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Jean-Luc Nancy

'On the Meanings of Democracy' points to the fragility and contested meanings of 'democracy'. Once 'the assurance is given that "democracy" is the only kind of political regime that is acceptable to an adult, emancipated population which is an end in itself, the very idea of democracy fades and becomes blurred and confusing'. Such 'wide-spread lack of clarity' gave rise to Europe's 'totalitarian' regimes. It is claimed that 'it is impossible to be simply a "democrat" without questioning what this really means', and that to ignore the conceptual difficulties is as 'dangerous as rejecting democracy completely'. A 'minimal argument or blueprint for an enquiry into the possible meanings' of the term is proposed. The implications of taking 'democracy', the word, 'to describe the exercising of political power by the people' are explored. The 'people' as a social group distinct from some 'other reputedly superior part, which dominates it', is distinguished from the 'people' taken to mean 'the whole'. In the first sense, 'democracy' is not a regime but an uprising against a regime or government. In the second sense, the 'political sovereignty of the people' signifies their 'self-constitution as a people'. Accounts of democracy that focus not so much on its 'political specificity' as on 'civil society' or the 'social bond' are then explored. The author concludes with a reflection on the relationship between democracy, 'modernity' and the scope, nature and place of politics.

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Theatre and Ideology

Staging The Merchant of Venice at the Hungarian National Theatre in 1940 and 1986

Zoltán Imre

The article deals with the 1940 and the 1986 stagings of The Merchant of Venice in Hungary and with the forty-six-year gap between them. Comparing these events, the article draws attention to the ways in which the dominant ideology of these entirely different regimes influenced the interpretation of Shakespeare’s play and its staging.

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The commons, property, and ownership

Suggestions for further discussion

Katharina Bodirsky

In response to the theme section on commoning in the December 2017 issue of Focaal, this article raises further questions for discussion and proposes an analytics of the commons that grasps it through the lens of property regimes. The key question concerns how we might best envision the relation of the commons/ commoning to the state, capitalism, and commonality in a way that does justice to both a broadly Leftist politics of the commons and an analysis of really existing commons that might deviate from this ideal. The conceptual lens of property regimes proposed here focuses empirical attention on relations of production and the organization of membership and ownership in the commons without including a particular politics into the definition as such.

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Winnie Lem

This article explores the implications of a neo-liberal transition to political activism among immigrants with small businesses. It focuses specifically on Chinese migrants in Paris who generally pursue livelihoods based on petty capitalism and who eschewed the mobilizations in France in the fall of 2005 and spring of 2006. Drawing on Bourdieu's idea of habitus, the political and economic forces that influence the possibilities for contentiousness and compliance among different classes of French citizens are examined as they confront changes in citizenship regimes that accompany the transition to neo-liberalism. It is suggested that the ideologies of entrepreneurship and its practices are fostered by neo-liberal regimes as a means of integrating and creating model citizens, who accept rather than challenge the prevailing political order.

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“[A] British Social Institution“

The Visitors' Book and Hotel Culture in Victorian Britain and Ireland

Kevin James

The visitors' book occupied a central place in the hotel and inn culture of Victorian Britain and Ireland, reflecting intertwined legal regimes and leisure practices that created distinctive space for inscription in, and reading of, the volume—acts that were portrayed as unique to the travel cultures of the United Kingdom. Contemporary commentators, while playfully critiquing vulgar “inn verse,“ nonetheless lamented its displacement by prescriptive regimes of guest registration, which marked intensifying corporate and continental influences over what they regarded as singular practices associated with British and Irish traveling culture. Indeed the social and cultural history of the visitors' book offers a window onto travel performances, the liminality of hotel and inn space, distinctive features of the Law of Innkeepers in the Anglo-American legal tradition, and contests over status and taste as guests placed their imprimatur on places of high physical circulation and social fluidity.

