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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.


The Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society, and Rule of Law (CISRUL) studies the life in the world of political concepts.  The interdisciplinary Centre examines 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.


Headed by Trevor Stack (Spanish and Latin American Studies), CISRUL’s membership reaches across seven disciplines to house a vibrant, diverse debate about the political concepts which underpin our modern world. It brings to bear expertise in History (Michael Brown, Karin Friedrich, Robert Frost), Law (Matyas Bodig, Tamas Gyorfi), Politics (Pamela Abbott, Andrea Teti, Ritu Vij), Sociology (Cristina Flesher-Fominaya, Nadia Kiwan, Claire Wallace), Divinity (Brian Brock, Michael Laffin) and Education (Rachel Shanks), and works closely with other groups such as the Centre for Early Modern Studies, ArabTrans and the Centre for Global Security and Governance.

Founded in 2009. CISRUL has

  • held 11 major scholarly workshops and conferences, bringing speakers from 42 countries to Aberdeen
  • published a volume Religion as a Category of Governance and Sovereignty (Brill) based on conferences in 2010 and 2012, and a volume Breaching the Civil Order (Cambridge) based on conferences in 2016 and 2017
  • supervised a total of 25 PhD students, including 12 students funded by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie COFUND grant under the rubric of POLITICO (Political Concepts in the World)
  • hosted collaborative research projects on societal responses to Mexican organised crime (ESRC), political awareness in Aberdeen City and Shire schools, as well as an Insight Institute seminar series on Polish migrants in Scotland
  • delivered a successful Sixth Century course ‘What Gives Us Rights?’ with a strong enrolment of 120-140 from across the University, showcasing lecturers from all 3 Colleges of the University
  • engaged with the wider public through an evening lecture series, as well as public conferences on UK Energy Politics and on the Curriculum for Excellence, featuring speakers from public bodies such as Education Scotland and Oil and Gas UK.

For additional information or to get in touch with the Centre, please contact Trevor Stack.

Radical Democratic Citizenship – 2018 CfP


This conference on radical democratic citizenship marks the 50th anniversary of the global wave of protests in 1968, when people occupied workplaces and public spaces, collectively demanding changes in policies and calling for a shift in politics. Movements aimed variously to resist regimes deemed authoritarian and imperialist, fight economic and political elites, dismantle the exploitative forces of capitalism, challenge norms around the role of women and sexuality, and tackle racism and gender discrimination. Despite the differences among them, they shared a “radical approach to citizenship” in that they sought to open spaces for political action beyond the narrow margins set by states as well as, outside the Soviet Bloc, challenging the subordination of states to the interests of the market.

Furthermore, and echoing the Latin term radix (roots), their citizenship was radical in that activists looked to highlight viable alternatives to the status quo, across the economic, political, and social spheres, demonstrating that these alternatives could be generated by grassroots movements far removed from elite circles. “Radical” thus indicates firstly the pursuit of fundamental change or transformation of the economic and political landscape that, secondly, can be effected from the bottom-up (grass roots), and, thirdly, in a radical democratic manner.

Today, faced not only by ever-deepening inequality but also by the prospect of environmental disaster, the demand for radical change is as pressing as in 1968.  Electoral democracy has been rolled out worldwide but with deficiencies ever more painfully apparent, while capitalism has if anything extended its hold over political and social institutions, turning citizenship into a form of consumption and even a commodity for investment and trade (“Citizenship by Investment”).

In response to the host of challenges, grassroots activists are charting a fresh wave of radical democratic citizenship across the world. Obvious examples are the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (Rojava), the Jackson Co-operative, recuperated firms, De-Growth, eco-villages, Anti-University, Co-operative College, Occupy, Black Lives Matter, and Standing Rock. Many such movements are effecting radical and seemingly sustainable changes.

We call for contributions on any aspect of radical democratic citizenship, understood as grassroots political practice, whether past or present, and whether empirical, theoretical or performative. To include as wide a range as possible of perspectives, we encourage contributions from non-academics as well as academics from all disciplines and fields. We also welcome different formats of contributions, ranging from traditional conference papers and posters to workshops organised by participants and performances.

