October 9, 2019

Narrowing of Spaces for Critical Thinking and Acting – Conversations with Judith Butler

Belgrade Youth Center at 17h

Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory in cooperation with the Network for Academic Solidarity and Engagement (MASA) organizes a panel discussion whose aim is to open up questions of autonomy and freedom of thought while focusing on university that should be a cradle of social critique.

We are bearing witness to the phenomena where demands for freedom of expression, more democracy and justice are either censored or seen as calls for rebellion. Support for change is interpreted as a voice of notorious elites that do not understand or that undermine aspirations of an “ordinary” man. Such a censorship is not specific of our society. Professional media where advocates of critical thinking are voicing their opinions, Donald Trump openly calls ‘enemies of the people’.

When the State does not protect autonomy and freedom of thinking, when unconditional obedience is becoming the principle of state form, then university must become a place, a lighthouse, and a castle within the state itself that protects the freedom of thinking and the right to critique. Otherwise, thinking becomes dangerous. At its heart, censorship is violent because the consequences of censoring – many examples from the world speak about this fact – can be threats of violence or real violence, surveillance, censorship of publishing, simulations of trials, defamation, loss of work, banishment from one’s country, and at the end, even death.

How do we explain the fact that the space for public speaking is widening with more platforms and possibilities for communication, and that, at the same time, the space for critical thinking is narrowing? Is cacophony suffocating it? Is breathlessness of critical thinking also due to the growing populism that recognizes critique as a “rotten elitism” always hostile toward ‘the people”? What are the spaces for critical engagement in the West that populism dilutes? How do we identify those spaces in Eastern Europe where authoritarian right-wing populists have managed to destroy institutions and narrow the space for acting in weak societies? Did intentional removal of authority open up the door for the fall of university as institution that produces critical thinking? How do universities resist censorship and what do when pressures becomes unbearable?

Event is supported by Heinrich Böll foundation in Belgrade and Belgrade Youth Centre.


Judith Butler, Berkeley University, California

Ivan Vejvoda, Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna

Athena Athanasiou, University Panteion, Athens

Sanja Bojanić, Center for Advanced Studies of Southeastern Europe, University of Rijeka

Adriana Zaharijević, Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory, University of Belgrade

Moderated by Gazela Pudar Draško.



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