In the wake of political resistance movements in the United States and around the world, graduate students in Binghamton University’s philosophy department are examining what issues cause and justify violent and nonviolent resistance.
Graduate students in the University’s Social, Political, Ethical and Legal Philosophy program hosted a conference at the University Downtown Center on Saturday, focusing on the resistance theories of different philosophers. Students from around the country were invited to discuss under the frame of “Law-Breaking and Theories of Resistance.”
The conference was designed to help graduate students gain experience and knowledge for their dissertations and future efforts to host conferences, according to Courtney Miller, a second-year graduate student studying philosophy at BU.
At the conference, speakers from seven universities presented on research that evaluates different positions on violent resistance. Topics ranged from theory-based justifications of oppressed populations using violent resistance, to case studies of instances like the civil war in El Salvador and global warming. Some speakers mentioned how their research applied to contemporary conversations on the Trump administration, capitalism and racism in the United States.
Miller helped organize the event and said resistance was chosen as the topic because of recent political events.
“A lot of the conference came out of sort of an anxiety, or a concern, about the current political state,” she said. “We wanted to just have the conservation and open up a dialogue.”
Ryan Adams, a second-year graduate student from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, advocated a cautious use of violence when the personal dignity of a group or person is violated. He gave the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust as an example of a violation of dignity.
“Any use of violence has to have a lot of considerations that go into it,” Adams said. “When a group of people is marching toward a Jewish Community Center chanting ‘Blood and soil,’ you have to take them seriously.”
Bat-Ami Bar On, a professor of philosophy and women, gender and sexuality studies at BU, said she was glad that students were participating in an intellectual exchange at the conference, but was wary of the means of resistance promoted by some presenters. When the audience was given time for questions following Adams’ presentation, Bar On expressed her concern at the lack of attention he gave to the justification, and limits, of violent acts.
“If you are going to turn to violence, especially physical, you should be extremely careful,” Bar On said.
Caitlin Maguire, a sophomore double-majoring in environmental studies and philosophy, politics and law, said she wants there to be a greater culture of political activism on campus, and attended the conference so that she could become more educated on the issue of ethics in resistance movements.
“A lot of time, on campus, activism doesn’t happen,” Maguire said. “That’s part of what we are talking about here.”