This issue brings together several essays in different fields of inquiry, from German Idealism to biopolitics. While they may appear to be disparate in their focus, the themes of autonomy, freedom, and identity nevertheless emerge as a common basic problematic.
Rundell ventures into the arcane world of Fichte’s Science of Knowledge to plumb its depths for the role of the imagination. Can Castoriadis’ notion of the creative imagination be found in the self-positing work of the finite and absolute ego? Such a discovery would not only deliver a Castoriadian reading of Fichte, but also shed light on an age old problem in the interpretation of Fichte’s critical Idealism. Moutsios‘ paper moves from the establishing of the autonomous subject in rational thought to the education and formation of that subject in the paradigmatic modern institution of autonomy, the university. From its basis in the tenets of the European Enlightenment, the university has striven to protect and promulgate the principles of free thought and criticism. However, academic autonomy, the traditional bedrock of this freedom in practice, is being undermined and dismantled by a different project that is antithetical to it. Moutsios here discusses the effects of the ‘Bologna Process’ on academic autonomy, and describes a possible turning point in the history of the university. Hamilton enters into the Foucauldian matrix of power, desire and institution to ask what can be salvaged for a political project that secures the needs of citizens while minimising the potential for domination. Freedom can be defined in both negative and positive ways; the liberal project of negative freedom may in fact set up systems of domination via the deferment of power to representatives, by turning a blind eye to their inevitable appearance. A more positive freedom could be attained through the active participation of citizens in the political processes that determine the structures of domination, rather than acting as though such domination did not exist.
Complicating further the identity of the subject is Duschinsky‘s essay on purity and impurity – Mary Douglas’ classic anthropological dualism that orders the world of symbolic things. Using more recent notions of discursive ontology, Duschinsky challenges Douglas’ universal and essentialist claims to the ordering power of the pure/impure. Rather than simply ordering the world on the basis of the rightful place of things, the symbolic power of purity is actually political, in the way that the complicated nature of a thing or subject is reduced to an essence, and then judged. This interpretation of purity/impurity, Duschinsky argues, is more accurate and sensitive, and leads to new understandings of the determination of subjects, for instance in nationalism. Finally, McVeigh analyses four key theorists of the notion of ‘belonging’. As with the politics of purity, the development of communal feelings of belonging to a body politic may depend upon the creation of insiders and outsiders. In religious rituals, the policing of boundaries, and the violent control of outsiders, the biological body becomes subject to the question of belonging. McVeigh sides with Esposito in arguing that only by viewing the inclusion of difference as essential to the vitality of the whole can this biopolitics of belonging bear a positive relation to life.
Re-reading Fichte’s Science of Knowledge after Castoriadis: The anthropological imagination and the radical imaginary
In many of his writings, Castoriadis argues that ‘the discovery of the imagination’ occurs in the works of Aristotle, Kant, Fichte, Freud, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. Although he has systematically encountered and interrogated the works of Aristotle, Kant, Freud, and Merleau-Ponty, the work of Fichte remains an enigmatic absence within the orbit of Castoriadis’ work. This study is an attempt to address this enigma through a close reading of Fichte’s The Science of Knowledge.
The de-Europeanization of the university under the Bologna Process
This essay discusses the changes promoted in European universities by the ‘Bologna Process’ and the ‘European Higher Education Area’. Through an analysis of the main policy documents and mechanisms, the paper demonstrates that the European Higher Education Area is designed to dismantle academic autonomy across the continent. Before setting out to examine this transnational policy process, the paper specifies in its first part the meaning of academic autonomy – a particular European creation, as it argues – through an overview of the historical material.
Power, domination and human needs
I elicit some of Foucault’s insights to provide a more realistic picture than is the norm in social and political theory of how best to identify and overcome domination. Foucault’s vision is realized best, I argue, by combining his account with two related conceptions of domination based on human needs and realistic accounts of politics that focus on agency, power and interests. I defend a genealogical, inter-subjective account of how the determination of needs and interests forms the basis of ascertaining, on a continuum, the extent to which relations of power generate states of domination. To that end I propose institutional changes that would empower citizens in positive and negative ways: power over legislation in district assemblies and via veto and repeal; real control over representatives through various means; and decennial constitutional plebiscites.
The politics of purity: When, actually, is dirt matter out of place?
In Purity and Danger, Douglas theorizes purity and impurity in terms of the instantiation and disruption of a shared symbolic order. Purity/impurity discourses act, according to Purity and Danger, as a homeostatic system which ensures the preservation of this social whole, generally encoding that which threatens social equilibrium as impurity. There have been calls for new social theory on this ‘under-theorized’ topic. Presenting such further reflections, I argue that Douglas’ account is less a full explanation than a regularity. Representations of purity are only secondarily symbols of the social order. Rather, purity/impurity discourses are only associated with ‘matter out of place’ when phenomena are assessed for their relative deviation from an imputed state of ‘self-identity’: qualitative homogeneity and correspondence with their essence. Purity and impurity do more than judge self-identity, however. They can play a fundamental role in its performative construction; they are well adapted for smuggling assumptions into our discourses regarding the essence of particular phenomena and forms of subjectivity, simplifying a complex world into a stark contrast between the dangerous and the innocent, the valuable and the valueless, the necessary and the contingent, the originary and the prosthetic, the real and the apparent, and the unitary and the fragmented.
The question of belonging: Towards an affirmative biopolitics
Relations of belonging are at the heart of biopolitical analysis. They determine, at the biological level, who is included in the polis and who is excluded from it. More abstractly, belonging is the conceptual mechanism of classification. By examining the specific relations of belonging within the biopolitical paradigms of four key works – Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Girard’s Violence and the Sacred, Agamben’s Homo Sacer, and Esposito’s Bios – this article will highlight the dynamic of classification at the heart of each. Doing so will make the question of belonging explicit and render the dialectic of inclusion/exclusion visible. More than simply emphasizing the centrality of belonging to biopolitical analysis, this article will demonstrate that any politic over life must ignore and deny an originary politic of life. Returning biopolitics to the question of belonging thus entails the affirmation of relation and the positive association of life itself.