Alexander Thom: Shakespeare’s Bodies of Law (Special Episode)

As 23rd April is traditionally celebrated as Shakespeare’s birthday, today The Provocateur brings to you a special one-off episode in honour of the Bardiversary. We are joined by Alexander Thom, a PhD student at the Shakespeare Institute (University of Birmingham), for a fascinating discussion of the role of law in Shakespeare’s work, in particular the notion of banishment. We explore the relationships between law and literature in general before going on to talk about the significance of banishment as a legal and rhetorical device in the early modern period, as well as how the concept operates in Shakespearean texts. Drawing on how 20th-century thinkers such as Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben have taken up the idea, we discuss banishment as a way of delineating distinctions between the human and non-human, those within the political community and those who are excluded from it. We also touch on the continuing relevance of Shakespeare’s work today, particularly in view of the contemporary plight of immigrants and refugees.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Correction: At the start of the programme it is stated that 2017 marks the 451st anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. As keen-eyed mathematicians will know, it is of course the Bard’s 453rd birthday. Apologies!

Further Reading:

Primary texts (though we mainly discuss the Shakespeare plays):

Christopher Marlowe: Edward IIThe Jew of Malta.

William Shakespeare: As You Like ItCoriolanusCymbelineMeasure for MeasureThe Merchant of VeniceRichard IIRomeo & JulietSir Thomas MoreThe Tempest, Titus Andronicus.

John Webster: The Duchess of Malfi.

Secondary texts:

Agamben, G. (1998) Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. D. Heller-Roazen. Stanford, CA:  Stanford University Press.

Elden, S. (2014) ‘Bellies, wounds, infections, animals, territories: The political bodies of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus‘, in Edkins, J. and A. Kear (eds.) International Politics and Performance. London: Routledge.

Foucault, M. (1978) ‘About the Concept of the “Dangerous Individual” in 19th-Century Legal Psychiatry’, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 1, pp. 1-18.

____ (1995) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. A. Sheridan. New York: Vintage.

Kingsley-Smith, J. (2003) Shakespeare’s Drama of Exile. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Höfele, A. (2011) Stage, Stake, and Scaffold: Humans and Animals in Shakespeare’s Theatre. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Steiner, G. (1975) After Babel. London: Oxford University Press.

Benjamin Studebaker: Indigenous Peoples, the State and Citizenship

Amid all the fallout from Donald Trump’s highly controversial restrictions on immigrants from several majority Muslim countries, another significant announcement from the White House has largely escaped media attention: the decision to restart construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline. This proposal triggered a wave of protests in the latter half of 2016, particularly around the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Campaigners argued that the pipeline represented a threat to the sovereignty of the indigenous peoples living on the reservation, particularly in terms of the environmental hazards that such a pipeline could unleash. However, what is often missing from the popular conversation on Aboriginal sovereignty movements is an understanding of the way in which the state has constructed a certain conception of citizenship that enables indigenous peoples to value their sovereignty over arguably more meaningful goods, such as socioeconomic opportunities.

In today’s episode of The Provocateur, I talk to Benjamin Studebaker, a doctoral candidate in politics at the University of Cambridge, about the relationship between indigenous peoples, the state and citizenship. We develop some of the themes from his blog post discussing the issue of Native American sovereignty and link them to broader issues to do with the ways in which states legitimate themselves by allowing different citizens to want different values and the resultant implications for indigenous policy when these values conflict. Ben has also kindly provided some outline notes, which I reproduce below.

You can listen to the podcast here:

Outline Notes:

I. Many different views of citizenship—of what it is that citizens share in common that makes them citizens (liberalism, republicanism, civic nationalism, ethnic nationalism, identitarianism, pluralism vs. Pluralism). All of these views tend to presume that people have things that they want to get out of citizenship and they build states for these purposes—people use the state to get power and use that power to construct a kind of citizenship which reflects their values and beliefs.

II. But people are not free in this way—their identity and beliefs are not individualistically chosen, they are instead acquired through interaction with material and social conditions. Who is ultimately responsible for those conditions? The sovereign entity—the state.

III. States need to legitimate themselves to secure stability. They will be recognized as legitimate when citizens want the things that states provide. So successful states will tend to create citizens whose desires and expectations match the state’s capabilities.

IV. In cases of inequality, states must be pluralist to some degree—they must create different kinds of citizens whose desires and expectations can be met in different and unequal ways. Pluralism also has other adaptive advantages—if all citizens want the same thing, it is easier to satisfy them, but to fail one citizen is to fail all of them, which means that when states do fail the failure is total and often fatal. In a pluralist society, states can satisfy enough people enough of the time by constantly cobbling together different coalitions of satisfied groups. However, this pluralism allows some groups to be persistently neglected by the state—especially anti-pluralists.

V. With respect to indigenous people, the state attempts to pacify them by socializing them to want what they get. So if Native Americans are going to live on separate reservations with some level of autonomy (but under grossly unequal socioeconomic conditions), they must be made to value the kinds of goods they can have—cultural purity and autonomy, not material prosperity. But this autonomy and culture are mirages—the state created them to see these constructs as valuable and then supplied them with conditions under which they can be realized. In the meantime, it creates other citizens with entirely different values which it enables them to actualize under entirely different conditions.

Further Reading:

Beiner, R. (ed.) (1994) Theorizing Citizenship. New York: SUNY Press.

Lukes, S. (1974) Power: A Radical View. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Parfit, D. (2011) On What Matters, 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rawls, J. (1993) Political Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press.

Strawson, G. (2011) Freedom and Belief. Oxford: Oxford University Press.