'The Scandal of Rights': Engin Isin's talk at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis

By Amandine Scherrer · 18 July 2013

Engin Isin gave a talk at the Annual International Workshop organised by the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (17-19 April 2013).

Speakers also included Sara Ahmed and Judith Butler, and the event addressed the topic of ‘Dislocating Agency, Moving Object: Association, Demarcation, Transformation’.

This podcast is the audio recording of Engin’s talk entitled ‘The scandal of Rights’.

- Part 1: (0:00 - 06:34) The starting point: a story reported by the Guardian in February 2013 about the Camden council plans to move 761 poor families from London because the coalition's benefit cap will mean that these families will be unable to afford their current accommodation.

- Part 2: (06:34 - 21:00) Engin then reviews the comments made online to the Guardian article, and tries to understand what logics are at work, what body of thoughts these comments reveal. The comments vary from a feeling of scandal (some commentators comparing the plan to Nazi's deportations, some other underlining strongly how this is an attempt to basic Human Rights ) to approbation of these policies ('they will be moved, so what if they can't afford to stay in London?').

- Part 3: (21:00 - 42:46)  How can social sciences apprehend this type of policies? Engin exposes 2 theories within social sciences that can help grasping the logics at stake: illiberalism (drawing from Didier Bigo and colleagues' work) and outsourcing (drawing from Simon Chersterman and colleagues) in security studies. Engin emphasises the rise of private companies, that formerly specialised in delivering security but that increasingly penetrate all aspects of public services (Health, Transporation, as well as Welfare assessment). This leads him to ask no only how citizens are delivered to the markets, but also who are the agents doing this translation practically.

- Part 4: (42:46 - 55:35) Engin then asks: how does illiberalism mobilise subjects in delivering them to the markets? Here, Engin underlines the success of the concept of 'libertarian paternalism' in policy-makers circles and the Conservatives in UK (drawing from Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's work in economics). This has contributed to a growing body of thoughts according to which governments have the right to intervene in the life of their citizens when these citizens are deemed not to be able to decide what is best for them. This body of thoughts becomes even more visible with the success of the concept of 'cohersive paternalism', as described in the book 'Nudge', published in 2008 by Sunstein and Thaler and which has found a lot of echo in the UK coalision government.

- Part 5: (55.35 - 58) Engin concludes that the most troubling scandal in this powerful outsourcing trend is that outsourcing can not continue without intensifying illiberalism. It also follows that a new figure of citizens, whose subjectivity is not longer a claims-making but for whom decisions will be made by those who are authorised to make such decision, is taking hold of the social and political body.

About the author

  • Amandine Scherrer

    Communication Manager
    Amadine Scherrer
    Open University
    Amandine Scherrer joined the Oecumene team as Communication Manager in November 2012. Amandine holds a PhD. in International Relations (Sciences-po Paris 2007) and has obtained a post-doctoral... Read more

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