, deconstruction, postmodernism, critique. The idea is the same: Truth is not found, but made, and making truth means exercising power.

The reductive version is simpler and easier to abuse: Fact is fiction, and anything goes. It’s this version of critical social theory that the populist right has seized on and that Trump has made into a powerful weapon.

Trump and Stephen K. Bannon probably don’t spend evenings poring over Jean Baudrillard’s “Simulacra and Simulation” or Michel Foucault’s “The Archaeology of Knowledge” (although Bannon’s adviser, Julia Hahn, did write her undergraduate thesis on the psychoanalytic theorist Leo Bersani). But the parallels between Trump’s attacks on accepted knowledge and critical philosophy’s insistence that we interrogate truth claims suggest that not all assaults on the authority of facts are revolutionary.

Indeed, the social theorist Bruno Latour saw Trump coming back in 2004. In his essay “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?” Latour observed that conservatives had begun using methods similar to those of critical theory to muddy debates around issues, like climate change, that required immediate and decisive action. Conservatives were casting doubt on the reality of planetary warming by pointing to “the lack of scientific certainty” around the issue. Latour had made a career questioning “scientific certainty” and worried that his critical “weapons” had been “smuggled” to the other side:

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See a response to this article here:

Russell Smith: How postmodernism is infiltrating public life and policy
Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Apr. 18, 2017 2:58PM EDT

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French intellectuals lament loss of influence as populism surges, Financial Times, 21 April 2017


National Front has given voice to much of working class once represented by the left

Sipping a coffee at Le Rouge Limé café in central Paris, Michael Foessel, professor of philosophy at the École Polytechnique, harks back to a time when leftwing intellectuals really mattered.

Long gone are the days, he says, of Pierre Bourdieu leading strikes by railway workers, Michel Foucault shifting the debate on prison reforms, or Émile Zola and his plea for justice during the Dreyfus Affair.

“We are no longer the intellectual leaders of this country,” says the 42-year-old, wearing jeans and a tweed jacket. “In the media, it is the conservative voices that make a big impact. In politics, it is the technocrats.”

He is talking just ahead of an election that has been dominated by the rise of populist far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who, through a blend of nativism and economic nationalism, has given a voice to much of the disenfranchised working class once represented by the left.

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France: Defection of the Leftist Intellectuals

Research Paper from the CIA archives. Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2011/05/13
!reformation available as of 15 November 1985 was used in this report.

Scope note
Intellectuals have traditionally played an influential role in French political life. Even though they have seldom sought a direct part in formulating policy, they have conditioned the atmosphere in which politics are conducted and have frequently served as important shape s of the political and ideological trends that generate French policy. Recognizing that their influence on policy making is difficult to measure, his paper focuses on the changing attitudes of French intellectuals and gauges the probable impact on the political environment in which policy is made.

[…] With one or two exceptions, important intellectuals-such as anthropologist Michel Foucault-refused positions in Mitterrand’s government.

See Gabriel Rockhill’s commentary on this on The Philosophical Salon, 28 February 2017.

With thanks to DMF for this news!

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‘Society Must Be Defended’ By Scott Jaschik January 16, 2017, Inside Higher Ed

Anthropologists and other scholars plan read-in of Michel Foucault to mark inauguration of Donald Trump.
Many groups of scholars and writers are planning teach-ins or readings for Friday, the day Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated as president of the United States. Others are organizing teach-ins to focus on Trump’s policies.

Some anthropologists are taking a different approach. They are planning events that day in which people — together at locations across the country or virtually connected — will read and discuss a lecture presented by Michel Foucault, the late philosopher, as part of a series he gave at the Collège de France. The lectures have been published as a book, Society Must Be Defended. The read-in idea is being backed not only by the scholars who have organized the events but by the popular anthropology blog Savage Minds and the journals American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology and Environment and Society.

