Hosted by the

Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law (CISRUL)

at the

University of Aberdeen, Scotland

Tuesday 25th – Wednesday 26th June 2013

Academic coordinator: Trevor Stack (

Click on session titles below for summaries

Notions of political community are implicit in many or most contemporary debates (academic and public) of citizenship, civil society, rule of law, democracy, multiculturalism and human rights. But they are seldom made explicit and subject to analysis and reflection. That has also been our experience at the inter-disciplinary Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law (CISRUL). Having debated aspects of citizenship, civil society and rule of law since our founding in 2009, we have identified political community as a topic that crosscuts the three but which we have yet to comprehend fully. This year we debated the role of valuable resources in political community in our public conference “Politics of Oil & Gas in a Changing UK: International Perspectives” and political community is also key to our current research project on “Schooling in Political Community”. In our draft proposal for that project, we do offer a working definition of political community: one whose members have a real stake in political institutions and, for that reason, subject themselves to the decisions of those institutions. We are open to other ways of defining and approaching the topic, though, and we invite participants in our Political Community workshop to give their own answers to the following questions:

1. When “political community” has been the explicit topic of debates, in particular times and places, what is meant by “political” and what is meant by “community”? What is not considered political and what is not community?  To give just two examples, how is political community distinguished from religious community? And community from society?

2. What notions of political community have been caught up in citizenship, civil society and rule of law? Does citizenship, for example, always entail political community?

3. Can we identify political community beyond citizenship, civil society and rule of law? For example, are universities political communities? How about families, businesses and churches? Is multitude, as Hardt and Negri suggest, an emergent form of political community? What other emergent political communities might there be?

Tuesday 25th June

Introduction (click on title to see session summary)

9.30                Introduction: Trevor Stack and Matyas Bodig

10.10              Discussion

Political community and constitution making (click on title to see session summary)

10.40              Hanna Lerner “Constitution writing, democracy and (a divided) political community”

What role should constitutions play in defining the identity of a political community? The question is particularly difficult when the constitution is written under conditions of deep disagreements between conflicting political communities over core ideational questions such as the state’s religious and national character. This, is the case in most, if not all, contemporary projects of constitutional drafting.

The advice commonly provided by constitutional experts under conditions of deep disagreements over the state’s basic norms and values is to draft a “thin” constitution. According to this approach, constitution-making process is not expected to interfere in value-ridden conflicts or reflect the identity of a particular political community. Rather its role is to provide a legal framework within which conflict resolution can be advanced. Thus, a constitution should be thin in the sense that it avoids making decisions on contentious identity questions and focus on establishing democratic institutions that allow further deliberation on divisive issues.

The paper criticizes this common constitutional advice and argues that a thin constitution fails to provide a relevant constitutional framework for contemporary societies in which the political community is divided. While the ideal of a thin constitution may be normatively and theoretically attractive, the paper demonstrates how given the social, political and institutional realities of societies riven by identity conflicts, this recommendation appears less viable and is eventually rejected by constitutional drafters. Drawing on the constitutional experience of Israel, Turkey and India, the paper further explores the foundational role of constitutions and the extent to which constitutions represent, or should represent, the identity of the political community/ies in their state. Among various alternatives, the paper will discuss the incrementalist approach to constitution writing.

11                               Tamas Gyorfi “The Legal Construction of Political Communities

The purpose of this paper is to examine how constitutional law conceptualises and constructs political communities. The paper will use Carl Schmitt’s constitutional theory as its point of departure. Schmitt claimed that the term ‘people’ has three different senses in constitutional law: the people anterior to or above the constitution, the people within the constitution and the people compared with the constitution. The paper will explore (1) how different constitutions define constituent power; and (2) to what extent they accommodate the people within the constitution. Finally, (3) the paper will subject the Schmittian idea of ‘the people compared with the constitution’ to critical scrutiny.

11.20              Discussion

A historical view (click on title to see session summary)

12.10              Michael Brown “When is a religious community a political community? Irish eighteenth-century reflections”

This paper will explore how far governmental authorities came to understand religious dissidents to the confessional state as political antagonists, and highlight some resistance to this co-incidence of identity. By looking at the Irish anti-Catholic legislation (the penal laws) it will track the emergence of the ‘papist’ as a figure in the legal imagination. It will then turn to the issue of religious conversion to complicate the story, before looking at the existence of Protestant Jacobites and Castle Catholics. Finally it will examine the nature of cross-community collaboration as a mode of ordinary resistance to the political caricatures provided by the Irish confessional state.

