Spectacles and Specters: A Performative Theory of Political Trials


Thu Feb 16 2023 at 06:00 pm to 07:30 pm


University of London Institute in Paris | Paris, IL

Join Başak Ertür in conversation with Shela Sheikh about her new book, Spectacles and Specters: A Performative Theory of Political Trials.
About this Event

Join Başak Ertür in conversation with Shela Sheikh about her new book, Spectacles and Specters: A Performative Theory of Political Trials (New York: Fordham University Press, 2022).

Spectacles and Specters draws on theories of performativity to conceptualise the entanglements of law and political violence, offering a radical departure from accounts that consider political trials as instrumental in exercising or containing political violence. Legal scholar Başak Ertür argues instead that making sense of the often incalculable interpenetrations of law, politics, and violence in trials requires shifting the focus away from the instrumentality of law to its performativity.

Ertür develops a theory of political trials by reconstructing and building on a legacy of critical thought on Nuremberg in close engagement with theories of performativity. She then offers original case studies that introduce a new perspective by looking beyond the Holocaust trials, to the Armenian genocide and its fragmentary legal aftermaths. These cases include the 1921 trial of Soghomon Tehlirian, the 2007–21 Hrant Dink M**der Trial, and the 2015 case before the European Court of Human Rights concerning the denial of the Armenian genocide. 

Enabling us to capture the various modalities in which the political emerges in, through and in relation to legal forms on the stage of the trial, this focus on law’s performativity also allows us to account for how sovereign schemes can misfire and how trials can come to have unintended political lives and afterlives. Further, it reveals how law is entangled with and perpetuates certain histories of violence, rather than simply ever mastering these histories or providing closure.

About the Speakers

Başak Ertür is Senior Lecturer in Law and co-director of the Centre for Law & the Humanities at Birkbeck School of Law. She is currently also a Research Fellow at Forensic Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London. She is the editor of  (2011) and co-editor of  (2008), as well as Something Is Rotten in the State, a special issue of Theory & Event. Recent articles have appeared in , ,  and in the edited collections  and . Her first monograph Spectacles and Specters: A Performative Theory of Political Trials, was published by Fordham University Press in 2022. Başak has translated work by Judith Butler, Lauren Berlant, and Val Plumwood into Turkish. She is also the co-director and co-producer of the documentary film, (2007).

Shela Sheikh is Senior Lecturer in International Politics at ULIP. In recent years her work has focused on colonialism and ecology. Publications include ‘The Wretched Earth: Botanical Conflicts and Artistic Interventions’, a special issue of Third Text co-edited with Ros Gray (2018). Her current research, which takes a decolonial perspective, interrogates various forms of witnessing between the human, technological and environmental, as well as experimental and performative forums for environmental justice claims such as tribunals and staged hearings. Part of this latter area of research was presented at , co-convened with Zuleikha Chaudhari at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin) in 2022, with the participation of Başak Ertür.


Where is it happening?

University of London Institute in Paris, 9 -11 Rue de Constantine, Paris, France

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University of London Institute in Paris

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