“This lecture strikes us as very good to think with at this present point: it demands we simultaneously consider the interplay of sovereign power, discipline, biopolitics and concepts of security, and race. In light of the current sociopolitical situation where the reaction to activism against persistent racism has been to more overtly perpetuate racism as political discourse, we need to remember and rethink the role of racism as central to, rather than incidental to, the political and economic activities of the state,” wrote the two scholars who organized the effort in a blog post at Savage Minds. The scholars are Paige West, the Claire Tow Professor of Anthropology, Barnard College and Columbia University, and JC Salyer, term professor of practice at Barnard.

In their blog post, they note that many scholars have, since the election, suggested that it’s time for intellectuals to change the way they act and engage with the public. The idea, which West and Salyer reject, “is that scholars need to somehow change what they are doing, and how they are doing it, in order to face this seemingly new political reality in the Unites States.

“While the latter part of this argument has been addressed by numerous scholars and activists who write and think about race, class, sexuality and inequality more generally — with clear and compelling arguments about how this is not a ‘new’ political reality for many but rather a kind of contemporary culmination and re-entrenchment of the structures of power and oppression that underpin the entirety of the national political project — the former part of the argument has been allowed to stand with little critique. Do we need to change what we do and not just how we do it? Not necessarily.”

They elaborate: “We worry that by focusing on needing to change what we are doing and how we are doing it we lose sight of what we already do really well. We work to understand the world through research, teaching, writing and reading. Along with this, we produce knowledge that allows others to understand the world and to work to change it.” Scholars engage in reading (and talking about what they read) all the time, and so that is a good way to respond to the Trump inaugural, they said.

They proposed — and many other anthropologists are joining in — readings of the 11th lecture in the Foucault book. PDFs of the chapter are available here.

Via email, West and Salyer said that in the days since they made their proposal, read-ins have been planned at four universities, while many others are planning to read the chapter individually and to discuss it online.

Asked about this particular lecture, they said, “We picked this reading because it has a real breadth of ideas that can be used to analyze inequality and violence in the modern nation-state. While it is certainly not the only, or even [the] best, reading that could be used to do this, it presents a lot of ideas that still seem very original, and even provocative, over 40 years later. If we had to pick one quote that challenges us to think about how we conceptualize the relationship of the modern state to people and populations it might be where Foucault is working out the paradoxical nature of the regime of biopower, which kills, or lets die, to improve life and concludes that it is through the dividing practice of racism that the state attempts to square the circle: ‘I am certainly not saying that racism was invented at this time. It had already been in existence for a very long time. But I think it functioned elsewhere. It is indeed the emergence of this biopower that inscribes it in the mechanisms of the state. It is at this moment that racism is inscribed as the basic mechanism of power, as it is exercised in modern states.'”

Asked if they had any fears that supporters of Trump would mock their activity, they said, “No, of course not.”

With thanks to Colin Gordon for this news

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Colin Gordon, “Brexit Means Brexit Means Nothing”
14/07/2016 on academia.edu

This note is a postscript to my earlier piece “The Will of the people in post – truth times”,

Apart from its oversexed headline and the now outdated speculations about the future of a certain individual, this piece by Sean O’Grady in The Independent seemed to me yesterday the shrewdest analysis so far of where we stand (that is to say, the one which agrees most with what I was thinking myself). Today or tomorrow, who knows..

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Stuart Elden on Brexit and the border implications.

Progressive Geographies

CmQVhMUVYAAnCAf.jpgI have a short piece in the new issue of India Today on ‘The legacies of the Leave EU vote’. The piece is available open access.

I was asked to write about this for an international audience, so for UK or other European readers some of the discussion is likely to be quite familiar. Given the fast-moving nature of events, it is hard not to be overtaken by the news – notably it was written before Boris Johnson said he would not run.

Perhaps the distinctive contribution is that I begin thinking about the territorial and boundary implications of this vote. That is a topic which I may explore in future academic work.

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