The ACC Winter School on Democratic Practices of Unequal Geographies is an intense one-week seminar where we read political philosophy with and against Southern urbanism. Rather than a geographical container, we are interested in the global South as an epistemological position and a field of experience that can trouble and re-new both radical urban theory and political theory. The Winter School has been developed by Dr. Henrik Ernstson and Dr. Andrés Henao Castro, and in 2017 together with Dr. Ashley Bohrer, as a contribution to students and scholars interested in critical urban and political theory. Below you can find more information about the Winter School, its aims, content and reading lists for 2015, 2016, and 2017 when we worked through the themes of THE DEMOS, THE POLITICS, and THE POLICE. During these three years we have had over 40 participants, with 12-18 participants per year, primarily from South African universities, but also from Kenya, Namibia, Sweden, Germany, UK, Canada and USA.
During 2018 and 2019 we are taking a rest. There will unfortunately not be a Democratic Practices Winter School during 2018 and 2019, which is due to that we have been moving and changing job positions. However, we are planning another for another “trilogy” from 2020, 2021 and 2022 that will tentatively centre racial capitalism, settler colonialism, resistance and democratic practices. We will keep all you who have been part of the winter school posted. If you like to be added to this email list, please send an email to Henrik Ernstson [henrikDOTernstsonATmanchesterDOTacDOTuk].
Overview of the course
In summary, we have so far focused on three themes: The Demos, The Politics and The Police:
- In 2015 we focused on THE DEMOS. The seminar was entitled “Reading Political Theory with Southern Urbanism” and focused on classic and contemporary political theory from Aristotle, Plato, Jacques Ranciére, Bonnie Honig and Wendy Brown, to Southern urbanism, including amongst others, Comaroff and Comaroff, Richard Pithouse, Edgar Pieterse, and Achille Mbembe.
- In 2016, THE POLITICS put focus on the ability to interrupt normalized orders with equality as principle. It was entitled “The Aesthetical and the Political of Unequal Geographies,” and included texts by Jacques Ranciére, Karl Marx, Walter Benjamin, and Elias Canetti with artist-related work from the Black Radical Tradition with Saidiya Hartman and Fred Moten, and interventions in Southern cities, including essays by Dominique Malaquais, Achille Mbembe, Asef Bayat, Filip De Boek, and Fiona C. Ross.
- In 2017, THE POLICE, we focused on the normalized and oppressive orders that are engendered by patriarchal, neocolonial and racist patterns of social relations. The seminar was entitled “Understanding Capitalism in Unequal Geographies” and meant to discuss essays from the Marxist tradition and works on intersectionality, including Karl Marx, Anne McClintock, Angela Davis, Silvia Federici, Iyoko Day and Jason C. Moore, with Southern urbanism work by Rosalind Fredericks, Gautam Bhan, Koni Benson and Faeza Meyer, Colin McFarlane and Jonathan Silver, amongst others.
Who is it for? Who has participated?
The course is especially directed to PhD students and younger scholars from South African and African universities that wants to engage in a high-intensity reading seminar around critical theory and urban research. The aim is to provide the space to think with others about your own research and find ways to develop your work and thought in relation to contemporary critical and urban theoretical notions around equality, class, race, gender, power, capitalism and democracy.
In total we have had 44 participants with some taking the course more than once. These participants have come from South Africa, Kenya, Namibia, Botswana, Italy, Sweden, UK, USA, representing Durban University of Technology, University of Cape Town, University of the Western Cape, University of the Witwatersrand, Gauteng City-Region Observatory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The University of Manchester, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, New School (New York), and York University.
You will find more information below by reading the course descriptions for each year. Updates on 2018 and ahead will be done at this website and by following Henrik Ernstson’s twitter feed (@rhizomia).
DemPrac2017 — THE POLICE. Course Description
ACC Winter School on “Democratic Practices of Unequal Geographies”, year III
PhD Course/Seminar, University of Cape Town
Understanding Capitalism in Unequal Geographies:
Reading across Political Philosophy and Southern Urbanism
June 19-23, 2017
Lecturers and Conveners:
Dr. Henrik Ernstson, University of Cape Town & KTH Royal Institute of Technology
Dr. Ashley Bohrer, Hamilton College, New York City
Dr. Andrés Henao Castro, University of Massachusetts Boston
The Third Annual ACC Seminar & PhD Course on Democratic Practices focuses on “Understanding Capitalism in Unequal Geographies” ran from 19-23 June 2017 in Cape Town. Find rationale, seminar method and readings further below.
Schedule and Venue
Monday to Friday, 9–13 with a longer session on Thursday, see below. During the week we will be in three different seminar rooms, but they are in the same building: The EGS Building, Upper Campus, University of Cape Town (EGS, Environmental and Geographical Science Building). To find a good map of Upper Campus, UCT, go here.
Monday 19 June — Studio 1, 9:00-13:00
Tuesday 20 June — Davies Seminar Room, 9:00-13:00
Wednesday 21 June — Davies Seminar Room, 9:00-13:00
Thursday 22 June — Davies Seminar Room from 9:00-13:00; Lunch in the courtyard/tea-room 13:00-14:30; Fuggle Board Room 14:30-17:00pm; We meet up for dinner at a restaurant in town from 18:30.
Friday 23 June —Davies Seminar Room, 9:00-13_00
Contact and questions: E-mail: Kathleen Stokes <kathleen[DOT]stokes[AT]postgrad[DOT]manchester[DOT]ac[DOT]uk>, course assistant or Henrik Ernstson <henrik[DOT]ernstson[AT]uct[DOT]ac[DOT]za>, course organiser.
We will be a mix of PhD students, younger scholars and Master students with different background and specialties. The seminar is free. Unfortunately we cannot offer any travel grants this year.
