A Crisis of Democracy?
By Professor Wolfgang Merkel
6 November 2013
Listen to the podcast
Contemporary democracies are facing a long and growing list of challenges, not least in their recent failures to regulate banks and credit industries, so it comes as no surprise that many observers today speak of a developing crisis of democracy, the crisis of ‘late-capitalist democracies’, or even of the coming of ‘post-democracy’. Wolfgang Merkel examines the evidence and counter-evidence for such claims. He notes the geographic unevenness of crisis symptoms and attempts to refine a concept of democracy sensitive enough to capture challenges that cannot be grasped by minimalist Schumpeterian understandings of democracy. Merkel emphasises the growing class bias and weakening commitment to political equality in actually existing democracies. He also asks what is meant by a ‘crisis’, a concept that remains among the vaguest terms in democracy research, if not in political science as a whole. And he asks some vital questions: when does a crisis of democracy begin and when does it end? What happens when a demos is ignorant or complacent about the dysfunctions of their democracy? Is a democracy then in crisis?
And if ‘the people’ are the main arbiter of what counts as a crisis, does this mean that present-day trends (such as abstention from voting by citizens, declining party membership, the market domination of politics) pose an insoluble theoretical dilemma: the people, the final arbiter of what counts as democracy, may democratically accept, for instance through elections and public opinion surveys, changes which scholars of democracy consider to be undemocratic?
Professor Wolfgang Merkel is among Germany’s best-known political scientist. He is Director of the “Democracy and Democratisation” research program, Director of the WZB Rule of Law Centre at the Social Science Research Centre Berlin (WZB) and Professor of Political Science at the Humboldt University Berlin. He is a member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and advisor to many European governments. He is also a non-party member of the Basic Values Commission of the Executive Committee of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and a member of the social sciences review board of the German Research Foundation (DFG).
Women and Democracy: A Room not of One’s Own
By Benedetta Brevini, Anika Gauja, Sarah Maddison, Jennifer Nedelsky
6 November 2013
Listen to the podcast
With some notable exceptions, the study of democracy has always been, and today remains, a male-dominated endeavour. From the time of the democracies of the ancient Greek world, despite the fact that democracy has consistently been represented symbolically by the figure of a woman, it is men who have shaped the understanding of what counts as democracy, why it is a superior form of political order, or why it is prone to self-paralysis, and why it therefore should be rejected as a muddled recipe for the reign of ignorance and political disorder. This open public forum aims to turn the tables on this entrenched pattern. It gives a voice to several prominent scholars of democracy who acknowledge that they see things from a woman’s point of view and have much to say about the fate of democracy in the early years of the 21st century. They discuss a range of topics, from the intensifying mediation of contemporary politics and the uncertain future of political parties to questions of representation of indigenous peoples and the pressing need to develop notions and practices of reconciliation and care for others.
Benedetta Brevini is widely known for her work on the politics of media and power, the relationship between media and democracy and global media reforms. Her most recent books include Public Service Broadcasting Online: A Comparative European Policy Study of PSB 2.0 (2013) and Beyond WikiLeaks: Implications for the Future of Communications, Journalism and Society (2013)
Anika Gauja is broadly interested and well-known for her comparative work on political institutions in modern representative democracies. She is especially concerned with the future of political parties and parliaments, their continuing relevance as mechanisms for citizen participation in politics and their ability to represent diverse and conflicting interests. She is the author of Political Parties and Elections: Legislating for Representative Democracy (2010) and Powerscape: Contemporary Australian politics - 2nd Edition (with Ariadne Vromen and Katharine Gelber, 2009)
Sarah Maddison is an Australian author and Australian Research Council Future Fellow. In 2009, Sarah was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to examine international models of Indigenous representation, through a study of the National Congress of American Indians and Canada’s Assembly of First Nations. Her areas of research expertise include Indigenous political culture, Australian democracy and democratic participation, gender politics, social movements, public policy, and democratic dialogue.
Her most recent publications include Beyond White Guilt (2011) and Unsettling the Settler State (2011). She is currently working on a four-country comparative study of dialogue and conflict transformation in South Africa, Northern Ireland, Guatemala, and Australia.
Jennifer Nedelsky is Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Toronto. She is known globally for her lecturing and scholarship in the areas of feminist theory, theories of judgment, American constitutional history and interpretation, and comparative constitutionalism. Her best known books include Private Property and the Limits of American Constitutionalism (1990) and Judgment, Imagination and Politics: Themes from Kant and Arendt (with Ronald Beiner, 2001). Jennifer is at work on Human Rights and Judgment: A Relational Approach, to be published by Oxford University Press.
