Towards a phenomenology of social change



Raphael Aybar: Levinas and Luhmann on Social Invisibility. A dialogue between Sociology and Phenomenology Concerning Exclusion.

      Niklas Luhmann’ social theory understands the unity of society in a systemic approach. In this theory, society must be understood as an autopoietic system. Society is composed by elements or parts which interact between themselves, and the result of this interaction is the creation of autonomous structures which determine the parts or elements of the society. Exclusion, in this theory, is a property of the entities which cannot form part of the different flows of the society. Luhmann himself recognized the problems of this theoretical frame to understand exclusion as excluded people are not part of the different social systems. Therefore, he stated that the theories of society cannot give a positive description of exclusion, because its condition of non-social phenomenon. Instead of that, excluded people are in fact excluded from society or are not a part of the social body. Considering this, how can we describe excluded people capacities if they are invisible in their society?My intent is to explore this experience by using Emmanuel Levinas’ analysis of Otherness or Alterity. Levinas’ phenomenology brings a frame to comprehend the capacities of people excluded from systemic orders. A positive description of excluded people must characterize the capacity of them to interact with society. This interaction is possible as the constitution of the sociality depends on the interaction of social bodies. The excluded people are still part of the society; they are non-categorized social bodies. Levinas phenomenology describe the potential of this social bodies to critic other parts of the society and generate new senses in the society. Consequently, it is not correct to understand that exclusion can be overcome by making excluded people part of the society, in terms of integration, because they can generate new systemic orders in their society. It is more precise to consider their integration in terms of enabling them to modify social body structure, because included people already have this capacity.

Mikhail Belousov: Is the Historical Way to the Reduction Possible?

     The paper examines the question of whether it is possible, taking into account the socio-historical facticity of our existence, to retain the fundamental intuition of classical (husserlian) phenomenology about the need to go beyond the horizon of the world in order to understand it. At first glance, the socio-historical rooting of any questions (including philosophical ones) and any comprehension in the life-world makes the epoche in the Husserlian sense impossible as an occupation of the position of the disinterested spectator and the disclosure of the transcendental dimension beyond the world. If the essence of subjectivity in the broad sense of the word is being in the world, being involved in the world, and therefore belonging to a particular world situation, then to commit a transcendental epoche means to destroy the fundamental structure of experience and close your own way to understanding it.
     But does "being in the world" mean "being a part of the world"? Does the thematization of the world as a horizon mean the continuing movement in the horizon of the world with its self-evident tradition, self-evident to such a degree that it no longer appears for us as tradition and history? If these questions should be answered in the negative, and understanding of the world really requires going beyond the limits of the world, a new question arises before phenomenology, namely the question of how to understand this understanding itself, that is, going beyond the limits of the world - as a volitional change of attitude that puts us "above the world", or as a "self-transcendence" of the world, thanks to which not so much we go beyond the world, taking the position of the "disinterested spectator" in relation to it, as the world itself goes beyond its limits, or we, as existing in the world, go beyond ourselves. The first alternative was realized by Husserl in two different versions: "Cartesian" (first of all, in Ideas) and within the framework of the theme of the problem of the vital world in the "Crisis of European Sciences". I will try, starting from the consideration of the two main ways to the epoche in Husserl's phenomenology, to analyse the second alternative, implicitly contained, but nevertheless, as will be demonstrated, not realized by Husserl in criticizing the Cartesian path to reduction and posing the problem of the life-world in Crisis. Historicity and the phenomenon of social change closely intertwined with it can be interpreted as a resource of the world's "self-transcendence", allowing one to accomplish an epoche without engaging in the absolute and, in a certain sense, the external position of the "disinterested spectator" above the world.

Jan Bierhanzl: Action, Inoperativeness and Interdependence. Agamben and Butler

 In contemporary thought, in Giorgio Agamben’s concept of inoperativeness, we find an attempt to go beyond the dichotomy between act and sacrifice, between labour as a production of the self (Marx) and a work as a gift of the self (Levinas). For Agamben, it is not a matter of pitting the gift of the self against an act conceived of as “fulfilment and manifestation of potential”, but rather “the capacity to deactivate something and render it inoperative - power, a function, a human operation - without simply destroying it but by liberating the potentials that have remained inactive in it in order to allow a different use of them”. Art and politics are the two models of this paradoxical operation, an operation which consists of rendering inoperative all the works of man. Unlike Levinas and even Marx, Agamben insists that inoperativeness is a serious ontological and political problem. In the present paper, we will attempt to examine the problem of weak action as a political problem. How can we describe the messianic coming community, one which will be characterised by an essential inoperativeness? In other words: what are the figures of the new “weak” political action? We will, throughout, consecrate the present paper to two of them: to the coming, inoperative community (Agamben), and to the assembly of the performative and embodied plurality (Butler).

