Relationships and Responsibilities Conference, Dublin, 23-24 May

Royal Irish Academy – Copyright Adina Preda

23.-24. May 2017, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin

by Dr Alexa Zellentin

This conference in honour of Iseult Honohan’s work on the occasion of her retirement from UCD SPIRe brought together political theorists from all over Ireland and Europe to discuss papers on central themes of her work. Over the two days of the conference frequent reference was made to Iseult Honohan’s article Friends, strangers or countrymen? The ties between citizens as colleagues and we who are so fortunate as to be her colleagues thoroughly enjoyed taking her powerful vision of active citizenship as a starting point for addressing the normative challenges of our current political world.

Prof Iseult Honohan – Copyright Adina Preda

This world – even in the narrow frame of the so-called West – is much more divided than many of us were aware of. The divisions that recently emerged between Trump and Hillary voters, between Brexiters and Remainers, between those responding to the so-called European Migration Crisis with a culture of welcoming and those who build walls and fences, and between those who argue for austerity and those campaigning for pan-European solidarity and debt-release in view of the Euro Crisis often seem so deep that it raises severe questions as to what still unites us as citizens of particular countries or the EU. When we developed the theme for this conference – relationships and responsibilities – we were not yet fully aware of just how topical Iseult’s work would be today. What kind of relationship should we strive for as fellow members of any particular political unit? And which responsibilities follow from this relationship? How then should we best understand the purpose and the scope of our different polities? How should we think about understanding, granting, and/or limiting membership for each of them? And how should we balance their potentially competing demands?

Four panels each spearheaded by a renowned keynote speaker discussed different aspects of these questions. The panel on Attachment and Values included a keynote by Cécile Laborde on Cosmopolitan Patriotism as a Civic Ideal with a response by Attracta Ingram as well as papers by Cillian McBride (A Critical Theory of Domination), Suzanne Whitten (Recognition, Religious Offence, and Public Reasons), and Andrew Shorten (Domination and the Accommodation of Religious Diversity). The panel on Migration and Citizenship saw a keynote by Dora Kostakopoulou on Who is my Neighbour and Fellow Citizen? with a commentary by Graham Finlay as well as presentations from Kieran Oberman (‘Foreigners need not apply’ – Immigration Restrictions as Employment Discrimination), Rutger Birnie (Does Deportation Dominate?), and Ashwini Vasanthakumar (The Problem of Multiple Political Allegiances). The panel on Republican Obligation started with a keynote lecture by John Horton on Civic Republicanism and Associative Political Obligations with a response by Peter Stone. It also included papers by Jonathan Seglow (Citizen’s Duties), Sergi Morales Gálvez (Why Majority Groups Should Learn Minority Languages), and Jennifer Todd (Constitutional Moments and the Prospects of Everyday Emancipation). The final panel on Democracy and Leadership heard a keynote by Rainer Bauböck on ‘We and the People – Is there a Republican Response to Populism?’ to which Iseult Honohan herself responded. Presenters in this session were John William Devine (Private Lives and Public Office), Maeve Cooke (Non-Authoritarian Authority: Legitimacy at its Best), and Guy Aitchison (Republicanism, Popular Resistance, and the Idea of Rights.

We hope that this conference provided her with some food for thought and allows Iseult to start her “retirement” with a busy research agenda. We also hope to continue SPIRe’s proud tradition as Ireland’s centre for normative political theory and are hoping for the opportunity to discuss the results of all this inspiration in the Dublin Political Theory Workshop someday soon.

We are grateful for the generous support from UCD SPIRe and the PSAI making this event possible.

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