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PRICHARD, Alex. Conference Report
Compiled by Alex Prichard, 22/06/10
Article published on 30 August 2010
last modification on 27 April 2015

by r-c.
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The above conference was convened by Alex Prichard and hosted by the International Politics Research Group in the Department of Politics, University of Bristol. The conference was wholly funded as part of Alex Prichard’s postdoctoral fellowship grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (Grant code: PTA-026-27-2404).

The conference comprised of 16 paper presentations, an exhibition and 10 non-presenting participants. Four members of the Department of Politics at the University of Bristol attended individual sessions. One paper was presented using an online Skype video-call from Ottawa, which, despite extensive preparation in the weeks preceding the conference, turned out to be something of a technical nightmare on the day. Paper givers came from the around the UK, Canada, the US, Australia and mainland Europe, with participants also from across Europe and the UK. All but one of the papers was submitted a month in advance of the conference, giving paper-givers and other participants time to read them in advance of the conference. The conference was organised between six panel sessions and a brief introduction to ‘The Outwrite Exhibition’. Paper-givers were given 15 minutes to present, which usually left 45 minutes for questions and answers. A full conference programme and the papers can be found here: http://www.anarchist-studies-network.org.uk/Rethinking_Anarchy%3A_Anarchism_and_International_Relations

The conference was opened with a brief discussion of the history and importance of the internationalist feminist journal ‘Outwrite’. Centrally, the exhibition was intended to shed light on a little known period of feminist and activist history, the 1980s. The exhibition captured the global focus of feminist solidarity in the 1980s and the campaigns and perspectives that contemporary writers could learn from.

The individual papers fell into four broad categories: theory, history of ideas, empirical or case-study driven analysis and theory driven analysis of specific cases. In the former category, Adam Goodwin looked to correct the Malthusian and Social Darwinist tendency in the work of Bradley Thayer by turning to Kropotkin’s mutual aid theory. The paper illustrated how re-orienting analysis of the global from the perspective of the social can correct the individualist and reductionist bias in Thayer’s analysis. This re-orientation has the political consequence of eroding the normative and analytical centrality of the state in IR and making more room for collective autonomy. Erika Cudworth and Steve Hobden illustrated the affinities between anarchist theory and complexity theory and how the two bring into question some of the standard assumptions in IR theory, particularly surrounding the regulation of complex systems by the state and the questioning of the centrality of the state to analysis of the global. Alex Prichard’s paper sought to provide an ethical and normative justification for a radically democratic politics and drew parallels between the work of David Held and wider anarchist writings on autonomy and social emancipation. The paper argued that Held’s global social democratic project underestimated the tendency of the state to erode autonomy and that anarchist critiques of the state could act as an important corrective to Held’s theory and help realise autonomy in more equitable ways. Chris LaRoche and Jordan Guthrie gave an rich and wide-ranging paper that looked at how what they called ‘negative’ renderings of anarchy in IR theory constrained how we might understand the ‘positive’ and emancipatory potential of anarchy in thinking about world politics.

Nathan Eisenstadt and Claire Harrison looked at how post-anarchist social theory can help us shed new light on the specificities of anarchism and its relation to the global. Nathan’s paper looked at how we might categories anarchism and a social practice through the concept of assemblages and how this decentred framing allows us to think of anarchism as a global social practice rather than one that is constrained by formal politics expressed by states. Catherine illustrated through a number of mini case studies how anarchist DIY ethics, expressed by Richard Day as ‘the politics of the act’, ought to be understood as often if not always compromised by ‘the politics of demand’, the politics of mediation and representation. This, she argued should not be seen to be compromising an anarchist politics.

Two papers were theoretically driven analyses of empirical cases. Shannon Brincat and Leah Aylward’s paper also questioned the centrality of the state to debates between cosmopolitans and communitarians in IR theory and argued that the state circumscribed the political imaginary in ways that limited political and social agency. Looking to the diverse Via Campesina movement, they argued that the possibilities for radically autonomous social agency that these groups prefigured offered a way out of the cosmopolitan/communitarian debate in normative IR theory. Chris Rossdale’s paper took up the issue of agency in IR and in Critical Security Studies in particular and argued that a focus on grass roots social activisms helps us reconfigure how we understand the relationship between the local and the global and that by looking at how anti-arms trade activists confront militarism and foreign policy in their direct actions, we can see alternative ways through which agency can be exercised in international politics by ordinary people. Daniel Murray’s paper was also a theoretically driven analysis of the newest social movements in which he developed a three-part taxonomy of different aspects and moments of anarchist organising, from the local affinity group to the network to the social forum, to suggest how we might see anarchism as a lived global practice in its own right.

Roy Krovel and April Carrier each gave extremely rich accounts of the Zapatistas and indigenous movements in Bolivia and drew out the anarchist undercurrents in each case. Warning against the tendency to appropriate the Zapatistas unthinkingly to an anarchist practice, and against assuming that their practices have been successful, Roy nevertheless argued that we can learn a lot from an anarchist reading of the Zapatistas against the global spread and influence of their ideas and tracing how the movement evolved. April presented a fascinating analysis of the intricate and highly coordinated activities of indigenous movements in Bolivia. Their anarchic, in the sense of the absence of centralised control, practices and autonomous social organisation has achieved huge gains that are actively defended against the encroachments of state or capital such as in the case of failed attempts to privatise water supplies previously autonomously and collectively controlled and the pressuring of the Bolivian state to renege on IMF deals that would have been damaging to these populations. A truly inspirational account.

Paul Stott illustrated how anarchism can make a sizeable contribution to terrorism studies. He argued that this could be done in three ways. Anarchists can correct the false associations of contemporary terrorism with 19th century anarchist acts of terror; secondly, looking for the anarchistic in places usually associated with terror can throw up some interesting and unexpected movements that disturb preconceptions we may have about Islam, for example; and finally, an anarchist methodology, because it is relatively uncompromised by the statist leanings of the right and the relatively unquestioning solidarity of the left with national liberation movements, can provide a more balanced and critical analysis of terror than those current.

Carl Levy presented a paper due out soon on the relationship of early anarchism to the historical tradition of cosmopolitanism in European thought. Anarchist political thought, Carl argued, constitutes a methodology that helps us account for social and political change. By tracing the movements of the cosmopolitan anarchist of the nineteenth century and showing where their ideas and actions percolated and grew roots we can trace social transformation. This is a global history with a cosmopolitan method. Carissa Honeywell and Alex Christoyannopoulos both looked to the history of ideas, political history and Alex to political theology as well, to illustrate the relationship of anarchism and anarchist practices to the international or global. Carissa illustrated how anarchists critiques of the warfare state and their ability to speak directly to the concerns of demobilising conscript armies after WWII put them on collision course with the British state who uncharacteristically, and contrary to established policy, prosecuted a group writing for Freedom Press in the mid 1940s. Alex showed how consistent and politically aware Christians ought to reject the Westphalian state, deference to it considered a brand of idolatry, and thus also the international system constructed around it. And finally, Luke Ashworth turned to the history of the concept of anarchy in IR to show how it has always been used to buttress statism. He argued that a turn to Mitrany and Proudhon can help us move away from traditional understandings of anarchy to a more pluralist and functionalist, decentralised understanding of the global. Anarchy, by this analysis, was a concept to be avoided by anarchists in IR.

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