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School of Politics and International Relations

The Politics of Poststructuralism Today

17 April 2015

Time: 10:00am - 6:00pm
Venue: Arts One, Room 1.28, Mile End Campus

It is generally accepted that the various strands of thought associated with ‘post-structuralism’ have had an extensive impact on the study of politics in the UK and the United States over the past 30 years. However, it is also clear from a number of recent publications that there is renewed interest in the vexed questions of how to define post-structuralism and how to evaluate its overall significance. Indeed, it would be fair to say that some half-century after the publication of seminal texts such as Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, Gilles Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy and Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology, ‘post-structuralism’ remains an essentially contested concept. Both supporters and critics alike remain divided on whether or not post-structuralism represents a distinct tradition, and on the extent to which post-structuralist theory can enhance the study of politics.

We will use this workshop to take stock of the state of the art in post-structuralist political theory, while also identifying the key debates and issues that will shape the field in the future. The workshop brings together leading scholars from across the UK to address these questions, in order to provide a conceptual map of the politics of post-structuralism today. We expect the discussion to show how scholars diverge on several key points, while converging in common conviction that post-structuralism represents a distinct mode of theorizing, and one that remains crucially important for the study of political movements, practices and institutions.

Key themes and questions
The workshop engages substantive debates within the subfield. However, the presentations and discussions will also serve to introduce colleagues working across the disciplines of political science and international relations to a range of themes and questions about the status of post-structuralism today. These include:

Definitional questions:
• What is post-structuralism and how does it relate to other major currents in continental philosophy such as structuralism, psychoanalysis, phenomenology, existentialism and post-modernism?
• How, and to what extent, does post-structuralism form part of the wider linguistic turn in 20th century philosophy?

Questions about distinct schools and traditions:
• What have been the major contributions of (for example) the Foucauldian analysis of governmentality and disciplinary power, of the Essex School of ‘discourse theory’, of Žižek’s account of ideology, and of contemporary theories of rhetoric?
• What is the significance of the recent critiques of semiotics and of discourse theory put forward by the ‘new materialist’ approaches and the ‘speculative realists’?
• How, and to what extent, does post-structuralist theory overlap with and impact upon related approaches within the disciplines of political science and international relations, such as (post-)Marxism, Feminism, constructivism and the new institutionalism.

Conceptual questions:
• How do post-structuralists address some of the major issues in the philosophy of the social sciences, such as the nature and scope of the political, the question of the construction of interest and identities, of agency and structure, and of the role of ontology and epistemology?
• What are the meaning and significance of terms such ‘anti-essentialism’ and ‘post-foundationalism’?

Normative questions:
• Can post-structuralism or post-foundationalism sustain a coherent normative theory of politics without falling into a performative contradiction?
• What is the significance of the main normative approaches to emerge from post-structuralism, for example the tradition of ‘agonistic democracy’ and the revived interest in the idea of communism?


9.30-10.00 Registration and welcome

10.00-12.30 Session 1

Benoît Dillet (University of Loughborough): The Right to Problems: Post-Structuralism, Ontology and Politics
Gulshan Khan (University of Nottingham): Post-Structuralism, Ontology and the Political
Lasse Thomassen (Queen Mary): Post-Structuralism and Representation
Chair: Mark Wenman (University of Nottingham)

12.30-13.30 Lunch

13.30-15.30 Session 2

Iain MacKenzie (University of Kent) and Robert Porter (University of Ulster): From Occupy to Activate: Or, the (Re-)Politicization of Post-Structuralism in Everyday Life
Mark Wenman (University of Nottingham): Rethinking Freedom: Political Agency after Post-Structuralism
Chair: Lasse Thomassen (Queen Mary)

15.30-16.00 Tea/coffee

16.00-18.00 Roundtable: Poststructuralism and Political Theory Today

Simon Choat (Kingston)
Eric Heinze (Queen Mary)
Kim Hutchings (Queen Mary)
Caroline Williams (Queen Mary)
Chair: Mark Wenman

Register here

Places are limited, and registration is necessary. PSA members will be able to attend for free; non-PSA members will pay a small fee (£30/employed; £15 unemployed/students), which includes tea/coffee and lunch.

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