Critique of Violence Now

“Critique of Violence Now. From Thinking to Acting Against Violence” with Judith Butler

The CAS SEE 2018 Summer School “Critique of Violence Now. From Thinking to Acting Against Violence” (June 18 – 22, 2018) opened with at inaugural lecture by Judith Butler, entitled “Interpreting Non-Violence”. The event took place at the Croatian National Theater “Ivan pl. Zajc” in Rijeka on Monday, June 18th 2018. During the lecture Butler posed a question: who is the “we” that gathered at this occasion? Whoever we were, she said, we are all different, and conflict, is surely already among us. The challenge is to live with the conflict without (any) violence.

Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, reminded us how our society stems from a powerful foundational fiction that is based on a conception of the human as masculine, self-sufficient, adult individual. This fiction inaugurates a societal structure that sustains ideas of individualism. But, what would happen if we tried another story?

We are all born into a condition of radical interdependency. Judith Butler advocated for changing our focus on interdependency against the self-sufficiency fantasy that is deeply rooted in our societies. Coming to the realization of our mutual interdependency is the condition of equality that can lead towards the understanding of our global obligations (toward our fellow humans, other animals, other living processes, and the environment). Butler argued against the mechanisms that cause that some lives are more grievable than others and some lives are more precarious than others. This is why an ethics of non-violence has to do with an equal distribution of the conditions of livability. In her final words, she concluded that arguing for non-violence is usually regarded as unrealistic, but maybe those who claim this are too enamored with reality.

On Tuesday 19th 2018, the City of Rijeka Town Hall hosted the public debate “Political Violence: is counterstrike possible?”, moderated by Manuela Bojadžijev (Humboldt University). In this debate, Donatella della Porta (Scuola Normale Superiore, Firenze) argued for the need of analyzing violence at different levels: macro (economic injustice and ethnic discrimination), meso (incapsulation of ideology), and micro (through acts of intolerant identities). Peter Fenves (Northwestern University) used Immanuel Kant’s fantasy of perpetual peace to argue that we do not have a fantasy of the state that can lead towards a theory of right. Do we, then, need new fantasies? Also, he presented Walter Benjamin’s idea of the connection between the state and criminality: criminality is an alibi to the State foundation – all States are organized violent organizations, and violent syndicates have pretensions of taking over the State.

Marc Crepon (Ecole Normale Superiore, Paris) added that there is a murderous consent as a dimension to our belonging to this world. Ignorance is also a part of murderous consent to violence and we need legal action of lawmakers to withhold certain forms of violence. Child labour, slavery, political violence, death penalty, domestic violence/masculine domination, are examples of violences that have to be tackled through legal actions. The media theorist Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky (Ruhr University Bochum) used the example of the Counter-Strike videogame to reflect on the politics of the game against terrorism.

Judith Butler reflected on the title of the debate: Is counterstrike possible? What is a strike? Is it violent or non-violent, or is it perhaps both? Is a non-violent counter-strike possible? We often think about violence as a physical blow, but is it the case for political violence? Political violence seems to act at the level of the state (police, army, prisons), of the violent laws (permitting genocide or femicide), of institutions (abandoning the migrants, for example). States also fail at taking political stances against these violences. And this, she argued, is not a physical blow, but it is violence. This passive way of failing to provide sanctuary fosters particular ways of circulating violence. In her final words, Manuela Bojadzijev claimed that nowadays it is more than ever necessary that institutions take an affirmative stance by pronouncing themselves as sanctuaries for migrants and for marginalized people. This positive act of taking positions in favor of human rights can maybe become the affirmative counterstrike that helps us face contemporary violences.

On Wednesday afternoon, June 21th, the Summer School rendered a tribute to Saba Mahmood, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley who passed away on March 10th, 2018. This tribute took form of a round table, moderated by Sanja Bojanić (UNIRI CAS SEE/Academy for Applied Arts), with participation by Judith Butler, Rebeka Anić (Institute of Social Sciences Ivo Pilar – Center Split), Zilka Spahić Šiljak (Standford University/TPO Foundation Sarajevo), Sanja Pontonjak, (University of Zagreb), Adriana Zaharijević (IFDT University of Belgrade), and Senka Božić (University of Zadar). Together, they reflected on Mahmood’s important contribution to contemporary debates on secularism, feminism, ethics and politics, with viewpoints that contested Western ideas on pious Muslim women.

For Saba Mahmood, secularism can be an instrument for intolerance and leads towards conflict because of its own ambiguity: it advocates equality while imposing inequalities and producing minorities. In this sense, the participants of the table deliberated on the features of a state that considers itself as secular, specifically reflecting on the Croatian context.

Regarding feminism, there was an interesting reflection on the relationship between secular and religious feminisms. It was stated that an entirely secular (or religious) feminism would be provincial; thus, it would be wise to overcome the secularism/religion divide in order to escape the reactive cycle that is often established and to work towards a cooperation between secular and religious feminisms.

