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Ordinary ethics and democratic life: Palestine-Israel in British universities


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This is an ethnographic study of student politics relating to Palestine-Israel within British universities. Palestine-Israel has been a focal issue within British campuses for over four decades, manifesting in intense, high profile conflicts, which have been subject to competing political and media framings. In this thesis, I identify this as a case of what Nancy Fraser (2008) describes as 'abnormal justice', a situation of incommensurable, spiralling conflicts over the 'what', 'how' and 'who' of political community. I show how students' engagement with Palestine-Israel raises spectres of entangled histories of the Holocaust and colonialism, and tensions over the national versus global boundaries of the polity. Moving beyond abstract portrayals of this as a conflict between discrete ethno-religious groups or autonomous moral actors, I attend to students' complex personal experiences of these political dynamics. My central argument is that PalestineIsrael exerts discomforting, at times irreconcilable, claims over participating students, arising out of violent histories, ongoing racisms, complex transnational attachments and " the rationalism of post-imperial British universities. I trace how unsettling ambiguities and a desire for moral coher.,e nce are enacted within this campus politics, analysing how institutional practices of containment and shaming lead to 'tragic' moments of passionate aggression, which then circulate in the media. Contributing to a cross-disciplinary turn towards affect, aesthetics and ethics in the study of public spheres, I stake a claim for responsive ethnography with ethical ambitions. I do so by drawing our attention beyond spectacular political conflicts, showing how students cultivate reflexive practices and express uncertainty, care and commitment within overlooked, 'ordinary' spaces of the campus. In these ways, I show how attending to intersubjective political experience provides vital insights into the motivations and desires at stake in justice conflicts, and operis up expansive possibilities for reflexivity and creativity within the public institutions of democratic societies



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Sheldon, Ruth Ordinary ethics and democratic life: Palestine-Israel in British universities. University of Kent. 2013:  https://archive.jpr.org.uk/object-uk263