Bob Huish on why to teach protest

Bob Huish, a professor at Dalhousie University, is one of the first to teach students how to effectively protest in Canada.

Yesterday at the Trudeau Foundation spring meeting, which is focused on the role of protests in public policy, Bob delivered a very interesting paper. You can download a pdf here.

Also, a warm congratulations to the 14 doctoral students who received a Trudeau Scholarship this year (worth $180 000 + exceptional opportunities to connect with Canadian policy makers).

The commons: assessment and direction

A couple of new opportunities to discuss the commons. (1) One is a call for an upcoming special issue of the Review of Radical Political Economics, the other (2) is an upcoming workshop flagged here by Stuart Elden.

(1)        The Commons (or the common) is of interest to radicals on the left for many reasons. Most obvious at present is the condition of the earth we share—everyone’s common. Global warming and environmental degradation threaten human existence and that of other living creatures and things. Yet agreement on how to better treat planet Earth has proven elusive. Another reason for interest in the commons is the left’s fight against privatization, for decades now a hallmark of neoliberal- ism. Enclosure of common space and resources was part of the development of the capitalist system, and it continues today. Can this process be stopped; reversed?

The terms commons and common do not simply refer to open access resources (res nullins). This category of common resource is the air we breathe, or the ocean. Another category of the commons is res communis, a commonly held resource. It has figured prominently in projects and aspirations of socialists, anarchists, feminists, and communists. Privatization can be associated with a world of scarcity, and the common with abundance. In addition, more than property is held in common. Language, stories, images, humor, culture and other aspects of communal interaction share this root. How can a clearer sense of the commons help inform a renewal of left trajectories: a more egalitarian and sustainable world?

Read the full Call for Papers here (PDF) the deadline for papers is December 31, 2013.

(2)      Please contact with any inquiries

One-day workshop for PhD and early career researchers organised by Open Space at the University of Manchester and sponsored by cities@manchester

Date: Thursday 20th June 2013

This one-day workshop specifically for PhD and early career researchers across the UK aims to explore the nature, relevance, and value of the ‘commons’ for us today. In the context of the global financial crisis spawning resistance movements to the austerity urbanism imposed in its wake a new political narrative of the ‘commons’ appears to emerge as the signifier of radical alternatives to neoliberalization. But what do we mean by the ‘commons’ and how can we make theoretical sense and political use out of the concept?

Intensified neoliberal enclosure is constructing walls to produce what Žižek (2009) describes as “social apartheid”. This ‘walling’ is at work at multiple scales (Jeffrey, McFarlane, & Vasudevan, 2011): from the global scale of the biosphere; to geopolitical state spaces; to increasingly polarised and ‘splintered’ urban spaces of elite privatopias gated off from disinvested marginality; through new forms of (il)legality and citizenship generated by uneven access and property rights; scaling right down to the ‘endless enclosure’ of the human body and the biopolitics that attempts to capture biopower (Hardt & Negri, 2001). It is through the struggles against these various processes of what Harvey (2003) calls ‘accumulation by dispossession’ that the shape of the ‘commons’ comes into view.

Yet the ‘commons’ remains an unstable and contested concept. A genealogy reveals roots in pre-capitalist acts of ‘commoning’ and rights to common land laid down in the Magna Carta (Linebaugh, 2009); an emphasis on common access to resources which can be traced to contemporary Common Property Regime (CPR) discourses and environmental management of common pool resources (Ostrom, 1990). The CPR focus on economic institutions is perhaps seemingly irreconcilable with neo-Marxist perspectives that privilege the ‘common’ as a new form of sovereignty and emancipatory citizenship, entailing a radically democratic and egalitarian ‘being-in-common’ or ‘being-together’ (Agamben, 1993; Hardt & Negri, 2004; Nancy, 1991). We are interested in exploring the relationship between the ‘commons’ and related discourses around the ‘right to the city’ and ‘the political’ (Harvey, 2012; Marchart, 2007). These ontologies point us toward the recent revolutionary spaces unfolding in the ‘Occupy’ movement, Spain’s ‘Indignados’, the Greek urban protests, and the ‘Arab Spring’ (Swyngedouw, 2011).

We invite discussion on how to bridge the gap between radical politics and institutional processes. The gap contains the progressive potential for everyday social practices and institutional designs to foster more cooperative forms of social life and spaces of communal belonging. How can the ‘commons’ be enacted out, performed and embodied through various lived practices? In what ways can architecture help materialise the commons? How does community self-government connect with the ‘commons’? Does institutionalisation always necessarily dissolve the ‘commons’ in producing new forms of enclosure? How far do common property rights challenge or reproduce capitalist property relations? Is the ‘commons’ ultimately a tantalising imaginary only realisable in ephemeral moments of revolutionary tumult?

