PaperHive Conversations: Professor James Tully

James Tully is truly one of the most exciting and relevant researchers of Political Science and Philosophy of Law nowadays. The Professor at Victoria University discusses with us the book “On global citizenship“, a published dialogue between up-and-coming academic researchers like Duncan Bell (Cambridge), Robin Celikates (University of Amsterdam) and himself. Always balancing between the topics of multiculturalism, nationalism and civic engagement his work is worth a read in current conflictuos days, even and especially for the non-academic world. Professor James Tully gives us some insights into his thoughts about student engagement, his open browser tabs and the advantages of being a Canadian academic.

As a Professor in Canada, how would you describe your academic life in Canada at Victoria University? Are there notable differences between academic careers and goals between the US and Canada? If so, how would you explain them? 

Well, of course, there are similarities and dissimilarities between Canadian and US universities and between Canadian universities. The important feature of the University of Victoria is that it is the leading university in Canada for the promotion of community-based research. It also has great strengths in political and legal philosophy and theory and Indigenous governance, and these disciplines are connected to the community-based research networks in unique ways. There are hundreds of research and teaching projects where academics and students are engaged with members of communities both locally and globally in relationships of mutual learning from each other. These research and teaching networks cover a wide range of academic issues: the environment, inequality, poverty, global injustice, climate change, participatory democracy, violence against women, climate and war refugees, indigenous peoples, the renaissance of nonviolent forms of life and resistance, and so on. So, for a scholar like me, it is an excellent environment in which to work because there are academics and students working on these issues within their disciplines, yet, at the same time, engaging constructively with the community members they are writing about, with and for. Since my interest is precisely these kinds of “civic” or “Gaia” citizenship, and how these community-based organisations can join hands with “civil” citizens working within the legal and representative institutions, it is one of the best universities in North America for this kind of research and teaching. There are of course other universities in North America that also have this orientation.

How would you explain the broader significance of your research to other colleagues focused on a completely different field? You worked on several projects during the last decades with a variety & combination of  fields, how would you describe your personal view on interdisciplinarity in academic research programs?

This is a large topic. I find that the problems we seek to address in various disciplines cannot be comprehended from within one discipline. Therefore, we need to study them from multiple disciplines. And thus we need to re-organise our universities so they encourage academics and students to work with people in other disciplines and to try to ‘integrate’ the questions and answers each brings to the multidisciplinary dialogue of “reciprocal elucidation”, as the late Michel Foucault called it. “Integral Ecology” is a good example of this, but there are lots of other models and no one fits all. The dialogue between systems theory in the life and earth sciences and the human sciences; between Indigenous and Western ways of knowing and being; and between the Global South and the Global North are also important.

What are the three most important tabs regarding your research field currently open in your browser? Is there any other academic literature you would definitely recommend to junior researchers joining the field of political science, law and/or philosophy?

Nonviolence, earth democracy, Gaia citizenship.

How would you describe the specific impact of the publication „On global citizenship“, especially in regards to the main premises of your paper?

I hope the impact is, first, that readers will see the historical depth of the political problems we face today – of war, ecological crises, and global inequality – and how many of the processes of modernization that are presented as solutions to these problems, turn out to reproduce them. Second, I hope people will see that there are responses to these three problems that are not only “possible”, as the saying goes, but are “actual”, in the sense that millions of people are acting together to address these problems, both locally and networked globally, by means of “being the change” wherever they are located within the global system. This was Gandhi’s great insight. Transformative change does not come about by violent revolution or by reforms alone within the current vicious systems; but, rather by constructive programs that build alternative sustainable cyclical ecological economies, cradle to cradle technology, local participatory democracy, and fair trade networks within the present; by nonviolent agonistics with the unjust powers-that-be; and by joining hands with reformers within the dominant institutions. This vision was carried forward to North America by Richard Gregg, who lived and worked with Gandhi and then returned to North America.

I try to set out this hypothesis in “On Global Citizenship” and defend and improve it in response to the immensely helpful comments of the other authors in the volume. From this perspective, one of the main projects of the 21st century is to make this alternative modernity “visible”, to work out ways to coordinate all these activities democratically, and for academics and students to enter into mutually helpful relationships with them.

What if we at PaperHive had 5 minutes to recommend your book to someone we think would benefit greatly from it? How would we do it and which page(s) could we let that person read to get instantly hooked and get a sense of the gist?

Afterword: pp 84-100.

About the Author

Graduated in Philosophy and Performance Studies, currently graduating in Business Communication in Berlin. Highly focused on Brand/Designmanagement & Communication Strategy. Part of the Maker Movement, loves architecture, interior design, to cycle and concrete.