Spectacles and spectres: political trials, performativity and scenes of sovereignty

Ertür, Başak. 2015. Spectacles and spectres: political trials, performativity and scenes of sovereignty. Doctoral thesis, Birkbeck, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Political trials are generally understood as extraordinary events in the life of liberal democracies, dramatically staging claims to and contests over political authority and legitimacy. Notably, political trials often attract commentary on their theatrics whereby the spectacle becomes a matter of uneasy scrutiny, despite the tacit crosscultural acknowledgment that the trial is an inherently theatrical form. This thesis is an attempt to conceptualise the political operations and effects of the relation between performance and performativity in trials, treating these as separate but related terms. It proposes a new framework for studying political trials by drawing on theories of performativity (J.L. Austin, Jacques Derrida, Judith Butler, Shoshana Felman, Stanley Cavell) which assist not only in rethinking the role and effects of performance in trials, but also in introducing a multivalence to the meaning of 'political' in political trials. In other words, performative theory allows the formulation of the politics of trials beyond its standard conception in terms of the utilisation of legal procedure for political ends or expediency, instead attuning us to the unconscious processes, inadvertent gestures, ghostly operations, structural infelicities and other similar dynamics that recast the political effects of legal proceedings. This thesis is therefore an attempt to conceptualise the spectacles and spectres of justice at the intersection of law and politics. In addition to incorporating brief discussions of various 20th and 21st century political trials to develop this theoretical framework, it offers close studies of three cases: the 1921 Berlin trial of Soghomon Tehlirian, and two contemporary 'deep state' trials from Turkey: the Ergenekon trial, and the Hrant Dink murder trial. A sustained concern is with legacies of political violence, how they are addressed or contained by law, and how they are perpetuated by law.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures
Visual Cultures > Centre for Research Architecture


9 January 2015

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

10 Oct 2023 13:07

Last Modified:

10 Oct 2023 13:07



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