The Problem of the Anthropocene
"For the animals that did'nt have a dady to put them on the boat": environmental managment in the Anthropocene
By Professor David Schlosberg
University of Sydney
6 November 2013
Listen to the podcast
“For the animals that didn’t have a daddy to put them on the boat, the end of the world already happened.” Hushpuppy, in Beasts of the Southern Wild, lays out the dilemma of environmental management in the anthropocene. In a climate-changing world, what we mean by “the environment” is now unstable, with human actions affecting the very makeup, functioning, and evolution of global and local ecosystems and habitats. This paper examines four possible normative underpinnings for human management of this climate-changing environment, starting with the idea of limits and boundaries, the traditional conception of the conservation of a past, and the hubris of human technological intervention. The fourth is a proposal for a conception of ecological receptivity – a ‘politics of sight’ that makes visible human immersion
in natural systems. The anthropocene will not recede, and the central question of environmental management will be whether we can develop productive and fecund ways to reflexively and sustainably manage ecosystems, habitats, and human needs.
David Schlosberg is Co-Director of the Sydney Environment Institute and Professor of Environmental Politics in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. Professor Schlosberg is known nationally and internationally for his work in environmental politics, environmental movements, and political theory, in particular the intersection of the three with his work on environmental justice, most recently Defining Environmental Justice (Oxford 2007). He is a co-editor, with John Dryzek of ANU and Richard Norgaard of UC Berkeley, of The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society (Oxford 2011); the three are in the process of co-authoring a book on The Climate-Challenged Society (forthcoming from Oxford in 2013). Professor Schlosberg has held visiting appointments at the London School of Economics, Australian National University, and Princeton University.
His current research includes work on climate justice – in particular justice, environmental rights, and democratic participation in adaptation strategies and policies. He is also planning a project examining the new sustainable materialist focus of many environmental movement groups on food and animals, energy, housing, crafting and making, and transportation.
The Most Acceptable Hypocrisy: Legitimacy and Euphemism at the United Nations Security Council
By Dr Matthew Stephen
30 October 2013
Listen to the podcast
This paper examines the international politics of legitimation at the United Nations Security Council. It presents an empirical analysis of legitimacy claims made by major states regarding the Security Council. It finds that the normative criteria for Security Council legitimacy have transformed since its original inception after the Second World War. From an institution legitimised by its victory in the war, and by great power politics, the legitimacy of the Security Council is today mostly evaluated according to principles deriving from liberal democratic principles: accountability, transparency, representativeness, and democracy. It would be premature to attribute this transformation of legitimation principles to a normative to a normative revolution, however. Instead, a change in vocabulary belies continuity in the underlying realities: democratic legitimacy talk has become a form of euphemism, akin to politeness. In this approach, legitimacy talk is neither a simple rationalisation of interests, nor an expression of genuinely-held legitimacy perceptions, but a means for courteous intercourse over contentious international political issues. In an era of liberal hegemony, international power politics adopts a liberal vocabulary. These findings have implications for the rising powers debate, for legitimacy research in international politics, and for the prospects of deliberative democracy beyond the nation state.
Matthew Stephen is a Post-Doctoral Researcher in the unit on Global Governance at the WZB Berlin Social Research Center. He received his doctoral degree (summa cum laude) in July 2013 from the Free University of Berlin. His research concerns the role of rising powers and resistance in global governance. Currently he is working on a collaborative research project ‘Contested World Orders’ involving the WZB Berlin Social Research Center, the German Institute of Global and Area Studies in Hamburg, and the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt. He is a WZB Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights at the University of Sydney from September to November 2013.
Download working paper
Islamic Reform and the Question of Human Rights
By Dr Safdar Ahmed
University of Sydney
23 October 2013
Listen to the podcast
A common objection to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) is the relativist claim that its principles are derived from Western cultural values that cannot be applied to all peoples. This is an argument made by the Indian Islamist, Sayyad Abul ‘Ala Maududi, and drafters of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights, who promote an Islamic interpretation of human rights formulated largely in opposition to the UNDHR. Safdar Ahmed’s talk critically examines the incommensurability thesis, instead arguing that there are many culturally specific moral foundations for a universal doctrine of human rights. In particular, he focuses on the effort of contemporary Muslim reformers to develop a non-essentlialist understanding of human rights within Islamic theology. Analysing the work of Abdulaziz Sachedina among others, Ahmed shows that the question of Islam’s compatibility with a universal notion of human rights is closely related to discussions about human nature in modern theology and law. Furthermore, the effort to derive human rights from Islamic revelation and theology has achieved a second, more radical, consequence, which is to critically examine the epistemological foundations and boundaries of modern Islamic thought.
Safdar Ahmed is a scholar in the field of Islamic studies and associate of the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Sydney, where he completed his PhD in 2010. His research includes the intellectual history of modern Islamic reform and its intersections with discourses of modernity and secularity. He is the author of Modernity and Reform in Islam, which was published in 2013 by IB Tauris. He is a member of the Research Cluster, Religion State and Society in the Muslim World, convened by Associate Professor Lily Rahim and funded by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (2013).
Safdar has completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Sydney’s National Art School and is a founding member of the Refugee Art Project, for which he conducts regular art lessons with refugees and asylum seekers in the Villawood detention centre. The Refugee Art Project facilitates, encourages and displays the art and self-expression of asylum seekers and refugees in order to deepen public understanding about refugee issues and the realities of Australia’s detention regime.