Irene Breuer: Social Change and the Experience of Exile: Towards a ´Narrative Diversity‘ Emerging from the Reconfiguration of both Collective and Individual Identities.

     The exile is the existential limit experience of otherness par excellence; it results from the encounter of selfhood and otherness and inevitably leads to social change insofar as the reconfiguration of both, individual and collective identities are herein involved. On the one hand, the feelings of isolation, unsettledness and/or homesickness and the loss of speech or uncertainty of language imply an initial rejection of the foreign culture and/or the withdrawal of the self. On the other hand there nevertheless arises a progressive and nuanced appropriation of originally foreign habits, attitudes or views, which point to a threshold between selfhood and otherness, whose limits even if they may be displaced cannot be completely effaced: „The exile is a fissure, which becomes deeper day by day“ (M. Benedetti 1986, “No era rocío”, 531), a cleavage or wound, whose depth alludes to the increasing alienation and at whose borders there lies the possibility of an intertwining of selfhood and otherness that promises a mitigation of the own self‘s splitting. The encounter of both fields cannot but trigger a modification of the foreigner’s individual identity i.e. his selfhood, a selfhood which is irreducibly narrative: This is so, because the selfhood of the self constitutes itself in a life history which is open to twists and strokes of fate and therefore to breaks in continuity. If we assume with Ricœur that “life itself“ is “a cloth woven of stories told“ (Time and Narrative III, 246) we’d then make clear how a new, hidden and originally unconscious sense emerges from the encounter with the Other. This new sense, here as a product of the experience of exile, motivates a reconfiguration not only of the self-identity but of the community’s collective identity as well: On the one hand, the modalised appropriation of a strange cultural world is correlative to the discovery of the hidden aspects of the individual and collective self: The self, which gets involved with the other, is self-same (ipse) through becoming an other (alter)-than-himself. Nevertheless, Otherness implies not only a self-reconfiguration through the appropriation of an external or ,transcendental otherness‘ but the realisation of an internal or ,immanent otherness’, i.e. those aspects of selfhood (values, opinions, actions) constituting the own habitual, unquestioned cultural world of experience of which the self becomes increasingly aware of as a result of that encounter. In Ricœur‘s words „unlike the abstract identity of the Same, this narrative identity, constitutive of self-constancy, can include change, mutability, within the cohesion of one lifetime“, giving thus rise to a cultural plurality and a narrative diversity within the self which arises by taking up foreign as well as own cultural narratives and reconfiguring them into a new sense. So narrative identity is a two-sided coin: Selfhood and sense-constitution are two aspects of the same phenomena. On the other hand, both, foreign and home social worlds, in spite of being different as to their generation and historicity, can approach and even understand each other thanks to a „historical empathy“ (Husserl, Hua XV, 233), which is based on the subsequent reciprocal comprehension of the foreign culture‘s myths and history. Thanks to this mutual comprehension there emerges an understanding that grounds a higher level home-world, in which the factual different, finite home-worlds i.e. „particular worlds“ get partially synthesised even though retaining their individuality and casting a perspective image shadow one upon the other.
     My paper aims thus at examining the relationship between social change and the life experience of exile from a phenomenological perspective, particularly as regards the two a.m. aspects: On the one hand, the initial confrontation between selfhood and otherness and on the other hand, the consequent reconfiguration of both the individual and the collective narrative identities inasmuch as it involves the emergence of an identity which is irreducibly plural and which can therefore be called a narrative diversity within the own selfhood.

 Bernardo Caycedo: Distributed Online Political Agency

     Many acts of political engagement today make use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Although according to sceptical voices these are just forms of “slacktivism,” some of the participants think they are performing political action in new ways, which might even be compatible with the concept and tradition of civil disobedience. In this paper, I discuss two kinds of digital political engagement – anonymous hacktivism and academic ‘piracy’ – to highlight how the rise of digital technologies has enabled new tactics to bring about social change. It is my contention that digital forms of activism allow us to grasp the distributed nature of political agency in a novel way. I will argue that political agency is not something that individuals possess before performing their actions; rather it only comes into being while a collective action is performed.
     Following Hannah Arendt's understandings of action and power, I claim that no individual actor can actualize this capacity in isolation. The ability to act politically then seems to be distributed among potential agents, who actualize it when they act in concert. Action and speech happening today in and through ICTs are highly decentralized. Both anonymous hacktivism and academic ‘piracy’ – e.g., on platforms like Sci-Hub and Library Genesis – confirm that political action requires a plurality of agents each of which can initiate but cannot control the changes they put in motion in the world. Because of this, a comprehensive phenomenology of social change needs to take into account the plural and distributed conditions that make possible some of the most novel and promising attempts for social change today.