Aim and Background
The ACC annual seminar series is based on reading political philosophy with and against southern urbanism. The reason for this lies in making an intervention in how we think the emergent city and urbanization of the global south; to seek out and make explicit its emancipatory potential which often gets hidden or silenced, either by overly dogmatic “Northern” frameworks, “developmentalist” techno-managerial approaches; or a sense of defeat that an emancipatory horizon is not any longer possible. In the first seminar in 2015 this meant to recover the birth of democratic politics and re-thinking this in our contemporary moment. In 2016 we focused on “the political and the aesthetical”, thinking politics as a rupture in the distribution of the sensible by those who are not counted in the current order. This year of 2017 we are focusing on capitalism and its wider structuration of cities, bodies and subjectivities. This annual seminar is part of the ACC’s NOTRUC project, Notations on Theories of Radical Urban Change, lead by Henrik Ernstson and Edgar Pieterse.
This year’s seminar will seek to understand how classic Marxist critique and its extension into intersectional analysis can be thought with and against southern/postcolonial urban geographies to make visible contemporary struggles against exploitation. Our key questions are:
- How does capitalism function in and through its differences across time, space, and social location?
- How does capitalism interact with and structure gender, race, and sexuality?
- How does this play out, manifest and structure urban spaces and extended geographies of the south?
- What spaces, discourses and collectivities can a critique of capitalism help to make visible as locations to struggle against interconnected assemblages and dispositifs of oppression?
Our aim is to create a seminar that can assist participants to re-think their research questions, research projects and their role as contemporary intellectuals. To do so the seminar will unfold through a series of readings of the racialized, gendered, and sexualized implications of particular concepts of capitalism. Each day will focus on one of the following concepts: the commodity, alienation, primitive accumulation, value, and nature. The literature gathers classical Marxist understanding of these concepts and how contemporary thinkers of race, gender, sexuality, and their inter-relations have expanded, revised, and, in the words of Frantz Fanon, ‘stretched’ these concepts in order to speak more directly to lived experience of oppression. With this we seek to articulate how this structures the city, the urban, and the spatiality of unequal geographies.
Using the seminar as a form (i.e., where all participants have closely studied the same texts), we aim to provide the possibility to think through and reformulate our research questions, methodologies and theoretical assumptions and open towards new critical knowledge projects, especially, but not necessarily about southern cities. For an intense week we will meet for 3-4 hours, with free time in the afternoons for further reading and personal reflection. Each day we will let one or two participants shortly introduce the key texts by identifying main points and what is at stake in the texts. This will be followed by complementary comments from the lecturers on where the text stands in wider intellectual debates. Based on this we will open the floor for discussion. We will at times also divide into smaller groups. The lecturers will promote integration between the participants’ ongoing projects and the associated readings. There will be space in the seminars to reflect upon your own research with participants. As before (but this year more than previous years), the seminar will rely on participants’ own reading and engagement with southern cities to engage with the obligatory reading.
All readings marked with an asterisk * are required readings. All others are recommended, also indicated clearly which these are. Access to reading through the Course Folder.
I. The Commodity-Form [Monday]—(74 pages)
We will explore what Marx means by the commodity-form, and what is commodity fetishism, in order to interrogate what happens when we read that concept through an intersectional perspective that interrogates race, gender, and sexuality in the commodification of labor.
- *Karl Marx. 1867 . “Chapter 1: Commodities.” In Capital Vol. I. New York: Penguin, pp. 27-47. 20 pages
- *Ann Mclintock. 1995. “Soft-Soaping Empire: Commodity Racism and Imperial Advertising.” In Imperial Leather: Race and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge, pp. 207-231. 20 pages
- *Rosalind Fredericks. 2014. “Vital Infrastructures of Trash in Dakar.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 34 (3): 532–48. 14 pages
- *Gautam Bhan. 2016. In the Publics Interest – Introduction, (note, small pages so half amount counted) 20 pages
Focusing on Marx’ section on “alienated labor,” we will explore the concepts of alienation and reification, and the ways in which those concepts are deployed in other contexts that expand our understandings of social alienation with an attention to difference, affect, and critique.
- *Karl Marx. 1844 . “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.” In The Marx-Engels Reader, edited by Robert C. Tucker. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, pp. 53-65. 12 pages
- *Angela Davis. 1983. “The Approaching Obsolescence of Housework: A Working-Class Perspective.” In Women, Race, Class. New York: Vintage, pp. 222-244. 22 pages
- *Kevin Floyd. 2009. “Disciplined Bodies: Lukács, Foucault, and the Reification of Desire.” In The Reification of Desire: Towards a Queer Marxism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 39-78. 39 pages
- *Koni Benson and Faeza Meyer. 2015. “Reluctantly Loud: Interventions in the History of Land Occupation.” African Cities Reader III, no. 1: 64–95. 32 pages
- *Colin McFarlane and Jonathan Silver. 2016. “The Poolitical City: ‘Seeing Sanitation’ and Making the Urban Political in Cape Town.” Antipode. 20 pages
- Benson, Koni, and Faeza Meyer. 2015. “‘Writing My History Is Keeping Me Alive’ Politics and Practices of Collaborative History Writing.” In , 78–99. RECOMMENDED ONLY.
III. Primitive Accumulation [Wednesday]—(99 pages)
Through a discussion of Marx’ concept of primitive accumulation, we will investigate capitalism’s relationship to that which it frames as its exteriority in both temporal and spatial terms, in order to then interrogate the subject-positionalities that are implicated and potential ways of rethinking that concept today.
- *Karl Marx. 1867 . Chapters 26, 27, 28, and 33. In Capital Vol. I. New York: Penguin. 28 pages.
- *Saskia Sassen, 2010. “A Savage Sorting of Winners and Losers: Contemporary Versions of Primitive Accumulation.” In Globalizations 7 (1-2): 23-50. 23 pages.
- *Silvia Federici. 2004. “Introduction.” In Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation. New York: Autonomedia. 38 pages.
- *Fiona C. Ross. 2015. “Raw Life and Respectability.” Current Anthropology 56 (S11): S97–107. 10 pages
IV. Value [Thursday]—(109 pages)
We will focus on Marx’ understanding of value, surplus value, the distinction between use-value and exchange value, and the different ways in which scholars have historicized the problem of value.
- *Karl Marx. 1867 . Capital Vol. I. New York: Penguin (selections). Chapters 12 and 16. 16 pages.
