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Impressions from the Inter-Disciplinary Conference “Decolonising Political Concepts”

From 19 to 20 September 2019 CISRUL hosted the inter-disciplinary conference “Decolonising Political Concepts” organized by Marie Wuth and Valentin Clavé-Mercier.

The conference featured presentations by academics from the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia. The topics discussed ranged from knowledge and power to language and resistance, to agency and sexuality.

The various regional and disciplinary backgrounds made for exciting and insightful exchanges facilitated by a shared commitment to the project of decolonising the Western academic canon.

See below for photos or click here for more information on the conference.


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

CfP: Decolonising Political Concepts Conference

Thursday 19th – Friday 20th September 2019

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

Deadline for abstracts submission: 6th June 2019

Invited Key Speakers: Julie Cupples (University of Edinburgh), Oscar Guardiola-Rivera (Birkbeck University), Salman Sayyid (University of Leeds)

Postcolonial and decolonial thinkers and activists have spent the last decades unravelling the intellectual, political and structural legacies of colonialism and ongoing coloniality in our contemporary world. Political concepts are part of these legacies. The way academics define and use them is generally mediated by traditions of political thought marked by and even framed by coloniality. However, and despite the increasing and far-reaching work of postcolonial and decolonial research, this aspect of political concepts is still too often silenced or ignored in some academic settings. As a Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law and a PhD programme focused on political concepts, we feel the need to bring these debates to our research and thinking. We aim to engage not only with the Centre’s core concepts but also with projects dealing with, but not exclusively, sovereignty, secularism or democracy. We particularly invite intersectional critiques and perspectives on political concepts and decolonial theories related to these.

Coloniality endures, we propose, in the privileging of certain forms of knowledge and the dismissing, ignoring, or silencing of others. Decolonising political concepts is precisely about recognising and embracing the plurality of forms and notions of knowledges and epistemic methods, which entails in the process deconstructing the illusion of objectivity and universality in Western conceptions. Without wanting to perpetuate boundaries, hierarchies, and generalisations, we use the term “Western” to foreground the history of coloniality in political concepts and practices.

The coloniality of knowledge present in Western political concepts goes hand in hand with a coloniality of power, according to which political actors and practices are classified based on Western universalised norms. To acknowledge the entanglement of power and knowledge allows us to see in how far epistemic practices reflect and inform power relations and techniques and vice versa. Furthermore, achieving power within colonial contexts seems to go necessarily through the imitation of Western models in all spheres of life; thus, it is important to ask not only which perspectives became excluded through Western hegemony, but also how these were shaped and appropriated by Western thought. What is at stake here is the dismantlement of systems of oppression and marginalisation embedded in political concepts and deployed both in academia and in political practice.

To decolonise political concepts means to disrupt Western understandings, knowledge and socio-political practices by unsettling embedded colonial relations. It also means that we cannot presuppose what is understood either by “political” or “political concepts”. Decolonial thinking and struggles have been recognised to expand and transform what is political. Throughout this conference and the participation of the speakers, we intend to reveal, question and reflect on colonial assumptions and implications that may be embedded in the categories surrounding us.

We call for papers on the coloniality of political concepts, and on how ontological, epistemological and political closures and exclusions are reproduced through their use. Papers engaging more explicitly with assumed and reproduced political and epistemological hierarchies resulting from an uncritical engagement with Western political concepts are also welcome. Lastly, we seek to open up collective and collaborative reflections on how to expose, challenge and overcome the colonialities still permeating ideas and research by questioning the tools that political concepts are. We aim to engage with non-Western and indigenous political thought and experiences, inviting prospective speakers to reflect on alternative uses and on what decolonised political concepts might look like. We see such dialogues as necessary in order to find ways of living together that acknowledge and respect plurality and allow for genuinely “postcolonial” academic and political contexts.

Instructions for prospective conference speakers

Prospective conference speakers are invited to email abstracts of around 300-500 words, together with a CV, to both marie.wuth@abdn.ac.uk and valentin.clave-mercier@abdn.ac.uk by 13th June 2019. Applicants will be notified by 19th June 2019.

Speakers will have up to 20 minutes followed by discussion. We are not necessarily looking for polished research papers but for contributions and engaging responses to our questions that will help to open up new debates, or for work in progress addressing topics aligned with the conference theme.