From Research to Intervention: Academic Forays into the Prevention of Torture
By Associate Professor Danielle Celermajer
University of Sydney
9 October 2013
Listen to the podcast
Human rights training has become one of the most popular strategies for the prevention of human rights violations by law enforcement and security personnel. Once placed under scrutiny, however, the empirical and analytical bases of training interventions is at best shallow and at worst defective. Indeed, as is the case with many human rights prevention strategies, training has in general been disconnected from empirical research on the root causes of human rights violations and has lacked the type of feedback loop that would be created by robust evaluation of its impact. When we interrogate the actual conditions under which law enforcement officers in the global south operate, we find that human rights violations emerge from a range of organisational, cultural, political and economic factors that are completely overlooked by approaches that assume that normative change can be effected by transmitting information about international law or norms. Moreover, ethnographic research on how human rights interventions ‘land’ for police in the global south indicate a vast gap between the ‘intended’ and ‘received’ messages.
In this paper, Danielle discusses a three-year torture prevention project being conducted with security and law enforcement personnel in Nepal and Sri Lanka and how our team is seeking to develop a prevention strategy responsive to the systemic factors that underpin and sustain torture. I then draw on this case to raise broader issues about how we might, both practically and theoretically, reconcile the legitimate critiques of human rights as overly metaphysical and insufficiently sensitive to the ways in which norms are embedded in material conditions with an ongoing commitment to key human rights principles such as the prevention of torture.
Danielle Celermajer is currently the Director of the Torture Prevention Project a European Union funded project interrogating the root causes of torture and designing interventions for the Police and Military in Sri Lanka and Nepal. She was the founding director of the EU funded Asia Pacific Masters of Human Rights and Democratisation, a networked postgraduate human rights education program across the Asia Pacific Region. Her primary areas of research fields are human rights and political theory.
In the area of human rights, her research focuses on transitional justice and the question of how contemporary states and societies can deal with past violations, the relationship between human rights and religious norms and institutions and human rights education. Prior to entering academia, she was Director of Policy at the Australian Human Rights Commission, where she authored numerous reports on Indigenous human rights and was principal speechwriter to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. Her book, Sins of the Nation and the Ritual of Apology, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2009.
Human Rights as a Way of Life: On Bergson’s Political Philosophy
By Dr Alex Lefebvre, University of Sydney
Responses by Nikolas Kompridis (UWS) and Miguel Vatter (UNSW)
25 September 2013
The work of Henri Bergson, the foremost French philosopher of the early twentieth century, is not usually explored for its political dimensions. Indeed, Bergson is best known for his writings on time, evolution, and creativity. This book concentrates instead on his political philosophy - and especially on his late masterpiece, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion - from which Alexandre Lefebvre develops an original approach to human rights.
We tend to think of human rights as the urgent international project of protecting all people everywhere from harm. Bergson shows us that human rights can also serve as a medium of personal transformation and self-care. For Bergson, the main purpose of human rights is to initiate all human beings into love. Forging connections between human rights scholarship and philosophy as self-care, Lefebvre uses human rights to channel the whole of Bergson’s philosophy.
“Lefebvre’s new book is a fascinating interpretation of Bergson’s last work . . . Lefebvre teases out the political implications of The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, with its equally lovely and confronting description of open and closed societies . . . Thinking like Lefebvre’s, channeling Bergson, can help jump the needle out of the deepening grooves of party-political discourse.”- Miriam Cosic, The Australian
“An informed, informative, detailed, and impressive work of seminal scholarship, Human Rights As A Way Of Life is an important contribution and a highly recommended addition to academic library Political Philosophy reference collections and supplemental reading lists.” - Midwest Book Review
Alexandre Lefebvre is a senior lecturer in the Department of Government and International Relations, and the Department of Philosophy, at the University of Sydney. His teaching and research interests are in political theory and the philosophy of human rights.At present he is working on a project titled Human Rights and the Care of the Self. The goal of this research is to undertake a basic shift in perspective in how we view human rights. His guiding idea in this project is that human rights are not only a means to protect all people against serious legal, political and social abuse, but they are also a medium of self-care and personal transformation. The aim of his project is to analyse how human rights law, discourse, and practice serve to transform the whole of one’s life or way of being. Alex is author of Human Rights as a Way of Life: on Bergson’s Political Philosophy (Stanford University Press, 2013), The Image of Law: Deleuze, Bergson, Spinoza (Stanford University Press, 2008), and co-editor of Bergson, Politics, and Religion (Duke University Press, 2012).
Precarity of Place: Noncitizens and Human Rights Activism
By Dr Susan Banki
University of Sydney
11 September 2013
Listen to the podcast
This paper suggests that our current understanding of the terms surrounding precarity (precariat, precarity, and precarious lives) are insufficient to describe the specific challenges of noncitizen living. It offers a counter concept to Standing and subsequent authors in their examinations of migrant precarity: ‘precarity of place.’ The term, far from being focused on the way precarity manifests itself in the workplace, instead focuses on the existential and practical challenges of being noncitizens and the ‘teetering on the edge’ (Standing) quality of migrant life. The paper draws several parallels between the growing literature on what I call ‘labour precarity’ and ‘precarity of place’, including its origins in colonialism and neoliberalism, its nebulous class quality, and social movement responses. Thus human rights activism, it is argued, is altered in the face of precarity of place. Drawing on examples of migrants in Asia, the paper posits that ‘precarity of place’ be considered in conjunction with, but separated from, our current understandings of (labour) precarity.