To include as wide a range as possible of perspectives, we encourage contributions from non-academics as well as academics from all disciplines and fields.

Visiting Speakers include Professor Engin Isin, of Queen Mary University of London and University of London Institute in Paris.  Other visiting speakers will be announced.

For information on presentation format and proposal submission, please click here to download our full CfP.

CISRUL Alumna Alena Thiel Awarded Postdoctoral Grant



Congratulations to CISRUL alumna Alena Thiel who completed her PhD in 2016. She has been awarded a postdoctoral grant in the DAAD PRIME fellowship scheme. Her new project “The production of measurement policies in Africa” is located in the emerging field of biometric identity registration. It focuses on the interaction of policy makers, donor agencies and the private sector in the planning, design, and implementation of e‐ID projects. The project explores how categories of measuring and authenticating identity come into being at this intersection. During her fellowship, Alena will engage with renowned experts in the field of biometric identification at Sciences Po Paris and WISER.

Shelter, Security, and Tenure: Formalising Downtown Kingston, Jamaica



Guest Speaker: David Howard talk for CISRUL on 20th of February, 14:00 to 16:00 in KQG3.

The ‘New Urban Agenda’ initiated at the UN-Habitat III meeting in 2016 re-instated the need for ‘good urbanisation’ and ‘proper urban legislation’ in order to fulfil the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Of the many goals outlined, the aim ‘to foster community cohesion and personal security’ placed sustainable urban development at the forefront. The paper challenges the problematic notion of ‘good’ or ‘proper’ urbanisation in the context of the proposed formalisation of land tenure in low-income urban neighbourhoods, drawing conclusions from recent ethnographic research in a ‘garrison’ community in Jamaica. The concepts of shelter and security are considered with respect to neighbourhood transition, as residents respond to ongoing and intensive police and military operations aimed at reducing gang-related violence.

More information on CISRUL seminars here.

Political Community in Historical Perspective Medieval and Early Modern



27 May, 9:00-18:00

Speakers: Speakers include Professor Crawford Gribbon, Dr Ian Campbell (both Queen’s University Belfast), Dr Clare Hawes (St Andrews) and Dr Christian Liddy (Durham)

An all-day workshop highlighting the historical developments and implications of political community.

This event is co-hosted by the Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and the Rule of Law (CISRUL) in cooperation with the Centre for Early Modern Studies (CEMS) by CISRUL Faculty member, Chair of Early Modern History, and Co-director of CEMS Karin Friedrich and CISRUL PhD candidate Alexander Crawford. This s one-day workshop will debate political community with medieval and early modern historians.  Our guest speakers will highlight key theories for discussion.

The discussion will start with a focus on the volume entitled Political Community: The Idea of the Self-Governing People, prepared by member of CISRUL. Previous workshops on the topic and the volume have had a contemporary focus, but CISRUL would now like, in partnership with the Centre for Early Modern Studies (CEMS), to include medieval and early modern historians in the debate. Not only will this broaden the empirical scope of the debates, but it will enrich the theoretical approach, since historians have arguably given more thought to political community than other disciplines. Meanwhile, we expect that historians will find it valuable to debate and reflect on other approaches to the topic.

March 2016

Applications are now open for PhD Studentships beginning in the 2016/17 Academic Year. Please visit our Funding Page to learn more or email Lisa Baxter with enquiries.

Trevor Stack, CISRUL Director

February 2016

I am pleased to report the publication of our edited volume Religion as a Category of Governance and Sovereignty in May 2015 by the European publisher Brill. The volume was the outcome of the British Academy conference which CISRUL co-hosted in 2010, and of the workshop held at Aberdeen in 2012. I was the lead editor of the volume, and contributed the introduction and a chapter, as did another CISRUL affiliate, Brian Brock.

Our second major publication will be the edited volume Political Community: The Idea of a Self-Governing People, which is the outcome of our 2013 and 2014 CISRUL workshops. There has been strong interest in publishing the volume.

