Normal blogging service soon to be resumed. In the meantime, two gender and world politics events of note. First, on Friday 2 November, a roundtable on gender, militarisation and violence at LSE, featuring Cynthia Enloe, Aaron Belkin, Kim Hutchings,and others. It will be excellent. Second, the call for papers for the 2nd International Feminist Journal of Politics is out. The conference is a way away (17-19 May 2013 at the University of Sussex), but early paper/panel submissions are encouraged. Details below the model military aesthetic.
(Im)possibly Queer International Feminisms
Feminists taught us that the personal is political. International Relations feminists taught us that the personal is international. And contemporary Queer Scholars are teaching us that the international is queer. While sometimes considered in isolation, these insights are connected in complex and sometimes contradictory ways. This conference seeks to bring together scholars and practitioners to critically consider the limits and possibilities of thinking, doing, and being in relation to various assemblages composed of queer(s), international(s), and feminism(s).
Questions we hope to consider include: Who or what is/are (im)possibly queer, (im)possibly international, (im)possibly feminist, separately and in combination? What makes assemblages of queer(s), international(s) and feminism(s) possible or impossible? Are such assemblages desirable – for whom and for what reasons? What might these assemblages make possible or impossible, especially for the theory and practice of global politics?
We are interested in papers and panels that explore these questions through theoretical and/or practical perspectives, be they interdisciplinary or located within the discipline of International Relations. Sub-themes include (Im)Possibly Queer/International/Feminist:
We invite submissions for individual papers or pre-constituted panels on any topic pertaining to the conference theme and sub-themes. We also welcome papers and panels that consider any other feminist IR-related questions. Send abstracts (250 words) to: Joanna Wood (j.c.wood [at] sussex.ac.uk)
Hot on Roberto’s heels, and the thirdof us to achieve doctorhood since the inception of The Disorder Of Things, our very own Meera today survived the critical questioning of Robbie Shilliam and Christopher Cramer. She is henceforth Dr Sabaratnam, certified by virtue of her thesis: Re-Thinking the Liberal Peace: Anti-Colonial Thought and Post-War Intervention in Mozambique. For the record, I’m assured that any violence inflicted was purely intellectual.
The second of us to achieve doctorhood since the inception of The Disorder Of Things, our very own Roberto this afternoon survived interrogation by Charles Tripp and Toby Dodge to become a fully certified Doctor of Philosophy in International Relations. His thesis being entitled Gramsci in Cairo: Neoliberal Authoritarianism, Passive Revolution and Failed Hegemony in Mubarak’s Egypt, 1991-2010. Timely and on trend, awarded sans corrections.
A brief pre-holiday announcement of the next Millennium annual conference, to be convened on the theme of Materialism and World Politics. Full details below the fold. The range of suggested topics looks both fascinating and much-needed, and I am assured by well-placed sources that there will also be some stellar speakers, for those who are tempted by such things. As always, papers submitted in the wake of the conference which survive the rigours of peer review will be published in a resulting special issue (Vol. 41, No. 3). Also, don’t forget about the Northedge Essay Competition (deadline 30 January 2012).
A small cascade of Millennium-related news and IR from Elsewhere. First, our very own Nick was recently elected as Co-Editor (with Edmund H. Arghand and Maria Fotou) to oversee the journal for Volume 41 (2012-2013) on the basis of a conference proposal on ‘Materialism and World Politics’ (full CfP details forthcoming soon). Second, the Millennium blog has had a facelift (ongoing tweaks to be made to its façade), so go have a look.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the Northedge Essay Competition is now open. So if you’re a post-graduate student (PhD or advanced Masters) in IR or cognate fields, and you have some exceptional work lying fallow, spruce it up and submit. The deadline is 30 January 2012, and the winning essay will appear in Millennium 41(1). Previous winners have been verygoodindeed.
Fifth, the journal’s social media tentacles are growing, so do the following thing on Twitter and the liking thing on Facebook, if you are of that bent. Finally, a reminder that Millennium‘s weekly Editorial Board meetings are open to all LSE postgraduates (MSc and PhD) who are engaged and interested. If you fit that description and for some reason aren’t already involved, do email the Editors for details.
