It’s over and so it’s starting

Quite a hiatus here as far as the blog posts are concerned – but then again that’s not really something extraordinary around here is it.

So the long race for the presidency is over. It will be interesting to see how Obama‘s presidency will fare – I know, the higher the expectations, the higher one might fall, but still I’d like to believe that doing at least somewhat better than the previous administration won’t actually be that difficult. Obama’s win is grounds for optimism, I believe.

But for the moment, nothing much changes in the day-to-day execution of the research project. I’m no longer downloading new material, but digging through the already archived data and trying to analyze its contents. It will still be a lengthy process.

Apart from the Twitter survey for next week’s conference, Chantal Mouffe’s “On the Political” has been keeping me busy lately. I have now finished it. I think it’s really important in that it stresses the necessity of conflict in human relations, or rather, the constitutive nature of conflict in human relations; and points to the importance of collective identity and alterity (the we / they distinction which, according to Mouffe, always has the potential to turn into an antagonistic conflict).

However, if I agree with her in criticizing Habermas for his overlooking of particular aspects of communication and identity formation, I also think that there is a key element missing from her thesis, notably the description of just how exactly agonistic politics could work in practice? What are the institutions and processes through which conflicts can be given an agonistic way to play out? And, most importantly, if parties – adversaries – agree only on some basic common premises that make political communication possible, but they don’t expect problems to have rational solutions, then how should argumentation take place? What kind of arguments should one use in a debate where they set off with the premise that the outcome will not be justifiable by rational arguments?

If Mouffe is right in that Habermas overlooks the importance of conflict (although I think she slightly exaggerates Habermas’ perceived near-sightedness), I also think she is wrong in overlooking the importance of reason and rational debate in political communication.

Mouffe, Chantal (2005): On the Political. New York: Routledge. (In the “Thinking in Action” series, edited by Simon Critchley and Richard Kearney.)

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