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Call for Papers.

Studies in Social and Political Thought Annual Conference 2013: Debt and Obligation.

Keynote Speakers: Keith Ansell-Pearson, Costas Lapavitsas

University of Sussex, June 20-21


The global economic crisis has brought the question of debt sharply into focus. From the indebtedness of the individual by means of easy credit, to the universalisation of private debt in financial instruments and the financial stranglehold of whole countries by sovereign debt, debt and the obligation that comes with it dominate the structure of contemporary society and economy. Austerity programmes are implemented by governments around the world, often with disastrous social consequences and without popular support. The narratives of “living within one’s means” and “giving back what is owed” are dominant among the international organisations and power centres that promote these austere solutions. Even democratic legitimation is superseded by the obligation of paying one’s debts, to the extent that technocratic governments replace democratically elected ones for fulfilling that purpose. A “hard but fair” solution is advanced by many in government and elsewhere, where debt reduction seems to be given an almost moral quality, and as such connected to a moral obligation and duty.

The old definition of justice as “telling the truth and giving back what is owed” as given by Cephalus in Plato’s Republic, seems, therefore, to have prevailed–at least in part. For the truthfulness of this justice is hidden, since as Cephalus admits, it is the wealthy that are the major beneficiaries of this type of justice, considering they already have the means of living by it. On the other hand, the concepts of debt and obligation are the cornerstones of many ethical theories and philosophies, from Kant’s categorical imperative and deontological ethics in general to Nietzsche’s genealogical critique of morality. Moreover, a great part of political philosophy and theory is preoccupied with the question of the obligation to the state and what gives it legitimacy. But how are these ethical and political issues put into practice? Depending on one’s point of view there can be either a moral obligation that supports the state’s legitimacy, or one that directly opposes it. In particular, should one follow the moral narrative of paying one’s debts under any circumstances or are there instances where one has an obligation to resist debts placed upon them? Is there such a thing as a just debt? These questions, it could be claimed, have not been given enough critical attention, and theoretical discourse has passed them by.

We are, therefore, seeking papers that will engage theoretically with the concepts of debt and obligation, and explore their relationship with the social, economic, or political spheres. In keeping with the interdisciplinary ethos of SSPT we will accept papers from all related disciplines including politics, sociology, history, political economy, and philosophy. We will also accept papers that do not deal exclusively with the main topic of the conference but are engaged with issues in the general area of social and political thought.


Possible theoretical frameworks and topics include, but are not limited to:

Moral Obligation / Political Obligation / Debt from an Economic, Sociological, Historical or Philosophical Perspective / Crisis & Debt / Deontological Ethics / Kantian Ethics and Political Theory / Hegel / Contract Theory / Recognition & Self-Recognition / Nietzsche, Morality, Guilt and “Bad Conscience” / Marxism & Marxisms / Theories of Biopolitics / Instrumental Reason / Critical Theory / Post-Colonialism / Discourse and Democratic Theory / Structuralism and Post-Structuralism / Soft and Hard Power / Hegemony / World-Systems / Sovereignty / Legality and Legitimacy

Please send abstracts of 350 words to by Sunday, 5th May 2013.

These should be formatted for blind review, including a cover sheet with name, contact details, institutional affiliation, and paper title. Successful applicants will be notified by 12th May 2013. Finally, all selected papers will be considered for publication in a future issue of SSPT.

A fee of 5 pounds will be applicable, and all delegates will receive a free copy of SSPT.

A PDF version of this CfP is available here.




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This seminar series is open to the public. Seminars will mostly be held on Thursdays, at 6.30pm, but three (30 November, 25 January and 15 February) will be held on Tuesdays at 5.30pm.

Thursday 14 October
Alex Callinicos (Kings College London): ‘Slavoj Žižek and the Critique of Political Economy’

Thursday 28 October
Nina Power (Roehampton): ‘Intellectual Equality: Rancière and Education’

Wednesday 3 November
Workshop: ‘The Humanities and the Idea of the University’

Thursday 11 November
Susan James (Birkbeck): ‘Spinoza, Rembrandt and Suspicion’

Thursday 18 November
Sean Sayers (Kent): ‘Marx’s Concept of Communism’

Tuesday 30 November
Christopher Norris (Cardiff): ‘Aesthetic Ideology Revisited’

Thursday 9 December
Gary Lachman (London): ‘What is Cosmic Consciousness?’

Tuesday 25 January
Robin Le Poidevin (Leeds): ‘The Beginning of Time’

Thursday 3 February
Keith Ansell Pearson (Warwick): ‘Beyond Compassion: On Nietzsche’s Moral Therapy in Dawn’

Tuesday 15 February
Dylan Evans (University College Cork): ‘Is Lacanian Psychoanalysis Wrong, Or Not Even Wrong?’

Thursday 3 March
Marcus Boon (York University, Toronto): ‘The Politics of Just Intonation: Music, Mathematics and Philosophy after La Monte Young’

Thursday 17 March
Martin Liebscher (Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, London): ‘Sigmund Freud and his Philosophical Mediators’

Thursday 31 March
David Lapoujade (Paris-I Panthéon-Sorbonne): Title to be announced.

Thursday 5 May
Workshop: ‘Hegel Now?’ Including Slavoj Žižek on ‘Is it still possible to be a Hegelian today?’ Further speakers to be confirmed.

All seminars will take place in the Saloon (M004), Mansion Building, Middlesex University, Trent Park campus, Bramley Road, London N14 4YZ. 
Tube: Piccadilly line to Oakwood station, free bus to campus.

Please note that the workshop on Wednesday 3 November, ‘The Humanities and the Idea of the University’, will take place between 11am and 6pm, in the Saloon, Mansion Building. The ‘Hegel Now?’ workshop on 5 May 2011 will take place from 2pm – 8.30pm (room to be announced).

In addition, this semester we will be running two short courses open to the general public. These will take place on Friday afternoons in the Green Room (M009), Mansion Building, between 4-6pm. From 15 October to 12 November,

Meade McCloughan will present a course on Marx’s Capital, and from 26 November to 10 December, Rosa Nogues will present an introduction to French feminist philosophy.

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