One should not judge a book by its cover, but it is certainly possible to get some sense of the state of a field of study on the basis of the titles of recent books. In the case of the study of human rights, this is quite an interesting exercise: at a time when many claim that human rights proponents have never had it better – the term now has great political respectability and legitimacy; human rights NGOs are thriving; the study of human rights takes place in all the great centres of learning and is taken seriously by previously sceptical disciplines (philosophy, anthropology, international relations). At such a time, one of apparent triumph, there has been a spate of titles which give precisely the opposite impression.
I do feel somewhat sorry for A.C. Grayling. Following his sudden exit from the Birkbeck scene, former colleagues sent a short but apt letter to The Guardian, expressing appropriate levels of dismay and resistance to the innovation of the New College ofthe Humanities. They raised basically two objections. First, that the New College is for-profit, substituting the business of teaching in place of the vocation of research. And second, that it is in the ‘vanguard’ of efforts to link education to wealth, partly via a leaching of public resources.
Although many prominent names were used to unveil New College, few seem in sight now that it is under sustained attack (Peter Singer, where are you?). And Grayling, somewhat to his credit, keeps replying to the antiquated nay-sayers desperately clinging to the sinking ship of public provision. Perhaps the fullest public defence has come in response to the Birkbeck letter. Although garlanded by academic niceties (“with respect”; “I would be very grateful”), the ultimate conclusion is that his critics lack some basic faculties of reason: “I have seen only an emotional case for scapegoating our project”.
Surely, then, there are firm responses to the proliferating critiques? Grayling’s fuller case for New College turns primarily on the idea that students are being under-charged rather than over-charged. The relevant comparisons? That an MSc in Finance at LSE for an overseas student costs almost £26,000 (with many other programmes charging in the £15-21,000 range) and that a DPhil in cardiovascular medicine at Oxford will set you back nearly £27,000 if you’re not from the EU. The point being that high fees for some already subsidise lower fees for others. Now, you’ll notice what has been done here: £18,000 for an undergraduate degree for all students is being justified on the grounds that you can find a handful of prominent programmes elsewhere that charge more than this for masters programmes for non-EU students.
As an argument for justice it has some merits (Why the disparity here? What are the ‘real’ costs of educating a doctor or financial specialist?). But as a defence of New College as prosaic rather than parasitic it doesn’t stand up to much. And I’m sure there’s a latin term for this kind of fallacy. A direct comparison with liberal arts funding in the US would have offered us more, but that would have required admitting that there is something new about the New College in the UK setting. You’ll recall that, before people starting off letting flares at Grayling’s talks, this was very much the selling point of New College. Its online welcome still announces: “New College of the Humanities is a new concept in university-level education”.
Lots of the new then, which makes it worth thinking through some of the older ideas of the university, as Steve Fuller did so wonderfully back in February. But there is something yet more damning in Grayling’s reply. He says that his project can’t be vanguardist. In a repeat of the AHRC debacle, apparently bright people conclude that you can’t be complicit if the Minister didn’t call you directly and tell you to do something. Grayling clarifies that he is under no compulsion of Government and has no love for the current reconstitution of UK higher education, as if that matters. Moreover, “we cannot be in the vanguard of what has long been happening”. This is the crux of a claim made before: that New College is simultaneously following an economic pathway outside of its control and that it will have no detrimental impact outside of its own halls.
Other engaged in privatised education do happen to think that the New College will accelerate some market openings. But notice that Grayling can’t have it both ways. His argument against allegations of vanguardism is that New College is too small and insignificant for anyone to follow its lead. But his argument for an £18,000 fee compares New College to comparatively small and unrepresentative courses which charge more than he intends to (about 80 people take that MSc in Finance at LSE). An accidentally immanent critique, this mode of argument illustrates exactly how a vanguardist framing works, and has worked over the last years. Find an institution that charges more than you do and has a good reputation. Point out that you could do more, and do it better, if you had their money. Campaign for that outcome while ignoring or dismissing arguments for higher levels of public investment. Repeat. Change the discursive and economic landscape in a series of comparative expansions.