Our publications will keep coming since we’re all developing plans for new research, and are actively applying to fund them. Several projects also have a focus on public impact. For example:

  • Andrea Teti (Politics & IR) already holds a major EU grant on Arab Transitions which look at the beliefs, values and behavior with respect to political and social transformations in 7 Arab countries, with a view to informing policy as well as making a string of publications.
  • I’ve just been awarded a Royal Society of Edinburgh European Visiting Research Fellowship, which will allow me to complete the Political Community volume during my sabbatical semester next year at the Universidad de Málaga, home to the Civic Constellations network that CISRUL will be joining.

Another edited volume will come out of our 5th CISRUL workshop, which will take place this June on the topic of ‘Radical Protest in Constitutional Democracy’. The workshop will bring together many of the issues we’ve been debating in CISRUL over the past 4 years, including civil society, political community, and rule of law, as well as touching on many of the liveliest topics in the world today, including the policing of protest.

As well as the workshop, we held 2 public lectures last spring and have 2 more planned for the spring. The first public lecture last spring was by Professor Stanley Hauerwas, who is probably  the best-known US theologian. The second was by Professor Michael Keating, who is a leading authority on European nationalisms and was regularly invited by the BBC to speak on the Referendum last year.

We can also report that CISRUL’s first 4 PhD students have now successfully graduated:

  • James King was the first to complete, with a thesis on the political thought of 3 leading theologians, including Stanley Hauerwas who gave our public lecture last year. James is currently teaching Religious Studies at Ampleforth College, while he applies for postdoctoral fellowships.
  • Marek Szilvasi completed his thesis on EU Roma policy over the summer, and he is currently working as a Research and Advocacy Officer with the European Roma Rights Centre, though he is also applying for postdoctoral funding.
  • Alena Thiel was commended by examiners for her thesis on market trader associations in Ghana. She is now a Research Fellow of the prestigious German Institute for Global and Area Studies in Hamburg.
  • Ulisses Neto-Teto passed his PhD viva in January on Brazil’s Programme for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, which is an innovative Brazilian state programme designed to protect agrarian and other movement leaders facing death threats, allowing them to continue to struggle for human rights.

Given that these students are leaving, we’re delighted that we were able to admit the highest number of new PhD students so far, 3 of whom have since started in September and 1 in January:

  • Domenico Carolei is a lawyer by training, though with broad interests in political theory, who will study the accountability of Civil Society Organizations, with a focus on attempts in his native Italy by regional networks of CSOs to develop codes by which they could be held accountable, not only to donors but to beneficiaries.
  • Saerom Han is from South Korea but will study Egypt since 2011, especially how the labour unions which were the backbone of the Arab Spring have since been neutralized by the Egyptian military, principally by using anti-terror legislation to stifle their protest.
  • Aditya Mohanty already holds a permanent position as Assistant Professor of Sociology in India, but has been granted leave to study a PhD at CISRUL, on participatory urban governance in Delhi, asking whether the neighbourhood councils being set up (not unlike Scotland’s community councils) are managing to incorporate local citizens of all classes.
  • Alex Crawford will be the second history PhD at CISRUL and works on medieval Scotland, which may seem far removed from our contemporary concerns but this is the period in which many of today’s political concepts were forged, and he has already made brilliant contributions to our debates on constitutions, rule of law, political community and so on.

This brings to 13 the total number of students who are or have been in the CISRUL PhD programme. We continue to put considerable effort into ensuring the students interact with each other, as well as with us, in order to offset the notoriously lonely predicament of UK PhD students. We’ve also benefited enormously from having such an able, lively, diverse and cosmopolitan group of students, who engage fully in all our CISRUL events.

We’re now hoping to advertise further PhD studentships by the end of February 2016, to start in September 2016.

Finally, we’re focusing on encouraging prospective applicants for Postdoctoral Research Fellowships (e.g. from European Commission) to choose CISRUL as their host organization. To that end, we’re in the process of advertising funding to bring prospective Fellowship applicants for up to a week to develop their application with us.