The Politics of Agonism

The agonist tradition has introduced to political thought an account of politics that focuses on the integral role of power and conflict in the relations between participants in society. But the tradition seems to be insufficiently aware of its conceptual and normative underpinnings. This is especially true for the concepts of power and conflict which lie at the heart of agonist accounts of politics. Despite stressing the importance of context to determining the norms which govern societies, agonists maintain a commitment to certain strong normative assumptions, such as the idea of mutually respectful behaviour of political agents and the desirability of perpetual contestation. Agonists also have very particular expectations for the goals which political engagement ought to achieve: They tread an unclear line between modifying existing liberal institutions and replacing them wholesale with socialist alternatives, which has led to an impasse in agonist thinking about concrete solutions to current political problems.

The workshop convenors invite contributions from multiple perspectives and approaches that critically engage with agonistic political theory, and specifically encourage submissions which address the following topics:

(1) historical origins of agonism and antagonism,             

(2) conceptual critique and contemporary developments of agonism,       

and applications to        

(3) democratic institutions and                 

(4) political economy.

With regard to theory, the workshop invites papers that look at agonism’s conceptual and normative underpinnings, specifically the underlying concepts of conflict, power, and the political. In addition to this conceptual critique, the workshop aims at engaging with appropriations of historical concepts by contemporary agonism, and the distinction of the latter from earlier thinkers such as Schmitt, Arendt, and Nietzsche. More specifically, possible themes include:

–      Agonistic concepts of the political, distinctions between politics and the political, and assumptions about the relation between contest and hostility;

–      Normative assumptions about the purpose of political engagement, the desirability of contestation, and the regulation of conflict in society;

–      Agonistic critiques of liberalism and the underlying goals to either modify existing institutions or replace them wholesale with non-liberal alternatives;

–      Historical manifestations of agon, their metaphysical and theological premises, and the institutional context of ancient practices of contestation;

With regard to praxis, the workshop invites contributions that engage with the agonistic theory of political institutions and the economic implications of agonism. As for political institutions, the focus is on how agonistic visions of radical democracy contrast with theories of deliberative democracy that equally stress the importance of participation and discursive contestation, and how agonistic goals such as enhanced inclusion play out in practice. As for the economic implications of agonism, the workshop aims at returning to the anti-capitalist leanings of its origin in critical theory in order to explore how agonistic political theory could better engage with the power implications of wealth inequalities, and the institutional means of redressing them. In this context, the workshop invites contributions that respond to problems such as:

–      Assumptions regarding the loci of difference-resolution in society and how they bear upon the application of agonism to political institutions;

–      The need for conclusive decision-making in light of urgent political problems and the apparent shortcomings of agonistic theory in this regard;

–      Agonistic alternatives to the prevailing hegemony in the international political economy and their implications for public policy formulation;

–      The apparent failure of agonistic theory to account for issues of redistribution and attempts to reconcile the latter with an agonistic politics of recognition;

Please email an abstract (up to 500 words) as an anonymized attachment to thepoliticsofagonism@gmail.com by 15 June 2013. Please include contact details in the body of the email.

More details can be found at thepoliticsofagonism.wordpress.com

Panel Convenors:

Annette Zimmermann (Oxford)

Email: annette.zimmermann@stx.ox.ac.uk

Marius Ostrowski (Oxford)

Email: marius.ostrowski@magd.ox.ac.uk

 

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