Grayling suggests high fees elsewhere as justification for his high fees, but then expects us to believe that his high fees (which are much more clearly comparable with undergraduate provision than are the courses he cites) won’t be used by anyone anywhere to militate for a further uncapping or greater move to student debt and ‘consumer-led’ education over equal access and public goods. It is hard to see the logic in such a position, not least when it already provides indications of how such an appeal by others would run:
Note one thing: the deafening silence of the vice-chancellors in the controversy over our college project. Why? Because as the individuals most acutely involved in battling with impossible arithmetic, they understand the realities.
Andrew McGettigan’s excellent and much circulated analysis points out that marketisation requires the softening up of older providers via the introduction of one or more exemplars of new learning: 1) independent, non-profit providers like the University of Buckingham; 2) private, for-profit providers like BPP and now NCH (perhaps owned by people like Apollo); 3) Edexcel in relation with colleges; 4) Cameron’s planned ‘Big Society University’; and 5) globalised multi-nationals. New College has to be viewed in this context and not, as Grayling wants, as some minor footnote. Here’s McGettigan:
The new market conditions must first be created. A significant amount of intervention is required to bring about a ‘level playing field’ in which new, more commercial, operations can compete successfully to drive down costs. The first steps here have already been achieved. First, the complete removal of central funding to arts, humanities and social science degrees exposes the established provision to potential competition in a manner that gives the lie to Willetts’s claim that the cuts have been ‘scrupulously neutral’. (No new provider is currently planning to offer STEM degrees, which are expensive to run and require large overhead and start-up costs.) Second, students at private establishments have already been granted access to the student loans and grants…Third, when viewed in conjunction with the new visa restrictions on overseas students (a political decision affecting an otherwise independent and substantial income stream) and the cuts just announced from HEFCE for the 2011/12 budget, we can conclude that universities are being softened up. Prior to a major reorganization of higher education these cuts are punitive and part of a concerted effort to destabilize the sector for the entry of new agents… What is proposed does not simply benefit small, niche operations but creates the conditions for ‘creative chaos’ similar to that to be unleashed on the National Health Service.
UPDATE (31 May):Crooked Timber have picked up the issue too. And MacShane has replied (in the comments at openDemocracy). His riposte is aptly characterised by Michael Otsuka as a “simulacrum of a genuine apology”. In short, having called into question the intellectual faculties of an LSE Professor and described her views as poisonous drivel (not that they were her views you’ll remember), MacShane now claims he meant no offence. Having taken words out of context, mis-attributed intentions and views to Phillips and not considered the conditions in which the question was posed, MacShane now complains that he is taken out of context, that the complainants don’t understand his views and that they haven’t considered the conditions in which his question was posed. Yes, really. Readers can surely decide for themselves, although we should not think too highly of a rear-guard ‘apology’ which begins “Gosh, well it makes a change from the BNP and Europhobes having a go” and ends “I just wish I was 100 per cent certain that…there is not a scintilla of concern out there in academistan that rather than posit an either/or argument a stand might be taken”. Yes, academistan. And in case you’re puzzled by what the ‘scintilla of concern’ refers to, it’s not the academic freedom issues raised by the Association for Political Thought and it’s not about elected Members trawling reading lists for cod-incriminating questions with which to verbally bash named academics. Instead what is meant is that by protesting his error, we supposedly signal that we’re not that bothered about the wrongs of sex trafficking and prostitution. What to say about such logic? Concerned members of the Association for Political Thought can apparently add their names to the statement by contacting Elizabeth Frazer (Oxford): email@example.com.
UPDATE (30 May): Happy to see that this issue has been picked up by Liberal Conspiracy, openDemocracy, Feminist Philosophers and others. There’s now a statement with signatures from members of the Association for Political Thought condemning Denis MacShane in appropriately harsh terms (although I think it’s a tad hard on Fiona Mactaggart who, after all, was responding off the cuff to an unsolicited intervention, and did somewhat trim her comments by talking about ‘sufficient challenge’ to all views). People certainly keep following links here, more than a week on. I’m not aware of any response from MacShane himself, although I know from several readers that his office has been contacted about this matter. He certainly hasn’t tweeted about it. Perhaps these new developments might convince him of the need to correct some of his own views.