12.30              Discussion

Philosophical approaches (click on title to see session summary)

1.40                John Perry “Models of political community in recent theology: pirates (in Augustine), relish (in Locke), and parables (in the Bible)”

The past generation of theologians have engaged political community as part of a larger critique of modernity, especially targeting three villains: Locke, Kant, and Hume. On their account, the modern nation-state is a rival object of allegiance to the church, offering toleration only in exchange for a weakened loyalty to one’s religious community. While I am sympathetic to aspects of that story, I shall in this paper identify some points where it goes wrong, and offer a different story. Although political liberalism cannot (as its founders hoped) avoid all possible conflicts of loyalty between one’s God and one’s city, there are neglected trajectories within modernity that lead to more satisfactory accounts of the relation between religious and political community than others. The modernity critic’s story is premised upon all modern moral and political theories being proceduralist, neutralist, and anti-teleological. Some are, but some aren’t. In fact, it may turn out that some aspects of Christian ethics can contribute to how ethics and citizenship are conceived in modern, pluralist democracies. Three such aspects are: the importance of conceiving of ethics within a particular historically-extended community or tradition, the view that moral reasoning and moral persuasion are imaginative rather than rationalistic or legalistic endeavours, and that the proper ground of ethics is wellbeing or flourishing (that is, it is eudaimonist rather than either deontological or utilitarian).

2                      Daniel Koltonski “Political obligation and political community”

An account of the democratic citizen’s duty to uphold the law must make use of the notion of political community: it is only when she is a citizen of a genuine democratic community—a polity whose citizens are motivated in their political choices by some liberal conception of justice—that she must recognize as part of citizenship a duty to uphold the law. Absent such a community, then, she will not have such a duty. Why is that? Consider the case of an engaged and conscientious citizen—a citizen whose main aim is to live justly—who is confronted by a law she reasonably thinks to be unjust. How can she have a duty to uphold that law, a duty that overrides her usual prerogative, as a free person, to act on her own moral judgments? She has a moral duty to uphold that law when she may reasonably regard it as the result of her fellow citizens responsibly exercising their moral agency with regard to questions of justice, for upholding that law is the way, in the inevitable circumstances of reasonable disagreement about justice, for her to respect their equal rights to such responsible exercise in deciding upon the laws governing their lives together. Her duty to uphold the law, jointly with her fellows’ duties to uphold the law, is the correlative of their rights to an equal say. The duty to uphold the law is a duty distinctive of citizenship in a democratic community whose citizens exercise their moral judgment responsibly—and are known to do so—in making their political choices. And so, it is in a political community in which a kind of thick reciprocity of political concern for justice actually, and not simply aspirationally, characterizes both the relationship of citizenship and so also the democratic processes, that upholding the law will be what respect for one’s fellows as free and equal citizens requires. This is a very demanding account of political obligation—few, if any, states come close to achieving this sort of democratic community—but it is the sort of account one is lead to when one takes seriously the citizen who reasonably demands a justification for the claim that her citizenship requires that she against her own judgments about justice. And a liberal account of justice must take this citizen’s demand seriously.

2.20                Discussion

Beyond the state? (click on title to see session summary)

3                      Sian Lazar “Creating political community”

I will argue that it is important to conceptually delink citizenship from an automatic identification with the nation-state as the only political community at stake. If citizenship is membership of a political community, we might contend that individuals have multiple citizenships – that is to say, memberships of multiple political communities. I draw on research with members of two trade unions of public sector employees, for whom the nation-state of Argentina and the city of Buenos Aires are two important political communities of which they are citizens. However, I focus in particular on the argument that they are also members of the political community of their union. Although it might sound jarring to call them citizens of their union, it is possible to analyse their membership along the lines of how we analyse citizenship more conventionally defined. Thus, we need to start from the now well-accepted premise that citizenship goes beyond legal status, and its corollary – that the processes and practices that make someone into a full member of a given political community are at least as important as the end result itself. My ethnographic material explores these questions in relation to two educational projects run by the unions to train new delegates: the School for Trade Union Training (Escuela de Formación Sindical) run by the peronist Union Personal Civil de la Nación (UPCN, Union of National Civil Servants), and a smaller scale workshop run by the Asociación de Trabajadores del Estado (Association of State Workers, ATE). The two unions have contrasting and in many ways rival political projects of unionism, and these are reflected both in their educational processes and their conceptualisations of political community. For UPCN activists, the political community of their union is an organism, while for ATE activists, it is a political project located in a wider history of trade unionism in Argentina. One major way this is made evident is in the way that their training reflects different organisational philosophies of participation and of political action.

