Workshop and PhD summer school

Conceptualizing “Political”

Thursday 13th – Friday 14th June 2019
PhD summer school, Saturday 15th – Sunday 16th June

Hosted by the
Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law (CISRUL)
University of Aberdeen


The term “political” is generally used as loosely by scholars as by the public. This workshop does not aim to agree on a common definition of “political”. Instead, the goal is to map different ways in which the term gets used, within and across debates, and to consider how it might be used more reflectively and productively.

For example:

  • Scholars have observed that the idea that “religion” and “economics” are domains that should be kept separate from “politics” has appeared in modern times. How can we explain the emergence of distinctions between religion, economics and politics, does the separation still hold fast in the world today, and how if at all should scholars make such distinctions? For example, what rides on the claim that politics (and religion) should be kept out of education?
  • What do people mean when they accuse others of “politicizing” or “depoliticizing” an issue? What have feminists meant when they claim that “the personal is political”? In democracies, should everything be “political”? What does it mean to argue, for example, that “juridification” is a form of “depoliticization”? And how productive is the call of philosophers like Rancière and Mouffe to rethink “the political” in distinction to “politics”?
  • Concepts like citizenship, civil society and rule of law are often referred to as political concepts. What makes concepts themselves “political”, and what concepts are not? For example, are legal concepts necessarily “political”, and if so, in what sense?

Although the objective is not to achieve a common definition, nevertheless by mapping these debates and thinking around them, we were interested in drawing new links between uses of the term in different debates.

We divided the workshop into three sessions, to focus on the following (overlapping) themes:

  1. Philosophies of “the political”
    Recent decades have seen philosophical debates, spilling into other disciplines, distinguishing “politics” and “the political”, usually referring back to the work of Carl Schmitt and Hannah Arendt.
  2. Genealogies of “political”
    Scholars from a range of disciplines have shown how the term “political” has changed its meaning over the centuries, not only in relation to closely-related terms such as “politics” but also to terms like “religious” and “economic” with which it is often juxtaposed.
  3. Deployments of “political”
    As well as taking genealogical approaches, scholars have considered instances of how the term “political” is deployed in ordinary language, as well as how it is used strategically.

Format: workshop followed by PhD summer school

The workshop was held at the beautiful Old Aberdeen campus of the University of Aberdeen on Thursday 13th and Friday 14th June. Confirmed speakers included:

  • Shelley Budgeon is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Birmingham, and specializes in gender and feminist theory. Her books include Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Gender in Late Modernity (2011) and Choosing a Self: Young Women and the Individualization of Identity (2003)
  • Timothy Fitzgerald was Reader in Religion at the University of Stirling. Among many other publications, he has authored The Ideology of Religious Studies (2004) and co-edited Religion as a Category of Government and Sovereignty (2015)
  • Oliver Marchart is Professor of Political Theory at the University of Vienna. His books include Post-Foundational Political Thought (2007) and Thinking Antagonism (2018).

After the workshop finished on Friday 14th, most of the workshop speakers decamped with a select group of PhD students to The Burn, a country house and estate near Aberdeen, where we held the PhD summer school. We began by reflecting together on the workshop discussions and by participating in small-group discussions on a number of related readings, before responding to presentations on the topic by the PhDs. There was also time to walk around the beautiful estate, and to enjoy the company in the house.


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research & Innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 754326.