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Political Resistance and Contemporary Injustice

Convenors

Alex McLaughlin (University of Cambridge); am2915@cam.ac.uk

Jamie Draper (University of Oxford); amie.draper@nuffield.ox.ac.uk


Until recently, discussions of political resistance in political theory have been dominated by an ideal of civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is often understood as a “public, non-violent, conscientious yet political act contrary to law usually done with the aim of bringing about a change in the law or policies of a government” (Rawls, 1971: 320). By taking this ideal of civil disobedience, or others like it, to be central to the moral evaluation of political resistance, political theorists make a number of assumptions about the appropriate site and scope of political action (see Delmas, 2016).

In recent years, this narrow focus on the Rawlsian ideal of civil disobedience has been challenged on a number of grounds. One central charge is that a focus on this conception of civil disobedience leaves us unable to interpret and evaluate the diverse forms of resistance that we find in contemporary political practice. Recent work on political resistance has, as such, sought to theorise forms of resistance that fall outside of this paradigm, including riots (Pasternak, 2018; Havercroft, 2021), covert actions such as hacktivism or the evasion of immigration law (Delmas, 2018), and forms dissent that violate norms of civility, including hip-hop music (Shelby, 2016; Edvayne, 2020).

We welcome this novel turn in the political theory of resistance. The aim of our panel is to further broaden our understanding of political resistance by considering how the nature of contemporary injustice itself challenges our established frameworks for evaluating and interpreting political resistance. The tactics which resistors employ are changing, but so too are the injustices that they seek to contest. Various contemporary phenomena have been described as “structural injustices” (Young, 2011) or “new harms” (Lichtenberg, 2010). Our systems of energy production and consumption contribute to global and intergenerational forms of climate change. Multinational corporations operating with global supply chains structure the economic fortunes of peoples around the world. The dynamics of international migration are characterised at once by the free movement of those with capital and passport privilege, and the clandestine flight of those seeking refuge and the exploitation of cheap migrant labour. 

These contemporary injustices, and others like them, seem to further strain the idea that resistance is best understood in terms of a civil exchange between citizens of a spatially and temporally bounded political community. Our panel takes up this issue, considering the extent to which our theories of resistance must adapt to changing circumstances. 

Some questions that might be considered in our panel are:

  • Can theories of civil disobedience be expanded or revised in a way that allows them to provide satisfactory responses to contemporary injustice? 
  • If norms of civility are inappropriate for constraining some forms of contemporary political resistance, what normative standards should limit action?
  • Do non-liberal theoretical frames offer a better understanding of contemporary political resistance?
  • How should political institutions deal with novel forms of political resistance? 
  • Do individuals have duties to resist contemporary injustice?
  • What normative standards should govern transnational forms of political resistance?

Confirmed Speakers:

Candice Delmas (Northeastern University)

https://cssh.northeastern.edu/faculty/candice-delmas/

Avia Pasternak (UCL) 

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/political-science/people/dr-avia-pasternak

Rob Jubb (University of Reading)

https://www.reading.ac.uk/spirs/about/staff/r-s-d-jubb.aspx

Temi Ogunye (LSE)

https://www.lse.ac.uk/government/people/research-students/temi-ogunye

Guy Aichison (University of Loughborough) 

https://www.lboro.ac.uk/subjects/politics-international-studies/staff/guy-aitchison/