Inimkond: Current Issues in Anthropology and Beyond
April 24th, 2013
Toward a New Universalism: Radical Thinking, Equality, Community
Tallinn University, Estonia
The attempt to isolate species-specific properties of the human being has had a central role in Western philosophical thought, political theory and practice. From the Aristotelian “speaking/political animal” to Marxian “producing beings”, philosophers’ universal definitions of humanity have often been at the basis of our understanding of society and community, becoming the grounding ideals of political movements and institutions.
In the second half of the 20th century, this universalistic stance has been thoroughly criticized from both a philosophical and political point of view. Anthropology, poststructuralist and postcolonialist approaches, cultural studies have all been at pain to disclose the actually always partial, interested, excluding and, therefore, imperialistic and violent character of universal definitions of the human being. The process of decolonization of the 40s-60s and the raising of identity politics in Western societies of the 70s seemed to release “all the difference in the world”, emancipating previously repressed ways of living and making community.
Nowadays, this kind of theoretical approaches and political attitudes have run into serious trouble. The alternative and liberating differences of postmodern politics (oppressed people, women, blacks, homosexuals, and so on) are being everywhere replaced by the reappearance of essentialist and excluding identities (ethnic, national, religious). Contemporary identity politics canalizes the fear and uncertainty which characterize our societies into communitarian self-enclosure and hostility against everything that seems to somehow endanger it.
On the background of the shortcomings of contemporary identity politics, the seminar will explore the possibility for a renewed philosophico-political commitment with universalism today. We will discuss the ideas of radical thinkers such as Alain Badiou, Giorgio Agamben, Jacques Rancière, Jean-Luc Nancy who share a critical attitude towards both poststructuralism and Marxism and try to elaborate a new understanding of politics and community which recuperates the universalist tradition rethinking it in an antiessentialist way.
What would a universal look like if we imagine it as an infinite, open process instead of as the grounding essence of humanity? How to avoid the reduction of the universal to concrete, particular contents, which would become a criterion of socio-political inclusion/exclusion? Can a human community possibly embody an empty universal in a never-ending process of becoming? What does this all tell us about the present (and the future) of humanity? We will discuss these questions focusing on a central issue for the Western universalist discourse: the notion of ‘equality’.
Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.
Alain Badiou, Saint Paul. The Foundation of Universalism. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003
Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 1991: 1-42.
Jacques Rancière, Disagreement. Politics and Philosophy. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.
About the speaker
Danielle Monticelli is Chair of the Department of Romance Studies at Tallinn University, and Associate Professor of Italian Studies and Semiotics at the University’s Institute of Germanic and Romance Languages and Cultures. He has previously help positions at the Estonian Institute of Humanities and at the University of Tartu. Danielle holds an MA in Philosophy from the University of Milan, and a PhD in Semiotics and Cultural Theory from the University of Tartu. He has conducted and widely published research on translation, semiotics, literature, and philosophy of science.
About the seminar series
Inimkond: Current issues in anthropology and beyond
This seminar series features speakers from anthropology and related fields, and fosters discussion of their research with a transdisciplinary audience. It aims to contribute to the culture of academic scholarship and debate at Tallinn University. Speakers include both local researchers and guests from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and with various takes on anthropological theory and methods. Presentations in the seminar series will be of interest to staff and students in anthropology, cultural theory, sociology, and history, among others.