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Council democracy as an alternative to representative democracy

June 23, 2022 @ 9:00 am June 24, 2022 @ 3:00 pm

Hannah Arendt

Inaugural Conference of Arendt in Aberdeen 2022-24 series

University of Aberdeen

2022 – 2024 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Hannah Arendt’s semesters at the University of Aberdeen and her celebrated Gifford Lectures, delivered here between 1972 and 1974. Arendt was the first woman to contribute to this prestigious practical theology lecture series, established in 1888. The lectures were later published as The Life of the Mind.

To mark this important anniversary, the University will hold a series of events to explore the contemporary relevance of Arendt’s thought, which now pervades a variety of disciplines in the arts, social sciences and beyond.

The series will commence with the conference on Council Democracy as An Alternative to Representative Democracy, by which we are exploring council democracy as a form of government, its applications throughout time and space, its contemporary revival in political theory, and its implications in relation to the nation-state and the concept of sovereignty.

Arendt’s enthusiastic promotion of “the council system” – particularly in her major work On Revolution – has been a matter of controversy in scholarship. Her political thought has often been described as classical or civic republican, and in line with the idea and institutions of liberal representative democracy. Yet, her council system is a bottom-up political organization which serves as an alternative form of government to centralized, bureaucratic forms of government, and to the party system. It centres on the notion of public freedom, a form of political liberty exercised by face-to-face communities through direct political action in public spaces open to all. The council system, for Arendt, is the foundation of a federation based on small-scale autonomous councils, as the only alternatives to representative democracy and the claim to sovereignty of the nation-state.

Council democracy is a timely topic because this aspect of Arendt’s political thought, and its relation to her larger corpus, has been understudied in Arendt scholarship, while it has inspired contemporary political initiatives from Occupy to the Rojava Revolution in Syrian Kurdistan.

The conference will run from 9 am on Monday 23 June to 3 pm on Tuesday 24 June. Leading scholars of council democracy will discuss this form of government in Arendt’s writings, in its historical instantiations, and in the works and agendas of contemporary political theorists, movements, and activists.

To register for the conference, click here.

For information about travel and about the city and region, see http://www.abdn.ac.uk/maps/index.php.

The conference is organized by Dr Hanifi Baris; hosted by the Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law (CISRUL); and funded by the Leverhulme Fund Early Career Fellowship grant and CISRUL. Questions should be directed to hanifi.baris@abdn.ac.uk

Keynote Speakers:

Prof Maria Tamboukou is Professor of Feminist Studies at the University of East London, UK. She has held visiting research positions in a number of institutions in the UK and overseas and is a member of the Scientific Board of the ‘Hannah Arendt’ Centre for Political Studies at the University of Verona, Italy. Her latest book Revisiting the nomadic subject was published in 2021. See Prof Tamboukou’s website for more details: https://mariatamboukou.org

Dr James Muldoon is Senior Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Exeter and Head of Digital Research at the think tank Autonomy. He is author of Platform Socialism: How to Reclaim our Digital Future from Big Tech (Pluto, 2022) and Building Power to Change the World: The Political Thought of the German Council Movements (OUP, 2020). See Dr Muldoon’s profile for more details: https://socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk/politics/staff/muldoon/

Prof Roger Berkowitz is Founder and Academic Director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities and Professor of Politics, Philosophy, and Human Rights at Bard College. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The American Interest, Bookforum, The Forward, The Paris Review Online, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, and many other publications. Berkowitz edits HA: The Journal of the Hannah Arendt Center and the weekly newsletter Amor Mundi.  He is the winner of the 2019 Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought given by the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Bremen, Germany. See Prof Berkowitz’s website for more details: https://www.vernunft.org/

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