CfP: Council democracy as alternative to representative democracy

Council democracy as an alternative to representative democracy

June 23 8:00 am – June 24 5:00 pm


Inaugural Conference of Arendt in Aberdeen 2022-24 series

University of Aberdeen

2022 – 2024 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Hannah Arendt’s semesters at the University of Aberdeen and her celebrated Gifford Lectures, delivered here between 1972 and 1974. Arendt was the first woman to contribute to this prestigious practical theology lecture series, established in 1888. The lectures were later published as The Life of the Mind.

To mark this important anniversary, the University will hold a series of events to explore the contemporary relevance of Arendt’s thought, which now pervades a variety of disciplines in the arts, social sciences and beyond. The programme will commence with this conference, continue with a reading group on Arendt’s political thought to start in September 2022 and a seminar in the spring of 2023 on totalitarianism. Arendt in Aberdeen will culminate in an international conference on Interdisciplinary Arendt: Pluralism – Promise – Problems, on 21-25 August 2023. The series will reassess the legacy and limitations of Arendt’s interdisciplinary influence from literature to theology, from political theory and praxis to ethics, and the place of pluralism in the confluence of her thought. This reassessment will extend into 2024 with publication of a volume of proceedings and other academic outputs.

To inaugurate this major new series of events, we are calling for papers which explore Council Democracy as an alternative form of government, its practical applications throughout time and space, and its contemporary implications in relation to the nation-state and the concept of sovereignty.

Arendt’s enthusiastic promotion of the “council system” has been a matter of controversy in scholarship (Canovan 1978). Her political thought has often been described as classical (Lovett 2018) or civic republican (d’Entreves 2019), and in line with the idea and institutions of representative democracy (Maynor 2013). Yet her council system is a bottom-up political organization which serves as an alternative form of government to centralized, bureaucratic forms of government, and to the party system. It centres on the notion of public freedom, a form of political liberty exercised by face-to-face communities through direct political action in public spaces open to all (Lederman 2018, Muldoon 2016). The council system and the notion of public freedom appear as the foundations of a federation based on small-scale councils, in which direct democracy and autonomy are alternatives to representative democracy and the sovereignty claims made by nation-states (Bernstein 2018).

Council democracy is a timely topic because this aspect of her political thought, and its relation to her larger corpus, has been understudied in Arendt scholarship, while it has inspired contemporary political initiatives from Occupy to the Rojava movement in Syria.

We invite scholars to discuss council democracy in Arendt’s writings, in possible historical instantiations (such as the Paris Commune and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution), and in the work of contemporary political scholars, movements, and activists.

The event will be hosted by the Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society, and the Rule of Law (CISRUL), which studies political concepts in practice from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Keynote Speakers:

Maria Tamboukou, University of East London; James Muldoon, University of Exeter; Roger Berkowitz, Bard College.

How to apply:

The conference will take place at the beautiful and majestic Old Aberdeen campus of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Venues will be accessible by wheelchair.

To apply, please submit an abstract of 200-400 words to by Wednesday, 23 March 2022, 23:59 UK Time. Please also attach a CV to your abstract.

Full papers must be submitted by 5 June 2022 at the latest to allow ample time to participants for reading them.

Accommodation and lodging will be provided to all participants. Participants can also apply for a travel support of up to £200 in their emails in which they submit the abstract.

The event is organised by Dr Hanifi Baris and Dr Trevor Stack and funded by The Leverhulme Fund and CISRUL.

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