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Book Launch | Spectacles and Specters: A Performative Theory of Political Trials

Venue: Birkbeck Main Building, Malet Street

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Birkbeck Centre for Law and the Humanities is pleased to host the launch of Basak Ertür's new book Spectacles and Specters: A Performative Theory of Political Trials (Fordham University Press, 2022). Ertür will be joined in discussion by Avery Gordon and Lawrence Abu Hamdan.

When: Thursday 26 January 2023, 18:30-20:30
Venue: Room B34, Birkbeck Main Building, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX

Spectacles and Specters draws on theories of performativity to conceptualize the entanglements of law and political violence, offering a radical departure from accounts that consider political trials as instrumental in exercising or containing political violence. Legal scholar Basak Ertür argues instead that making sense of the often incalculable interpenetrations of law, politics, and violence in trials requires shifting the focus away from law’s instrumentality to its performativity.

Ertür develops a theory of political trials by reconstructing and building on a legacy of critical thought on Nuremberg in close engagement with theories of performativity. She then offers original case studies that introduce a new perspective by looking beyond the Holocaust trials, to the Armenian genocide and its fragmentary legal aftermaths. These cases include the 1921 trial of Soghomon Tehlirian, the 2007-21 Hrant Dink Murder Trial, and the 2015 case before the European Court of Human Rights concerning the denial of the Armenian genocide.

Enabling us to capture the various modalities in which the political emerges in, through and in relation to legal forms on the stage of the trial, this focus on law’s performativity also allows us to account for how sovereign schemes can misfire and how trials can come to have unintended political lives and afterlives. Further, it reveals how law is entangled with and perpetuates certain histories of violence, rather than simply ever mastering these histories or providing closure.  

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  • Dr Basak Ertur -

    Basak Ertür teaches law and co-directs the Centre for Law and the Humanities at Birkbeck School of Law. She is a research fellow at Forensic Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London. A recipient of the ASCLH Julien Mezey Dissertation Award, her first book Spectacles and Specters: A Performative Theory of Political Trials was published by Fordham University Press in 2022. Ertür's work is engaged with questions of legal violence, legal performativity, and more broadly with law's epistemologies and aesthetics. Her writing has appeared in Critical Times, Law & CritiqueTheory & Event, Aut aut and in the edited volumes Vulnerability in Resistance (2016), Law, Violence, Memory: Uncovering the Counter-Archive (2016), and Nil Yalter: Off the Record (2016). Ertür's edited collections include the Manual for Conspiracy (2011), Waiting for the Barbarians: A Tribute to Edward Said (2008), and Something Is Rotten in the State (2016), a special issue of Theory & Event. She is the co-director of the documentary film, For the Record: The World Tribunal on Iraq (2007). Ertür also has an ongoing practice as a translator, having published Turkish translations of several of Judith Butler's books among other texts. She serves on the advisory board of Forensis, and the editorial committee of Law & Critique.

  • Dr Lawrence Abu Hamdan -

    Lawrence Abu Hamdan is a Private Ear, listening to, with and on behalf of people affected by corporate, state, and environmental violence. Abu Hamdan's work has been presented in the form of forensic reports, lectures and live performances, films, publications, and exhibitions all over the world. He received his PhD in 2017 and has held fellowships and professorships at the University of Chicago, the New School, New York and most recently at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz where he developed his research Abu Hamdan's audio investigations have been used as evidence at the UK Asylum and Immigration Tribunal and been a key part of advocacy campaigns for organisations such as Amnesty International, Defence for Children International and Forensic Architecture. His projects that reflect on the political and cultural context of sound and listening have been presented at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, the 58th Venice Biennale, the 11th Gwangju Biennale, the 13th and 14th Sharjah Biennial, Witte De With, Rotterdam, Tate Modern Tanks, Chisenhale Gallery, Hammer Museum L.A and the Portikus Frankfurt. Abu Hamdan has been awarded the 2020 Toronto Biennial Audience Award, the 2019 Edvard Munch Art Award, the 2016 Nam June Paik Award for new media and in 2017 his film Rubber Coated Steel won the Tiger short film award at the Rotterdam International Film festival. For the 2019 Turner Prize Abu Hamdan, together with nominated artists Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo and Tai Shani, formed a temporary collective in order to be jointly granted the award.

  • Professor Avery Gordon -

    Avery F. Gordon was Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara for thirty years, Visiting Faculty Fellow in the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths College University of London (2008-2013) and is currently Visiting Professor at Birkbeck School of Law University of London. In 2012, she was the Anna Maria Kellen Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. She is the author of The Hawthorn Archive: Letters from the Utopian Margins (2018); The Workhouse: The Breitenau Room (with Ines Schaber) (2015); Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (1997/2008); Keeping Good Time: Reflections on Knowledge, Power and People (2004) and Mapping Multiculturalism (1997), among other books and many essays and articles. Her work focuses on radical thought and practice and she writes about captivity, enslavement, war and other forms of dispossession and how to eliminate them. She serves on the Editorial Committee of the journal Race & Class and has been the co-host of No Alibis, a weekly public affairs radio program on KCSB FM Santa Barbara since 1997. She is the former keeper of the Hawthorn Archives, which records the living history of a group of runaways, secessionists and in-differents who form autonomous zones and settlements.