- *Neferti Tadiar. 2003. “In the Face of Whiteness as Value: Fall-Outs of Metropolitican Humanness.” In Qui Parle 13 (2): 143-182. 33 pages.
- *Iyko Day. 2016. “Introduction: The New Jews: Settler Colonialism and the Personification of Capitalism.” In Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 1-40. 38 pages.
- Dipesh Chakrabarty. 2000. “The Two Histories of Capital” In Provincializing Europe: Post-colonial Thought and Historical Difference. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, pp. 47-71. RECOMMENDED ONLY.
- *Michael Neocosmos. 2012. “Are Those-Who-Do-Not-Count Capable of Reason? Thinking Political Subjectivity in the (Neo-)Colonial World and the Limits of History.” Journal of Asian and African Studies 47 (5): 530–47. 15 pages
- *Leigh-Ann Naidoo. 2016. “Hallucinations.” In The 15th Annual Ruth First Memorial Lecture, 1–7. Johannesburg: University of Witswatersrand. 7 pages
- Naidoo, Leigh-Ann. 2016. “Centring the Black Intellectual.” The Mercury, December 9. 3 pages. RECOMMENDED ONLY.
- Choplin, Armelle, and Riccardo Ciavolella. 2016. “Gramsci and the African Città Futura : Urban Subaltern Politics From the Margins of Nouakchott, Mauritania.” Antipode 0 (0): 1–21. 22 pages. RECOMMENDED ONLY.
NB! Discussions in the afternoon will focus on the overarching theme of Democratic Practices in Unequal Geographies and try to tie together several discussions we have had over the years. No other special readings.
V. Nature [Friday]—(143 pages)
These readings are devoted to an interrogation of nature’s place within capitalism, the relationship between the human, the non-human, and technology, and the intersectional history of those socially constructed categories and their contested understandings.
- *Karl Marx. 1993. “Fragment on the Machines.” Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. New York: Penguin. (Notebook VI, Notebook VII) p. 690-712. (NB: the reading starts in the middle of the page and there are some blank pages in the middle.) 23 pages.
- *Jason Moore. 2015. Capitalism in the Web of Life. New York: Verso. Introduction (pp. 1-32) and Chapter 7 (pp. 169-192). 55 pages.
- *Carolyn Merchant. 1983. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution. New York: HarperCollins. REQUIRED: Introduction and Chapters 5-7 (pp. xix-xxiv; and pp. 127-191). 65 pages. (RECOMMENDED: Chapters 1 and 2 (pp. 1-68).)
- Erik Swyngedouw and Henrik Ernstson. n.d. “O Tempora! O Mores! Interrupting the Anthropo-ob(S)cene.” Theory, Culture & Society, Article is in review. 22 pages. RECOMMENDED ONLY
- Donna Haraway. 1991. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth-Century.” In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, pp. 149-182. RECOMMENDED ONLY.
- Jonathan Silver. 2014. “Incremental Infrastructures: Material Improvisation and Social Collaboration across Post-Colonial Accra.” Urban Geography 35 (6): 788–804. RECOMMENDED ONLY
Short on the Lecturers and Organizers
Dr. Henrik Ernstson is a Research Fellow and Principal Investigator from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm; and an Honorary Visiting Scholar at the University of Cape Town, where he has been since 2010. His theoretical and empirical work is focused on the politics and collective organizing around urban ecology, including urban land and wetlands, with his new projects focusing on the access to clean water, sanitation and electricity. His recent studies in Cape Town, South Africa, has been an ethnographic study about ‘who can claim to be in the know’ of urban ecology, and a large social network study that interviewed over 130 civil society organizations to understand different modes of collective action around the highly unequal urban environment of Cape Town. With others, he is developing a situated approach to urban political ecology drawing upon upon critical geography, global South urbanism and postcolonial theory, social mobilization theory and environmental history. Theoretically he has recently tried to think with Jacques Ranciére’s ideas of democracy, politics and the political through everyday settings in Cape Town and the city’s of the global south. For more information, see http://www.situatedecologies.net and his publications at https://kth.academia.edu/HenrikErnstson.
Dr. Andrés Fabián Henao Castro is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. His research deals with the relationships between ancient and contemporary political theory, via the prisms of de-colonial theory and poststructuralism. He is currently working on a book that explores different subject-positions and forms of agency imagined in the theoretical reception of Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone. He is also a member of the international research network Performance Philosophy, a columnist for the online journal of political analysis Palabras al Margen (Words at the Margins), and a member of Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine at UMB. http://works.bepress.com/andres_fabian_henao_castro (Also found in our seminar folder.)
Dr. Ashley J. Bohrer is a feminist, activist, writer, translator, teacher, and philosopher based in Syracuse, New York. She holds the Truax Postdoctoral Fellowship in Public Philosophy and works as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Hamilton College in New York. Her academic work explores the interstices of philosophy, critical race studies, decolonial theory, intersectional feminism, and Marxism. She holds graduate degrees in both Philosophy and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She has studied, taught, or held research positions in the United States, France, China, and Germany. In addition to her academic work, Ashley is a committed organizer who works with, among other organizations, International Women’s Strike US, the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, and Jewish Voice for Peace. Ashley is currently finishing a book project that traces the ways in which the rise of capitalism in the fifteenth through eighteenth centuries was structured intersectionally.
How to get to the venue
Map. You will find a good map here.
By car. Make sure to arrive early on Monday morning to get your “Visitors Parking Permits” which you can acquire at the North Entrance Road to UCT Upper Campus (right-most arrow in the map above). State your name and refer to this course and the name of Maryam Waglay, ACC. The car entry to the EGS building lies at the corner of the Madiba Circle and South Lane, but you need to find parking somewhere else (white bays along Madiba Circle).
By bus. You can The Jamie Shuttle, the UCT bus system. It stops on top of the Madiba Circle and very close to South Lane. You find the EGS Building from there. Search Internet for the bus times.
Walking. Walk up the campus passing the Main Library and towards the Madiba Circle. If you find tennis courts, you have walked too far. Walk down again.
Emergency contact: Marayam Waglay, ACC, MaryamDOTWaglayDOTATuctDOTacDOTza, +27 (21) 6505903.
