Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Civil Rights, Liberties and Disobedience: Alternatives to Governance in the 21st century, Loughborough University, July 27th-28th, 2007

Anarchist Studies Network
Civil Rights, Liberties and Disobedience: Alternatives to Governance in the 21st century, Loughborough University, July 27th-28th, 2007

For some the “War on Terror” is a necessary defence of liberty in the face of a real, major and present threat: for others it portends the extended curtailment of civil liberties, the repression and criminalisation of protest and the steady encroachment of the state into civil society. Numerous state and non-state actors have developed to respond to the perceived threat of terrorism while social movements, civil liberties campaigners and legal professionals have been engaged with challenging with what they see as the negative consequences of that response. This two day conference seeks to discuss these contemporary political trajectories, the structures and practices that permit and enable them, and the campaigns, movements and ideologies related to them.

The conference will be distinctive in considering the strengths and weaknesses of alternatives to traditional understandings of governance. Such alternatives tend to be motivated by the question of how people might effect governance when elected representatives charged with protecting freedoms are perceived by some as being responsible for eroding them. The conference will consider the roles of social movements and due legal process in articulating and promoting these alternatives.

The aim of the conference is to bring academics, campaigners, civil liberties groups and lawyers together to discuss and advance our knowledge of possible changes in the nature of governance in contemporary global political community and the role of academics, lawyers and activists in this process. Our aim is to critically assess both theoretically and empirically community actions, global networks, campaigns and actions that claim to affirm collective autonomy in the face of what they see as civil and political repression.

The conference will be hosted by the Centre for the Study of International Governance at the Department of Politics, IR and European Studies, Loughborough University. The work of the Centre “proceeds from an assumption that in the absence of an over-arching political authority, debates on the principles and practice of international governance will be varied and often highly controversial. The concept of governance itself is contested and in this light the Centre welcomes a wide range of viewpoints and aims to embrace broad thematic coverage.”

The conference is being co-convened by two PSA Specialist Groups. The first is the Studies Network (ASN). The establishment of the ASN aims to consolidate interest in post-statist forms of social organisation and post-statist ideologies of social change and order. Building on the work of theorists of radical democratic politics, such as Chantal Mouffe, Ernesto Laclau and others, the group aims to consider critically the importance of anarchism’s potential contribution to contemporary debates in political theory. No less is the group concerned with understanding and providing a conceptual paradigm for understanding post-Marxist and anti-authoritarian social movements. The aim of the conference is to bring anarchism to the foreground of academic debates by evaluating its potential contribution. The second is the PSA Specialist Group for the study of Political Activism (SGPA). The groups aim is to promote British politics and International Relations scholarship concerning non-violent action against oppression. What constitutes oppression and appropriate forms of non-violent action to combat it are open questions: the group’s activities and the proposed conference are aimed at promoting free and varied exchanges of ideas in relation to those questions.

Since these are questions and issues engaged with daily by groups like the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC), Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Trident Ploughshares, the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and other groups, we will invite them to share their experiences and their concerns so that academic research can learn from and engage with these voices. Political research ought to, and often does, evaluate the effectiveness of these campaigns and organisations, their rationale and the structures of global power they oppose. Our overarching aim with the conference will be to evaluate these discourses, goals and strategies, and make the core issues transparent and available to academic debate.

This conference builds upon the successful ‘Reclaiming our Rights’ conference hosted by the Human Rights and Social Justice (HRSJ) Research Institute at London Metropolitan University on the 2nd of December 2006 focused on debates around the War on Terror. In comparison, our aim is to broaden the analytical focus and the geographical participant base of this conference. First, by capitalising on the research strengths of the two co-convening Specialist Groups and the thematic priorities of the Centre for the Study of International Governance at Loughborough, we aim to deepen the theoretical and empirical study of contemporary political process and civil society movements. The civil liberties focus of the HRSJ conference in London will be expanded to assess the role and success of civil disobedience movements and the ideologies which animate them. Second, taking the conference north of the capital, and providing travel bursaries for participants, will open up the concerns of a traditionally London-based cluster of lawyers, researchers and activists to an audience north of the capital. Loughborough’s central location is ideal in this regard.

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