Antonio Cimino: Husserl’s Phenomenology of Social Change: A Reassessment

     The aim of this paper is to reassess Husserl’s phenomenology of social change by discussing whether and to what extent Husserlian phenomenology can still provide useful theoretical tools for understanding and analysing what is relevant to social transformations. The paper will move in three directions.
     First, the author will explain the extent to which we can identify a phenomenology of social change in Husserl’s works. It goes without saying that Husserl does not formulate the question of social change in the same way in which we would do today. Thus, from a methodological point of view, it is crucial to clarify what we can expect and what we cannot expect from Husserlian phenomenology. The author will show that Husserl does indeed provide us with informative and provoking philosophical instruments which enable us to understand and analyse the nature of social change. The author will pay particular attention to The Crisis of the European Sciences. As is well known, in this book Husserl introduces the concept of Lebenswelt, which has been inspiring many phenomenologists and social scientists interested in social change.
     Second, the author will give a clear overview of the specific concepts and theoretical frameworks Husserl introduces with a view to providing a phenomenological analysis of social change. The author will concentrate on three pivotal concepts: style, tradition, meaning. These three concepts do not exhaust the richness and complexity of the Husserlian phenomenology of social change. Nonetheless, they let us understand why Husserlian phenomenology is still very inspiring. The concept of style accounts for the stability that defines social phenomena such as identity, shared epistemic backgrounds, institutions, collective habits, etc. The concept of tradition can help us understand the historical evolution of the style that underlies social phenomena. The concept of meaning enables us to explain both the nature of style and the making of traditions and is crucial to any phenomenological analysis. From such a point of view, style results from sedimented and stabilized meanings, while tradition is the historical making of shared meanings. Husserlian phenomenology can explain social change in a very fruitful way by locating social transformations within the intertwining between style and tradition, that is, between stability and historical evolution.
     Third, the author discusses Husserl’s phenomenology of social change from a more critical point of view by singling out a number of problematical points that are typical of Husserl’s approach. The author will pay particular attention to the fact that Husserl’s phenomenology of social change does not do full justice to the political nature of the changes that take place within the horizon of the Lebenswelt. According to the author, such substantive shortcoming cries out for an in-depth revision of the concepts of style, tradition, and meaning in such a way that their political import comes to the fore in a much clearer way.

Jan Černý: Michel Henry and Socialism

     The phenomenological project of Michel Henry is based on the opposition of two modes of appearing, in which the first one, appearing in the immanence of life, is, in fact, the foundation and original way of realizing the second one, appearing in the transcendence of the world. Immanence of life and transcendence of world are conceived as two ontological regions, yet the very reality of the latter is the former. The ascribing of the reality of appearing and being solely to the immanence of life gives birth to the radical conception of the social change. In his phenomenological reading of Marx – in the book entitled simply Marx – Michel Henry interprets the birth of “socialism” (and he means by the term the reality designated by Marx as upper-stage communism) as an ontological change, as the liberating of reality, i.e. the subjective human praxis, from its objective, alienating redoubling in the economic universe.
     Yet Henry’s concept of community as essentially invisible, founded in the invisible “coming” of life to itself, poses problems to the potential attempt of converting Henry’s ontological vision into political reality: Can there be the polis without thinking its visible parts as constitutive for its reality? And can there be a social change in the immanence of life?

Eran Dorfman: The Doppelgänger as an Agent of Social Change: The Example of Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew

     The Doppelgänger or the Double is a literary figure that appeared in Romantic literature during the 19th Century as a threatening element reflecting the dark side of the protagonist, leading to a struggle of life and death with tragic results. But the Double actually plays a crucial role not only in one-on-one relationships, but also and more than all in social dynamics between different groups. Understanding the Double may thus leads to a better understanding of the possibility of a social change, and in order to promote such an understanding, I propose to analyse in this paper Sartre’s Réflexions sur la question juive in the light of the Doppelgänger figure, focusing on the complex relationship that the anti-Semite, the democrat and the Jew hold with each other.
     The Jew appears in this text to be the double of the anti-Semite, but although this is implied in Sartre, he does not explain what the Doppelgänger relationship consist in. Is it a Hegelian dialectic of Lordship and Bondage? Or an encounter with one’s mirror stage as Lacan would argue? Analysing this text, I suggest that more than the anti-Semite and the democrat, it is the Jew who holds the secret knowledge of what it is to be a double and how to overcome or at least challenge this position, and in this way the very structure of society.
     I conclude with a proposal to apply this peculiar position of the Doppelgänger to other minorities considered today by some as threatening, such as the Muslim and the black, thereby demonstrating how the Sartrean concepts can shed new light on contemporary politics in a world in need for social change more than ever.

