Monday, 8 December 2014

Constituent Power in the Modern World: A Brief Introduction

Department of Politics & International Relations, Rhodes University
Constituent Power in the Modern World: A Brief Introduction

A post-graduate course to be taught by Richard Pithouse in the first semester, 2015
Throughout the modern era … constituent power has been in conflict with constituted power, the fixed power of formal constitutions and central authority. Whereas constituent power opens each revolutionary process, throwing open the doors to the forces of change and the myriad desires of the multitude, constituted power closes down the revolution and brings it back to order. In each of the modern revolutions, the State rose up in opposition to the democratic and revolutionary forces and imposes a return to a constituted order, a new Thermidor, which either recuperated or repressed the constituent impulses. The conflict between active constituent power and reactive constituted power is what characterizes these revolutionary experiences.
-         From the introduction to Antonio Negri’s Insurgencies: Constituent Power and the Modern State (1999)

We currently inhabit a moment of sustained popular political action in South Africa. This is also a moment where new forms of popular politics, sometimes insurgent, are appearing in many parts of the world. In South Africa some of these struggles have, particularly in their early phases, chosen self-presentation over authorised forms of representation. Some of these struggles have also organised direct appropriation, especially of urban land, and forms of disruption, such as road blockades, that exceed the limits of both the liberalism to which our society is formally committed and the various disciplinary discourses and practices (which also often operate beyond the limits of liberalism) available to the forms of nationalism that conflate the nation with the ruling party and the state. This escalating sequence of popular protest has reactionary aspects as well as aspects that are potentially emancipatory.

For many years popular protest was largely ignored by elite actors. When it was engaged it was often presented, sometimes as a question that was essentially a matter of policing, as a backdrop to real politics. However although it has never been centrally organised, or formally networked, the scale and tenacity of popular protest over the last decade has increasingly brought it towards the centre of public life. Competing elites are now seeking to capture popular protest by presenting themselves as radical or even revolutionary vanguards.

This course offers students an opportunity to think, in a community of inquiry, about a range of forms of insurgent forms of popular politics in the modern world - and to do so outside of the constraints of the liberal and statist paradigms that often constituent the common sense of the university. This course will run for one semester and so it cannot be comprehensive and has many striking omissions. Nonetheless its range across space and time is sufficient to make it an introduction to actual practices of constituent power that avoids both Eurocentricism and parochialism. It will offer useful resources to equip students to begin to engage the concept of constituent power outside of the old and often stolid dogmas that so often stifle the radical imagination in the South Africa.

The recommended reading is entirely voluntary but participants in the course are encourage to read at least some of those texts in the list of recommended books that pertain to their specific interests.

A Selection of Generally Recommended Theoretical Texts

  1.  Alain Badiou The Communist Invariant (2010)
  2. Cornelius Castoriadis Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy (1991)
  3. Frantz Fanon The Wretched of the Earth (1961)
  4.  Silvia Federici Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (2012)
  5. David Goldberg Racist Culture: Philosophy and the Politics of Meaning (1993)
  6. Kenneth Good Trust in the Capacities of the People, Distrust in Elites (2014)
  7.  Lewis Gordon & Jane Anna Gordon Of Divine Warning: Disaster in a Modern Age (2010)
  8. Ranajit Guha The Small Voice of History (2013)
  9. Peter Hallward Absolutely Postcolonial (2001)
  10. Paget Henry Caliban’s Reason (2000)
  11.   John Holloway Change the World Without Taking Power (2002)
  12.   Domenico Losurdo Liberalism: A Counter History (2011)
  13.  Walter Mignolo The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options (2011)
  14. Nick Nesbitt Caribbean Critique: Antillean Critical Theory from Toussaint to Glissant (2014)
  15. Nivedita Menon Seeing Like a Feminist (2012)
  16. Antonio Negri Insurgencies: Constituent Power and the Modern State (1999)
  17. Jacques Rancière Disagreement (1998)
  18.  Cedric Robinson Black Marxism (1983)
  19.  Uday Singh Metha Liberalism & Empire (1999)
  20. Michel-Rolph Trouillot Silencing the Past (1997)