For information about travel and about the city and region, see http://www.abdn.ac.uk/maps/index.php. Aberdeen is well-served for travel. There are regular direct flights to Aberdeen from most UK cities and from Paris and Amsterdam. There is also a very frequent train and bus service from England.

Questions should be directed to marie.wuth@abdn.ac.uk and valentin.clave-mercier@abdn.ac.uk

Conference host

The conference is hosted by the Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law (CISRUL), which is part-funded by a Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie COFUND grant.

CISRUL studies the application of political ideas globally. The Centre draws on expertise from seven disciplines to examine how political principles function within and beyond the contemporary West. Concepts such as ‘citizenship’, ‘civil society’, and the ‘rule of law’ are used as often by policy makers as by scholars. Core to CISRUL’s mission is informing academic and public debate on how they are used, and to what effect.

CISRUL brings together an extraordinary range of researchers, including PhD students, to study these and other political principles, including democracy, human rights and pluralism. We consider how they have been fostered historically, debated philosophically and in politics, fought over by social movements, codified in law, transmitted through education and the media, and lived out in everyday life.

Information about all our activities is available on our website.

You may also download a PDF version of this call for papers: CfP Decolonising Political Concepts.

Andrea Teti on Sisi’s power-grab in Egypt

Pakistani TV journalists have interviewed CISRUL staff member Dr Andrea Teti on Sisi’s power-grab in Egypt. The interview was featured on Scope, an ‘in-depth analysis’ programme on Indus TV, Pakistan’s premier satellite TV channel.

Dr Teti argued that the tough choice for stability is to design political and economic systems which include people – instead of marginalising them, as regional governments and their Western partners have done for decades. Algeria and Sudan are reminders of that problematic today.

The full programme video, including Dr Teti’s interview, is available here:

CISRUL Website: A New Look

Spring is here, the cherry trees have swapped bare branches for luxuriant blossoms, and the CISRUL webpage, too, has a new look.

Fond as we were of our old theme, the time has come for some updates. Stay tuned for more changes over the coming weeks.

Have your say:

What do you think of our new website theme?

Any ideas you would like to share? Now is your chance!

Please send your comments and suggestions to our temporary admin Catherine: catherine.whittaker [AT] abdn.ac.uk

New CISRUL research fellow: Catherine Whittaker

CISRUL welcomes our newest member, Dr Catherine Whittaker.

Catherine is a research fellow on the ESRC-funded CISRUL research project, Activism in Regions of Crime-Related Violence and Institutional Fragility. She is joining the team of nine researchers for the final four months of the project. Her responsibilities include attending project meetings in Mexico, copy-editing publications, anonymizing data, developing the project’s communication strategy, and to contribute to data analysis and writing-up.

Catherine recently completed her social anthropology PhD thesis, “Warrior Women: Contested Understandings of Violence and Gender in Highland Mexico” at the University of Edinburgh. Her research, which included 15-months of immersive ethnographic fieldwork in the rural south of Mexico City, was funded by the Mexican Government, the University of Edinburgh, and the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Sutasoma Award, as well as receiving an award from the American Anthropological Association.

In the future, Catherine plans to continue writing and researching violence, gender, and affect in Central Mexico, and is currently developing her next research project with the support of CISRUL Director, Dr Trevor Stack. You can follow Catherine on Twitter: @whittacat

Workshop and PhD summer school: Conceptualizing “Political”

Workshop, 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 more information, please see the full CfP.

Civic Actors and Illicit Margins in Public Policy

A Mexican Case

Trevor Stack

A talk co-hosted by CISRUL, Centre for Global Security and Governance and the Modern Languages Research Forum

Monday 22nd April at 2-4 pm in Humanities Manse seminar room

In 2018, a gala dinner was offered in honour of “opinion leaders” in a provincial Mexican city, and guests included the directors of a pro-transparency civil association, as well as city reporters and their bosses. These and other guests were surprised to find that their hosts included not only the municipal president, whom they expected, but also a businessman who had long been associated with organised crime and a notary with a similar reputation. The vignette serves to complicate the heroic image of a civil society that challenges the hold of criminal actors over state office-holders, by showing how criminal and other business interests can figure in public policy processes, and how the line between such interests and so-called civil society can be a fine one.

The research was part of the ESRC project Activism in Regions of Crime-Related Violence.