John Keane is Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney and at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB). He is the Director of the newly-founded Sydney Democracy Network (SDN). Renowned globally for his creative thinking about democracy, John Keane was educated at the Universities of Adelaide and Toronto (where he was mentored by C.B.Macpherson) and King’s College, University of Cambridge.
Well before the European revolutions of 1989, he first came to public prominence as a defender of ‘civil society’ and the democratic opposition in central and eastern Europe. His political and scholarly writing during that period was often published under the pen name Erica Blair. In 1989 he founded the world’s first Centre for the Study of Democracy in London. During his many years living in Europe, The Times ranked him one of Britain’s leading political thinkers and writers whose work has 'world-wide importance'. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has described him as “one of Australia’s great intellectual exports".
Among his best-known books are The Media and Democracy (translated into more than 25 languages); the best-selling biography Tom Paine: A Political Life (2009); a new interpretation of the gains and losses of globalisation Global Civil Society? (2003); Violence and Democracy (2004); and the recently published Democracy and Media Decadence (2013). He writes a column for the London/Melbourne-based web platform The Conversation. His Life and Death of Democracy was short-listed for the 2010 Non-Fiction Prime Minister's Literary Award. It is the first full-scale history of democracy for over a century. Portuguese, Greek, Brazilian and Japanese translations have appeared and Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Arabic editions are on their way.
Disquiet and disaffection are spreading through the drought fields of democracy. The trends demand unorthodox political thinking, a new sense of urgency about democracy’s strengths and weaknesses. But fresh democratic thinking requires different methods of saying things, of exposing silences and taken-for-granted presumptions. The academic article and the book are poorly suited to the task. Notebooks are a better medium for doing these things: they’re a democratic form of writing, as I try to show in a new column for the Melbourne-based web platform The Conversation. Made up of broken and interrupted fragments, they grip the ground but don’t suppose they own it. The democracy notebooks expose perplexities and pose question marks. But as you read them please remember: there are no known maps, timetabled destinations or guaranteed safe passages.
The Democracy Field Notes series is also available to Spanish readers.
Pushed and pulled in different directions by government policies and market forces, modern universities try hard to be public institutions for the public good. Fond of proclamations, their efforts are impressive – sources of hope in times when many people feel things are not going well. (Image left – The University of Sydney Quadrangle) The [...]
In Hong Kong, Occupy Central plans to stage a mass sit-in on the streets of Central to protest Beijing’s decision to restrict free and fair elections in 2017. A week-long strike by students begins on September 22. In this 2SER radio interview, John Keane analyses the mounting public tensions. Listen to the audio: 2SER 107.3
The following remarks were presented at a recent public forum in Sydney to celebrate the launch of Kerry Brown’s Carnival China: The People’s Republic in the era of Hu Jintao; Essays on Politics, Society and Culture. They tackle the issue of how best to understand the confused and confusing political dynamics of contemporary China. (IMAGE [...]
Politics is a language game: in any given context, who gets what, when and how invariably depends on how things with no ‘essential’ or ‘naturally given’ meaning come to be defined, categorised and named. Briefly in Botswana for talks, and to learn more about its uniquely African-style democracy, my senses quickly tune in to the [...]
5 July, 2014 There’s a time-tested ‘law’ in the history of modern self-government: when a bounded nation-state democracy prosecutes war abroad, the spirit and institutions of its democracy are usually vandalised at home. The Life and Death of Democracy analyses many historical instances of a rule that most definitely applies to the Abbott government’s Operation [...]
24 June, 2014 The following field notes grapple with the problem of how to understand the emergent polity of Antarctica, and why its break with the language and politics of sovereignty is of global significance. The remarks were prepared for a workshop hosted by the Antarctica Futures project, Sydney Democracy Network, University of Sydney, Tuesday [...]
3 June, 2014 Most people know from daily experience that memories are vital for their sense of well-being. Memory is the bearer of lavish gifts. It strengthens our capacity for living in the present. Memory brings direction. It prompts us to move on, to imagine different futures. When it comes to whole political orders, the [...]
29 April, 2014 The following commentary on the Abbott government’s policy of forcibly preventing people from seeking asylum within Australia has aroused considerable controversy. Several thousand public and private comments, from a wide variety of sources, have so far been received. More than a few readers have seen the point of calling troubling things by [...]
20 April, 2014 Readers interested in the emerging politics of the human/non-human and the deep and difficult tensions between capitalism and democracy are bound to find stimulating a recent public lecture by one of the world’s leading social scientists, Bruno Latour. Delivered in late February 2014 at the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences in Copenhagen, [...]
The following remarks on love and politics were first delivered at a welcome symposium for all first-year humanities and social science students in the Great Hall, the University of Sydney, 27th February 2014: Good morning and a warm welcome to the University of Sydney. I was asked by our Dean of the Faculty of Arts [...]