Rethinking Freedom

The world in 2019 looks like an ugly place. Right-wing authoritarianism is on the rise and rides on waves of popular discontent and disillusionment with failed neoliberal policies and mainstream politics. In different parts of the world, right-wing leaders are ascending to power using popular instruments like the vote. Fake news and misinformation are integral parts of the strategies used to cement this ugly world. Walls are going up and a politics of exclusion has gained prominence. The climate crisis continues, and corporate power is seemingly invincible. The disappointments and near-collapse of left governments contributes to a climate of cynicism and despondency. But, attempts to change the world and win freedom have not ceased. In many places, people are waging a push-back against the climate crisis, closure of democratic space, rising inequalities, militarisation, racism and hate-fuelled politics.

This course, Rethinking Freedom, is designed to grapple with the realities of fighting for the attainment of freedom in this time of uncertainty. Tying the course together are key questions:

  • What does freedom look like today?
  • What are the constraints and limitations to freedom today?
  • What kinds of strategies are on the table for those seeking to be free today?
  • What are the different imaginations of the future being crafted in these struggles?

Big Data & Freedom

Today, computers are integrated into everyday life and everything we do. Computer-mediated experiences – be they in the form of using a smartphone, social media, an app, email, location services, search engines – produce enormous amounts of data every day which can be analysed and used for various purposes by different actors in society such as businesses and government institutions. While many hail this as an era of great promise, recent developments have also opened up a discussion about the extent to which ‘big data’ is a threat to freedom.

Feminism & Freedom

This module will set up a conversation between some of the major currents of feminist thought, and political traditions such as liberalism, Marxism, and anti-colonial nationalism. With a focus on the different strands of feminism and where they stand in relation to these theoretical traditions, this module will explore broadened and enriched ideas of freedom. The module will also explore how – through interventions like queer theory – different currents of feminism have been challenged and critiqued for their incompleteness, blind-spots and exclusions. At the end of the module participants will assess whether feminism offers a radical vision of freedom in a world that is punctuated by horrifying levels of gender-based violence, inequality, the policing and surveillance of women’s bodies, and a lack of reproductive justice.

Strategies for Winning Freedom

Today, activists on the left of the political spectrum are seized with the question: how to organise politically to challenge authoritarianism, inequality, climate change and many other ills that are haunting the world today? While there may be agreement on the need for social change, there are varied ideas on how to get there. Grappling with these issues requires reflection on emancipatory experiments and strategies for winning freedom that have emerged in the 21st century. Enriching these reflections are recent and ongoing struggles across the world: the 2011 revolutionary moment in the Arab world, Africa’s “third-wave protests” to municipalism in Spain. These different struggles have placed urgent questions on the table: what visions and imaginations are being constructed in the search for freedom? Will freedom be won and secured through an insurrectionary route and marking a complete break with the past? Does the gradual approach to change have a place in how we think about winning freedom today? Does the institutional or electoral path to power offer any insights to those struggling to win freedom today? Is there a need to shift from the centrality of the “national” towards a politics that centres the “local or sub-national”? In this module, participants will consider all these questions as part of a reflection on their own struggles in pursuit of freedom.