From the Haitian Revolution to the Refugee Crisis



Feb 2017, Basel


This congress focuses on three primary questions:
1) How can democracy remain and become substantive?
2) What is the relationship between democracy and human rights?
3) How does democracy develop?

In this talk, I hope to address these questions by way of a historical-sociological examination of the Haitian Revolution, its implications for our understandings of citizenship, and how this impacts upon the current refugee crisis. Reclaiming democracy, for me, means reclaiming those silenced histories that nonetheless echo through time and thinking about how we can respond, even two centuries later, to the urgent demands made in these moments. Our responses in the present would need not only to go some way toward healing those earlier colonial wounds, but would also provide us with the space to talk about reparatory justice in the present – and here I am talking about the crisis for refugees that confronts us daily (which, in the distorted vision of our media and politicians, is presented rather as the crisis for Europe). To be able to talk about the present, however, I have to first talk about the past and to talk about the way that past is constructed within the dominant narratives circulating in the present.

Locating Brexit



March 2017, Paris 


The UK referendum on continued membership of the European Union, which produced a victory for the ‘Leave’ campaign, was less a debate on the pros and cons of membership than a proxy for discussions about race and migration; specifically, who belonged and had rights (or should have rights) and who didn’t (and shouldn’t). One of the key slogans of those arguing for exit from the EU was: ‘we want our country back’. The racialized discourses at work here were not only present explicitly in the politics of the event; they are implicit in much social scientific analysis. Populist political claims are mirrored by an equivalent social scientific ‘presentism’ that elides proper historical context. In this presentation, I discuss the importance of understanding Brexit in the context of an historical sociological understanding that would enable us to make better sense of the politics of the present.