Susan Banki’s research interests lie in the political, institutional, and legal contexts that explain the roots of and solutions to international human rights violations. In particular, she is interested in the ways that questions of sovereignty, citizenship/membership and humanitarian principles have shaped our understanding of and reactions to various transnational phenomena, such as the international human rights regime, international migration and the provision of international aid. Susan’s focus is in the Asia-Pacific region, where she has conducted extensive field research in Thailand, Nepal, Bangladesh and Japan on refugee/migrant protection, statelessness and border control. She is currently investigating the local, regional and international mechanisms (and the interactions between them) that serve as potential levers for change.
Her current research and teaching interests include: forced displacement and international migration, refugee resettlement, transnational social movements, human rights at the United Nations and humanitarian assistance.
Susan is the recipient of a Discovery Early Career Research Award, studying the homeland politics of precarious populations.
The Blindspot of Public Sphere Theory: The Role of Expressive Culture
By Professor Jostein Gripsrud
University of Bergen
10 September 2013
Listen to the podcast
Theoretical work on the public sphere has almost completely concentrated on its political aspects. Even book-length contributions where “culture” is in the title have not dealt with the role of expressive culture, but about culture in the anthropological or ethnological sense. This is lamentable not only because the literary or cultural public sphere was the very beginning of the modern public sphere, but also because today’s existing public spheres are marked by close relations between expressive culture and a variety of key democratic functions.
This presentation will discuss the implications of and possible remedies for this weakness in public sphere theory and point to historical and current examples of how expressive culture has politically relevant impacts and implications that need to be addressed. Expressive culture is involved in a variety of ways in public discourses dealing with this situation, contributing to understandings of it and promoting political attitudes and actions. On the other hand, the cultural public sphere also offers possibilities for a retreat from politics and socio-cultural engagement, where differences in terms of engagement vs retreat are structured along lines of already established social divisions.
Jostein Gripsrud is Professor of Media Studies at the University of Bergen, Norway. He has published extensively on a variety of topics in media and cultural studies. On television, he has published The Dynasty Years: Hollywood Television and Critical Media Studies (Routledge, 1995) and a number of articles, some of which have appeared in anthologies he edited or co-edited: Television and Common Knowledge (Routledge, 1999), Media, Markets & Public Spheres: European Media at the Crossroads (Intellect, 2010) and Relocating Television: Television in the Digital Context (Routledge, 2010). He has also co-published articles on cultural sociology (e.g. “Changing Relations: Class, education and cultural capital” , in Poetics, vol 39 (2011), pp 507-529) and published articles as well as co-edited and contributed to anthologies on public sphere theory: The Idea of the Public Sphere (Lexington Books, 2010) and The Public Sphere vol I-IV (Sage, 2011).
co-hosted with Media@Sydney
Rethinking Migrants’ Rights
By Associate Professor Nicola Piper
University of Sydney
4 September 2013
The increasing mobility of individuals over international borders has prompted the need for greater cooperation by states on regulating global migration.Such efforts have so far been mainly based on the normative interpretations (as well as practices relating to them) of migration that equates human mobility with the need to control population movements and borders with the view to migration’s potential for economic development in countries of origin and destination. Migrant rights activists, by contrast, have criticized the dominant approaches to global management of migration by drawing attention to numerous abuses migrants are subjected to at all stages of the migration process.By generating and mobilizing new interpretations of rights, these activists have questioned the limits of citizenship and human rights and have put forward claims that transcend conventional or mainstream understandings of these rights.
It is against this backdrop that the argument is advanced here for a new conceptualisation of migrants’ rightsthat draws on social movement and constructivist IR scholarship, and is informed by global justice perspectives.
Nicola Piper joined the Department of Sociology at the University of Sydney as Associate Professor in July 2012. She will take up the Directorship of the Masters of Human Rights and Democratisation in January 2013. She is affiliated Senior Research Fellow at the Arnold Bergstraesser Institute at Freiburg University, Germany, external advisor on migration research at the UN Research Institute for Social Development, Geneva, as well as co-founder and Vice President of the Global Migration Policy Associates. Her primary research fields revolve around rights-based governance of international migration, migrant rights activism and labour rights as human rights. Geographically, most of her work focuses on Asia but she has also conducted fieldwork in Latin America and Europe.
Among her latest publications are the following volumes: New Perspectives on Gender and Migration: Livelihoods, Rights, and Entitlements (2008), South-South Migration: Implications for Social Policy and Development (with KatjaHujo, 2010) and the co-authored book Critical Perspectives on Global Governance: Rights and Regulation in Governing Regimes (with Jean Grugel, 2007). Since 2010, she has been editorial board member of the international peer-reviewed journal Refugee Survey Quarterly and the peer-reviewed journal Anti-Trafficking Review.
