Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Just out: ‘Omnus et Singulatim’: Establishing the Relationship Between Transitional Justice and Neoliberalism by Josh Bowsher



Dr Josh Bowsher, Teaching Fellow in Sociology, has published a new article. This article has emerged out of his interdisciplinary doctoral research which used social and cultural theory to examine the intersections between transitional justice and neoliberal forms of globalisation. 

Bowsher, J. (2017) ‘Omnus et Singulatim’: Establishing the Relationship Between Transitional Justice and Neoliberalism, in Law and Critique: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10978-017-9198-3

First developed by human rights lawyers and activists, transitional justice began following the democratisations in Latin America as a series of experiments designed to address the human rights legacies of the authoritarian regimes from which many countries emerged. Transitional justice now denotes a range of mechanisms, including truth commissions, criminal trials, lustration, and so on, used to deal with human rights legacies in societies emerging from conflict or authoritarian rule. A ‘global project’ of global governance, transitional justice is now intertwined with the peacebuilding initiatives of the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank, which advocate the use of transitional justice mechanisms in much of Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, and some parts of South-East Asia. 

Much of the scholarship on transitional justice has remained “normative”, and seeks to investigate the relative merits of different approaches to transitional justice, in order to advocate various practices for the field. More recently, some scholars have taken a more critical perspective, questioning the assumptions that underlie transitional justice. Increasingly, these approaches have focused on the enduring relationship between transitional justice and the project of liberalism, focusing on the ways in which its discourses and practices often obfuscate or even exclude questions of socio-economic injustice and structural violence that are integral to understanding the periods before, during, and after conflict.
Nevertheless, by locating the emergence of transitional justice within the global rise of neoliberalism, I argue that transitional justice serves an important function in regards to the particularly neoliberal contours of many transitions. This relationship, I argue, can be understood by turning towards the conceptual terrain provided by recent research emerging from the field of critical neoliberalism studies. More precisely, the article insists that understanding the relationship between transitional justice and neoliberalism can be best understood by utilising the term “omnus et singulatim”.

Before I continue, I should explain my recourse to this term. After all, in commenting on his decision to name his 1979 Tanner lectures “Omnes et Singulatim: Towards a Criticism of ‘Political Reason’”, Michel Foucault apologised, perhaps in a rare flash of self-consciousness, that ‘the title sounds pretentious’. Nevertheless, the conceptual terrain inaugurated by Foucault’s use of the term has become fertile ground for criticisms of forms of liberal government and their social dynamics, particularly in the work of Wendy Brown. For both Foucault and Brown, “omnus et singulatim” captures the paradox of a liberal (and neoliberal) form of government that is, on the one hand, obsessively concerned with individual liberties, and, on the other hand, must gather its individuals together into some sort of social body. Omnus et singulatim is thus the double movement, that simultaneous act of gathering society together and individualising its members, ‘achieving’, as Brown remarks ‘each through its seeming opposite.’ 

For my part, this term captures 3 things. Firstly, what Brown understands as neoliberalism’s propensity to individualise us as enterprises seeking to invest and profit from our human capital, all the while, integrating us as stakeholders into technocratic and administrative projects, divorced from any of their political implications. Secondly, it captures transitional justice’s attempts to construct narratives about the conflicts it attends to in individualising ways, that is through the physical suffering of individual victims, which is done in the name of reconciliation, a “bringing together” which is infused with the technocratic language of consensus. Finally, then it captures the dynamic, or the concrete practices through which the latter can perform a service for the former, bringing together war-torn societies in ways that do not challenge, but instead prefigure, the neoliberalising demands of post-conflict transition.

In a world that is dominated, by flexible, unwieldy, and often devastating neoliberalism(s), understanding the relationship between it and practices that both legitimise and substantively contribute to its various unfoldings and reconfigurations in post-conflict contexts is important. Hopefully this article may provide one way of approaching this problem.

Keele Sociologists at the BSA Annual Conference

The British Sociological Association annual conference kicks off today in Manchester. A number of Keele Sociologists will be presenting papers. More details below and do get in touch if you would like to know more about our research. Our contact details are here

Siobhan Holohan and Mark Featherstone
The loneliness of the hyper-connected age: individualism, social media, and the destruction of the social self 

Rebecca Leach 
Vicarious value: the social significance of 'turning over' North Staffordshire ceramic ware

Farida Henriette 
The development and display of commitment by different genders
and generations in the Seychelles

Ala Sirriyeh 
'The Great Meeting Place': Regeneration and Social Inclusion in 'Bradford Beach' 

Ala will also be chairing a panel which she has co-organised: 'Cities built to include? The theories and practice of inclusion in urban public space'.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Just out: The Hermeneutics of the Urban Spatial Sociologies of Simmel, Benjamin and Lefebvre by Andy Zieleniec

Dr Andy Zieleniec, Lecturer in Sociology and Programme Director for Liberal Arts has a chapter included in a new publication. This is part of his ongoing interdisciplinary research into various aspects of the interface between space, culture and society.



The Hermeneutics of the Urban Spatial Sociologies of Simmel, Benjamin and Lefebvre in Janz, B. (ed.) (2017) Place, Space and Hermeneutics, Springer

Sociology as a discipline has a long history of hermeneutic approaches to understanding the complexity of interpreting meanings and actions. However, there is less emphasis on the contribution of sociologists to theories of space and spatial theories. Social life takes place and is shaped and moulded not only by actions but the meanings and values that are attached through everyday life and practice in, through and to space. This chapter will provide a discursive introduction to the works of three seminal sociologists whose theories and analysis explicitly address the spatial dimensions of social interaction, of socio-spatial formations, of the impact and influence of the social production of space. That is, the works of Georg Simmel (the first ‘sociologist of space’), of Walter Benjamin (social and cultural critic of the city of modernity) and of Henri Lefebvre (the major influence in the spatial turn of the social sciences). Whilst I do not claim that any or all of these theorists would have identified themselves with an explicitly hermeneutic approach, philosophy or method a hermeneutic analysis can be applied to their works to elucidate the practical application of their insights and perspectives. Taking space seriously is not only important for the social and human sciences but also for understanding space as an essential element of hermeneutic practice. Each of these theorists has an explicit focus on the city and the urban which can be treated hermeneutically as a text-analogue. That is, from the social, cultural and historical context in which we are situated we can seek to interpret and understand these theorists of space and spatial theories to analyse and explain the similarities and differences, the continuities and contrasts with our own urban times, experiences, spaces and places.