Proseminar on Hannah Arendt’s conceptions of violence and power

As part of my new position as a staff member of the University of Freiburg’s Department of Philosophy, I will offer a German language undergraduate seminar (“Proseminar”) in the winter term 2017-2018 on political philosophy. The course will discuss Hannah Arendt’s conceptions of ‘violence’ and ‘power’ as distinct and – in a certain sense – anti-thetical, her critique of the traditional understanding of ‘the Political’ in terms of ‘Who rules whom?’ as well as her theoretical engagement with contemporary political change such as the student unrest in the late 60s. The seminar builds on earlier research for my final thesis in philosophy (“Wissenschaftliche Arbeit” equivalent to an MA thesis) that I am currently revisiting.

„Niemand hat das Recht zu gehorchen!“ Graffiti of BeneR1 in collaboration with koarts.
„Niemand hat das Recht zu gehorchen!“ Graffiti of BeneR1 in collaboration with koarts. By Bernd Schwabe in Hannover (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
It is clear that the prominence and importance of the concept of ‘power’ in Arendt’s thought can hardly be exaggerated. According to her, an understanding that is synonymous or in continuation with concepts like with ‘rule’ and ‘violence’ – as it is so often attested to in traditional conceptions of ‘power’ – blurs important distinctions that can allow us to see manifest differences in our political reality and, hence, to adequately grasp political freedom and democracy.

The course will follow up on these distinctions so as to provide an introduction to some of the most prominent aspects of the political philosophy of Hannah Arendt. At the core of the seminar will be a close reading of Arendt’s essay On Violence. As opposed to the more conceptual work I have done in my final thesis, the seminar will put a stronger focus on contextualisation. In order to reconstruct the historical situation of her critical commentary, we will also read many of the authors Arendt refers to in her essay, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Frantz Fanon, Max Weber, Konrad Lorenz and others. To the same end, we will read texts with a more historical focus (e.g. on the RAND corporation) and contemporary journalistic texts that Arendt refers to. Lastly, we will discuss newer contributions to political philosophy that reject Arendt’s conceptual distinction, e.g. Chantal Mouffe’s On the Political.

The main goals of the seminar are (1) to make undergraduate students familiar with how to read philosophical essays and how to reconstruct the context of a critique that was written for an earlier reader; (2) to introduce some of the main aspects of Arendt’s political philosophy; (3) to demonstrate the course of scientific debates in philosophy over time; and (4) to discuss in how far the concepts addressed in the seminar can help to understand the current profound changes in democratic politics.

New post at the University of Freiburg’s Husserl Archive

Since 01 October 2017, I work as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Freiburg’s Husserl Archive, chaired by Prof. Dr. Hans-Helmuth Gander. At first glance, not much will change. After all, I have been affiliated with the Husserl Archive ever since I started to work as a researcher at the Centre for Security and Society (CSS) and Prof. Gander was my supervisor for my dissertation. Furthermore, I will continue to work at the CSS as part of the EU project SERIOR. However, the new post gives me somewhat more freedom in choosing the kind of research topics I would like to pursue – especially with regard to a potential habilitation. Another major difference will be that new post entails that I become a regular staff member of the Department of Philosophy – and that means that I will now regularly teach undergraduate and graduate courses.

The Husserl Archive
Husserl Archive at the University of Freiburg (by Husserl-Archiv)

I am looking forward to gathering much more teaching experience with different levels of students over the next couple of years. In the academic year 2017-2018, I plan to revisit my earlier research on democratic theory and political philosophy. In the winter term, I will teach an undergraduate course on Hannah Arendt, in the summer term I plan a seminar either on contractualism or, a bit more broadly, on liberal conceptions of democracy.

Rethinking Surveillance and Control

After almost two years, I’m glad to say that the edited volume “Rethinking Surveillance and Control. Beyond the ‘Security versus Privacy’ Debate” has finally been published – so please indulge me by suffering some self-endorsement. The book was edited in cooperation with Elisa Orrù, a colleague here at Freiburg’s Centre for Security and Society, and Maria Grazia Porcedda, who by now, is a research fellow at the University of Leed’s School of Law, previously at EUI. The book is based on the contributions to the FRIAS Junior Researchers Conference the three of us organised together back in November 2015. The publishing of the book was generously funded by FRIAS and the Centre for Security and Society.