Douglas Giles:  A Phenomenological Ontology of Personal Resistance to Social Change

     Social ontology understandably focuses on the big levers and outcomes of social change but can neglect the experiences of individual members of society. Phenomenological approaches can, by focusing on individual experience, neglect the social embeddedness of human beings. Phenomenological social ontologies such as those of Anthony Steinbock and Peter Costello can appreciate the importance of intersubjectivity both macrosocially and microsocially, so these phenomenological approaches can allow insights into the ontological character of social change. Because the macrosocial circumstances of social change are composed of the microsocial experiences of individual lives, a deeper understanding of individuals’ ontology of homeworld, we can understand how they normatively respond to social change as alien.
     My focus is on personal resistance to social change in order to reveal how social agents fare amidst social change, which helps describe the ontological character of social change. The inescapable reality of social change for individuals is that change alters the semantic and normative structure of the social world and interrupts social habits thereby generating instability. Understanding individuals’ contingent experiences of stability and instability in their lifeworlds can shed light on social change.
     Drawing on Steinbock and Costello, we can see that we constitute our own world through participating in the social world. Costello observes that the particular possibilities of social positions that we can take up emerge only through intersubjective involvement with others who are, to varying degrees, alien to us. We must, through the perspectives of alien others, come to understand our own perspective and learn how to anticipate and organize our social experiences in the web of human relations.
     Steinbock shows how individuals, from their social terrain, gain an intersubjectively generated sphere of ownness that is familiar, privileged, and normatively significant and that is their homeworld. Homeworld is the first sphere of normativity, and homeworld is the world from which we experience. In constituting homeworld, we co-constitute alienworld—that which is unfamiliar and seemingly abnormal compared with our “normal” homeworld. We desire stability in our homeworld and the web of human relations, but social change alters that web, challenging our perspectival and normative expectations. These challenges are experienced in the context of our homeworld/alienworld divide. The familiarity of homeworld as a normatively significant lifeworld encourages individuals to assume that the normativity of their homeworld reflects an objective moral realism, and individuals come to associate what is unfamiliar (such as social changes) with threats to the good if not with ethical wrong. Individuals can thus experience social change as alien and a disruption of or even a threat to the homeworld.
     Social change confronts individuals not only psychologically but also ontologically, and because society is composed of individuals, how social change alters individuals’ sense of their practical identities in their lifeworlds affects the ontology of social change. The sense individuals can develop that social changes are alien incursions into their homeworlds helps explain resistance to social changes such as immigration, cultural diversity, technological change, climate change, and so on.

 Martin Huth: Recognition and Interruption. Thinking Social Change with Judith Butler and Maurice Merleau-Ponty