Summer school organizers: University of Rijeka, Center for Advanced Studies Southeast Europe (UNIRI CAS SEE), Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory (University of Belgrade).

Partners: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Zagreb, HNK Ivan pl. Zajc, Erste Stiftung, European Fund for the Balkans, Institut Francais Croatia, Consulato generale d’Italia – Fiume, Goethe Institute Zagreb, Art-kino Croatia and the City of Rijeka.

The 2018 Summer School program is part of the “Kitchen” and “Seasons of Power” Flagships of the project “Rijeka 2020 – European Capital of Culture.”

Summer School Program: “Critique of Violence Now: from Thinking to Acting against Violence”

University of Rijeka, Center for Advanced Studies Southeast Europe (UNIRI CAS SEE)

In cooperation with
The Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory University of Belgrade

Supported by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Zagreb, National Theatre Ivan pl. Zajc, Goethe Institute Zagreb, Erste Foundation, European Fund for the Balkans, French Institute Croatia, Consulato generale d’Italia – Fiume, City of Rijeka, Art-kino Croatia

Venues: Akvarij, University campus, Croatian National Theatre Ivan pl. Zajc, DeltaLab, Art-kino Croatia, City of Rijeka Town Hall

Dates: June 18th – 22nd 2018

Rationale and background:

The 2018 CAS SEE Summer School examines one of today’s most pressing topics: how to think and what to do with violence in our present society. To what extent is it possible to deconstruct and name the emerging mechanisms of violence? What kinds of phenomena precipitate coercion and violence, making it difficult to suppress and rendering it seemingly inevitable? Assuming that in myriad social contexts, violence is not a self-contained, but rather a relational/social phenomenon (across families, associations, corporations, nations, states, religions), is there any social purpose to it, and does it have any productive alternative? Is violence a form of communication, and might there be strategic communicative substitutes that could non-repressively reduce the recourse to violence?

Southeastern Europe has seen more than its share of violence. It has also seen loud proclamations of anti-violent ideology from states and governments, from organizations of civil society, down to sundry public voices. The region has seen the adoption and implementation of various EU laws and policies to a far greater and more drastic extent than even in their countries of origin. This trend is partly a symptom of identity crises and identity insecurity, for which policies are designed to curtail all kinds of societal violence, shifting power towards ever-increasing prerogatives of wanton administrations. Instances of violence tend to be interpreted as systemic social degeneration that needs to be uprooted by draconian control and repressive policies. The results are a police force and state institutions with sweeping authority over individuals on the one hand, and widespread apathy and defeatism among ordinary people, on the other. Thus, the study of violence as well as anti-violence policy addresses a core quality of life issue in Southeastern Europe.

“Critique of Violence Now” will:

  • Provide a framework for an exchange of views and insights among activists and academics on the following topics: political violence, administrative violence, legal violence, domestic violence, collective violence in the regional and global context, countering (discourses of) violence through social engagement, social inequalities and neoliberal conquest of state and society;
  • Inspire and build capacity of participants through stimulating topical and theoretical input by renowned academics, creating opportunities for building networks and joint cooperation actions in the field;
  • Provide workspaces for the participants to discuss and work on short papers (approx. 3 pages) dedicated to four major clusters: “Political Violence: Revisited”; “Administrative Violence: Migration”; “Ethnicized Violence”; “Deconstructing Misogyny and Patriarchy”. Papers (in English) would be further refined immediately after the Summer School and published in a volume edited by the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory of the University of Belgrade (IFDT University of Belgrade).

The Summer School is organized as part of the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, of which UNIRI CAS SEE and IFDT University of Belgrade are members. The event will also serve to confer the inaugural prize for critical theoretical engagement ”Miladin Zivotic”, established in 2017 by IFDT University of Belgrade. The award is bestowed on those social theorists whose work has had significant impact on the broader public, exemplifying socially engaged theory and theoretically grounded social engagement.


Program and Timetable


Program Board of the Summer School:

Petar Bojanic (IFDT University of Belgrade, UNIRI CAS SEE), Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky (Ruhr University Bochum), Vedran Dzihic (oiip / UNIRI CAS SEE), Manuela Bojadzijev (Humboldt University), Sanja Bojanic (UNIRI CAS SEE; Center for Women Studies UNIRI, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences), Adriana Zaharijevic (IFDT, University of Belgrade) and Gazela Pudar Drasko (IFDT, University of Belgrade).

Organization Board:

Monica Cano Abadia, Kristina Smoljanovic, Natasa Jankovic (UNIRI CAS SEE); Ana Ajdukovic (Center For Women Studies, FFRI); Marlene Weck (FFRI/University of Freiburg); Marilea Pudar (IFDT University of Belgrade) and Edward Djordjevic (FFRI)

Summer school visuals are designed by Natasa Jankovic.

Contact: cas@cas.uniri.hr