3.20                Trevor Stack “Competing or complementary notions of political community in contemporary west Mexico”

We have proposed defining a “political community” as one whose members have a real stake in political institutions and, for that reason, subject themselves to the decisions of those institutions. During fieldwork in west Mexico in 2007-10, I found that my informants often expressed a bifurcated notion of person (or citizen): they were persons “in the eyes of the law” but they were ultimately persons “living in society”. By “society” they meant a matrix of dense and inescapable inter-dependencies, giving rise less to voluntary associations than involuntary obligations, and serving to contain the wayward will of fallen Man. Is this a version of political community as we are defining it? And is it alternative or complementary to political community as defined in law? I argue that 1) “society” could provide an alternative ground to the obviously political community constituted by law; 2) “living in society” did nevertheless entail a relationship with institutions such as local government, which could be termed political community; 3) to some extent “living in society” complemented and even enriched the political community defined in law. The broader point is that political communities are not only multiple in the sense that they are nested or overlapping, but that there can be competing grounds for political community; alternatively, political community is itself necessarily multi-dimensional and will never be reducible to a single dimension such as the legal.

3.40                Discussion

4.40                Silvia Pasquetti “The affective foundation of subordinated political communities: Lessons from a West Bank refugee camp and an Israeli ‘mixed’ city”

Emotions are key components in the making and unmaking of political communities. The activation of solidarity facilitates the pursuit of collective political projects. By contrast, mutual distrust discourages people from pursuing shared political identities. Drawing on fieldwork within and across a West Bank refugee camp and the Arab districts of an Israeli city, this paper explores the affective foundation of political communities among subordinated populations—subjects and citizens alike—experiencing exclusion due to their ethnonational, ethnoracial, or ethnoreligious membership. The point of departure of this analysis is an empirical puzzle: stateless camp dwellers invest in their group solidarity and perceive themselves as members of a political community while urban minorities with Israeli citizenship experience mutual distrust and withdraw from the public sphere. My research traces this difference in the shape and intensity of group life among these two sets of Palestinians to the workings of different ruling agencies, especially their distinct uses of law, coercion, and language. Specifically, I study the emotional and political effects of the interplay between military repression and humanitarian aid in the camp and those of the convergence of policing and security interventions in the minority district. This paper aims to use these empirical materials and arguments to address two questions posed by the Political Community Workshop organizers: the question of political community beyond citizenship and the question of the interplay between political community and access to scarce resources. The case of the Palestinian urban minorities draws attention to how stigmatized segments of a citizenry, which are excluded from the dominant body politic due to their ethnonational (or ethnoracial) identity, might also be prevented from forming a thriving minority political community. Similarly, the case of stateless camp dwellers offers some important insights on the role that military repression and humanitarian aid might play in the creation of subordinated political communities. The question of access to scarce material and symbolic resources is also central to the diverging affective and political trajectories of Palestinian refugees and minority citizens, highlighting how for poor people the creation of political communities is inextricably linked to the available survival strategies. To sum up, this paper argues that exploring how different coercive and humanitarian discourses and practices affect emotional relationships among subordinate people—for example, shaping whom they trust or distrust and whom they feel threatened by or have confidence in—is a necessary step toward a better understanding of the link between survival strategies and political projects, including the formation of political communities.

5                      Discussion

Wednesday 26th June

Questioning ‘community’ (click on title to see session summary)

9                      Tea, coffee and biscuits

9.30                Ajay Gudavarthy “Politicizing community and economizing culture”

Post-colonial theory/subaltern studies have for long projected community as the missing/suppressed link within western political theory. Hegel`s tripartite distinction between family, civil society and state suppresses community, which is essential for the global spread of capital. The conflict seems to be one between capital versus community. However, post-colonial theory has accorded the idea of community only a heuristic place in its theory and it has remained, by far, an `empty category`. It has never been historically or sociologically spelt out as to what exactly are the contours and practices that imbricate the workings of the idea of community. It has only positioned community as the other of State, civil society, nation and modernity itself. Post-colonial theory has moved between a thick and a thin idea of community. Thick idea of community refers to naturalised- kinship-based cultural groups such as religious, ethnic, and caste groups, whose core practices are face-to-face interaction, they are localised and live in heterogeneous time that is different from that of nation and capital; they are ascriptive in nature and content. However, in course of explicating the workings of community they freely move towards a thin- cosmopolitan- idea of community that includes individuals from various locations. For instance, Partha Chatterjee`s idea of `political society` is a congregation of differentiated social groups, including immigrants from Bangladesh. The tension between the two versions of community is glossed over.

