Violence and Critique: The Annual Seminar of the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory

Constant multiplication of different forms of violence is one characteristic trait of our time. Violence permeates societal institutions ranging from the family, school and hospital to the state and the international military and economic organizations. Some forms of violence – such as partner and domestic violence – have always existed, but have become subjects of debate to a much greater extent over the last couple of decades: they are no longer confined to the sphere of privacy and there are certain legal regulations now that structure these forms of violence and bring them to public attention. Other forms of violence that have also existed throughout history, such as war and conquest, have assumed a new and more perfidious visage today. Relocated from the global North to other parts of the planet, they sustain the illusion of stability of the global ‘centre’ and solidify the strong divide between the centre and its peripheries. The globalized world has produced new forms of violence between state entities that have challenged state sovereignty without at the same time conjuring a cosmopolitan international order. Terrorism, the rise of political actors sceptical towards any form of international unification, the ever more pronounced economic inequality between states that results in some states being more sovereign than others – these are some of the effects of such power configuration. Various kinds of institutional violence – biopolitical and necropolitical – have become apparent during the last refugee crisis, which still affects us today. In a world that ceased to be bipolar with the fall of the Berlin Wall, a world that was founded on a promise that we have reached the ‘end of history’, or else an era of human rights, democracy and peace, new mechanisms have been devised for obstructing the movement of people, regulating populations and governing societies. The politics of citizenship is only one, albeit very important form of institutional violence whose magnitude became apparent with the refugee crisis. The particular period that we are witnessing has also seen the economic violence that states visit upon their citizens grow to stunning proportions: states inflict legal violence on their citizens through harmful laws, manipulation and banning of protests, strikes and workers’ unions. The ever deeper societal stratification engenders new forms of violent behaviour, with hatred, distrust, insecurity, fear and xenophobia as both its causes and effects. In short, our everyday relations, our affectivity, the ways we think about the world, are becoming thoroughly determined by covert or explicit forms of violence.

Should we therefore conclude that violence has become constitutive of the modern world? Can one take a critical stance toward violence and what would such stance require? Or would it be more realistic to reconcile ourselves to the fact that violence is indispensable and start thinking in terms of an ‘economy of violence’? Or could one still strive for a complete abolishing of violence? Are we today confronted with a necessity, even a duty, to non-violently resist multiple forms of violence? If we give up a radical demand for non-violence, can we consistently justify the acceptance of certain forms of violence – either to counter certain other types of violence or prospectively, to put an end to all violence? Particularly delicate is the question of how to take a critical stance towards those forms of institutional violence that at the same time protect us and at least potentially suspend protection/freedom? What stance should we take towards institutions that, precisely by way of being founded upon certain kinds of violence, provide some measure of security, societal continuity and solidity? How should we treat subtle forms of violence that regulate us, categorize us and place us into desirable or undesirable groups, and those on the other hand that obstruct our mobility, disenfranchise us and take away our basic rights in an openly aggressive way? Do we need a uniform critical stance towards all these forms or do we need different levels of critique that can shed light on different types of violence, grasping them and unmasking them in differential ways?

Finally, how should we critically approach the type of rationality which, precisely when we are trying to be critical – through public scientific and cultural engagement – transforms us into subjects whose voice is marginal as it is not driven by the logic of the market or does not fit into the dominant trend of ‘affirmative thinking’? How should one think of words and speech as the means or instruments of violence: should verbal violence have the same status as that which is factual, physical and systemic, and are we not reproducing verbal violence through its very critique? How does one counter – and should one counter at all – statements that endorse violence in the name of fighting it, thus condemning already vulnerable groups to an even greater vulnerability? Are there spaces, institutions and relations free of violence, and on what foundations should they rest? What kind of critique in general, and what critique of violence in particular, do we need in these times, the times that we belong to and that we wish to shape through our engagement?

The peculiarity of the Balkan region need not be particularly stressed. Lying on the fringes, the Balkans is the old Ruritania of Europe. In its manifold histories, the Balkans has belonged to the  East (the term connoting both orientalism and membership in the Eastern bloc) no less than to the southeast, as its coordinates span the peculiarly positioned European South, derogatively summed under the acronim PIIGS. A part of the region that became known as ‘the Balkans’ in the 1990s by virtually cutting off other parts of the Balkan peninsula in media discourse, became the symbol of the latest European wars, fragmentation and division in the midst of an ever more unified world (exemplified in a curious way by the term balkanization, although the latter has lost some of its evocative power due to other more recent fragmentations). In its post-socialist, transitional incarnation, the Balkans is presented as constantly falling behind and lagging in the process of emerging from its own (self-imposed) immaturity. The violence that is historically, culturally and politically inscribed into it thus requires a constant engagement of interpretation and ‘translation’.

In the annual seminar of the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory we wish to comprehensively reflect on problems of violence and critique today with theorists from around the world, comparing experiences and aiming to grasp the peculiarities and complexity of the above phenomena.



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