She is member of the Migrant Worker Taskforce Australia, and under the auspices of the Sydney Social Justice Network, she has been awarded a grant for a project on The Future of Migrant Workers Rights in Australia - Building an alliance for migrant justice.
The Merits of Secularity and Contradictions of Theocracy: Religion through civil society
By Professor Mohsen Kadivar
14 August 2013
Listen to the podcast
Co-presented with Sydney Ideas, the Department of Government and International Relations, and the Religion, State and Society Network, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Recent developments in Egypt and elsewhere have prompted a fundamental question concerning the role of Islamic groups in politics: to what extent can and should Muslims promote their faith through politics, in particular by ensuring that the state functions as a medium of their religious principles?
A conventional reply has it that Muslims who desire to live according to spiritual norms, religious ethics and Islamic law (Shari'a) must form an Islamic state. Mohsen Kadivar argues that the understandable temptation to use political power as a means of reaching religious ends can in fact lead to the formation of a theocracy. By this he means a type of state in which Islamic law becomes state law and special legislative and judicial rights are granted to clerics and religious leaders. In this public lecture, Kadivar asks about the efficacy of theocracy. From Muslims’ perspective, he will argue that in a secular age an Islamic state is the most detrimental way of promoting religious ethics, championing divine values and implementing Islamic law. Evidence is growing that theocracy, or an Islamic state, inevitably damages religiosity and decreases its public appeal, which raises another fundamental question: in Muslim societies, are Islamic ethics and law paradoxically best served and promoted by a civil society that enables the competitive interaction between different religious faiths and people who are secularists?
Theologian and philosopher Mohsen Kadivar is one of Iran’s most prominent and respected advocates of the reconstruction and reform of Islamic theology, jurisprudence and politics. Imprisoned for 18 months for his political and religious views by the Iranian government, Kadivar was forced into exile. Since 2009, has taught Islamic studies at Duke University in the United States. Kadivar has published a number of influential books in Persian and Arabic, as well as a dozen essays in English. His scholarly interests span both classical and modern Islamic thought, with a special focus on Islamic philosophy, theology, law, ethics, Qur'anic studies and Shiite political thought.
The Universal Cannibalism of the Sea: Comparing Locke and Derrida’s accounts on Dominion, Property and Sovereignty over Animals
By Dr Dinesh Wadiwel
14 August 2013
Listen to the podcast
This paper seeks to mark the uncanny resemblance between John Locke’s discussion of the foundation of property rights, and Jacques Derrida’s reading of sovereignty and violence in the The Beast & the Sovereign Vol.2.
Locke’s theory of property, and the view of natural right he advances, is arguably one of the theoretical pillars underpinning the western tradition of human rights. Focusing on the First Treatise in the Two Treatises of Government, this paper will explore the arguments that found the property right in Locke, drawing attention in particular to the pivotal role of ownership of non human animals in conceptualising this right. Dinesh will further highlight the common drive for “self preservation” Locke ascribes to both humans and animals, and the development of property as an outcome of a contestation between a human and animal claim of self preservation. This paper will then compare Locke’s approach to that of Derrida in the The Beast & the Sovereign lectures. This paper will argue that effectively both Locke and Derrida posit a foundation for human sovereignty over animals as not based upon a factual claim to superior capability (intelligence, speech, reason etc) , but rather upon a superiority won as a result of violent contest.
Dinesh is a lecturer in human rights and socio-legal studies. He has previously taught in Sociology and Politics at the University of Western Sydney, Macquarie University and the University of Notre Dame Australia. Dinesh’s research interests include sovereignty and the nature of rights, violence, race and critical animal studies. At present he is exploring the way in which non-human animals are constructed within rights discourses, and the possibilities for using contemporary theories of sovereignty to reframe our understanding of violence towards non-humans. The research examines the relationship between non-human life and the political sphere, with the aim of understanding the political dimension of the relationships between humans and non-human animals, and extracting relevant implications for thinking about race, gender and disability.
Australian Politics in an Age of Social Media
By Dr Peter John Chen
12 June 2013
Listen to the podcast
Drawing from his recent book, Australian Politics in a Digital Age, Dr Chen’s talk revisits old debates about the internet’s potential for democratisation. The theme is catalysed by the shifting landscape of the Australian media system towards islands of institutional content bridged by social media connections. While the prospects for a radical reconfiguration of democratic practice were largely unfounded in the first two decades of the internet, there is some evidence that elite dominance of new media in Australia is being disrupted by a more anarchic and horizontally-structured pattern of communication. While some herald this “web 2.0” as transformative, this talk pragmatically examines, against a background history of disappointment in this field of study, the prospects for a renewed interest in electronically-facilitated democratic practices.
Peter John Chen is a lecturer in politics and media in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. His research interests focus on the relationship between media and politics, with a special interest in new media's impacts on electoral politics, media regulation, social movements and the politics of animal protection. He is a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Information Technology & Politics and the International Journal of Electronic Governance. Peter is currently working on a new book on the politics of animal welfare in Australia.