This paper, in light of the unexplored idea of community in post-colonial societies such as India, attempts to conceptualise, based on an ongoing ethnography, certain core practices of what community is and what it looks like in contemporary context. It further argues that communitarian practices cut across caste, gender, ethnicity and nationality and reproduce certain core ontological and epistemological practices. These practices are not bereft of power relations but could well be a different mode of structuring power, in contrast but not necessarily in conflict with that of modernity.

9.50                Sourayan Mookerjea “The politics of community and the community of politics: Athabaskan Tar Sands Development”

This paper explores how the crises and contradictions of tar sands mining development in Fort McMurray, Alberta enable us to re-theorize the concept of community. How are we to assess and understand the prolixity of the rhetoric of community in this context? Does the incitement of discourses on community in this instance stand as a symptom of a governmental strategy by now, in the endgame of neoliberal ascendency, tried and true? Or is there something else at stake here? After the complications and critiques of the politics of identity and difference, what lessons regarding class politics do we draw from the crisis of community in the northern boom-towns of Alberta? Especially in the past five years, big and small environmental organizations, activists from the First Nations of Athabasca Chipewyan, Chipewyan Prairie, Fort McKay, Fort McMurray, and Mikisew Cree, the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Council of Canadians, to name only a few organizations, have launched public campaigns to either reform, slow, scale back or stop tar sand mining. This mobilization has continued to burst back into flames in ever different situations, beginning with the National Energy Board hearings regarding the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal, opposition to the broad legislative sweeps of the Harper government’s omnibus bills and most recently with the Idle No More movement. Given this diversity of social movement organizations and subject positions mobilized, how do we understand the affinity or alliance that is emerging as a new kind of politics here, the new form of subjectivity or becoming in common this development and its social crises brings to life? Bringing into critical juxtaposition the post-Gramscian and postcolonial theorization of subalternity with Hardt and Negri’s concept of the multitude, this paper queries the historical content of the truth that binds political rhetoric enabling various social movements to act in solidarity in opposing tar sands development, and interrogates the community of politics that this politics of community seems to promise. In doing, I argue for the importance of a Utopian social poetics of mediation to what Boaventura de Sousa Santos has called the project of a “sociology of absences”.

10.10              Discussion

10.50              Tea, coffee and biscuits

Toward global political community? (click on title to see session summary)

11.10              Raul Acosta “Constructive hostilities: dissent, transnational activism and the ethical imagination”

An aggregation of individuals does not constitute a community, as this entails some level of intimacy among its members. In much of the literature focused on social collectives, group solidarity is sought in shared ethnic or religious traits, or perhaps a common heritage of life in a locality. Those focused on cosmopolitanism tend to focus on mechanisms through which differences among individuals may be bridged. Both logics appear to assume positive attitudes towards those included, and negative to those who are not. The cosmopolitan effort is thus to extend the net of inclusion. This paper argues that the conflictive negotiations over what is shared among a community’s members render a collective political. Discords in political scenarios are usually portrayed as power struggles, with the class struggle as the best example. Although such disparities are clear breeding grounds for conflicts, apparently calm situations among members of a similar status may also originate strong disagreements. It is open dissent over public affairs that creates a sense of community. The processes of negotiation over what is shared, either in physical form (such as territory or goods) or in intangible form (e.g. ideas or symbols), are thus essential in the making of the community. The form in which dissent is performed and dealt with in turn shapes the collective. It is a becoming of the political dimension of social relations within it. Political anthropology has sought to examine the many forms through which people resolve such matters. Various ceremonial strategies to channel commotions have been documented in valuable ethnographies. As contrasting cultural traditions have travelled and are increasingly interpreted and assimilated, a new political landscape is emerging. The methodological nationalism that pervades most political analyses is no longer useful to understand the processes of construction of collectives. Some identities, as many considered indigenous in Latin America, have become reinforced and used in political struggles without negating external influences. What these appear to show is an exercise of an extended ethical imagination, seeking to reinvent local political communities while at the same time collaborating across borders.