DemPrac2016 — THE POLITICS: Course Description
The 2016 Annual ACC Seminar/PhD Course on Democratic Practices in Cape Town:
The Aesthetical and the Political of Unequal Geographies:
Reading across Political Philosophy and Global South Urbanism
July 4-8, 2016, Seminar Room 1, EGS Building, Upper Campus, University of Cape Town.
Organised by Henrik Ernstson and Andrés Henao Castro.
The seminar is given by the African Centre for Cities (ACC) at the University of Cape Town. To apply, please send your letter of interest no later than 6 May 2016 to Henrik Ernstson (henrikDOTernstsonATuctDOTacDOTza). We hope the seminar with its readings and discussions can contribute new angles and perspectives to your research. More information on the 2016 theme, reading and seminar methodology is given below.
Rationale for 2016: Aesthetics and politics!
The task is urgent and profound: How to make sense of rapid urbanization across Africa and the global South, while (re)turning to explicitly think about emancipatory politics? What does the political mean in these contexts? What constitutes properly democratic practices of equality and freedom? What can we learn by rubbing political theory against urban studies of ‘the South’?
This annual seminar series emerges out of an interest to put into conversation political philosophy and global south urbanism. Importantly, our objective is not that of supplementing a theoretical abstraction (e.g. ‘the political’) with some kind of concrete spatiality. Rather, we are interested in the global south as an epistemological position and a field of experience that has specific contemporary sociomaterial realities that we hope can trouble and re-new both radical urban theory and political theory. Following last year’s seminar, in which we related our readings of Plato to Rancière with critical urban studies of the South, this year we gather a seminar that problematizes the relationship between the political and the aesthetic. This puts more focus on artists and activists that intervene materially and socially in the fabric of urban spaces, and it brings us towards the political in a quite specific way.
More concretely we aim to relate questions around what Jacques Rancière calls the distribution of the sensible with interventions in urban spaces. We aim to push the seminar to think about the representation and troubling of an aesthetic regime from the perspective of how it has become embedded in urban and non-urban settings. We will exploit texts that have linked theoretically the political with aesthetic regimes and how this translates troubles and can be re-thought in the context of the global south. We want to ask, for example:
- How does the symbolic remaking of a space through an artistic intervention trouble the otherwise naturalization of that space as reducible to its presumable functions (i.e., market values)?
- What is the relationship between this interruption of the function of a space and that of politics?
- How can artistic interventions force the community to confront that which it disavows?
- What kind of conflict do such forms of expressing the senses create within urban spaces?
- How are those urban spaces transgressed, circumvented, rearranged, reimagined, etc., so as to trouble the very limits of what can be perceived and sensed in the city?
- How do these spatial contestations take place today, under what kind of aesthetic practices?
- And how could this possibly lead to processes of political subjectivization, a politicization of collectivities, bodies, and spaces in the name of equality?
In light of 2015 and the student movement of South Africa, questions of democracy, decolonization and profound emancipatory change have brought these questions into even sharper focus. And this does not mean to forget other recent women, workers and community rebellions, nor the slow-grinding and incremental institutional changes of empowerment that is also ongoing. Indeed, we hope this seminar/course will provide a chance for all participants to think about these recent events and processes. We hope it will contribute material and discussions through which you can re-think and sharpen your own research projects.
Our seminar focuses on readings of political theory that interrogate the relationship between the aesthetical and the political, across a variety of philosophical approaches. Yet it explores such relationship with a particular and rather unusual emphasis on urban and non-urban geographies of the global south. We want to discuss questions about representation, intervention, performativity, sensuousness, visibility, audibility, occupation, inscription, by placing these theories within uneven geographies that should trouble existing theoretical findings and help us to reformulate our research questions, methodologies approaches and theoretical assumptions. In the readings we have chosen to place more emphasis on political philosophy as these are less known to most of us, and since this makes best use of Dr. Andrés Heano Castro’s visit here at ACC in Cape Town. The texts on global south urbanism will bring in contextual and theoretical aspects into the seminar, but we also rely on participants’ wider readings and their own research on urbanization, global south and decolonization. Below you will find the current list of readings, which will be updated.
Schedule and Readings
We will meet for 3 hours every day. Andrés will talk for the first 30 minutes, in order to provide context for the theoretical discussion: what is at stake in the texts, where does the text stand in relation to intellectual debates, and summarize main points, etc. Then we open the floor for discussion in which the global south urbanism literature will enter as ways to unpack and think about the seminar questions, how our empirical work are helped by these texts, while challenging them and ‘speaking back’. Through this we will have a chance to re-think our own research and case studies. For each day we will provide questions to orient your reading, and serve as starting point for our discussions. Based on this you can write down and raise your own questions to further give direction to the seminar. We will have a short 10 minute break two hours into the seminar and then we will return for another 45 minutes of discussion. Coffee and tea will be served during the seminar. (NB: Global south urbanism reading and questions will be complemented later alongside points 1-3 in the list below.)
How to Apply
The seminar/course is organized by Dr. Henrik Ernstson and Dr. Andrés Henao Castro. It forms part of the ACC’s new project NOTRUC, Notations on Theories of Radical Urban Change, which is lead by Dr. Henrik Ernstson and Professor Edgar Pieterse and it provides a terrain towards critical and radical (re)thinking on global south urbanism at ACC and beyond.
Application—Letter of interest. The seminar/course is open to PhD students and scholars. Please send an e-mail to Henrik Ernstson no later than 6 May 2016 including a 500 word motivation letter (why you would like to take this course) and a 2-page CV (not longer please). We will have between 12-18 seats available. You will know if you have been accepted a week after.
No course fee. There are no course fees. During the seminar there we will arrange coffee and tea every day, and one dinner. The rest of food items and other costs will be on your own account.
In total there are less than 400 pages of required reading for five days of discussion. We have also listed some recommended reading to expand on themes and provide further reading suggestions. In the course folder you will find further readings that we used in preparing the seminar and that you might find interesting.