NSW Politics after ICAC - A Line in the Sand
By John Robertson
6 June 2013
Listen to the podcast
The explosive hearings before the Independent Commission Against Corruption represent a challenge to all sides of NSW politics: what can be done to restore faith in public administration?
Last November, John Robertson began by suspending Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald from the Labor Party. In February 2013, he announced a package of reforms dubbed the “New Standard”. Key measures, effectively immediately, included directing all Shadow Ministers (and immediate family) to publish their full income and assets. MPs were banned from holding outside employment. New probity rules were proposed for granting mining licenses.
John accepts the ICAC hearings have shaken public faith in Labor and the party must do better. On June 6, he will give a landmark address affirming his determination to improve Labor’s culture and clean up NSW politics. He will propose a new future for Labor after the ICAC hearings: one that reconnects the Party with its founding idealism as a vehicle for ethical, progressive change.
John Robertson’s career has been marked by strong, principled stands. These include his support for public ownership of electricity assets, refugee rights and same sex marriage. As NSW Opposition Leader, John has committed Labor to a moratorium on new coal seam gas projects until the industry is proven safe. He has also begun enacting the strongest ethical reforms ever seen in NSW politics as part of his New Standard package.
As Secretary of Unions NSW, John spearheaded the successful Your Rights at Workcampaign in NSW against the Howard Government’s industrial relations laws. In October 2008, John was appointed to the Legislative Council where he served in several ministerial positions. In March 2011, he was elected Member for Blacktown and NSW Opposition Leader.
John has served on the Heritage Council and as a Director of Workcover NSW, Energy Australia, the Parramatta Stadium Trust and broadcaster 2KY. He is patron of the Prospect Heritage Society, a member of Alzheimers NSW and a White Ribbon Ambassador.
Beppe Grillo goes to Rome – The rise and possible futures of the most unlikely winner of Italy’s 2013 election
By Dr Giovanni Navarria,
Institute for Democracy and Human Rights
The University of Sydney
29 May 2013
Listen to the podcast
A general election always offers an important opportunity for checking the democratic pulse of a country. Italy’s 2013 election was no exception. With no clear ruling majority in the Parliament, there was a most unlikely winner: the 5 Star Movement, a citizens’ platform led by Beppe Grillo, the controversial, charismatic comedian-turned-blogger-turned-political-guru. Before the election, the pollsters had estimated the Movement could get anything between 15 and 18 per cent of the votes. But Grillo’s Movement went way beyond any forecasts by pollsters. It managed the impossible for a first-timer: with over 25 per cent, it became almost overnight the major single political force in the country.
In this seminar, Dr Navarria explains the reasons why this happened and what Grillo’s success may signify for the future of democracy in Italy, a country that is facing both an escalating crisis and stubborn refusals within the political class to initiate credible reforms of the political system. Ultimately, Dr Navarria argues, the Five-Star Movement’s success represents a wake-up call for Italy’s democracy: it embodies both the positive and negative aspects of the crisis the country is undergoing.
The Five-Star Movement, Dr Navarria suggests, could well collapse under the weight of its own promises and unexpected successes. Two factors may play a crucial role in its conceivable failure: the naivety of its newly elected MPs and the strange and contradictory qualities of its leader. Grillo is a controversial figure who has sown the seeds of a new form of populism marked by strongly anti-democratic sentiments that could very well define both the shape and quality of Italy’s democratic future and, perhaps more alarmingly, that of the rest of Europe.
Giovanni's research interests include the relationship between authoritarian regimes in Asia and the language and tactics of democracy; the role new communication media have in politics; the meaning of representation and the role of civil society in contemporary democracies. He is currently working on a project focusing on the effects communication media have on prevailing power-dynamics between state and citizens in the authoritarian regimes of the Asia-Pacific region. He is also completing a book exploring the changing meanings of power and civic engagement in technologically advanced societies. In the past eight years he has lived and worked in London and Berlin. During 2012 he was a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Social Science Research Center of Berlin. Dr. Navarria holds a PhD in Politics from the University of Westminster, United Kingdom, and a Degree in Philosophy from the University of Catania, Italy.
Cosmopolitanism and Nationhood in the Political Thought of Thomas Paine
By Dr Robert Lamb
The University of Exeter, UK
15 May 2013
Listen to the podcast | Download Powerpoint
The late eighteenth-century political writer Thomas Paine is regarded chiefly as a rhetorician pamphleteer and polemicist rather than as a theorist of any great note. Yet in a number of writings devoted to defences of the American and French Revolutions, Paine outlined one of the first modern variants of rights-based liberalism, one that is of historical and philosophical significance. This paper offers an interpretative reconstruction of one key aspect of his neglected political theory: his account of international relations. A self-declared 'citizen of the world', Paine has traditionally been cast as offering the most radical form of cosmopolitanism visible in modern, Western political thought, one that goes much further than Kant in terms of delineating a set of globalised moral and political commitments. In this paper, I subject this reading of his thought to critical scrutiny, suggesting that it has been somewhat exaggerated. In particular, I argue that there is a tension in his thought between the cosmopolitan sentiments present throughout his writings and the clear, though oft-overlooked commitment to national sovereignty that he displays in texts such as Rights of Man: the apparently universalistic rights he ascribes to individuals would seem to be undermined by the particularistic rights he ascribes to 'nations'. Through analysis of his mature writings, I argue that this tension can ultimately be resolved and that Paine's international political theory emerges as a coherent and historically distinct species of liberal cosmopolitanism. Nevertheless, this resolution raises several further questions for Paine's theory that continue to pose difficulties for contemporary liberals.