A Selection of Generally Recommended Books on Popular Struggles

  1. Alain Badiou The Rebirth of History: Times of Riots and Uprisings (2012)
  2. Asef Bayat Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East (2009)
  3. George Ciccariello-Maher We Created Chávez: A People's History of the Venezuelan Revolution (2013)
  4.  Roberta M. Feldman & Susan Stall The Dignity of Resistance: Women Residents' Activism in Chicago Public Housing (2006)
  5. Sujatha Fernandes Who Can Stop the Drums?: Urban Social Movements in Chávez’s Venezuela (2010)
  6. James Holston Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil (2009)
  7. Alex Khasnabish Zapatistas: Rebellion from the Grassroots to the Global (2010)
  8. Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos Our Word Is Our Weapon: Selected Writings (2011)
  9. Frances Fox Piven & Richard Cloward Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail (1978)
  10. Srila Roy Remembering Revolution: Gender, Violence, and Subjectivity in India’s Naxalbari Movement (2013)

Seminar Schedule

Seminar One, 16 February 2015: On the Cusp of the Modern (Part One)

Compulsory Reading 
Paul Landau Popular Politics in the History of South Africa, 1400–1948 (2013)

Recommended Reading
Norman Etherington The Great Treks (2001)
Noel Mostert Frontiers (1992)

Seminar Two, 23 February 2015: On the Cusp of the Modern (Part Two)

Compulsory Reading 
Peter Linebaugh & Markus Rediker The Many Headed Hydra (2001)

Recommended Reading
Luther Blisset Q (1999)
E.P. Thompson The Making of the English Working Class (1963)
Silvia Federici Caliban & the Witch (2004)
Peter Linebaugh The London Hanged (1991)

Seminar Three, 2 March 2015: The French Revolution

Compulsory Reading
Eric Hazan A People’s History of the French Revolution (2014)

Recommended Reading
Daniel Guérin Class Struggle in the First French Republic (1977)
Eric Hobsbawm The Age of Revolution 1789-1848 (1996)
Jonathan Israel Revolutionary Ideas (2014)
Georges Lefebvre The French Revolution (1962)

Seminar Four, 9 March 2015: The Haitian Revolution

Compulsory Reading
Nick Nesbitt Universal Emancipation (2008)

Recommended Reading
Robin Blackburn The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery (2011)
Carolyn Fick The Making of Haiti (1990)
C.L.R. James The Black Jacobins (1938)
Toussaint L'Ouverture The Haitian Revolution (2008)
Michel-Rolph Trouillot Silencing the Past (1997)

Seminar Five, 16 March 2015: Revolution and Reaction in Spain

Compulsory Reading
Chris Ealham Class, culture and conflict in Barcelona, 1898-1937 (2014)

Recommended Reading
Ronald Fraser Blood of Spain: An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War (1979)
George Orwell Homage to Catalonia (1938)
Abel Paz Durruti in the Spanish Revolution (2006)
Hugh Thomas The Spanish Civil War (1961)
Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt Black Flame (2009)

Recommended Film
Ken Loach Land & Freedom (1995)

Seminar Six, 23 March 2015: The Industrial & Commercial Workers’ Union

Compulsory Reading
Helen Bradford A Taste of Freedom (1987)

Recommended Reading
A.W.G. Champion The Views of Mahlathi (1982)
E. David Cronon Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (1995)
Clements Kadalie My Life and the ICU (1970)
Paul la Hausse The Struggle for the City: Alcohol, the eMatsheni and Popular Culture in Durban, 1902-1936 M.A. thesis, University of Cape Town (1984)

Seminar Seven, 13 April 2015: Anti-Colonial War in Africa

Compulsory Reading
Frantz Fanon A Dying Colonialism (1959)

Recommended Reading
Donald L. Barnett & Karari Njama Mau Mau From Within (1968)
Shimmer Chinodya Harvest of Thorns (1990)
Mandla Langa The Texture of Shadows (2014)
Tanya Lyons Guns and Guerilla Girls: Women in the Zimbabwean National Liberation Struggle (2004)
Ousmane Sembène Gods Bits of Wood (1960)
Yvonne Vera The Stone Virgins (2002)

Recommended Films
Gillo Pontecorvo The Battle of Algiers (1966)
Göran Olsson Concerning Violence (2014)

