Demos21 Inaugural Lecture Asks: What Is Engagement?


On Friday, December 11, 2020, the Center for Critical Democracy Studies (CCDS) 鈥 a research center at The American University of Paris dedicated to promoting the practice, study and life of the democratic 鈥 hosted the inaugural lecture in its year-long upcoming event series, Demos21. Throughout 2021, lectures, workshops, roundtables and readings have been scheduled, with the aim of analyzing the role of the 鈥渄emos鈥 鈥 a word originating in Ancient Greece and referring to the common populace 鈥 in the 21st-century. Demos21 aims to explore how we may build political and social solidarity within and beyond the nation in order to confront today鈥檚 essential challenges 鈥 be it climate change, racial injustice or radical inequality.

The inaugural talk invited French philosopher 脡tienne Balibar as a guest speaker. Balibar, addressing an audience via video link from BT天堂鈥檚 Combes Student Life Center, discussed the fundamental question: 鈥淲hat is engagement?鈥 The lecture was organized in partnership with the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory (IFDT) at the University of Belgrade and the Center for Advanced Studies 鈥 Southeast Europe (CAS SEE) at the University of Rijeka. Prior to the talk, 脡tienne Balibar received IFDT鈥檚 annual 鈥淢iladin 沤ivoti膰鈥 award for critical engagement, which was presented to the philosopher by IFDT director Gazela Pudar Dra拧ko. Professor Stephen Sawyer, director of CCDS, commented, upon welcoming the event鈥檚 worldwide audience: 鈥淚 cannot think of a more fitting topic to honor the memory of Miladin 沤ivoti膰 and to launch our shared reflections on the transformations of the demos in the twenty-first century.鈥

Balibar began his lecture by stressing that the French word 鈥engagement,鈥 to which he would refer throughout his talk, was a concept that translates in English as both engagement and commitment. 鈥淭o speak about engagement is inevitably to speak, reflect, meditate or ruminate about oneself,鈥 he explained. 鈥淥ne鈥檚 history, one鈥檚 life, one鈥檚 actions, one鈥檚 achievements, one鈥檚 errors, one鈥檚 failures and one鈥檚 mistakes.鈥 Balibar鈥檚 focus was on the partisan activity of intellectuals who had decided to defend, illustrate and support some kind of political, social or moral code and who, therefore, found it necessary to join some kind of movement. Aiming to provide a broad, introductory overview of his response to the evening鈥檚 principal question, Balibar drew on the works of thinkers such as Jean Paul Sartre, Theodor Adorno and Karl Marx to explore how engagement can be defined in the context of intellectualism.

Following the talk, an audience discussion was moderated by Professor Philip Golub (BT天堂) and BT天堂 alumna Zona Zaric (IFDT).