Day 1 [Monday]: The Aesthetic Turn on the Political
- Formulation of the problem:
- During our first day we will explore the general aspects of the relationship between the political and the aesthetic by means of Jacques Rancière’s innovative philosophical contributions to radicalize such relationship. By submitting his concepts to close scrutiny, we will explore how politics might be (better) understood by means of aesthetic categories or whether the aesthetic turn is insufficient to give an account of the political? The global South urbanism literature assists us here to trouble and possibly expand Rancière’s thinking through putting this philosophy in communication with other thinkers and realities. It also provides material to investigate what needs to happen for an aesthetic intervention to become political. Finally, we are interested in exploring what is the role of power in the relationship between the political and the aesthetic.
- Guiding questions for the reading:
- How are we to understand different distributions of the sensible (or different regimes of the sensible)?
- In what ways do aesthetics trouble a distribution of the sensible, in what ways does it not?
- How do dissensual ways of being, seeing, and acting interact with each other, or supplement/juxtapose each other?
- What is politically relevant, yet missing from an aesthetic framework?
- What is the ‘intellectual work’ (i.e. the ability to move our thinking from one point to another) that the global South literature/context seems to be doing here?
- Key concepts: Aesthetics, Political, Distribution of the Sensible, Dissensus.
— Readings Day 1 — (94 pages)
- Jaques Rancière. 2013. The Politics of Aesthetics. London & New York: Bloomsbury. (72 pages; NB! The actual text to read is from page 9-79, the rest is a foreword and a useful glossary of technical terms)
- Asef Bayat. 2015. “Plebeians of the Arab Spring.” Current Anthropology 56 (11): S33–S43. (10 pages) Comment: Bayat introduces and discusses (urban) political theory and sociology ‘from the South’ with Bayat (Egypt, Iran), Holston (Brazil) and Chatterjee (India). It’s good for us surface at least some aspects of these thinkers on the first day of the seminar and together with Rancière. 
- Filip De Boeck. 2015. “Poverty’ and the Politics of Syncopation: Urban Examples from Congo.” Current Anthropology 56 (S11): S146–S158. (12 pages) (UPLOADED) Comment: De Boek helps to ground thinking in the thick of things of Kinshasa. Provides texture and context to think through what ‘the distribution of the sensible’ might mean in Kinshasa. And how can the conecpt of ‘police order’ make sense in Kinshasa and ‘the building’, which is governed/ruled by so called informal processes.
- Jacques Rancière. 2011. The Thinking of Dissensus: Politics and Aesthetics. In: Reading Rancière. Paul Bowman and Richard Stamp (eds) Continuum: London and New York, pp 1-17 (17 pages)
- Jacques Rancière. 2010. Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics. London & New York: Bloomsbury. Read in particular Chapters 9 and 10. (no pdf available)
- Jacques Rancière. 2014. Moments Politiques Comment: Shorter essays in a straightforward language for a wider audience; most published in French and Brazilian newspapers commenting on contemporary politics, but from his particular notion of the political.
- Fiona C.Ross. 2015. “Raw Life and Respectability.” Current Anthropology 56 (S11): S97–S107. (10 pages) Comment: Ross discusses Cape Town everyday realities of the urban poor in close connection with political theory, in particular Agamdens’ notion of ‘bare life’, which she critiques for being insuffcient.
Day 2 [Tuesday]: Critical Theory and Ideology
- Formulation of the problem:
- During our second day we delve into some foundational texts of the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School, in order to investigate primarily the relationship between aesthetics and ideology. Given our interest on critical geographies, Elias Canetti’s analysis of the architectural projects that Hitler commissioned to Speer are interesting as it establishes a clear relationship between the political and the configuration of space, and questions of functionality, and control. We rub this against a reflection on postcolonial monumentalism and artistic interventions into urban planning that undermines linear space and control.
- Guiding questions for the reading:
- How are we to understand the concept of “aura” today?
- What happens to the work of art under today’s dominant modes of “technical reproduction”?
- How are we to understand the relationship between aesthetics and ideology today and through the realities, practices and theories from/of the global South?
- Is ideology the political kernel of aesthetics? What is the function of the critique of ideology in the analysis of the work of art?
- Under what kind of conceptual vocabulary can we make legible what we could loosely defined as authoritarian/totalitarian aesthetics?
- When read with and rubbed against postcolonial urbanism literature, what happens? How does the nature of our responses change to the above-stated questions, how are in that sense the postcolonial/urban South realities/experiences active in shaping how we think?
- Key concepts: Ideology, Aesthetics, Aura, Monumental, Aestheticize Politics, Politicize Art, Critique.
— Readings Day 2 — (97 pages)
- Walter Benjamin. 1970. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” In: Illluminations, edited by Hannah Arendt, 219–253. (34 pages)
- Martin Jay. 1992. “‘The Aesthetic Ideology’ as Ideology; Or, What Does It Mean to Aestheticize Politics?” Cultural Critique 21 (21): 41–61. (20 pages)
- Elias Canetti. 1971. “Hitler, According to Speer: Grandeur and Permance.” In: The Concsience of Words. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux (25 pages)
- Andries Oliphant. 2013. “Freedom Park and Postcolonial Monumentality (Special Issue).” Third Text 27 (3): 299–437. (8 pages of text, 3 pages of images)
- Dominique Malaquais. 2011. “Anti-Teleology: Re-Mapping the Imag(in)ed City.” In African Cities Reader II: Mobilities and Fixtures, edited by Ntone Edjabe and Edgar Pieterse, 7–23. Vlaeberg: Chimurenga and African Centre for Cities. (11 pages of text, 6 pages of images)
- T.W. Adorno. 1974. “Commitment.” In: Aesthetics and Politics. Verso: London and New York (17 pages)
- Fredric Jameson. 1990. “Postmodernism and The Market.” The Socialist Register 27: 95–110. (15 pages)
Day 3 [Wednesday]: Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition and Afro-Pessimism.