We invite theoretical and empirical contributions that address the following indicative themes:

  • Political economy of enclosure and the commons;
  • Political philosophy, rights-based discourses, theories of social justice;
  • Revolutionary moments of ‘being-in-common’, ‘the political’;
  • Practices of ‘commoning’, performative spaces of collective life;
  • Urban commons, ‘right to the city’, community self-government;
  • Common land, public space, land trusts, land reform;
  • Global commons; environmental enclosure, common pool resources;
  • Governing the commons, CPR institutions;
  • Architectures, spatial designs for the commons;
  • Digital commons, open source publishing, intellectual property rights;
  • Biopolitics, new governmentalities of enclosure.

Participants will be given 15 minutes to present, followed by questions and discussion from the audience led by a panel of leading academics from the School of Environment and Development at the University of Manchester. Confirmed so far are Prof. Maria Kaika, Prof. Erik Swyngedouw, and Prof. Diana Mitlin. The focus of the workshop is on providing the space for interdisciplinary debate and engagement with the issues as well feedback for particular presentations.

If you would like to present, please send a title and abstract of 200 words to Matthew Thompson ( by Friday 31st May 2013.

The event is hosted by Open Space:

And sponsored by Cities@manchester:

Agamben, G. (1993). The Coming Community (Theory Out of Bounds). University of Minnesota Press.

Hardt, M., & Negri, A. (2001). Empire. Harvard University Press.

Hardt, M., & Negri, A. (2004). Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. Penguin Press.

Harvey, D. (2003). The New Imperialism. Oxford University Press.

Harvey, D. (2012). Rebel Cities: from the right to the city to the urban revolution. Verso.

Jeffrey, A., McFarlane, C., & Vasudevan, A. (2011). Rethinking Enclosure: Space, Subjectivity and the Commons. Antipode, 00(00),

Linebaugh, P. (2009). The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All (p. 376). University of California Press.

Marchart, O. (2007). Post-Foundational Political Thought: Political Difference in Nancy, Lefort, Badiou and Laclau (Taking on the Political). Edinburgh University Press.

Nancy, J.-L. (1991). An Inoperative Community. University of Minnesota Press.

Ostrom, E. (1990). Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions). Cambridge University Press.

Swyngedouw, E. (2011). Interrogating post-democratization: Reclaiming egalitarian political spaces. Political Geography, 30(7), 370–380.

Žižek, S. (2009). First as Tragedy, then as Farce. Verso.

#Accelerate: manifesto for an accelerationist politics

It is often said that we live in the age of acceleration because not only are humans gaining speed with respect to our transformation of the earth, but we are also speeding up the rate of change.

Over at the Accelerationism blog, a new manifesto was released for what this new age might imply for how we think about, organize and do politics. Here is a pdf download. There is a lot of framing around “cataclysm” and apocalyptic thinking and a much too easy framing of “conservative” “neoliberal” and “right-wing” reasons for our predicament. At any rate, an interesting read – if a bit earnest (and I don’t mean to downplay the seriousness of the topic – only of the framing).

MP3’s of 50 papers from Kentucky political ecology conference

Available here.

Some interesting papers on everything from drones to malaria.

Losing control of ethical oil: lessons for environmental ethics

Since it began distinguishing itself as a sub-discipline of philosophy, environmental ethics has faced a tough question: will changing our values affect how we treat the environment?

When Christopher D. Stone took stock of the effect of environmental ethics on public policy over its first three decades (1970-2000) he concluded that not much direct influence took place [pdf]. But that isn’t a reason not to do ethics since it could take much longer for effects to become apparent. There might be a time lag.

OK, this is a round-a-bout way into what I was thinking about last night, which is how the Canadian government has completely lost control over the discourse about what it once termed ‘ethical oil’. I think there might be similarities between the relative ineffectiveness of both environmental ethics and the ‘ethical oil’ campaigns to steer public policy in neat and tidy ways. Not that anybody thinks policy is either neat, or tidy, of course.

The ‘ethical oil’ campaign started some time ago and I have written on its lack of cogency here and here. Earlier this week, it has come under attack by Al Gore, who stated that there is no ethical oil, only dirty oil and dirtier oil. But the conceptual bankruptcy of the concept is not what I’m interested in here. What seems more interesting is the attempt to funnel public policy through a single set of moral claims.

The ethical oil campaign was somewhat successful in capturing the mainstream discourse in Canada – shouldn’t we promote our own resources rather than those that come from places with poor records on human rights, labor conditions and so forth? Now, if we ignore the fact that eastern Canada imports most of its oil, this does seem like a plausible piece of rhetoric. And yet it has failed.

