Category Archives: critical theory

“A Dialectic of Utopia/Dystopia in the Public Imagination of the 21st Century” April 20, 2017

From global-e UC Santa Barbara:

An avenue for characterizing one aspect of the public imagination of today’s world—apparently configured by a rising populism across both the left and particularly the right—is with reference to a recent upsurge of interest in utopian/dystopian thinking. Since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984 have resumed prominence in the concerned public imagination and are again top of the bestseller lists. Both works discuss how repressive autocratic/totalitarian elements place subject populations under regimes of total surveillance and propagate “Orwellian” versions of the truth,1 while citizens are palliated by the happy drugs of a somatic culture.2 These dystopian perspectives are contrasted in the conclusion to this piece with my political hypothesis of the “post-modern Prince” with its “feasible utopias” reflected in the imaginaries and collective action of diverse progressive forces.

Utopias have tended to emerge in response to wars, crises, and significant periods of dislocation: in the context of the Peloponnesian Wars, Plato’s The Republic (ca. 380 BC) was premised on creating a good society led by wise elite Guardians. Utopian thought has typically been concerned with concepts of justice, order, the good society, and radical change, often based on common ownership of land/property. Indeed, utopias—and their dialectical other, dystopias—are “ways to interpret the present with an eye to an (imaginary yet positive) future.” A dystopia may be taken as a utopia “that malfunctions” or “only functions for a particular segment of society.” Dystopias “resemble actual societies historically encountered—planned but not planned well enough to be just.”3

These insights seem to capture very well aspects of current imaginaries in US, European, and in some respects world politics.

Continue reading here…

Critical Intellectuals and Global Politics

Several videos associated with  events I organized in May 2010 were made by the Columbian filmmaker Gustavo Consuegra Solórzano.

The videos are edited versions of conversations that were held with Upendra Baxi (Professor Emeritus of Law Universities of Delhi and Warwick, President Emeritus, University of Delhi), Richard A Falk (Professor Emeritus of Law and Politics, University of Princeton and Distinguished Research Professor University of California, Santa Barbara) and Teivo Teivainen (Professor of Global Politics, University of Helsinki).

The conversations took place at the Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki on 9 May 2010.

The first deals with the role and responsibilities of critical intellectuals:  ‘Critical Engagement in Dark Times’ (this is in 2 parts)

The second deals with present and future global challenges: ‘Global Capitalism and Global Crisis’.

To access the videos, see

Critical Perspectives on Global Governance

University of Helsinki, Friday 7 May 2010, 10:00-17:00
Venue: Small Assembly Hall, Fabianinkatu 33, University of Helsinki

There will be a landmark one-day event, open to the public, in Helsinki organized in conjunction with my Visiting Chair at the Collegium for Advanced Studies. It is devoted to critical reflections on the current global crises, the question of political leadership and the nature and future of global governance. The event includes some of the world’s leading critical thinkers on global political economy, law and international relations. They will address the challenges of achieving sustainable and democratic global governance in the 21st century.

For full details please follow this link:

In aphabetical order, the participants are:

ISABELLA BAKKER, Professor of Political Economy and former Chair of Political Science at York University, Toronto.

UPENDRA BAXI, Emeritus Professor of Law in Development, University of Warwick. He was previously Professor of Law, University of Delhi (1973-1996) and was its Vice Chancellor (1990-1994).

SOLOMON (SOLLY) BENATAR, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, University of Cape Town and Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto.

CLAIRE CUTLER, Professor of International Relations and International Law in the Political Science Department at the University of Victoria, Canada.

HILAL ELVER, Visiting Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara.

RICHARD FALK, Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

ADAM HARMES, Associate Professor in Political Science at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.

MUSTAPHA KAMAL PASHA, Professor and Chair of the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Aberdeen, UK.

NICOLA SHORT, Associate Professor of Political Science at York University, Toronto.

TEIVO TEIVAINEN, Professor of World Politics at the University of Helsinki as well as Director of the Program on Democracy and Global Transformation at the San Marcos University in Lima, Peru.


Participants will develop a dual perspective on the nature, and future of global leadership and governance.

First, they will consider global governance as the practices associated with enduring forms of international rule beyond the purview of individual nations – that is as it has been normally understood in politics and diplomacy since ancient times. Thus global governance involves consideration of the main mechanisms that have emerged to stabilize, modify and legitimate the global status quo, such as the G8 or the G20. Thus global governance is mainly evaluated from the perspective of the most powerful states and economic interests. In this sense global governance today involves devising durable methods, mechanisms, and institutions – including those of peace and war – to help sustain an international order that is premised on the primacy of capitalism and the world market as the key governing forces of world politics.

Second, participants will also develop critical perspectives on global governance – involving not only a demystification of the power relations between leaders and led, but also assessment of the potential for changes in those relations. Participants will analyze global governance not just from the vantage point of dominant power but from the perspectives of subaltern forces. Participants will question the necessity, desirability and sustainability of existing institutional arrangements in light of global economic, social and ecological crises and challenges.

Thus a central question to give political focus to our considerations is encapsulated in this quotation:

“In the formation of leaders, one premise is fundamental: is it the intention that there should always be rulers and ruled, or is the objective to create the conditions in which this division … of the human race … is no longer necessary?” (Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, 1971).

The speakers in Helsinki will therefore engage with contested political issues such as: the legitimacy of global institutions; social justice, taxation and redistribution; privatized security governance; gender, race and equitable development; environmental issues and climate change; global health; the rights of subordinated peoples in an era of globalization: Islamic conceptions of justice and leadership; corporate social responsibility and public-private partnerships; and various mechanisms of regulation in finance, the workplace and in trade and investment.

International Relations: a radical view

On May Day 2009, capitalism is in crisis. For academic readers interested in theoretical approaches to International Relations and world capitalism, here is a copy of the English version of an entry I wrote for the Critical Dictionary of Marxism which was published in 2004. It outlines various approaches to International Relations and contrasts them with critical approaches including those of Marx and Engels and what has come to be known as the Neo-Gramscian perspective.

The PDF can be downloaded here.