- Formulation of the problem:
- During our third day we will investigate a debate between Saidiya Hartman and Fred Moten on the decision of Hartman not to reproduce the scene of torture of Aunt Hester in Frederick Douglass’ memoires. Moten challenges Hartman’s analysis of different “scenes of subjection,” by claiming that such refusal to reproduce is not only inevitably bound to fail but could better be addressed by focusing on the “terrible beauty” of the sound that articulates resistance of the object to the violence that it suffers. Hartman, cautious about the risks involved in the iteration of that representation, takes Moten’s challenge elsewhere, towards a different critical attitude vis-à-vis the engagement of the interpreter with the archive. We would, in light of the global South urbanism literature, analyze, clarify, question, and explore the different aspects of such a debate.
- Guiding questions for the reading:
- What is the relationship between production, re-production, and performativity that the Black radical tradition proposes? Is this an ontological relationship, i.e. a relationship based on (new/othered) modes of being in the world? How are we to understand this apparent linkage between ontology and performativity?
- What kind of political relationship is established vis-à-vis the reproduction of representations of violence when violence already saturates the archive?
- What is the role of ethics in the politics of representation?
- How are we to understand, interrogate, and make legible what remains unlived in the archive?
- What is the role of the reader/interpreter/critic in face of an archive whose very protocols of recording make failure into an inescapable reality of the interpretative process?
- Key concepts: Performance, Archive, Black Radical Tradition, Afro-pessimism, Failure.
— Readings Day 3 — (81 pages)
- Saidiya Hartman. 1997. “Introduction.” In: Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in nineteenth-Century America. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (10 pages)
- Fred Moten. 2003. “Resistance of the Object: Aunt Hester’s Scream.” In: In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, 192-211. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. (19 pages)
- Saidiya Hartman. 2008. “Venus in Two Acts.” In Small Axe 26: 1-14. (14 pages)
- Dominique Malaquais. 2006. “Quelle Liberté: Art, Beauty and the Grammars of Resistance in Douala.” In Beautiful Ugly: African and Diaspora Aesthetics, edited by Sarah Nuttall, 122–63. Durham and London: Duke University Press. (16 pages of text, 23 pages of images) (large file 11MB)
- Achille Mbembe. 2005. “Variations on the Beautiful in the Congolese World of Sounds.” Politique Africaine 4: 69–91. (22 pages)
- Fred Moten. 2003. “Black Mo’nin’ in the Sound of the Photograph.” In In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, xx-yy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. (18 pages)
- Premesh Lalu. 2009. “Introduction: thinking ahead.” In: The Deaths of Hintsa. (30 pages)
Day 4 [Thursday]: Queering the Visual and the Critique of Empire
- Formulation of the problem:
- This fourth session explores different analysis of historical and current imperialism through different aesthetic practices that share a common post-colonial intersectional analysis. Although such a critique of imperialism through homo-nationalism and domesticity interests us the most, we will also interrogate linkages between race, gender, class and sexuality in aesthetic practices.
- Guiding questions for the reading:
- How to interrogate the relationship between the photograph and the caption in the politics of reception and circulation of images?
- How do sexuality, race, class, and gender intersect/interrupt/juxtapose across specific social practices that reproduce exceptionalism or domesticate subjectivity?
- In what ways do the concept of assemblage differs from that of intersectionality?
- How to rethink agency in conditions of severe inequality?
- Key concepts: Imperialism, Biopolitics, Queerness, Critical Race Theory.
— Readings Day 5 — (70 pages)
- Jasbir Puar. 2007. “Abu Ghraib: Arguing Against Exceptionalism.” In Terrorist Assemblages. Durham: Duke UP. (32 pages)
- Pumla Dineo Gqola. 2005. “Memory, Diaspora and Spiced Bodies in Motion: Berni Searle’s Art.” African Identities 3 (2): 123–38. (12 pages of text)
- Zethu Matebeni. 2013. “Intimacy, Queerness, Race.” Cultural Studies 27 (3): 404–17. (12 pages)
- Alexandra Dodd and Terry Kurgan. 2013. “Checking in to Hotel Yeoville.” Third Text 27 (3): 343–54. (10 pages) Comment: Provides examples of contemporary SA artist responses after the 2008 xenophbia attacks with themes of nation-hood, aliens, migration and residence.
- Ann McClintock. 1995. “Race, Cross-Dressing and the Cult of Domesticity.” In Imperial Leather. (34 pages)
- Marlon Ross. 2005. “Beyond the Closet as Raceless Paradigm.” In Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology. Duke University Press.
- Pumla Dineo Gqola. 2001. “Ufanele Feminisms and in Postcoloniality Africa.” Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity, no. 50: 11–22. (9 pages)
- Raél Jero Salley. 2013. “The Changing Now of Things.” Third Text 27 (3): 355–66. Comment: Provides examples of contemporary SA artists and their responses to post-1994 situation.
- Rike Sitas and Edgar Pieterse. 2013. “Democratic Renovations and Affective Political Imaginaries.” Third Text 27 (3): 327–42. Comment: Explicit discussion of democratic practices and how contemporary artistic interventions in SA could enrol people into democtratic practitices in various ways.
- Achille Mbembe. 2015. Africa in the New Century. CityScapes. Comment: Shorter text based on a talk in New York.
Day 5 [Friday]: Animism, Materialism, and the Pre/Post Colonial
- Formulation of the problem:
- During the last day of our seminar we would investigate the relationship between animism and materialism and put it in conversation with post-colonial/de-colonial aesthetics. We will explore questions of subject-positionality, understandings of temporality, the question of history and the ways of confronting loss: What remains? How to activate the traces of that which is no longer there, in order to animate another story?
- Guiding questions for the reading:
- What kind of relationship exists between animism and materialism?
- What happens to time and perhaps to the politics of time after the post-colonial critique of linear Eurocentric time? What happens to death and to our ability to confront critically the massive fact of loss?
- How are we to understand death within post/de-colonial aesthetics?
- What is the relationship between aesthetics and loss, aesthetics and death, and aesthetics and the unthinkable?
- Key concepts: Animism, Materialism, Pre/Post/De-colonial, Time, Death.