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Untangling the "transnational social"

Soft affirmative action, human rights, and corporate social responsibility in Brazil

Rocío Alonso Lorenzo

This article analyzes how diversity-managing and affirmative action policies targeting Afro-descendants have been introduced into Brazilian workplaces since the late 1990s. It does so by exploring how international regulations and global normative regimes, namely the human rights and the corporate social responsibility movements, have penetrated and shaped the way Brazilian companies deal with racial discrimination. Contending interpretations by executives, managers, and activists are discussed from the perspective of “new legal pluralism,” by looking at how these different actors use the norms to induce, subvert, or even evade dominant orders in specific situations. It can be concluded that, even with no legally binding force, global normative regimes have been particularly effective in creating new “sites of opportunity” for Afro-Brazilians. Conversely, the corporate social responsibility premise of going beyond the law neither challenges the ineffectiveness of the national legal system nor disqualifies illegal discriminatory market behavior.

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Jakob Rigi

The protest movement that emerged in Iran in the wake of the presidential election of 2009 has seen a subsequent decline due to the combined effects of repression and the timidity of the reformist leadership. The growing conflict between Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad around the upcoming parliamentary election of March 2012 has created a new political crisis. The radical section of the movement tries to use this split to launch a subversive strategy against the Islamic regime. Alternatively, Khamenei tries to rid himself of the last vestiges of the autonomy of any elected institution and establish a full theocratic dictatorship. Iranian society has two choices—either to subvert the Khamenei regime or to be subjugated by it.

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Red salute at work

Brick factory work in postconflict Kailali, western Nepal

Michael Hoffmann

This article examines changing labor regimes in the wake of the Nepalese Maoist revolution through a historical and ethnographic exploration of brick factory in the Kailali district, western Nepal. I argue that the Maoist rebellion has helped to produce a new young, mobile, and urbanizing working class that in the new political context feels increasingly secure in claiming new spaces for its own emerging pleasure, pastimes, and sociality vis-à-vis existing hierarchies and customs. I further show that there is a broad base for solidarities among more and less skilled people within this proletariat, though such solidarity does not yet seem to reach beyond “ethnic” and linguistic boundaries. Highlighting these facets of the transformation of everyday labor regimes in a sociopolitical context that is in a high state of flux and change, the article looks into the consequences of the Maoist revolution in the working lives of ordinary people.

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Planning as a form of enclosure

The ambiguities of nonproductive accumulation in the West Wales countryside

Elaine Forde

Enclosure, a historic and contemporary accumulation regime, is part of a global conversation about what resources are, who may use them, and for what purpose. Here, it is suggested that spatial planning extends the practice of enclosure in its approach to land use. This article focuses on Wales's strategy for sustainable development (OPD), which theoretically promotes low-impact developments. Ethnographic research explored how OPD applicants navigate different people and organizations with a stake in the character of land, and how OPD applications are rarely approved. The data reveals a tension between the notions of self-provisioning and planned development, but indicates how activists circumvent and adapt the planning system. This article extends the notion of what counts as accumulation by focusing on the nonproductive value of an unspoiled countryside, a notion central to debates about the production of the countryside as leisure space and the enclosure of nature under global sustainable development regimes.

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(Re)Fashioning Resistance

Women, Dress and Sexuality in Iran

Shirin Abdmolaei

Functioning as a socio-political resource and method of discipline and control over women's bodies and sexualities, mandatory Islamic dress in Iran has been a central feature of the Islamic Regime's policy towards women. Intended to stand as a symbolic discourse of women's social and sexual submissiveness and docility, those who resist dress codes are subjected to severe punishment as well as stigmatisation. Despite repercussions, increasing numbers of urban Iranian women are refashioning their public bodies in new styles and appearances to not only resist dress codes but to more importantly challenge the regime's patriarchal discourses regarding women. This article seeks to examine the politicisation of Iranian women's bodies and sexualities through the emergence of this innovating women's resistance movement termed 'alternative dress'.