Robert is Senior Lecturer in Political Philosophy at the University of Exeter in the UK. His main research and teaching interests are in the history of modern liberal thought, its relationship to contemporary political philosophy and the methodological questions involved in interpreting past ideas.
Lebanon: Political Challenges in the Face of Regional Turmoil
By Dr Ziyad Baroud
Saint Joseph University, Beirut
8 May 2013
Listen to the podcast
In this address, Ziyad Baroud, former Lebanese Minister of Interior, will attempt to point out the potential that exists for Lebanon to reset itself as a neutral place of hope and development within a region bathed in turmoil. Although the Lebanese potential has been squandered for so many decades by the political schisms induced by neighbouring plights, Lebanon must learn to assume a role of even handedness towards different conflicts and render itself as an essential pivot of hard-learned lessons in order to produce a forward-looking momentum in the nation-building process. Dr. Baroud will attempt to take his audience through the major challenges the country faces in the Middle East today, highlighting where the Lebanese potential has previously failed, where the nation has simply been a prisoner of history and looking forward to not repeating the mistakes of days past.
Dr Ziyad Baroud is a prominent Lebanese politician and civil society activist. From 2008 to 2011, he served as minister of Interior and Municipalities, considered to be among the most powerful positions in the country, in two consecutive cabinets in the governments of Fuad Siniora and Saad Hariri. He currently practises law at his own firm and teaches law at the St Joseph University in Beirut.
Baroud is a renowned expert on issues of decentralisation and electoral law reform. During his time as a cabinet minister, Baroud was widely credited for advocating a new culture of political responsibility and openness. He is today credited with overseeing Lebanon’s best-managed round of elections (in 2009).
Why Civil Disobedience?
Co-Hosted by the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (IDHR) and Greenpeace Australia Pacific
3 May 2013
Listen to the podcast | Download flyer
In an age in which financial disorders, violence and ecological crises are spinning out of control while politicians fail to act, citizens all around the world are increasingly turning to civil disobedience in an effort to achieve change. This is taking place against a backdrop in which governments are increasingly challenged by new technologies and political resistance, often provoking a severe response.
A high-level panel including a leading Australian human rights lawyer and counsel for Julian Assange, a representative from Greenpeace and a leading political theorist will share their thoughts on these and related matters.
Chair: Professor John Keane, University of Sydney
- Jennifer Robinson, Director of Legal Advocacy, Bertha Philanthropies, London
- David Ritter, CEO, Greenpeace Australia Pacific
- Professor Simon Tormey, University of Sydney
The Greening of Democracy
By Professor John Keane
Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (IDHR)
The University of Sydney
1 May 2013
Listen to the podcast
John Keane’s talk aims to provoke discussion about the long-term, ‘deep’ effects of green politics on the language and institutions and ‘imaginary’ of democracy. Some of these effects are more obvious than others, he points out. In half a generation, green-minded intellectuals, movements and political parties have helped ensure that such matters as chemical pollutants, nuclear power, carbon emissions, climate change and species destruction are ‘in the air’ and firmly on the policy agenda of democratic politics. Public awareness that humans are the only biological species ever to have occupied the entire planet, with potentially catastrophic consequences, is growing. Green politics has helped popularise precautionary attitudes towards ‘progress’ and its blind embrace. It has also tabled vital tactical questions: for instance, whether priority should be given to civic initiatives and social movements or to the formation of political parties and alliances with mainstream parties, how green parties are best kept ‘democratic’, and whether their political success requires broadening green politics to include themes such as immigration and gender discrimination.
Despite these notable achievements, John Keane argues, the profoundly radical implications of green politics for the way people imagine and live democracy remain poorly understood. Levels of support for democratic principles certainly run high within green circles, as confirmed by the widespread uproar triggered by James Lovelock’s suggestion that it ‘may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while’. Yet why people with green sympathies should embrace democracy for more than tactical reasons, whether democratic principles themselves can be ‘greened’ and what that might imply for the way people imagine to be the essence or ‘spirit’ of democracy are matters that remain obscure within green circles and beyond – or so this talk on green politics and the future of democracy suggests.
Professor John Keane is Director of the newly-founded Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (IDHR) at the University of Sydney. His full-length history of democracy, The Life and Death of Democracy was short-listed for the 2010 Prime Minister’s Non-Fiction Literary Award.
