AUP graduation ceremony at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.

George and Irina Schaeffer Center

Emancipation and the Unjust Past

This is a virtual event | Registration required
Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - 17:00 to 18:15

Over their history, emancipatory movements and activists have drawn on the past in their struggles to change the present. Consider how the ‘witch-hunt’ in Early Modern Europe has fired feminists’ imagination over and over again or and how prison abolitionist movements’ have relentlessly denounced the institution of prison in the US as a continuation of slavery. What should be the relationship between unjust history and present emancipatory politics?

In this talk, I reflect on the normative significance of the unjust past by moving beyond the important discussions of reparations and public memory that have arguably dominated normative debates about the unjust past. I argue that an important reason why we should be concerned with an unjust history is its emancipatory force. I unpack two distinct dimensions of such a force: (i) the capacity that unjust history has to inspire revolutionary action and (ii) the existence of an intergenerational responsibility that present generations bear to continue the historical fight against oppression on behalf of those who were similarly oppressed in the past and are now dead.

I develop my account of the emancipatory force of the unjust past (both its inspiration-based and responsibility-based aspects) via an interpretation of Walter Benjamin’s reflections on the relation between unjust history and revolution and by looking at some cases of invocation of the unjust past in feminist and LGBTQ+ activist politics. My Benjaminian account vindicates important neglected aspects of the role that the unjust past plays in street-level emancipatory politics and places the status of oppressed past generations at the centre of struggles for liberation.


About Prof. Alasia Nuti

Alasia Nuti is Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Political Theory at the University of York. She previously held the position of Postdoctoral Fellow at Justitia Amplificata (Goethe-Universität of Frankfurt am Main and the Free University of Berlin) and received her PhD from the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. Alasia was awarded the Elizabeth Wiskemann Dissertation Prize for the Study of Inequality and Social Justice from the Political Studies Association. Her first book, Injustice and the Reproduction of History: Structural Inequalities, Gender and Redress was published with Cambridge University Press in 2019. Alasia’s research lies at the intersection of analytical political philosophy and critical theory. In particular, she is interested in historical injustice and memory, gender and sexuality, structural injustice, immigration and pluralism. Her work has appeared in journals like The Journal of Political Philosophy, Political Theory, Ethics & International Affairs and Feminist Theory.



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