Seminar Eight, 20 April 2015: May ’68

Compulsory Reading
Kristin Ross May ’68 and its Afterlives (2002)

Recommended Reading

Tariq Ali Street Fighting Years (1987)
H. Bourges Student Revolt: The Activists Speak (19680
Roger Gregoire and Fredy Perlman Worker-Student Action Committees, France May '68 (1970)
Daniel and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit Obsolete Communism: A Left-Wing Alternative (1968)

Seminar Nine, 27 April 2015: The Black Power Moment in the United States

Compulsory Reading
Angela Davis An Autobiography (1974)

Recommended Reading
James Car: BAD: The Autobiography of James Carr (1975)
George Jackson Soledad Brother The Prison Letters of George Jackson (1971)
Peniel E. Joseph Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America (2007)
Manning Marable Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention is a biography of Malcolm X (2012)
Assata Shakur An Autobiography (1987)
Akinyele Omowale Umoja We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement (2013)
Malcom X The Autobiography of Malcom X (1965)

Recommended Film
Göran Olsson The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011)

Seminar Ten, 4 May 2015: Latin America in the 70s

Compulsory Reading
Eduardo Galeano Days and Nights of Love and War (1978)

Recommended Reading
Pilar Aguilera Chile: The Other September 11: Reflections and Commentaries on the 1973 Coup in Chile (2006)
Hugo Blanco Land or Death: The Peasant Struggle in Peru (1972)
Fidel Castro The Declarations of Havana (2008)
Régis Debray Conversations with Allende: Socialism in Chile (1971)
James Dunkerley Rebellion in the Veins: Political Struggle in Bolivia, 1952-1982 (1984)
Eduardo Galeano Open Veins of Latin America (1971)
Che Guevara Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War (1963)
Gustavo Gutiérrez A Theology of Liberation (1971)
Pablo Neruda The Sea and the Bells (1973)
Pablo Neruda Memoirs (1974)
Henri Weber Nicaragua: The Sandinist Revolution (1981)
Matilde Zimmermann Sandinista: Carlos Fonseca and the Nicaraguan Revolution (2001)

Seminar Eleven, 11 May 2015: Recent Resistance and Repression in Haiti

Compulsory Reading
Peter Hallward Damming the Flood (2010)

Recommended Reading
Jean-Bertrand Aristide In the Parish of the Poor (1990)
Jean-Bertrand Aristide Eyes of the Heart (2000)
Paul Farmer AIDS and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame (1992)
Michael Griffin and Jennie Weiss Block In the Company of the Poor: conversations between Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez (2013)
Justin Podur Haiti's New Dictatorship (2012)
Jeb Sprague Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti (2012)

Seminar Twelve, 18 May 2015: The Return to Popular Struggle in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Compulsory Reading
Nigel Gibson Fanonian Practices (2011)

Recommended Reading
Sakhela Buhlungu A Paradox of Victory: COSATU and the democratic transition in South Africa (2012)
Church Land Programme Living Learning (2009)
Jane Duncan The Rise of the Securocrats (2014)
Gillian Hart Rethinking the South African Crisis: Nationalism, Populism, Hegemony (2013)
Michael Neocosmos From Foreign Natives to Native Foreigners: Explaining Xenophobia in South Africa (2006 & 2010)
Symphony Way Pavement Dwellers No Land! No House! No Vote! Voices from Symphony Way (2011)
Ineke van Kessel "Beyond Our Wildest Dreams": The United Democratic Front and the Transformation of South Africa (2000)
Elke Zuern The Politics of Necessity (2011)

Recommended Films
Dara Kell & Chris Nizza Dear Mandela (2011)
Rehad Desai Miners Shot Down (2013)

Seminar Thirteen, 25 May 2015: Bolivia and the ‘Epistemological Earthquake’

Compulsory Reading
Raquel Gutierrez Aguilar Rhythms of the Pachakuti (2014)

Recommended Reading
June Nash We Eat the Mines and the Mines Eat Us (1993)
Jeffery Webber Red October: Left-Indigenous Struggles in Modern Bolivia (2011)
Raul Zibechi Dispersing Power: Social Movements as Anti-State Forces (2010)
Raul Zibechi Territories in Resistance (2012)