In addition to its Annual Workshop, the ISRF also supports smaller events convened by – or in partnership with – ISRF Fellows and associated.
Is the Western idea of freedom fundamentally anti-democratic? The political theorist – and former ISRF Mid-Career Fellow – Annelien de Dijn argues that it has become so, but need not be. De Dijn brings today’s limited concept of freedom back to life by immersing it in a 2500-year panorama of intellectual and political conflict.
Freedom inspires important questions: Why has freedom often been hostile to government and public services? Why has freedom so often defined itself through the domination of women and racial others? As authoritarian regimes spread around the world, can we be optimistic about democratizing freedom in the coming years?
Professor De Dijn offered an overview of her book, and then discussed it with Dr Manjeet Ramgotra (SOAS), a scholar of postcolonial republicanism, and Professor Mark Whitehead (Aberystwyth University), author of Neuroliberalism: Behavioural Government in the 21st Century. Further discussion followed, moderated by Professor Christopher Newfield, Director of Research, ISRF.
Part of the Economics &… Workshop Series
This workshop aims to gather together a broad range of scholars in order to address issues relating to the intersection of economics and semiotics. Our purpose is to open up a new space for reflection on economics and the economy through the use of tools and concepts developed in semiotics. Since Baudrillard, Deleuze and Guattari dealt with the transformation of capitalism, there has been a rekindling of interest in the way semiotics relate to economics and, more precisely, in what way economics and semiotics share common concepts or means in order to interpret social and cultural activity. This workshop aims to investigate how a dialogue between semiotics and economics is capable of throwing new light into a better understanding of today’s fast- changing world.
More specifically, despite the fact that economists use ‘empirical evidence’ in the form of numerical data to answer theory and policy questions, what most economists do not customarily reflect on is the fact that they pre-impose interpretation patterns and broad conceptual frameworks to form data related questions at the very start of any research process. On the other hand, semiotics is the study of signs within which processes of interpretation play key-roles in coding and decoding meanings. In both fields, interpretation as a social process is a central element that leads to recognised results, estimates, and conclusions. From economic concepts to semiotic value(s), everything in our world can be regarded as a sign capable of meaning, through the process of interpretation. How, then, do we proceed from semantics to pragmatics, from theory to practise and vice versa? What is the nature of the relation between interpretation, results and reality? How can we define the hermeneutics of economic discourse and the economy behind semiotic interpretations both in our abstractions and in practice?
The application of the semiotics approach to the economics discourse is vital in helping us unpack the various meanings of loaded terms in common use in economics. The sessions are organised around key concepts-words that have special weight both in semiotics and in economics in a variety of contexts. These are: value/price – rhetoric/discourse – signs/figures – narratives/coherence and cognition/perception. The workshop will focus on an effort to understand what we actually mean with these and related concepts. It also aims to start a broad discussion not only on how terms/constructs are used in the economics discourse, but also on the performative relationship between discourse and reality. The round-table session at the end intends to use this discussion as a foundation for a tentative understanding of the nature of the economy – and the type of ontological statements that well-grounded economic analysis may develop. This will allow us to speculate on future avenues of research that build on a dialogic relationship between economics and semiotics, and therefore attempt to re-orient the way discourse construction is performed in economics.
The challenging post-crisis environment of low interest rates and weak growth has encouraged financial actors to make new interventions in time and space in their search for yield. In contrast to the ‘secular stagnation’ of the real economy, therefore, the ‘new normal’ for global finance has been one of great change: its reach has spread into new assets, whilst it has become differently entwined in older assets; it has used new mechanisms for extraction through innovative valuation practices; and has reorganised its spatial and relational arrangements in search of new sources of yield.
This workshop attempts to capture the new dynamism of money and finance in the post-crisis era. It will examine how financial actors gain power and wealth by connecting with actors in other realms, sectors and sites, including law and accounting firms, real estate developers, policy-makers and alternative financial services providers. It will set those relations within a spatial context of geo-political flux where rising powers are now both a source of new investment resources as well as investment opportunities. It will also explore the entanglements forged through valuation practices which open out new, extractive possibilities which require interventions in time and space. This workshop therefore aims to draw out the cross-cutting dynamics of economy, space, time and value to provide novel observations on the changing character of the contemporary international financial system.
Part of the Economics &… Workshop Series
Gotthold Lessing in his seminal enlightenment work, Laocoön, wrote about the strengths of the arts in representing different aspects of reality, and created the groundwork both for renewing the link between the perception of reality and mimetic representation, and for distinguishing the domain of the different arts in what they can faithfully capture. In contrast, August Schlegel’s work, distinguished between ancient and the modern aesthetics, by both problematizing the very nature of representation in art, and as a consequence the distinct separation of fields of art.
Schlegel is chiefly remembered today as a central figure of the German Romantic movement. He argued that modern art relates to an environment that arose within specific historical conditions, and, as a result, requires a completely new framework of understanding. Art cannot be seen to mimic nature, an aspiration of ancient art that was re-affirmed in the Enlightenment and the classicist tradition. For Schlegel, art could not be a mere ‘imitation’ or ‘representation’ of nature; it is the product of a creative force and, therefore, of expression. Thus he writes in relation to poetry, “the poetry of the ancients was the poetry of enjoyment, and ours is that of desire” (Schlegel, 2015 , 10).