— Readings Day 5 — (54 pages )
- Harry Garuba. 2003. “Explorations in Animist Materialism: Notes on Reading/Writing African Literature, Culture, and Society.” (25 pages)
- Tina Chanter. 2011. “The Performative Politics and Rebirth of Antigone in Ancient Greece and Modern South Africa: The Island.” In: Whose Antigone? The Tragic Marginalization of Slavery. (30 pages)
- Caroline Rooney. 2000. “Clandestine Antigones and the pre-post-colonial.” In African Literature, Animism and Politics. (123 pages)
- Harry Garuba. 2012. “On Animism, Modernity/Colonialism, and the African Order of Knowledge: Provisional Reflections.” (5 pages)
DemPrac2015 — THE DEMOS: Course Description
Annual ACC Seminar/PhD course:
Democratic Practices of Unequal Geographies:
Reading Political Theory with Southern Urbanism
This is an annual week-long literature and discussion seminar organized by Dr. Henrik Ernstson and Dr. Andrés Henao Castro at the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town. The first seminar was held 27-31 July 2015 and the next is scheduled for 11-15 July, 2016. It invites PhD students and Early Career Scholars in particular from UCT, UWC, Stellenbosch and other South African universities. For 2016 we also hope to have some travel bursaries for non-Cape Town based participants. Some changes will be made to 2016 version of the seminar, but the outline below from 2015 gives a good indication. If you are interested, please send an email to Henrik Ernstson (henrik.ernstson[!at!]uct.ac.za). Course days: Monday to Friday, 9 – 12 am; Thursday longer with CityLab discussion and dinner in the evening.
Some feedback from 2015 participants
“The group discussions were of perhaps the highest intellectual rigour and focus that I have ever experienced.”
“The readings from both sides – political theory and Southern urbanism – were well-chosen [and] Dr. Henao Castro and Dr. Ernstson created a nurturing space for collective reflection on specific local cases and popular debates that were generously shared by all participants.”
“The system of having intensive group meetings during the morning (allowing time in the afternoon for individual reading and reflection) suited my style of working.”
“Planning next year: Bit more people from different disciplines.”
“Participants should also be encouraged to relate the readings to their own work, with the opportunity for each to give a short presentation on how they relate the reading material to their own research projects.“
“I have tremendously enjoyed participating in the above seminar. It was well prepared, comprehensibly structured and intellectually stimulating. The guiding questions for each reading also came in very handy, especially when tackling the longer and more complex texts.”
This seminar emerges out of an interest to put into conversation two bodies of literature: political philosophy and global south urbanism. By gathering a seminar we want to understand and problematize the meaning and practices of democracy by attending to their often-neglected contentious spatial materializations. Our effort is that of relating questions about the doing and undoing of the demos to the interrogation of its material spaces of appearance and disappearance. By pairing democratic theory with the work of critical geographers and urbanists, our objective is not that of supplementing a theoretical abstraction with a concrete spatiality in the global south, but that of thinking about political subjectivity, collective agency and the distribution of power from the perspective of their embedded urban and non-urban settings. We want to ask, for example, how does the private (oikos) vs. public (polis) division of spaces in the classic Greek city helped to constitute the phone (voice) vs. logos (speech) division of rationality by which gendered and racialized bodies were depoliticized in the original making of the demos? How were those urban spaces transgressed, circumvented, rearranged, reimagined, etc., so as to trouble the very limits of the demos itself by these agents? How do these spatial contestations take place today, as our own theories of democracy change to signify conflict rather than consensus,orafuture-to-comeratherthananalreadypresentreality? Theseminarispartofa new ACC project on Radical Incrementalism and Theories/Practices of Emancipatory Change (RADINCSUPE) lead by Henrik Ernstson and Edgar Pieterse. The objective is also to use the seminar as a theoretical laboratory to elaborate a framing for a new ACC CityLab around “Democratic Practices in Unequal Geographies”.1 We hope this combination can contribute to the theoretical terrain of ACC and beyond.
Our seminar follows a rather usual historical trajectory as it moves from the origins of democracy in the ancient Greek polis to the current challenges democracy faces under neoliberal conditions of globalization. Yet it explores such historical transformation with a rather unusual emphasis on urban and non-urban landscapes in the global south. We want to discuss questions about speech, action, property, governmentality, the political, and the construction of the other, by placing these theories within uneven geographies that should trouble existing theoretical findings and help us to reformulate our research questions, methodologies approaches and theoretical assumptions.
In the readings we have chosen to place more emphasis on political philosophy as these are less known to most of us, and since this makes best use of Andrés’ visit here at ACC. The texts on global south urbanism will bring in contextual and theoretical aspects into seminar, but we also rely on participants’ wider reading and research on urbanization, global south and post colonialism. One of the participant’s reflected on how profoundly the seminar managed to create a collective space for thinking hard about fundamentals:
“Prior to the seminar I had not engaged with some of the foundational aspects of political thought. I tended to take certain political ideas for granted, without viewing these concepts, institutions or categories as having histories of their own. As a result, the seminar has enabled me to think more carefully and critically about contemporary political debates (e.g. around foreign migrants and neoliberalism). The seminar sharpened my awareness around what we can consider to be ‘political’, whether in objective reality or in the thought of key influential people. For example, I had never considered that Marx and Foucault (the heroes of many in the intellectual left) could be regarded as not having much to say about politics and the political. This has been a welcome challenge.”
Schedule and Readings 2015
We will meet for 3 hours every day. Dr. Andrés Henao Castro will start with talking for about 30-40 minutes to give context of the theoretical discussion, and make use of his long experience with these texts: what is at stake in the text, how the question changes the problematic, and summarize the main points, etc. Then we open the floor for discussion in which the global south urbanism literature will enter as ways to unpack and think about the seminar questions, how our empirical work are helped by these texts, while challenging them and ‘speaking back’. For all these will be a chance to re-think our own research and case studies.
Below follow questions to orient your reading, and serve as starting point for our discussions. Based on this you can write down and raise your own questions to further give direction to the seminar. We will have a short 10 minute break two hours into the seminar and then we will return for another 45 minutes of discussion. Coffee and tea will be served during the seminar. (NB: Global south urbanism reading and questions will be complemented later this week.)
