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Democracy, subjectivity and voice: Emersonian perfectionism and radical democratic theory

Woodford, Clare M. (2010) Democracy, subjectivity and voice: Emersonian perfectionism and radical democratic theory University of Southampton, Politics and International Relations, Doctoral Thesis , 256pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)


Motivated by concern about growing social marginalisation and injustice in Western democracies, this thesis examines these issues from the perspectives of post-structuralist and perfectionist traditions of democratic political thought. Both traditions fear that dominant contemporary political theory, here represented by Rawlsian liberalism, is insufficiently attentive to voice. I seek to explore the critique put forward by each tradition, and demonstrate how in contrast to Rawls, the post-structuralists seek an open, revisable democracy, achieved via a culture of dissent or a democratic ethos. However, since post-structuralism lacks attention to the formation of democratic subjectivity I suggest that it may be productive to look to Cavell’s work on this topic, to help improve the post-structuralist ability to be attentive to the emergence of voice. Yet, given Cavell’s neglect of constructive social power, it becomes necessary to first bridge the gap between Cavell and the post-structuralists by examining the move from voicelessness to voice in more detail. I therefore propose using Rancière’s work on the development of subjectivity, complemented by reference to James Tully and Cristoph Menke, to show how Cavellian aversive thinking can help develop democratic subjects. This also leads me to challenge the strict nature of the divide that Rancière envisions between la politique and la police, making it possible for me to read Rancière as a call for political action, re-casting the ordinary as extraordinary. Hence I suggest that radical democratic political thinkers need to attend to the background police order to consider if it is possible to institutionalise conditions to encourage eruptions of politics, by supporting the cultivation and emergence of individual voice.

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Published date: 21 November 2010
Organisations: University of Southampton


Local EPrints ID: 179917
PURE UUID: 722ca0a8-6690-41b4-a729-fbd41cf306aa
ORCID for David Owen: ORCID iD

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Date deposited: 23 May 2011 07:51
Last modified: 18 Jul 2017 12:02

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Author: Clare M. Woodford
Thesis advisor: David Owen ORCID iD

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