The reasons for the failure are numerous, but here are two:

1) Canada launched a sustained undermining of environmental policy in 2012. So the notion that resources are being stewarded in any meaningful environmental framework lacks credibility. Yesterday, for instance, environment minister Peter Kent stated that Canada wears many of its “fossil of the year awards” with honour. (Yes, in Canada we add “u” to honor). The awards are given out to countries who perform abysmally on environmental issues.

2) Canada has engaged in a direct war or words with leading international figures, like James Hansen. Hansen, in turn, called the Canadian government ‘neanderthals‘ when it comes to environmental policy. I doubt Hansen was trying to be ironic, but it was a funny comment since it is an open question as to whether our minister of science and technology, Gary Goodyear, actually believes in evolution. He says he does, but not everybody is convinced.

So what should we take away from this? Are there any commonalities between the failure to secure public policy through normative discourse?

I think we would do well to acknowledge that the claim to morality is not situated hierarchically in public policy, as though values are what steers things. Values matter, but they are not all that matter. This has been part of the broad critique of environmental ethics as being primarily for the rich – for those who can afford the cultural category of a “wilderness” that is made untouchable. Likewise, the ethical oil motif is only one piece of a bigger policy game involving international actors and this thing called science.

Second, it would seem worthwhile to consider how the attempt to be internally consistent in your moral claims inevitably closes off some good policy options. For instance, the attempt at logical consistency in environmental ethics often doesn’t reflect how individuals reason in complex scenarios where they use judgment, heuristics (rules) and customs to determine what matters. Likewise, the ethical oil campaigners tried to secure a basic set of western values to oil development, such as human rights and labour relations (yes, we add a “u” there too). But this is also problematic, because the  category “western” is not homogenous (even if hegemonic). So when the time came to promote Canadian oil development in the face of opposition, the government had to stick to its guns – we are already ethical! See? See?

At any rate, I think it is worthwhile to keep thinking about how real-time failures in environmental ethics – even if they are of the ‘ethical oil’ sort that environmental philosophers might seek to eviscerate – can provide lessons for how values link up to environmental policy.

Special issue on water in Radical History Review

Here is the table of contents, unfortunately a subscription is required to get the full text:


Water: History, Power, Crisis

Volume 2013, Number 116, Spring 2013 Issue Editors David Kinkela, Teresa Meade, and Enrique Ochoa

Editors’ Introduction

    • David Kinkela,
    • Teresa Meade,
    • and Enrique Ochoa

    Editors’ Introduction

    Radical History Review Spring 2013 2013(116): 1-4; doi:10.1215/01636545-1965651


  • Select this article
    • Stephanie Tam

    Sewerage’s Reproduction of Caste: The Politics of Coprology in Ahmedabad, India

    Radical History Review Spring 2013 2013(116): 5-30; doi:10.1215/01636545-1965675

  • Select this article
    • Hugh McDonnell

    Water, North African Immigrants, and the Parisian Bidonvilles, 1950s – 1960s

    Radical History Review Spring 2013 2013(116): 31-58; doi:10.1215/01636545-1965684

  • Select this article
    • Claire Cookson-Hills

    The Aswan Dam and Egyptian Water Control Policy, 1882 – 1902

    Radical History Review Spring 2013 2013(116): 59-85; doi:10.1215/01636545-1965693

  • Select this article
    • Maria Teresa Armijos

    “They Cannot Come and Impose on Us”: Indigenous Autonomy and Resource Control through Collective Water Management in Highland Ecuador

    Radical History Review Spring 2013 2013(116): 86-103; doi:10.1215/01636545-1965702


  • Select this article
    • Ruth A. Morgan and
    • James L. Smith

    Premodern Streams of Thought in Twenty-First-Century Water Management

    Radical History Review Spring 2013 2013(116): 105-129; doi:10.1215/01636545-1965748

  • Select this article
    • Nicole Fabricant and
    • Kathryn Hicks

    Bolivia’s Next Water War: Historicizing the Struggles over Access to Water Resources in the Twenty-First Century

    Radical History Review Spring 2013 2013(116): 130-145; doi:10.1215/01636545-1965757

Curated Spaces

  • Select this article
    • Nicolas Lampert and
    • Raoul Deal

    Watershed: Art, Activism, and Community Engagement

    Radical History Review Spring 2013 2013(116): 147-158; doi:10.1215/01636545-1965829

  • Select this article
    • Nancy Borowick

    Stories of Water

    Radical History Review Spring 2013 2013(116): 159-166; doi:10.1215/01636545-1965838

