Call for Papers

Call for Papers: Democracy and Dissent — Theorizing Political Agency from Sites of Difference

3rd Feb 2017

Call for Papers:

Democracy and Dissent — Theorizing Political Agency from Sites of Difference

Graduate Political Theory Conference

Dates:                    Friday, June 2 and Saturday, June 3, 2017

Location:               University of Oxford

Department of Politics and International Relations

Manor Road, Oxford, OX1 3UQ

Keynotes:             Professor Alessandro Ferrara (Rome – Tor Vergata)


Abstracts due:       Friday, March 31, 2017

Democratic ideals promise equal respect and the possibility of political agency for all. Yet procedural theories of democratic legitimacy often foreground models of democratic exchange that constrain the deliberative expression of ‘deep difference,’ whether that be from sites of socioeconomic, national, religious, racial and ethnic, gendered or sexual particularity. Alternative approaches to democratic theorizing, like those offered by theorists of ‘agonistic’ deliberation, consider that people who suffer from persistent, systematic and structural oppression are equally capable of acting in their own best interests in a hostile — and potentially dangerous — political environment. Too often, normative political theory neglects the problematic of empowerment and views the epistemic and agential capacities for dissent as preconditions for political agency rather than as achievements in their own right.

In this conference, we seek to probe the tension between democratic theory’s egalitarian promise and the patterns of exclusion that it must negotiate in particular socio-cultural contexts of ethical practice; between what democracy ought to offer citizens from diverse social positionalities and ethical perspectives and what it does make available when instantiated according to formal models. Some contemporary democratic theories of a proceduralist stripe take dissent to compromise democratic legitimacy, insofar as dissenting citizens draw on expressive resources  beyond the scope of ‘deliberative reason.’ This problem of ethical diversity and democratic dissent is of increasing urgency for political thinkers concerned with the contemporary challenges of deliberative exclusion and domination that traverse societies and define ‘multiple modernities.’

How do contemporary democratic theories make possible the expression of dissent out of different ethical or social perspectives? What models of democratic governance — whether consensus-driven, agonistic, or somewhere in between — provide the best conceptual and normative tools for addressing the potential for conflict across deep-seated ethical differences, or between citizens subject to radical power asymmetries? How does democratic theory need to readjust across social and geopolitical contexts? What does it mean, in the contemporary conjuncture, to speak from and inhabit the political sites of ‘deep difference’ and of ‘dissent’?

We welcome papers that address themselves to these questions. Submissions are not limited to normative political theory, but can also draw from disciplines like philosophy, social theory, Cultural Studies and sociology, history and international relations. Relevant topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Procedural approaches to democracy and deep difference
  • Democratic deliberation, public reason and dissent
  • Agonistic democracy and the conflictual nature of ‘the political’
  • State sovereignty, political legitimacy and consent
  • Secularism, the religious Other and dissent
  • Speaking from the margins: the subaltern, political subjectivity and power
  • Race, racism and the politics of (sub)personhood
  • Feminist approaches to the gendered public sphere
  • Indigenous dissent and self-determination
  • Queer politics, deviance and dissent
  • Decoloniality and epistemic resistance
  • Dissent in nondemocratic regimes
  • Empire and the Global South: contesting the European democratic project
  • Neoliberal governmentality and the possibilities of political agency
  • The ecological crisis as a problem for democratic representation
  • Grassroots social movements and the reemergence of populisms, left and right
  • Financial capitalism, state regulation, and the appropriation of public protest
  • The aesthetic moment in and of dissent

Please send an abstract formatted for anonymous review of up to 400 words to by Friday, March 31. The conference organizers will notify researchers with successful submissions by Friday, April 14. Those selected for the conference will be expected to provide a complete paper by Friday, May 26 for pre-circulation. Only graduate students who have not yet defended their doctoral dissertations are eligible to apply.

Further Particulars:

All speakers will be offered single accommodation in Oxford colleges for up to two nights. Limited bursaries may be available to researchers whose institutions are unable to fully cover travel costs. The 2017 political theory graduate conference is supported by the Department of Politics & International Relations at the University of Oxford.


Conveners:     Sarah Bufkin, DPhil in Political Theory

Benedict Coleridge, DPhil in Political Theory

Payaswini Tailor, MPhil in Political Theory