Elisa Orrù, Maria Grazia Porcedda, Sebastian Weydner-Volkmann (Eds.):
Rethinking Surveillance and Control. 
Beyond the 'Privacy versus Security' Debate.
Sicherheit und Gesellschaft Volume 12.
Baden-Baden: Nomos 2017. (ISBN 978-3-8487-3506-8)


The book is based on the premise that the metaphor of a trade-off between privacy and security (as it is so often used in politics) is not only unsound, but that it also conceals important aspects of the surveillance and control measures in question. Accordingly, the contributors to the edited volume analyse the symbiotic relationship between privacy and other liberties on the one side and security on the other. This underscores the emptiness of those concepts when considered in isolation. The contributions explore and contextualise different notions of risk, surveillance and control practices as well as the value of the rights to private life and data protection. Taken together, the contributions to the volume offer a kaleidoscope of perspectives, ranging from critical studies to international relations, law, philosophy and sociology.

Through contextualisation, going much further beyond the simplistic argument of having to “balance privacy against security”, the contributions show that surveillance and control measures neither (in a mono-dimensional sense) necessarily attain security, nor always pose a threat to privacy. And conversely, they show that protecting privacy does not necessarily hamper the provision of security. Instead, surveillance and control practices, mediated through technology, express and sustain specific power relationships and imply specific ethical, legal and societal conflicts that must be spelled out for the context in question.

Some (self-endorsing) features of the book

  • The book is highly topical, addressing the socio-political debate around the costs and benefits of measures of surveillance and control
  • It challenges the common conception that security can only be gained by giving up privacy and, conversely, that strengthening privacy and other fundamental rights hampers the provision of security
  • The book assembles contributions from across Europe and beyond
  • The book contributes to surveillance and control-related research topics such as privacy, data protection, power and issues of risk governance
  • The book also looks at data protection from a practitioner’s point of view, thanks to the contribution of the former Data Protection Commissioner for the State of Baden-Württemberg Jörg Klingbeil.

Table of Contents

Reinhard Kreissl

Elisa Orrù, Maria Grazia Porcedda, Sebastian Weydner-Volkmann

Beyond Balance: 
Targeted Sanctions, Security and Republican Freedom                             
Patrick Herron

Risk Based Passenger Screening in Aviation Security: 
Implications and Variants of a New Paradigm                                         
Sebastian Weydner-Volkmann

Debating Surveillance: 
A Critical Analysis of the post-Snowden Public Discourse                       
Thomas Linder

The Schengen Information System and Data Retention. 
On Surveillance, Security and Legitimacy in the European Union             
Elisa Orrù

The Recrudescence of ‘Security v. Privacy’ after the 2015 Terrorist Attacks, and the Value of ‘Privacy Rights’ in the European Union  
Maria Grazia Porcedda

Practical Experiences in Data Protection                                              
Jörg Klingbeil

Monitoring or Selecting? Security in Italy between Surveillance, Identification and Categorisation 
Enrico Gargiulo

Domestic Surveillance Technologies and a New Visibility                      
Michele Rapoport

Research blog kick-off

After quite a busy post-dissertation time, I finally want to kick-off my research blog. I currently plan to post at least every two weeks and to use this blog as a kind of public platform for “unpolished” ideas and early stage tests. Apart from posts related to the “product” of my research, I also want to write about the “process”, e.g. workflows and tools, as well as about the “context”, e.g. of the situation in my fields of research.

I currently do not plan to write about events or political debates as they unfold, so this blog is not meant to be a comment on current developments in politics or at my university. If I comment on such developments at all, I plan to do so with a certain time-lag and because I feel it is important to put things in a different context or because I believe that certain arguments have not been spelled out in full.

I have planned some posts over the last couple of weeks, but organisational things have kept me quite busy. I really hope that this blog helps me to get back into putting my thoughts into words and develop new ideas for my research. Let’s see how far my motivation will carry me.