alterity / other

"The negative construction of ....others is finally what founds and sustains European identity itself." (Hardt and Negri) For Hegel, the effort to overcome the Other is simultaneously an effort to overcome self- consciousness' own otherness to itself. Hegelian negativity simultaneously restored and systematized, unleashed and bound the power of the Other, against and within the consciousness of the Same. In the work of self-consciousness, which is desire in general, the subject finds ways to integrate what at first seems to lie outside itself. But during the ongoing course of this process, the subject changes, to the point that the subject can be considered only a term for the process that it accomplishes. 

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"Commodities can provisionally be defined as objects of economic value." (Arjun Appadurai, "Commodities and the politics of value," in The Social Life of Things, p 3)This economic value, following Simmel, is defined as a reciprocal formation in the possibilities of exchange. "The sacrifice or renunciation that is interposed between man and the object of his demand is, at the same time, the object of someone else's demand. The one has to give up possession or enjoyment that the other wants in order to persuade the latter to give up what he owns and the former wants." (The Philosophy of Money, p 78)

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In the Gramscian tradition, hegemony is the historical ability of a given class to legitimate its claim to establish political institutions and cultural values able to mobilize the majority of the society, while fulfilling its specific interests as the new dominant class. (Manuel Castells)

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identity politics

The concept of identity claims the virtue that, unlike 'reductionist' or 'essentialist' notions such as class, it can encompass - equally and without prejudice or privilege - everything from gender to class, from ethnicity or race to sexual preference. The 'politics of identity', then, purports to be both more fine-tuned in its sensitivity to the complexity of human experience and more inclusive in its emancipatory sweep than the old politics of socialism.

The laden phrase “identity politics” has come to signify a wide range of political activity and theorizing founded in the shared experiences of injustice by members of certain social groups. Rather than organizing solely around belief systems, programmatic manifestos, or party affiliation, identity political formations typically aim to secure the political freedom of a specific constituency marginalized within its larger context. Members of that constituency assert or reclaim ways of understanding their distinctiveness that challenge dominant oppressive characterizations, with the goal of greater self-determination. (From Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) What is crucial about the “identity” of identity politics appears to be the experience of the subject, especially his or her experience of oppression and the possibility of a shared and more authentic or self-determined alternative.

It is easy to see how critics of identity politics, and even some cautious supporters, have feared that it is prone to essentialism, another philosophical term of abuse. Either the defining features one-dimensional, as if being Asian-American, for example, were entirely separable from being a woman, or generalizations made about particular social groups in the context of identity politics may come to have a disciplinary function within the group, not just describing but also dictating the self-understanding that its members should have.

Racism attempts to reduce members of social groups to their racial features, drawing on a complex history of racial stereotypes to do so. Advocates of color-consciousness argue that racism will not disappear without proactive efforts, which require the invocation of race. Thus affirmative action, for example, requires racial identification and categorization, and those working against racism face a paradox familiar in identity politics: the very identity they aim to dispel must be invoked to make their case. Without recourse to the white masculine middle-class ideal, politicized identities would forfeit a good deal of their claims to injury and exclusion, their claims to the political significance of their difference. (Wendy Brown, States of Injury)

For Wendy Brown, following Nietzche, the wounds that underlie the politics of identity lead to ressentiment, a powerless over the past— a past of injury, a past as a hurt will, as a "reason" for the "unendurable pain" of social powerlessness in the present.


The word "ideology" was originally coined by Count Destutt de Tracy, a French rationalist philosopher of the late eighteenth century to define a "science of ideas." For de Tracy, ideology formed "a part of zoology" (i.e. biology) The concept of ideology was developed in Marxian thought as a term through which to articulate the relation between the realm of culture and the realm of political economy. For Marx, the proper method for analyzing concepts is one which retraces the steps from the abstract concept back to its concrete origin.

"If in all ideology men and their relations appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-processes as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-processes." Karl Marx, The German Ideology. (note the analogy between physiology in perception and social life in thought, both function as the concrete origins, if not as determinants.)

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The "local" is a politically contested concept. Is it a site of resistance to globalization and the hegemonic ideological systems that go under the names of the West, McWorld, and EMPIRE? Is the local the only viable link to tradition, or is it a source of fascisms, of ethnic atavisms, of all the raging cultural fundamentalisms and defensively defined communities that Benjamin Barber calls jihad ? 

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The political representative of the Dalai Lama objected to the word "victory" in a UN resolution drafted by Dag Hammerskjold in support of the Tibetan struggle with the Chinese. When asked what they would call a state of affairs in which their side won, he answered, "We do have words for that. We call that very excellent best peace." 

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The tradition of Platonic and idealistic philosophy separates theory from practice in much the same way as it does mind from body, privileging in both cases the "conceptual" (or moral) over the "material".

Praxis philosophies give primacy to a theory of action. The original expression is Aristotle's and refers to a symbolically meaningful activity, whose very doing, not its result, is the fulfillment of a cultural commitment. It can be defined as meaning rather than function.

For the Frankfurt school in its earlier period, prior to 1937, truth was defined as "a moment of correct praxis." Subsequently, in the face of Fascism and Stalinism, the relation between theoretical truth and the political praxis of specific social groups began to appear increasingly remote.

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According to the liberal tradition, the modern individual, at home in its private spaces, regards the public as its outside. The outside is the place proper to politics, where the action of the individual is exposed in the presence of others and there seeks recognition. (This is the notion of the political elaborated by Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition, which she calls the space of public appearance 
Public space is civic space. It is the space of civil society, shared by citizens -- individuals who have aquired a public voice and understand themselves to be part of a wider community. 

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