Workshop U of Edinburgh: Spectating and Acting A Tension at the Heart of Democratic Politics

Workshop at the University of Edinburgh
June 20, 2014 
Main Library Building, Room 1.11
Spectating and Acting
A Tension at the Heart of Democratic Politics

The detailed programme, including the abstracts of the presentations, can be found here:

• Prof Carol C. Gould, City University of New York
• Prof Jeffrey Green, University of Pennsylvania
• Dr Mihaela Mihai, University of York
• Dr Andrew Schaap, University of Exeter
• Prof Matthew Festenstein, University of York
• Dr Philip Cook, University of Edinburgh
• Dr Rowan Cruft, University of Stirling
• Prof Neil Walker, University of Edinburgh
Time and Place
The workshop takes place on June 20 in meeting room 1.11 of the University of Edinburgh’s main library building. It will run from 9:00 to 17:00. Directions to the venue can be found here:

Participation is free of charge, but the number of places is limited. Therefore, it is essential you register here:

This workshop will explore the links as well as contradictions between spectating and acting in democratic societies. Today, the inhabitants of modern democracies inevitably experience a tension between the normative ideals of citizenship and its real-world conditions. On the one hand, we all are expected to play an active role in the political decision-making process, by autonomously raising our voice and by constructively participating in public deliberations. On the other hand, the majority of citizens in modern democracies are, due to the sheer scale and complexity of society, condemned to passive spectatorship. This becomes clear in exceptional moments of crisis, for instance when a potential humanitarian intervention is debated: While we are currently inundated with images of violence in Syria, the space for genuine political action on the part of citizens in the West seems increasingly limited. However, the tension between spectating and acting is also evident in more mundane situations, such as when austerity measures are introduced. When faced with harsh budget cuts, we, the 99%, are often mere spectators, and not actors. This constellation raises philosophical questions about how spectating and acting ought to relate to each other: Is the former a necessary pre-condition for the latter? Or does the former nowadays completely eclipse the latter? What consequences for democratic politics follow from the observation that it is today very difficult, if not impossible, to get one’s voice heard in public deliberations? Is there a potential for the recovery of genuine political action in times of widespread apathy and cynicism?

Organiser: Dr Mathias Thaler, University of Edinburgh

The workshop is funded through a Marie Curie Career Integration Grant (JUDGEPOL), whose PI is Mathias Thaler. Further funding is provided by the University of Edinburgh’s Global Justice Academy. For more information see:

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