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Political Theory

H07(a) - Political Obligation and Authority

Date: Jun 4 | Time: 03:15pm to 04:45pm | Location: SWING 409

Chair/Président/Présidente : Caitlin Tom (York University)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Caitlin Tom (York University)

Space Savers, Free Grazers and Water Raiders: An Exploration of Private Anti-Governmental Activism: David Tabachnick (Nipissing Univeristy), James Abbott (Nipissing University)
Abstract: Boundaries between public and private spaces are constantly contested. In some cases, private actors encroach on public spaces for apparent private gain, invoking ideas such as community, tradition and self-governance as justifications. In this paper, we consider three examples where public spaces (parking spots in South Boston, federal grasslands in Nevada and the Exclusive Economic Zone of Somalia) have been ‘claimed’ by private individuals or groups. While economic gain forms at least part of the motivation in all three cases, the justifications for encroachment differ based on the actors’ perception of the role of government. In South Boston, people who claim public parking spaces using ‘space savers’ cite the quasi-private status of a space that they cleared of snow; ‘free grazers’ in Nevada challenge the authority of the Federal Government altogether, while Somali pirates seizing foreign vessels claim they are acting in the place of government and in defiance of international norms. An exploration of these examples, while of significantly different scale, will reveal the important dynamic of anti-governmental reactions to government acquiescence, overreach and failure.


The Foundations of Democratic Discontent and Obedience: Serbulent Turan (University of British Columbia)
Abstract: Why we obey? What drives people to obey commands from authorities even when they find these to be immoral or irrational? I argue that key developments during the dawn of the early modern state in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have laid the structural and normative groundwork for our contemporary forms of obedient and disobedient behavior, robbing individuals of the political, social, and psychological tools they require to standup to the commands of authorities and effectively disempowering them vis-à-vis the state. Drawing from Arendt, Skinner, and Foucault, I conduct a historical analysis of the foundational qualities of the early European state from the Reformation to the English Restoration, when the state has assumed a form recognizable to us. This analysis reveals particular institutional, structural and normative changes contrived, in part purposefully, by rulers and elites of the system in response to major acts of disobedience that threatened to topple the socio-political order. Those hint at the ways political authorities of the time engineered the relationship of obedience between the early state and its subjects at the time of the state’s inception. In short, as the state gradually came into existence, a new form of obedience emerged with it, resulting from a major tectonic shift in European political culture of the time. It is this new form, defining obedience to political authority between an individual and the state, which carried on within the framework of the state and is responsible, at least in part, for defining our relationship with political authorities.