Mr MacShane: My hon. Friend mentioned the London School of Economics. Is she aware of its feminist political theory course, taught by Professor Anne Phillips? In week 8 of the course, students study prostitution. The briefing says:
“If we consider it legitimate for women to hire themselves out as low-paid and often badly treated cleaners, why is it not also legitimate for them to hire themselves out as prostitutes?”
If a professor at the London School of Economics cannot make the distinction between a cleaning woman and a prostituted woman, we are filling the minds of our young students with the most poisonous drivel.
Fiona Mactaggart: I share my right hon. Friend’s view about those attitudes. I hope that the LSE provides sufficient contest to Professor Phillips’s frankly nauseating views on that issue.
Quentin Letts of The Daily Mail, a patronising faux-wit at the best of times, has now picked up the scent and is ready to draw the appropriate conclusions:
Legitimate academic inquiry? Or evidence of drift towards the position of seeing prostitutes as ‘sex workers’? (They’ll want membership of the British Chambers of Commerce next.)…Phillips, a past associate of David Miliband, bores for Britain on the global feminism circuit. I am told she has the hide of an elk. But why, at a time of university cuts, do we need a Gender Institute?
And so ignorance compounds ignorance. MacShane, and by extension Letts, deal in both misrepresentation and in condescending intellectual proscription. Continue reading →
Disordered congratulations are in order. Yesterday, following a few hours of rigorous questioning by Anne Phillips and David Owen, our very own Joe was awarded the title of Doctor of Philosophy from LSE for his thesis: Reconstructing Human Rights: A Pragmatic and Pluralist Inquiry in Global Ethics. No corrections. We’ll do our best to get him to tell us all about it soon.
You might have thought that the realities of muscular interventionism in Libya had by now trumped the apologetics of constructive engagement. But Benjamin Barber has other ideas. His counter-attack to the nay-sayers deploys several connected themes, all of which appeal, once again, to the purported political realism of befriending Saif Gaddafi and the corresponding idealism and naivety of opposing such benevolent stewardship.
First, the attacks on the fortunate son have been “overwrought”, and have materially endangered the chances of peace by pissing him off. Second, Saif remains “a man divided, torn between years of work on behalf of genuine reform that at times put him at risk”, and thus still open to our charms. Third, he is even now working for civil society and democracy, pressuring his father to release journalists and in effect continuing the work of his foundation as a fifth column within the regime. Yes, Saif has been naughty (I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed), but his intentions are still at least partly good, and failure to achieve a better Libya through a rapprochement with him ultimately condemns we who would rather cling to the saddle of our high-horse than descend into the messy realities of progress.
The riposte is bold, and at least has the merit of maintaining the original analysis, no matter how much short-term developments may seem to degrade it. But the rationalisation, wrapped in what Anthony Barnett so aptly characterises as a ‘cult of sincerity’, falls somewhat short. The central meme, repeated by David Held, represents Saif Gaddafi as an enforcer-cum-reformer of near schizophrenic proportions. While it is (now) readily admitted that he is personally responsible for human wrongs, it also becomes necessary to insist on his internal, and magnificently cloaked, commitment to human rights. This may work for those who knew him personally and remain invested in his personal quirks and charms, but can hardly stand as a recommendation for his role as good faith mediator. As Barber himself argues (with a different intent and a suspect logic) if Saif is both revolution and reaction then he is also neither, and therefore a cipher for the projection of political fantasies.
These justifications repeat binaries of politics/morality and realism/idealism in dismissing critics (we were engaged in a calculated politics while you luxuriate in abstract ethics). Yet they also almost attempt, ham-fisted and inchoate, to escape them. After all, the defence is not that Saif is merely our bastard. Nor is it that he is a true rebel son, prepared to overthrow not only the personal dynamic of filial submission but also the political fatherhood of little green books, torture prisons and outré couture. He is said to be both, flickering and indistinct, as if this commends him. As if he can only change things because he is the natural heir of the old order. He moves between our worlds, you see. A Venn-diagrammed endorsement.