Teaching Radical History

  • Select this article
    • Robert A. Gilmer

    Coursing through the Spill: Notes on Teaching Environmental Justice and Making the Academy Responsive to Contemporary Issues

    Radical History Review Spring 2013 2013(116): 167-188; doi:10.1215/01636545-1965865


  • Select this article
    • Erik Loomis

    The Global Water Crisis: Privatization and Neocolonialism in Film

    Radical History Review Spring 2013 2013(116): 189-195; doi:10.1215/01636545-1965880

    A World without Water. DVD. Directed by Brian Woods. 2006. London: True Visions Production.
    Blue Gold: World Water Wars. DVD. Directed by Sam Bozzo. 2008. Irvine, CA: Purple Turtle Films.
    Mumbai: Liquid City. DVD. Directed by Matthew Gandy. 2008. London: UCL Urban Laboratory.
    También la Lluvia (Even the Rain). Directed by Bollaín Icíar. 2010. Los Angeles: Vitagraph Films.


    • Teresa Meade

    Eric Hobsbawm, 1917 – 2012

    Radical History Review Spring 2013 2013(116): 197-198; doi:10.1215/01636545-2153549

Notes on Contributors

  • Notes on Contributors

    Radical History Review Spring 2013 2013(116): 199-201; doi:10.1215/01636545-2153560

Water Alternatives maps its publications

To celebrate 1 000 000 views the open access journal, Water Alternatives, has mapped out all of the case studies its articles cover so that you can search visually for topics you might be interested in. All it takes to access articles is making a profile.

Water alternatives

Alberta, Open Sewers and the Keystone Pipeline

I have been interested lately in how the Canadian government has completely lost control of the discourse over its oil resources. It started with a very tightly scripted campaign for “ethical oil” a few years back, but today both the script and the actors involved (i.e. Canadian ministers at the provincial and federal levels) appear as so many industry touts. So it is a double loss. On the one side it is a loss because any long-term viability for developing oil resources is now in jeopardy as all sides converge to wage war against “dirty oil”. On the other, the development that is proceeding is under less and less scrutiny internally, and so the government (and by extension the public) are in a much weaker position than they were just a few short years ago.

‘Nature’ takes a hard look at the ‘messy middle ground’ — the ‘difficult adolescence’ — of GM crops

Further to my earlier post on GMOs.

ILRI Clippings

Nature special issue on GMOs

Cover of a special issue of ‘Nature’ on GMOs, 2 May 2013.

The leading British science journal Nature has published a special issue on GM crops: Promise and reality  (2 May 2013). This hub of updated science-based information on GM crops includes feature news stories, commentaries, a podcast and more.

‘Foreign genes were successfully introduced into plants for the first time 30 years ago . . . .  Ever since, genetically modified (GM) crops have promised to deliver a second green revolution: a wealth of enhanced foods, fuels and fibres that would feed the starving, deliver profits to farmers and promote a greener environment. In many ways, that revolution has arrived. Crops engineered to carry useful traits now grow on 170 million hectares in at least 28 countries . . . .

‘But to many, GM crops have been a failure. The market is dominated by just a few insect-resistant…

View original post 1,633 more words

Voting for MOOCs: environment, science and ethics

This request came via David Groenfeldt. But before I get to it, I know that in academic circles there is quite a debate about the role of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) going on (see here or here). But this information is worth thinking about in its own right, particularly if you are interested in science, ethics and the environment.
One of the people involved in the project is Rafael Ziegler, who also as a forthcoming paper at Environmental Values entitled “Reconciliation with the river” (click here for the pdf).
With all of that preamble, here is the request:
“Would you like to support Greifswald environmental ethics by voting for a massive open online course (MOOC) for ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS FOR SCIENTISTS (
A MOOC is an online course which will be offered for free to students from all over the world. The goal is to share knowledge and experience globally. We think that this is not only important for IT and engineering but also for environmental ethics.
How we should live in our natural environment is one of the great questions of current global debate and policy-making, cutting across topics such as climate change, biodiversity loss, sustainable land use, and responsible production and consumption. Scientists play a crucial role in environmental decision-making, but they are often unaware of or uncertain about the normative presuppositions of their expertise. In this course, participants will learn to see environmental issues from the ethical perspective, to be aware of their conceptual and moral problems, and to make intelligent moral arguments towards their resolution.
The MOOC Production Fellowship is offered by the university and the Stifterverband für die deutsche Wissenschaft. 10 production fellowships will be offered to those proposals that win the most popular support (and then the approval of a jury).
Please support us via clicking on this link: