POLITICAL VIOLENCE AND SOCIAL CONFLICT
VOL. 3, NO. 1, PGS. 1–8

ESPAÑOL

The Problem with Violence in Politics
A conversation with Kimberly Hutchings

This interview was conducted by Javier Toro.

Kimberly Hutchings is Professor of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary University of London. Her latest book is Can Political Violence Ever Be Justified?

What is politics? What is the purpose of politics?

My colleague, Elizabeth Frazer, and I in our forthcoming book Can Political Violence Ever be Justified? defined “politics” as being to do with: “winning, securing, stabilising, destabilising, deploying or challenging the power to govern”. This applies to state and non-state contexts and actors, and includes various kinds of mechanisms, from those of rhetoric through to those of violence. The purposes of politics will vary in the sense that they will relate to power struggles at many different levels, will involve co-operation as well as competition, and will be entangled with various kinds of taken-for-granted structural power (e.g. class, race, gender). In general, I am persuaded that there is an inherent link between politics and power, but would follow Foucault in seeing power as extending to micro levels of the formation of subjects as well as operating at the macro level to determine who rules, or who is excluded from government. As a feminist, I think of the personal as political. Gendered relations of power manifest themselves in everyday life as well as in high politics. Everyday and high politics have a variety of purposes. They may be about preserving or challenging particular values, social relations, policies or hierarchies. But they are inevitably also directed towards power, in the sense of being about the ability to express, communicate, control, change particular agendas. This may not always be to do with changing laws or winning elections, rather it may be to do with changing ways of thinking and seeing the world. So, my answer to the second question would be twofold: first, politics has many purposes; second, politics is always about power.

According to historical evidence, what has been the relationship between violence and politics?

It has clearly been an ever-present one. Violence is part of the repertoire of politics. Crudely speaking, we can see this in both “statist” and “revolutionary” traditions of thinking. For the statists, it is assumed that the state has the duty and right to use violence to preserve order —both internally to control its own population and against external enemies. If you look at the work of thinkers such as Machiavelli or Weber, you find a taken-for-granted link between politics, as the art of government, and the arts of policing and war. In revolutionary traditions, liberal, anarchist and socialist, violence is often deemed to be a necessary aspect of revolution. Locke made this claim in relation to the right of citizens to violently overthrow tyrants, thinkers such as Fanon make it in a different way when they identify violence as not a matter of right, but as a necessity in order to overturn an unjust social order. We should also, however, look at the question the other way round. Violence has a politics —it creates and reinforces relations of power at inter-individual and structural levels. It cannot be thought of as a tool, detached from those who use it or those who are its victims. Part of making judgments about violence in political life has to be thinking beyond violence in instrumental terms but as itself depending on and creating political relations between people, essentially relations of subordination between perpetrators and victims, but also sometimes relations of solidarity with fellow perpetrators or fellow victims.

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