This workshop examines the potential relation and dialogue between plastic arts and economics. Both terms are widely used, but definitions are elusive. If plastic arts essentially relate to the world as something that can be moulded, shaped and transformed, then it is nothing more than a mode of expression, a state of mind. Is, then, economics with all its devices and other trappings another plastic art? According to some of its practitioners, economics appears to be a rational, enlightenment-inspired machine to uncover social and economic reality. Economic theory has been described as representing, predicting, abstracting, imagining, mimicking and simplifying reality, in its effort to define how it relates to the social sphere. Also, economic theory is not monolithic and different traditions that emanate from past eras and strands within the discipline come up with a range of answers on the relation between economic theory and reality. Perhaps, one result of this plurality may be to see economic theory as a romantic reengineering of our society, its values and its processes. This leads us to the following questions: Does theory explain and uncover natural, immutable and ever-present tendencies or does it form and transform our understanding of the social environment by appealing to modern aspirations? How does art mediate this difficult relation between reality, representation and transformation? These are the themes that this workshop investigates.
At two related but distinct research events in The Netherlands – at Universiteit Leiden (2nd October 2018) and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (3rd October 2018) – the ISRF intends to facilitate conversations around pressing political issues facing Europe – Referenda and Euroskepticism – whilst highlighting the value that publications such as The Conversation can bring to widening public debate. Each event will comprise a presentation from Stephen Khan, Editor of the UK branch of the The Conversation, about the value of such a news platform: the benefits that it can bring to universities and the professional trajectories of individual researchers, and also, its important role in countering ‘fake news’. This presentation will be followed by specially invited lectures on Referenda (Universiteit Leiden) and Euroskepticism (VU Amsterdam), responses from ISRF Fellows, and plenty of time for open discussion among the audience.
As a system of rules upheld through a variety of state-endorsed institutions to control human behaviour, the law affects everyone – the living and the dead – and, in its quest to protect people and private property, it is administrated through the use of violence where the state deems this necessary. The epistemological roots of the law developed from distinct historical, political, and cultural contexts, discourses of colonialism, and class-based ideologies. As such, although it is intended that the laws of the country apply to and will be felt by all people equally, the truth is that its application and weight continues to be biased according to race, access to social and financial capital, and gendered ideology. For example, police are six times more likely to ‘stop and search’ black people than white people in the U.K. and legal aid has fallen dramatically since the Legal Aid and Sentencing of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012 was implemented. In the eyes of law, only those identified as legal citizens are considered members of society and therefore ‘deserving’ of its protection, those ‘undocumented’ – migrants, travellers, refugees, homeless people – are cast as outsiders, left to the mercy of underground gangs and protection rackets.
This study day brings together a small group of scholars working on a variety of aspects of law, policing, criminology, prisoner rehabilitation, and social welfare, to discuss the social, legal and governmental institutions by which U.K. law is upheld and administrated. This workshop will consider ways in which notions and practices of the law are challenged and reconfigured in different disciplinary domains and epistemic traditions, and in conjunction with contemporary developments ranging from ‘austerity’ to rave culture. The workshop will be informal and exploratory, it seeks to involve the audience in discussion of emergent themes and hopes to identify possible directions for future study and critical elaboration.
How might evidence and temporality be productively thought in tandem? Construed as the grounds of knowledge, prevailing constructs of evidence often seem to have a retrospective tilt: past occurrences and observed patterns are consulted to make sense of the present and as guides to future action. So conceived, evidence reinforces Occidental ideas of temporality as a continuously flowing current of successive and irreversible moments. In this way it might be said that prevailing constructs of evidence and temporality work to co-constitute one another as figures and frames of continuity and determination.
This workshop will consider ways in which notions and practices of evidence and temporality, and the relations presumed to obtain between them, are being challenged and reconfigured in different disciplinary domains and epistemic traditions, and in conjunction with contemporary developments ranging from advances in genomics and the emergence of a “promissory” bioeconomy; climate change and anthropocenic precarity; and the phenomenon of “fake news” and the dawning of a “post-truth” era.
The workshop will bring together a small group of researchers from across the social sciences to consider evidence and temporality as objects and optics of analysis, and the affordances of thinking about them together. The workshop will be informal and exploratory, and is intended to identify possible directions for future study and critical elaboration. Some preliminary orienting questions are as follows: How do different ways of doing/thinking about evidence anchor and give meaning to different temporalities; reciprocally, how do different kinds of temporality and timescapes inflect different ways of doing/thinking about evidence? In what contexts are received ideas and practices of evidence and temporality being challenged and reconfigured, with what kinds of effects and implications? How are such shifts reconfiguring perceptions of possibility and limitation, and the experience and enactment of contingency and determination? How is that which is absent or non-existent (temporally, materially) evidenced? How do different semiotic modalities support or subvert various constructs of evidence and temporality, and the relation between them?
Part of the Economics &… Workshop Series
This workshop aims to explore key interfaces between economics and anthropology. It will include four sessions, on the themes of production and work, industrialization and development, credit and debt, and economic action.
The central themes will be the interface between work practices and social contexts in the understanding of production; the interplay of industrialization, de-industrialisation and re-industrialisation in the process of economic development; the individual identities and social relationships associated with credit and debt positions; and the dichotomy between instrumental rationality and the societal provision of material means as a foundational problem in both economics and anthropology.
In each session, an anthropologist and an economist will give a talk on related issues, also commenting on what is specific to their disciplinary approach to the issue. Talks will be followed by in-depth discussion with participants, also in view of i) comparing insights on specific issues, deriving from different disciplinary angles; ii) discussing the fit between issues and methods; and iii) exploring the potential for some elements of a shared language.