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Political Animals: explorations of the political across the ages
The SNF Centre for Hellenic Studies brought together a group of scholars (both teachers and students), from universities across North America and Europe to examine a range of topics under the theme of Political Animals. The 2020 seminar necessarily took place online in response to the global pandemic.
“Debt colony”, “Adults in the Room”, “Upper and lower Plateia” are terms, expressions, book titles and spatial concepts that emerged during the years of Greece’s recent economic, social and political crisis to capture and frame – from a particular perspective – different aspects of the political. “Debt colony” proved to be an ingenious way of linking economics with a vocabulary of political domination and exploitation that resonated strongly among Greece’s kaleidoscopic left-leaning, political audiences. “Adults in the Room” is a fictionalized framing of political and economic deliberations at the highest level. The reader no longer finds herself in the public squares where the masses act and is instead transported to those “smoky back rooms,” asked to imagine an opaque world of elite governance. The book casts its protagonist as a heroic, colourful (a one-man bandiera rossa), and rational figure of resistance, fighting with rhetoric and logic the posited technocratic irrationality of impersonal forces (EU bureaucracy) and concepts (austerity). A personal memoir becomes here an idiosyncratic political manifesto, with notable commercial appeal to boot. As for the “plateias” – here referring to Syntagma Square, where Greece’s political drama found in 2011 physical expression – they speak of the spatial dimension of politics. These physical spaces, inhabited by larger or smaller “masses” of anonymous citizens, engendered visions of popular sovereignty. Here one saw articulated in organic, general-will-type fashion, the informal authority of an imagined nation: one of the radical Left and one of the hard Right. Both segments of the “plateia” conceived of themselves as some form of consensus omnium that was set against the presumably discredited political establishment residing in the constitutionally sanctioned parliament.
“Political Animals: Explorations of the Political Across the Ages” asks its participants to think about many of the themes raised by the aforementioned rhetorical tropes and spatial imaginings. By bringing together scholars from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, researchers, and students from Canada, the US, UK, Serbia, and Greece, “Political Animals” seeks to think about politics through lenses of rhetoric, writing, space, materiality, economics, rationality and irrationality, imagination, gender and much else. This is an opportunity for scholars, young and old, at different stages of their careers, to test their own conceptions of the political by being exposed to varied approaches and methodologies, while thinking about humanity’s ancient predilection for the political.
We had planned to meet in Molyvos, on the island of Lesvos, where these very same tensions between institutionalized and informal power are even now on display, in the tug-of-war and debates marking a government’s efforts to manage a migration-induced upheaval that is tearing the island apart. However, the global pandemic has upended our plans, along with the way we live, work and play. Nevertheless, as we are kept away from an island famous for the wisdom of its Archaic elected tyrant (Pittakos) and the public presence and agency of its aristocratic poetess (Sappho), we are faced with a choice, itself an inherently political act. We, therefore, refuse be kept apart by the exigencies of global pandemic and in a time of physical distancing and travel restrictions will instead come together online, to explore different facets of the political across disciplines and eras. When the tide of the present crisis recedes, we are committed to returning to Molyvos to carry on our Island sessions.
“Political Animals” was conceived by Dimitris Krallis of the SNF Centre for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC, George N. Politis, Philosophy, Politics, Economy Research Laboratory, at the Department of Philosophy of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in Greece, and Costis Repapis at the Institute of Management Studies at Goldsmiths University in London, as a space where scholars, both emerging and established, will find themselves in dialogue, debate, and casual conversation. Our goal is to break down professional hierarchies and offer opportunities for reflection and learning. Over three days individual papers will be presented and discussed in roundtable fashion, along with short accompanying bibliographies (an article or two per paper presented).
- Dimitris Krallis, SNF Centre for Hellenic Studies, Simon Fraser University
- George N. Politis, Philosophy, Politics, and Economy Research Laboratory, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
- Costis Repapis, Institute of Management Studies, Goldsmiths University in London
- Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies
- Philosophy, Politics, and Economy Research Laboratory