Audio: Biopower, Race and State in contemporary Ireland

This audio is a recording of Ronit Lentin's talk on 'Race and State in contemporary Ireland' given as part of the Better Questions seminar series in Seomra Spraoi which I went to last Tuesday. I've also made a brief comment on me not getting the Foucault / biopower stuff the theoretical end of this talk was based on.  This was the first in a sequence of planned meetings which I think has a relationship with the stalled series last year where I made a brief contribution on social centre type spaces in North America I'd come across in order to suggest that term did not in itself define a consistent practice.

I reproduce the promotional material for the talk and link to the audio I recorded and edited below.  In terms of commentary I again found that I don't get the Foucault / biopower stuff.   This talk was a particularly interesting case of this as I'm very familiar with the factual framework from my involvement in various anti-racist campaigns and struggles over the years.  But the theory being bolted onto that factual framework said nothing to me to put it into a new context.  I'm quite curious as to what is going on in my mind here.  The easy assumption, and the one I traditionally turn to in such circumstances, is that the emperor has no clothes.  That all that is happening is the dressing up of the obvious in obscure academic jargon which makes it sound smart but when you manage to decode it there isn't really anything of interest being said or it's only old insights being expressed in a harder to understand fashion.  That was certainly the conclusion I came to a number of years back when reviewing Empire, it in particular seemed to be trying to recycle some pretty basic anarchist insights as new found marxian theoretical breakthroughs.

On the other hand a number of people I consider to be pretty smart are into the whole Foucaultan thing so I'm at least a little suspicious that there is something here that I am simply not getting.  I suspect part of what is going on is that I've never really read philosophy at all and that the contribution of Foucault is in terms of explaining the flaws of existing philosophical theory, in particular in relation to marxism.  Because I've tended to shape my world view on a mixture of direct experience and historical reading the philosophical basis of a lot of theoretical stuff flies over my head.  (Oh and incidentally I'm also pretty critical of the anti-intellectualism that often hides behind 'lived experience' so I'm not making some 'university of hard knocks' argument here, just talking out loud as to why think I may not 'get it').

The two paragraphs above BTW just sort of came from no where, I hadn't really intended to do anything beyond just posting the links to the audio and the extracts from the promotional material but when I thought I should make some sort of comment as well they are what popped out!  The seminar itself went well in general, the room was (a little too) packed, I'd guess around 25 people in a room that holds 20.  However as Semora did a huge decoration job on the cinema space over the weekend I'll guess that will now be used as the venue and it will comfortably fit 35+.  The one thing I noticed from the discussion was that there was no collective connecting up between the facts and ideas being discussed and what could be done with them.  The 'possibilities for resistance' consisted of a few individuals suggesting disparate and somewhat contradictory actions without getting any collective echo for any of these.  That said and despite what might be read as negative comments above, (they are not really intended to be), I did find the event useful and am trying to work out how I can get to the other ones in the series.

Anyhow the seminars will continue ever second Wednesday in Seomra (annoying for me as this is also the night of my WSM branch meeting).  Details below along with links to my audio recording of this one.

From the promotional material

Race and State in contemporary Ireland

As Ireland’s economic crisis deepens, media coverage has been characterised by a deafening silence on the impact of this crisis on migrants. Social movements have also been largely guilty of ignoring the importance of migration and racism to contemporary forms of exploitation and oppression. And yet it is increasingly clear that some of the most radical forms of exclusion and exploitation are deeply intertwined with questions of race and migration.

In this seminar Ronit Lentin brings together the theoretical insights of Foucault, Agamben and Goldberg to explore the deepening relation between race, migration, the state and power in contemporary Ireland. Ronit is head of the sociology department at Trinity College Dublin and coordinates the Masters in Ethnic and Racial Studies there. Ronit has been to the forefront of researching and writing about the relationship between racism and the state in Ireland and has co-edited Racism and Anti-Racism in Ireland and co-authored After Optimism: Ireland, Racism and Globalisation.

The full text of the talk is on Ronit's blog.

'Better Questions' seminar series in Seomra Spraoi

Better Questions is an initiative that has emerged out of conversations between people engaged in either social movement practices in Dublin and/or thought on radical social change. Our point of convergence is our recognition that we must develop better questions about the world around us in order to change it. This seminar series draws on a wide variety of critical theoretical perspectives to explore contemporary forms of power and possibilities for resistance. details at

The talks will take place fortnightly in Seomra Spraoi from 6.30pm (for directions see The Peoples Kitchen will serve food in Seomra Spraoi from 8pm

As usual I've uploaded the audio to, you can access it there at the article this post is based on or directly at the links below.  Each segment is in the region of 40 minutes long.  A new problem I hit with the recording is that Ronit has a fancy new digital projector with her that can run a Powerpoint off a USB key with the need for a laptop.  I of course got roped into setting it up and I'd already been asked to record the session which of course meant I put the iPhone down next to the projector to record and only realised a few minutes in that the fan on the projector was pretty noisy.  So the first couple of minutes of the recording are a little annoying because of that background noise but it improves after that.

Ronit Lentin's talk -
Questions and Answers after talk -


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