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The Underworlds Series: Debt as Site of Global Dis/Ordering

When: Wednesday, December 13, 2023, 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Where: Online

School of Law, Centre for Law and Society in a Global Context, and LSE Law School logoAs part of the Underworlds series, this event focuses on debt as site of global dis/ordering.

Rather than concentrating only on how (sovereign) debt is formally recognised or regulated in international law, this event aims to foreground the material patterns of global dis/ordering that debt generates. This entails an attentiveness to the histories of violence that are thereby enacted or amplified, as well as a focus on practices of resistance and expressions of political subjectivity that emerge in relation to the construction and circulation of debt. How is this fabrication of debt implicated in the profoundly unequal configurations of global ordering that emerged after the formal end of empire? Which legal forms and institutions shaped and were shaped by these formations of debt and the uncommon wealth they sustained? Inversely, which practices of redistribution and reparation can be articulated in relation to the unpayable debt thereby accrued?

The speakers

Vasuki Nesiah is Professor of Practice in Human Rights and International Law at the Gallatin School, NYU. She writes on the history and politics of international law, global feminisms, reparations and decolonization. Her current focus is on her book project Reading the Ruins: Slavery, Colonialism and International Law, as well as a co-edited handbook on Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) which is under contract with Elgar. Two recent articles that are relevant to the conversation on debt include her article on sovereign debt and reparations titled “A Double Take on Debt” which appeared in the Osgoode Hall Law Journal Volume 59: Issue 1 (Winter 2022) and her article on microcredit, household debt and neoliberal feminism titled “Indebted: The Cruel Optimism of Leaning-in to Empowerment” which was first published as a chapter in the edited volume Governance Feminisms, Univ. of Minnesota Press (2018). Past work includes her recently completed book International Conflict Feminism which is forthcoming with UPenn. Press in 2024 and her co-edited volume, A Global History of Bandung and Critical Traditions in International Law (Cambridge 2017). Nesiah is a founding member of Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL).

Kojo Koram is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Birkbeck School of Law, University of London. Prior to taking up this role, he was a Lecturer at the School of Law at the University of Essex between 2016-2018. He was called to the Bar of England and Wales in 2011 and then received his PhD in 2017. In 2018, the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities awarded his PhD the Julien Mezey Dissertation Award for the dissertation that most promises to enrich and advance interdisciplinary scholarship at the intersection of law, culture, and the humanities. In 2022, he published his debut book Uncommon Wealth: Britain and the Aftermath of Empire (John Murray 2022) which was nominated for the 2022 Orwell Prize for Political Writing. Alongside his academic work, Kojo has also written for publications as varied as the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Nation, Dissent and the New Statesman.

**Please note this is an online seminar and joining details will be sent the day before.

Event Resources

The Series: Underworlds – Sites and Struggles of Global Dis/Ordering

Engagement with practices of global ordering is often guided towards specific locations and legacies: the sovereign state, the formal sources and standards of international law, the intricacies of global diplomacy, the historical juncture and its (anti-)heroes, the international palaces of hope in Geneva, New York, or The Hague. These explorations entail ideas of where power resides and where it is to be unmasked or undone – ideas implicitly grounded in modernist geographies, temporalities, and subjectivities. Starting from the limits of these familiar perspectives, this lecture and workshop series traces the multiple ways in which these sites, actors, and events are cabined, crossed, and cut apart by alternative material arteries, lineages, and languages of global dis/ordering.

The series takes as starting point that authority and order are not fixed properties of specific actors or institutions, but the result of ongoing material processes of ordering and world-making. As such, it traces unconventional forms and sites of global dis/ordering – from raw materials to projections of hope – as material, infrastructural, and discursive compositions that shape patterns of power. The encounter between old- and new materialist, Marxist and decolonial methodologies and modes of critique is one of the key objectives of this series. Its aim, however, is not only methodological: it aspires to inspire new ethical and political openings that attend to our inevitable complicity in taking part in these processes, and reveal new modes of resistance and refusal, of struggle and sociality. These interventions are not narrowly targeted at the old nemeses of critique – the state, the truth, the universal – but work from within both entrenched and emergent material sites and practices of dis/ordering: oceans, oil / coal, breath, debt, commons, frontier(s), waste, hope, wild / feral, vessels.

Find out about all events in the series.

The series is convened by Marie Petersmann and Dimitri Van Den Meerssche and co-organised by QMUL (the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences and the Centre for Law and Society in a Global Context) and the LSE Law School.

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