Politics in Particular: From Primo Levi to Freedom and Being in the works of Hannah Arendt and Baruch Spinoza

November 23, 2015

Greg Feldman

Monday, November 23, 10:00AM–12:00PM, Room 2200, SFU Harbour Centre

Co-sponsored by SFU's School for International Studies

The post-Cold War era of liberal hegemony, purporting to usher in freedom and global democracy, has arguably alienated more people from party politics than ever before. Scholars often invoke two thinkers – Hannah Arendt and Baruch Spinoza – to make sense of this situation and the varied political movements that have emerged in response to it. Both Arendt and Spinoza, perhaps uniquely among major Western political thinkers, sought an understanding of sovereignty and action based upon the perspectives of particular speaking subjects as opposed to apriori abstract principles. Yet, despite this fundamental similarity, they differ considerably on such key political issues as thinking and reason, will and action, and, ultimately, freedom and being. Starting with Primo Levi’s story of his ten days “outside both world and time” – between the evacuation of Auschwitz and the arrival of Soviet forces – this presentation compares and contrasts these issues in Arendt’s and Spinoza’s work to try to better understand contemporary political action.

Greg Feldman, a political anthropologist, teaches in Simon Fraser University’s School for International Studies. He is the author of The Migration Apparatus: Security, Labor, and Policymaking in the European Union (Stanford University Press, 2012) and We are All Migrants: Political Action and the Ubiquitous Condition of Migrant-hood (Stanford University Press, 2015). His current SSRCH-funded research project is entitled “The ‘Gray Zone’: Ethics, Action, and Undercover Police Investigators in the Mediterranean Space of Control”. This study examines the interface between security apparatuses and clandestine networks through an ethnography of undercover police investigators in a southern EU member state who focus on human smuggling and trafficking rings (book manuscript under advance contract with Stanford University Press).

Please contact insthum@sfu.ca if you are interested in participating.