Trusting the Media
Co-presented with Sydney Ideas, the Department of Media and Communications, School of Letters, Arts and Media
16 April 2013
Trust in media has become a central issue for media workers and the public. But defining trust remains difficult as it overlaps with a range of other terms such as confidence, integrity, reliability, and credibility. For all of the discussion of trust there is a dearth of discussion of some core issues; namely that trust can not only be betrayed, withdrawn and lost, but built, earned and learned. Arguably, wiithout some common understanding of the basic principles upon which integrity can be built, we cannot learn or earn trust let alone improve our situation.
What do we mean by trust in the media? At what stage of media production and consumption should we judge it? How do we measure it? And who is the judge?
In this Sydney ideas event, a panel of academics and media practitioners adopt a different approach by going back to basics and asking critical questions of the some of the core concepts that inspire and characterise the media. Their focus is on principles and the issues that arise when the media holds onto them, abandons them, or takes them for granted. Specifically, do notions of objectivity, transparency, accountability and the public interest still have force in this new media environment?
The panel will be chaired by Peter Fray, former publisher and editor-in-chief of The Sydney Morning Herald and Sun Herald, and now an adjunct professor in the Department of Media and Communications and the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights.
- On Objectivity, Associate Professor Steven Maras, Department of Media and Communications and author of Objectivity in Journalism (Polity Press, 2012)
- On Transparency, Dr Fiona Martin, Senior Lecturer in Convergent and Online Media, Department of Media and Communications, ARC chief investigator ‘Mediating the Conversation.
- On Accountability, Paul Chadwick, journalist and lawyer. First Director Editorial Policies of the ABC (2007-12) and now a director of Guardian Australia.
- On the Public Interest, Amanda Wilson, Director, Amanda Wilson Communications and former Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.
Contemporary Populism and Crisis – Is the Tail Wagging the Dog?
By Benjamin Moffitt,
Department of Government and I.R.
The University of Sydney
10 April 2013
Listen to the podcast | Download Powerpoint
It seems today that we are permanently experiencing some sort of political crisis. Suffering the hangover of the Global Financial Crisis, in the midst of the European Union crisis, and allegedly undergoing a crisis of faith in democracy, it would appear that the stage has been set for populists to sweep in, appeal to ‘the people’ and enjoy great success by capitalizing on a general loss of faith and disaffection with the elite. However, across the world this has not necessarily been the case in the past five years: after precipitous rises, the US Tea Party is flailing; in Australia, Pauline Hanson can’t get elected; in the Netherlands, Geert Wilder’s Freedom Party’s vote share has dropped; and a number of European countries have installed relatively popular technocratic governments. Only the Latin American region seems immune to this trend.
So what is going on here? In this presentation, Benjamin Moffitt argues that we need to flip the common wisdom on the relationship between populism and crisis, which sees crisis as a cause or necessary precondition of populism. Instead, there is a need to think of it as an internal feature of populism. In making this argument, he will examine the tactics, stylistic manoeuvres and performative repertoires that populist actors use to ‘perform’ and mediate a sense of crisis. Drawing on contemporary empirical examples, he will explore the effects of ‘performing’ crisis, including the division of ‘the people’ and ‘the elite’, the simplification of politics, and the legitimation of ‘strong’ leadership. Finally, he will ask what long-term effects populists’ performance of crisis has on democratic politics in Europe, the Americas and the Asia-Pacific.
Benjamin is a PhD candidate and Postgraduate Teaching Fellow in the Department and Government and International Relations. He holds an Australian Postgraduate Award and University of Sydney Merit Award. He was awarded the inaugural Sydney Democracy Initiative PhD Collaboration Fellowship at the WZB (Berlin Social Science Research Centre) in 2011.
Working at the intersection of political theory and political sociology, Benjamin’s research focuses on the relationship between contemporary populism and democracy around the world, with a particular focus on representation, media, governance and crisis.
- Rethinking Populism: Politics, Mediatisation and Political Style Politics | by Benjamin Moffitt and Simon Tormey | Political Studies (2013)
Two Ideas for How to Treat People As Equals
By Professor Thomas Pogge
Yale University and the University of Sydney
19 March, 2013
Dowload Paper | Download PowerPoint
This seminar discusses two approaches to political inequality. They differ on what the core of the problem is and consequently envision different solutions. But they resemble each other in one respect: each involves an attempt to extend an idea that is familiar in the context of one national society to the world at large. One is Rawls's idea of an overlapping consensus on certain basic values which supposedly allows all participants in this consensus to regard themselves and one another as equals. This idea fails. A more promising alternative is the idea of impartiality as requiring that equal weight be given to the voice and interests of all human beings
Professor Thomas Pogge
Having received his PhD in philosophy from Harvard, Thomas Pogge is Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs and Director of the Global Justice Program at Yale. He is a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science as well as President of Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP), an international network aiming to enhance the impact of scholars, teachers and students on global poverty, and of Incentives for Global Health, a team effort toward developing a complement to the pharmaceutical patent regime that would improve access to advanced medicines for the poor worldwide (www.healthimpactfund.org). Pogge's recent publications include Politics as Usual (Polity 2010); World Poverty and Human Rights (Polity 2008), John Rawls: His Life and Theory of Justice (Oxford 2007); and Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right (Oxford & UNESCO 2007).