11.30              Gal Levy “An end to political community: the global social protest and the future of citizenship”

In the last decade or so, it has become more and more prevalent in citizenship studies that the notion of citizenship is much more encompassing than is the idea of citizen as a right-bearing member in a political community, namely the nation-state. The study of citizenship has long left its formal, legal confines and even the mere investigation of ‘who is a citizen?’. It has thus grown from a legal concept to a rich sociological and political concept, depicting not only ideological regimes and discourses, but also the power of citizenship as it is enacted by citizens and non-citizens alike. In this context, the idea of citizenship as merely as a prerogative of the state, and as a manifestation of state power, has been replaced by new understanding of ‘citizenship beyond the state’ (Gordon and Stack 2007).

On a different level, the notion of community has also taken various faces. More importantly, with the rise of neo-liberalism and globalisation, and against the erosion of the notion of national, territorially-bounded societies, ‘community’ rose as an alternative ‘spatialisation of government’ (Rose 1996). This, to cite Rose further, had had several implications not only on the territory of the political, but also gave rise to ‘anti-political motifs’ (Rose 1996: 352). Consequently, the notion of community, which was partly born against the ills of modernising societies, turned into another means of government, and an expression of the weakening of ‘the hold of “the social” over our political imagination’ (Rose 1996: 353).

Against this backdrop, and in light of the social protest that swept the world after the ‘Arab Spring’ and against the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, it is timely to ask what does it mean to have or to build a political community at these times, and what it entails to the future of citizenship in the aftermath of the World Social Protest.

11.50              Discussion

12.50              Sandwich lunch

International political community? (click on title to see session summary)

1.40                Matyas Bodig “States, peoples, communities: the problems of the construction of collective subjectivity in international law”

I take the state to be an institutional entity that delivers governance over a population on a designated territory. This governance presupposes a certain normative capacity, and for this reason, it comes with a claim of sovereign political authority. Naturally, this capacity has conditions of legitimacy. These conditions are, of course, manifold. In my paper, I focus on the conditions of legitimacy that have taken the form of international norms. What enables international norms to play this role is that participation in international cooperation for a government is dependent on recognition by fellow governments, and, over the last few decades, international law has channelled the conditions of recognition more and more through the norms of Charter international law (the UN Charter itself, the norms of international human rights law, etc.). I argue that the relevant norms fit into a conceptual framework that came to define the conceptual parameters of statehood. Most importantly for my own analysis, at the heart of that conceptual framework, we find the idea that a putative state can only be compliant with the foundational norms of international law if it is in a representational relationship with a ‘people.’ In my paper, I use the concept of ‘political community’ to reveal the dynamics of this association between ‘peoples’ and statehood. My analysis is profoundly determined by a conceptual claim: political communities (‘peoples’) only exist in reflective contrast with political institutions. I argue that, as our ideas of statehood became more and more settled around a uniform set of criteria for ‘good governance’, the idea of political community became more and more closely associated with certain attributes of statehood: most importantly its particularism, territoriality and exclusivity. In the paper, I analyse the problematic implications of this conceptual dynamics: the difficulties of even making sense of transnational political communities, the difficulties of constructing effective statehood where the territorial and normative space is shared by several overlapping political communities (exacerbating political conflicts about, e.g., the status of minority groups and indigenous peoples), and the difficulties of addressing the political challenges of limited statehood (in places like Kosovo, Somalia or Afghanistan).

2                      Nigel Dower “Global, international and national political community compared”

The particular character of political community within a nation-state can partly be illumined by a comparison with the idea of international political community whose members are nation- states, and the idea of global political community whose members are politically engaged global citizens. The tensions within domestic politics between realist (power), public order and common good conceptions are reflected in conflicting accounts of international politics between realism, internationalism and cosmopolitanism. The idea of global political community reflects cosmopolitan perspectives, and either complements accounts of international community or clashes with realist accounts of international relations that deny the real existence of international political community.

2.20                Discussion

3                      Tea, coffee and biscuits

3.20                Small group discussion

4.10                Plenary discussion

5                      End of session

Leave a Reply