CFP: York University Workshop on Theorizing Violence

Theorizing Violence

Call For Papers

York University, Toronto, Canada

May 16-17, 2016

The Deadline for Proposal Submission is February 29, 2016


This workshop aims to bring together scholars – working at various stages in their academic/intellectual careers and across disciplinary boundaries – to explore the basis and possibilities of theorizing violence, as it applies to subjectivity, the material, the social, the political, and the philosophical. 


Physical violence is a common feature of daily life and often experienced as spectacular acts, on the streets of Ferguson, Baltimore, Cologne and Paris, on the shores of Greece, within Syria and Iraq, and in the forests and on the hills of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

However, violence is all around us in another, and arguably, more profound and normalized way as everyday acts that are symbolic, linguistic, and epistemic as well as structural.  It exists when the words of the oppressed and the exploited are deliberately ignored. It exists on the downtown street corner where a homeless person sits in the winter; in the lead-laden water supply of Flint, Michigan; in the slums of the global periphery; in the territories where the indigenous peoples live under constant threat of dispossession; and at the workplace via the coercive logic of capital.

Various epistemological positions and theories have sought to struggle with the problematic of violence in both its physical and metaphysical forms. We may discern some of the more ‘classic’ views in the works of Benjamin, Arendt and Fanon, and more recently, Agamben’s and Zizek’s efforts at conceptualizing violence.

Also relevant are Plato’s concern for concrete and ordinary violence in the form of rape; Utopian Socialist St. Simon’s assertions that “men… allow[ed] themselves to be governed by [the] violence and ruse” of the French aristocracy; Lefebvre’s exploration of how violence is implicated in the production of space, both conceptually (epistemologically) and materially (architecture); and Levinas’ preoccupation with war-as-violence and the possibilities it presents for overcoming concrete violence. Then, of course, Marx talks about the violence of capital, including primitive accumulation, and Lenin draws attention to the violent character of the capitalist state, that necessitates (violent) revolution; violence is also a central part of Maoist theory of society and class struggle.

The 2016 Historical Materialism-Toronto conference (May 13-15) is titled “Confronting the Violence of Capital.”  This Theorizing Violence workshop builds on this theme in order to focus on the specific problems and possibilities of theorizing violence both from Marxist and non-Marxist critical perspectives.

Suggested themes:

Rather than focusing on empirical documentations and analyses of the horrors of violent events this workshop seeks to examine the problem of theorizing violence more generally.  It therefore welcomes papers that address such questions as:

–    What are the analytical distinctions between pain, force, and violence, and their relation to the potentialities of violence? For instance, de Sade remarked: “It is always by way of pain that one arrives at pleasure.” Marx also famously stated: “Force is the midwife of every old society which is pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power.” Is violence, then, an act of ‘productive labour’?

–    How has recent thinking advanced understandings of the relationship between violence and the body, including worker’s bodies, gendered bodies, sexualized and racialized bodies?

–    What is the relationship between violence and tolerance? What forms of violence become acceptable, and what should we say about this acceptability? Does violence preclude acceptability along lines argued Arendt?

–    How should we understand the relationship between violence and the political?  Is violence situated within or at the boundaries of the political?

–    How do current theories of the state inform theories of violence, for example, around topics such as surveillance, new coercive practices and forms of bourgeois/liberal law?

–    How might understandings of capitalism’s ontology of violence be changing, for example, in market logics and public practices from austerity, privatization, incarceration, and zonal exclusions? How might the ontological distinctions between the (invisible) social relations underlying violence, the threat of violence, and actual exercise of violence matter?  

–    Are links between violence and the class relations in capitalist societies, both advanced and less-developed, transforming with regard to violence against indigenous communities, the peasantry, striking workers, or Maoist ‘insurgents’, and other kinds of radical protesters?

–    How do we theorize the connection between violence and the tendency towards what Ellen Wood called ‘endless war’, and ‘new imperialism’?

–    What theoretical trajectories bear on the relationship between violence, non-violence, counter-violence, anti-violence, and pacifism, especially in relation to social movements/protests?

–    Is violence, as suggested by Nietzsche and Heidegger and those theorists keying off of them, an inescapable dimension of social existence? What might we make of transcendental or transhistorical arguments concerning violence as it relates to the nature of being and life?

–    How does violence operate as a spectacle? What are the political and ethical implications of its aestheticization? What are the possibilities and limits of an ethics of witnessing violence?

The workshop is very much open to other relevant questions along these lines.

Details: If you are interested in presenting a paper or organizing a panel at the workshop, please submit a 300-word-abstract as a Word or PDF attachment by February 29, 2015 to Accepted papers will be announced mid-March.

Hosted by: Program on Critical Scholarship and Social Transformation at York University

Organizers: Raju Das (Geography, York), Robert Latham (Political Science, York), Rupinder Minhas (Geography, York), Özgün Topak (Political Science, York).