The last month or so has been a bit crazy so I haven’t been doing much writing. During that time I did attend two conferences that I mentioned on this blog: ‘Christian Social Teaching and the Politics of Money’ at the University of Nottingham, and ‘Film-Philosophy’ at the University of Dundee.
I don’t think it’s really necessary to go through the papers I heard at Nottingham. On the whole, distributivism was the most heavily lauded approach (at least by conference organisers). Like any conference, there were a few ok papers and a few papers that left me shaking my head.
There were a few tendencies, however, that I found either worrying, perplexing or both. First, the conference was devoted to thinking about theological responses to a crisis that emerged out of European traditions regarding economics, government, and society. Why then were all such responses limited to these same traditions. Granted, there were papers presenting Jewish and Islamic perspectives on the issue, but the tenor of these papers was more comparative than challenging. There was no suggestion that these traditions offer any real alternative to the Christian interpretation of recent events. There was no discussion of liberation theology save for a few snide remarks about how the Pope’s recent encyclical reveals how the Vatican is really far more radical than the liberationists have ever been. I found this stance to be entirely guilty of the kind of epistemological coloniality that I discussed in my post on the Latin American politics conference. I’m not suggesting Latin American, Asian, African, or indigenous thinkers are inherently more adequate theorisers of religion, politics, and economics. I just think if one is attempting to challenge the current state of North Atlantic political economy, perhaps looking outside that geography might be a good place to start. I tried to make this point at the conference, but was never afforded the opportunity.
Second, and more related to distributivism in general, I was troubled by the way property figured into the various debates. There’s a great scene in Citizen Kane when a drunk Jebedah accosts Kane, saying:
You talk about the people as though you owned them, as though they belong to you. Goodness. As long as I can remember, you’ve talked about giving the people their rights, as if you can make them a present of Liberty, as a reward for services rendered…Remember the working man?… You used to write an awful lot about the workingman…He’s turning into something called organized labor. You’re not going to like that one little bit when you find out it means that your workingman expects something is his right, not as your gift! Charlie, when your precious underprivileged really get together, oh boy! That’s going to add up to something bigger than your privileges!
The scene sums up my problem with any theory of political economy that does not challenge on the one hand, the ruling class’ claim to ownership of the means of production, and on the other, the very theories of property that legitimise these claims. I think that these are basic starting points for considering Christian social teaching and the politics of money.
Finally, there seemed to be a lot of papers that presented the old ‘popular theory x + Jesus.’ The unanswered question in these papers is always ‘Why do we need Jesus? What does he add?’
A week later I attended the ‘Film-Philosophy’ conference at the University of Dundee. In general the papers were solid, though many of them addressed issues that I have no interest in.
One paper that did touch on some points relevant to my research was Caroline Bainbridge’s keynote on feminist film. She focused on the institutional hurdles facing female directors. In a sense, my issue with this approach parallels my criticism of the conference on Christian social teaching. The criticism fails to escape the boundaries of the debate organised by the dominant theory: namely, auteur theory. Why single out female directors? Why not include female script writers who, in both film and theatre, face significant obstacles? Why not challenge the whole idea of auteur theory, which focuses on the power of the director in a manner consistent with masculinist understandings of hierarchy, rather than discussing the collective nature of the production of film? Feminist theory that argues ‘women deserve the same recognition, status or success as men’ is always far less compelling than that which argues ‘feminism offers an alternative reading of economic, political, and social relations.’
Anyway, it was nice to have a week almost entirely devoted to academic work rather than usual work.