Archive for the ‘Current events’ Category

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.

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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Colin Gordon, The will of the people in post-truth times. Notes on the current situation (2016)

Full text on academia.edu

10th July 2016

Daniel Cohn-Bendit gave an interview this week on French TV, discussing Brexit, referendums and democracy, in which he said that “we should stop saying that the people is always right”.1 Should we always, unconditionally, irrevocably defer to the expressed will of the people, right or wrong, as a definitive sovereign decision? If not, when, and on what legitimate grounds?

We are seeing the beginnings of a critique of the conception and conduct of the UK Brexit referendum, a critique which, if it is properly carried through, could influence the further course of public action. This critique relates primarily to (a) the manner in which the result was procured, through what has been justly described as an industrial-scale exercise in political lying, and (b) the fact that the best received formulation of the practical proposition which the UK people is deemed to have accepted is a de facto impossibility, namely the combination of full, unimpeded UK access to the EU single market with UK exemption from EU single market rules of free movement (except perhaps where such movement might benefit the UK and its citizens) – together with an assurance that immigration levels will be cut, and a promise that funds falsely described as being currently transferred from the UK to the EU would in future be used to supplement the funding of the National Health Service. The British public has voted, by a small majority, to award itself a round square and a free lunch. Or in the letter-day Marie Antoinette formula of the lead demagogue and charlatan of the Leave campaign, the nation has now adopted his policy on cake – let them have it and let them eat it. Professors of democracy are now offering to certify the binding legitimacy of such irrational sovereign volitions. A Leave majority composed of the poor, the uneducated and the post-industrial regions is hailed by commentators as having defied – at the instigation of the demagogues of Leave – the advice of “toffs and boffins, the chief executives, tycoons and clever-clogs”.

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Home of Rob Shaw on the web

Following up on my post exploring the Nuit Debout protest movement in France as creating a nocturnal heterotopia, I took advantage of a few days without teaching at the end of last week (May 5th-7th) to make a quick visit to the protests, and explore the site for myself.


Nuit Debout have turned the Place de la République into a nightly cauldron of protest, discussion, social support and experimentation. From roughly 2 or 3 in the afternoon until 1 or 2 in the morning – the protesters are now cleared by police if they try to stay later – the la République becomes the site of discussions, talks, film showings, soup-kitchens, art displays, music performances, political protest and partying, all drawing from the changes that take place in the city as day moves to night.


As a heterotopia – “a sort of simultaneously mythic and real contestation of the space in which we live”…

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Michel Foucault: The rights and duties of international citizenship (2015)

The front page of the Open Democracy Site, 14 November 2015

Also includes links to the following items:

Michel Foucault “The refugee problem is a presage of the great migrations of the twenty first century”, 1979. Translated by Colin Gordon.

Colin Gordon, The drowned and the saved: Foucault’s texts on migration and solidarity, 13 November 2015

Engin Isin, Michel Foucault as an activist intellectual, 13 November 2015

Jen Bagelman, Foucault and the ‘current’ refugee crisis, 13 November 2015

“Face aux gouvernements, les droits de l’homme”, Liberation no 967, 30 June /1 July 1984, p. 22. Dits et ecrits IV pp. 707-8 (355), Gallimard 1994.

This statement was read by Foucault at a press conference on June 19th 1981, organized in association with the organizations Médecins du monde and Terre des hommes, in the presence of Yves Montand, André Glucksmann and Bernard Kouchner. The press conference, according to the newspaper Libération when it published Foucault’s text for the first time just after his death in 1984, was to have marked the public announcement of the formation of an International Committee against Piracy. Another account states that this Committee was set up in Lausanne on April 30 that year. The Libération editor’s note states that Foucault wrote this statement “minutes” before he read it. The title of the piece as published by Libération, “Confronting governments, human rights” seems to have been provided by them, not by Foucault. Given the public profile of the event and those present, it is unclear why the text appears not to have been published at the time.

“We are here only as private individuals and with no other claim to speak, and to speak together, except a certain difficulty we share in enduring what is taking place.

I know very well, and one must defer to this evident truth: we can do little about the reasons which make men and women prefer to leave their country rather than remain and live in it.  It is not in our power to change these facts.

So who asked us to speak? No one, and that is exactly our entitlement. It seems to me that we need to keep in mind three principles which, I believe, guide this initiative, like several others that have preceded it: Ile-de-Lumière, Cap Anamour, A Plane for El Salvador, but also Terre des Hommes and Amnesty International.[1]

1) There exists an international citizenship which as such has its rights and duties, and which is obliged to stand up against all forms of abuse of power, no matter who commits them, no matter who are their victims. After all, we are all governed, and, by that fact, joined in solidarity.

2) Because of their claim to care for the wellbeing of societies, governments arrogate to themselves the right to treat in terms of profit and loss the human suffering which their decisions cause and their negligence allows. It is a duty of this international citizenship to always confront the eyes and ears of governments with the human suffering for which it cannot truthfully be denied that they bear responsibility. People’s suffering must never be allowed to remain the silent residue of politics. It grounds an absolute right to stand up and to challenge those who hold power.

3) We must refuse the division of labour which is so often proposed to us: individuals are allowed to be indignant and to talk, while it falls to governments to deliberate and to act. It is true that well-intentioned governments appreciate the sacred indignation of the governed, providing that it remains merely lyrical. But I think we must be aware that it is very often those who govern who talk, are only able to talk, or only want to talk. Experience shows that we can and must refuse the histrionic role of pure protest which governments would like to offer us.  Amnesty International, Terre des Hommes, Médecins du Monde are initiatives which have created this new right: the right of private individuals to intervene actively and materially in the order of international politics and strategy. The will of individuals must be present and expressed in the order of reality which governments have sought to monopolise. Step by step and day by day, their purported monopoly must be rolled back.

Translated by Colin Gordon, October 2015

[1] Ile-de-Lumière was a French hospital and rescue ship organized by Bernard Kouchner and others  which conducted a series of  missions in the South China Sea in 1979. Cap Anamour was another rescue ship organised by the German humanitarian activists Christel and Rupert Neudeck and others.

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