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9th Essex Conference in Critical Political Theory: Capitalism, Faith, Nature

Do., 06/12/2008 - Fr., 06/13/2008

The Conference Theme: Capitalism, Faith, Nature

ONLY a few years ago, the use of abstract nouns like ‘capitalism’, ‘faith’ and ‘nature’ - not to mention their conjunction as a series of terms - would have seemed a little unusual, perhaps even antiquated. Yet any history of the present today highlights the continuing pertinence of these signifiers for critically engaging with a growing range of social and political phenomena.

ONE obvious issue here is the rise of new fundamentalisms – dogmatic and monist faiths - whether of an economic, political, religious, or national character. Another is the peculiar linking together of heterogeneous doctrines and sensibilities, such as Christianity, corporate capitalism and conservativism in the United States, for instance, into new assemblages and projects that directly impinge upon existing political institutions and democratic settlements. In part, these new fundamentalisms constitute a reactionary backlash against the emergence of novel cultural identities and existential faiths that seek to pluralize the pluralism of existing democratic institutions and practices, or put forward demands for greater freedom and equality. Fundamentalisms are also organised against efforts to reorganize our geo-political landscapes – or construct new transnational networks - so as to foster greater cooperation and security across once sedimented territorial divisions.

IN equal measure, there are pressing questions about the place of nature in the contemporary world, whether this is understood in terms of the intensifying environmental crisis, or debates about the character and role of ‘human nature’ in our increasingly technological societies, or with respect to the character of human and political subjectivity. Underpinning many of these new concerns are further questions about new forms of political economy at the local, national and global levels, and their impact on our changing conceptions of space, time, culture and speed.

HOW do we problematize and critically explain these new phenomena? In what ways can various fundamentalisms be challenged and engaged with in the name of a democratic politics that is not itself fundamentalist in character? What are the limits and potentials of contemporary political and ethical theory in addressing these new issues? What are the prospects and limits of pluralizing pluralism? Ought we to restrict agency to humans, or does it extend to the material and non-human world more generally? What is the relationship between nature and culture? How can cultural theory respond to recent developments in science? What is the relationship between cultural theory, materialism and naturalism? What kind of ethos needs to be cultivated in the face of these new challenges, and how can it be brought about? How do these broad sets of issues and questions get addressed in specific contexts and policy arenas? And what theoretical languages and methods are best able to respond to these changes
and trends? These are just some of the tasks of critical political theory today.

THE NINTH CONFERENCE IN CRITICAL POLITICAL THEORY at the University of Essex provides a space to address and engage with these issues. The conference has achieved a renowned reputation for the quality of the papers presented and the large number of international participants. Previous guest speakers have included Michael Hardt, Wendy Brown, Judith Squires, Quentin Skinner, Joan Copjec, James Tully, Fred Dallmayr, Bonnie Honig, David Owen, David Campbell, Simon Critchley, Ernesto Laclau, and Chantal Mouffe, among others.

THE conference provides an important opportunity to engage with the contemporary challenges and possibilities of social and political theory and to exchange views on ongoing research. We welcome papers from young scholars, postdoctoral researchers, and postgraduates from a wide variety of backgrounds in the field of social and political theory.

University of Essex