Day 1 [Monday]: Origins of Democracy
We will introduce the seminar and all participants will introduce themselves. Andrés will then talk about the origins of Democracy in Greece, and the definitions given by Plato and Aristotle. After that we will open for discussions. Outline:
- Formulation of the problem: a. The paradox of democracy: undoing distinctions and the subject of equality. b. Philosophy versus democracy and the problem of colonialism. c. The relationship between democracy and the urban space.
- Leading questions will be given to the reading
- Key concepts: democracy, political regime, citizenship, and freedom.
Readings Day 1: Plato’s Book VIII and Aristotle’s Books I-III. The rest of these books are recommended.
Day 2 [Tuesday]: Modern Critique of Democracy (Democracy in Modernity)
We will focus on Marx (On the Jewish Question) and Rousseau (Second Discourse on Inequality) and the question of property and link this with a reading on critical geographies in the global south during the period of the bourgeois liberal revolutions. Outline:
- Formulation of the problem: a. The citizen versus the human: the ideological masking of inequality; b. Capitalism and Democracy; c. On private property and the improperty of the commons; d. The relationship between political power and space
- Leading questions to guide the reading will be given.
- Key concepts: democracy, capitalism, political, and social emancipation.
Readings Day 2: Compulsory reading is Marx’ “On the Jewish Question.” Rousseau’s text recommended. Compulsory reading is also Loftus, A., & Lumsden, F. (2008). Reworking hegemony in the urban waterscape. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 33(1), 109–126.
Day 3 [Wednesday]: The Paradox of Democracy (Democracy and Foreignness)
This seminar will focus on the political function of the foreigner as what paradoxes foreigness help democracy to solve.
- Formulation of the problem: a. The inversion of the question; b. The political functions of the foreigner, or the foreigner as deux ex machine; c. Storytelling and democratic founding; d. Territorial unrest and the mobility of the people
- Leading questions to guide the reading will be given.
- Key concepts: democracy, foreignness, paradox, foundings.
Readings Day 3: Compulsory Chapters 1, 3 and 4 from Bonnie Honig’s book Democracy and the Foreigner. The other chapters are recommended. Compulsory reading is also Comaroff, J., & Comaroff, J. L. (2001). Naturing the Nation: Aliens, Apocalypse, and the Postcolonial State. Social Identities, 7(2), 233–265. Recommended reading is: Mbembe, A. (2002). African Modes of Self-Writing. Public Culture, 14(1), 239–273; Mbembe, A., & Nuttall, S. (2004). Writing the World from an African Metropolis. Public Culture, 16(3), 347–372.
Day 4 [Thursday]: The Hatred of Democracy
This seminar focus on Jacques Ranciére’s work on democracy, proper political sequence, and the distritbution of the sensible and how that translates into contexts of cities and societies of the South.
- Formulation of the problem: a. Democracy versus consensus; b. Democracy as a form of political subjectivation; c. Democracy and theatricality: on the aesthetics of the political; d. The (non)space of democracy: on the redistribution of the sensible;
- Leading questions to guide the reading will be given.
- Key concepts: democracy, police, supplement, scandal of equality.
Dinner in the evening!
Readings Day 4: Compulsory reading is Jacques Rancière’s Hatred of Democracy; Recommended reading is Rancierés Democracy and Consensus. Compulsory reading is also Pithouse, R. (2008). A Politics of the Poor: Shack Dwellers’ Struggles in Durban. Journal of Asian and African Studies, 43(1), 63–94. Recommended reading is Ernstson, H. (n.d.). Situating ecologies and re-distributing expertise: the material semiotics of people and plants at Bottom Road, Cape Town. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.
Day 5 [Friday]: Democracy and Neoliberalism
- Formulation of the problem: a. The demos as “homo politicus”; b. Politics versus economics; c. Neoliberalism as governmental rationality; d. The imagination of political spaces.
- Leading questions to guide the reading will be given.
- Key concepts: democracy, neoliberalism, rationality, homo economicus/politicus.
Readings Day 5: Compulsory reading is Chapters 1, 3, 4 and 6 of Wendy Brown’s book Undoing the Demos. Compulsory reading is also Simone, AboduMaliq (2004). People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg. Public Culture, 16(3), 407–429. Recommended reading is Gandy, M. (2005). Learning from Lagos. New Left Review, 33, 37–52.
Reading list for the seminar 2015
Note that * indicates compulsory reading.
PLATO. 2004. “Book II, Book VII and Book VIII*,” in: Republic, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.
ARISTOTLE. 1996. “Books I*, II*, III*,” in: Politics, Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press
BROWN, Wendy. 2015. Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution*, New York: Zone Books (all of it is compulsory; but it is difficult to access; see note below).
HONIG, Bonnie. 2001. Democracy and the Foreigner, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press (Compulsory: Chapters 1*, 3* and 4*; Chapter 2 recommended).
MARX. Karl. 1978. “The Jewish Question”*, in: The Marx-Engels Reader, Norton, pp. 26-52. RANCIÈRE, Jacques. 2006. Hatred of Democracy*, Verso, New York (all of it).
ROUSSEAU. Jean-Jacques. 1985. “Second Part,” in: Second Discourse on Inequality, New York:
Penguin Classics. (Recommended)
Global South Urbanism
Comaroff, J., & Comaroff, J. L. (2001). Naturing the Nation: Aliens, Apocalypse, and the Postcolonial State. Social Identities, 7(2), 233–265.
Gandy, M. (2005). Learning from Lagos. New Left Review, 33(May June), 37–52.
Loftus, A., & Lumsden, F. (2008). Reworking hegemony in the urban waterscape. Transactions
of the Institute of British Geographers, 33(1), 109–126.
Simone, A. (2004). People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg. Public
Recommended reading is:
Ernstson, H. (n.d.). Situating ecologies and re-distributing expertise: the material semiotics of people and plants at Bottom Road, Cape Town. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.
Mbembe, A. (2002). African Modes of Self-Writing. Public Culture, 14(1), 239–273. Mbembe, A., & Nuttall, S. (2004). Writing the World from an African Metropolis. Public Culture, 16(3), 347–372.