     This paper aims to provide an analysis of the conditions of social change drawing, first, on Judith Butler´s concept of recognisability as developed mainly in Frames of War (2009). Butler describes the tacitly efficacious structures (frames) of recognisability as determining the possibilities and limits of recognition in social representation, in the media, and in political institutions. Hence, we are always-already immersed in a discursive practice that is selective regarding the attention and support for particular populations.
     Second, drawing on Merleau-Ponty´s distinction between the habitual and the actual body (Merleau-Ponty 1962, 82), the paper proceeds from the assumption of a tacit incorporation of collective patterns of perceiving and acting in the habitual body. These habituations build the basis of our operative intentionality. However, the layer of the actual body is the condition of the possibility to interrupt these common structures and opens opportunities for change (see below).
     By means of the synthesis of Butler´s and Merleau-Ponty´s accounts the paper pursues an analysis of (a) the incorporation of collective frames of recognisability in our habituation of behaviour, hence, of the tacitly efficacious structures that guide and pre-determine our perceptions and actions. The emphasis is put on the exclusivity and selectivity of recognition. Butler´s frames are, then, not only institutionalized structures but rather incorporated habits of looking at others or overlooking them, of being attracted or disgusted by others, of differential empathy with different populations and individuals etc. Hence, recognition, but also racism, sexism, marginalization and other sorts of discrimination (Young 2005) are then to be detected primarily at the level of operative intentionality beneath explicit (or explicable) convictions and attitudes.
     (b) the dialectic between these habits and the actualization at the respective moment (see the motif of the actual body). This actualization might open a gap between the internalized frame and the manifestation of the frame in perception and behaviour that provides the possibility of change. Hence, the frames start to differ from themselves and might change over their reiteration in variegated contexts and situations (see Derrida 1977, Butler 2009). Any actual moment, any event, bears therefore the potential of interrupting the chain of homogenous reiterations. The background is the inevitable perspective and, thus, exclusivity of the frames that constitute a relief of recognition. There is always more possible than real, there is always a wiggle room of re-structuring social attributions, patterns of recognition and common significations (Merleau-Ponty 1962, e.g. 75f.).
     (c) the changeability with a closer look at the level of sociality. Social atmospheres in their fluidity and collective experiences like traumas by wars or natural disasters, cultural or scientific revolutions, but also gradual shifts are inscribed in the collective and by the same token in the individual consciousness (and unconsciousness) and initiate social change (Derrida 1977). The common habitations of perception, responsiveness, and action can then alter their scope and be extended. However, a total inclusiveness seems (due to the mentioned perspective) unthinkable with both, Butler and Merleau-Ponty. Hence, social change remains always possible. 

 Petr Kouba: Heidegger and Malabou on Social Change

     In her book The Heidegger Change. On the Fantastic in Philosophy, Malabou examines the role of Wandel, Wandlung and Verwandlung in Heidegger´s thought. We may thus ask ourselves which possibilities Heidegger´s philosophy offers with respect to an analysis of social change. If we restrict ourselves to Being and Time and take it as our point of departure, we realize that it provides an analysis of the everyday coexistence with others as well as an outline of the authentic and inauthentic historicity of social coexistence. But if we take a closer look, we can discover that the ontological analysis of Dasein has a much bigger potential for an analysis of social changes, as it leaves a space for the third mode of existence whose temporality is based on the having-been, rather than on the present or the future (see Kouba, Phenomenon of Mental Disorder). This third mode of existence that in a way gets stuck in the having-been necessarily concerns not only the individual existence, but also the collective existence. As further follows from the temporal analysis of anxiety, which is based on the ecstasies of the having-been and the future, while – in itself - lacking the dimension of the present, the existence becomes not only united, but also disunited by its temporality. This has fundamental implications for the analysis of both the individual existence, and the collective existence. The aim of this paper is to elaborate the insights acquired from a creative reading of Being and Time and bring them close to the concepts of trauma, accident, destructive and constructive plasticity developed by Malabou. To illustrate what Malabou means, when she suggests that not only the history, but also “the history of being itself consists perhaps of nothing but a series of accidents which, in every era and without hope of return, dangerously disfigure the meaning of essence” (Malabou, Ontology of the Accident), we may refer to the surge of Roma migration that took place in the Central Europe between 1997 and 2004. The mass character of Roma migration requires to be conceived in terms of collective agency that, however, does not have any political unity, identity or organization. Roma migration was unexpected, spontaneous, and despite that it had a significant political impact. With respect to this historical example one may also wonder what is nature of the politics that heals traumatic experiences rather than exploiting them and profiting from them.

 Alice Koubová: Play as an Instrument of Social Change

 What has the social change in common with the phenomenon of play? How does the constitution of sociality depend on social performances and playfulness of the agents? My contribution will investigate the relationship between play, ludic attitude and social dynamics with reference to the main theoretician of play Johann Huizinga, and other thinkers, such as D. Winnicott, T. S. Hendricks and J. Butler. The main attention will be drawn to the aspect of ambivalence in play, its capacity to deconstruct dichotomies and to create a space of transition enabling a respectful social change. Play both embraces and creatively profits from its precarious structure and cultivates the capacity to encounter the alterity. It frames thus a structured, respectful but inventive and critical negotiation of social relationships.
     I will illustrate my claim by specific examples of ludic approach in the social space.

James Mensch: The Crisis of Legitimacy

       In recent years, the West has increasingly experienced the sense that the political aspects of its social life have undergone a profound alteration. There is a sense of blockage, of non-responsiveness, a feeling that the political class no longer represents the interests of the broader society. Underlying all of this is a loss of legitimacy. What exactly is legitimacy? How does it function? How is it lost? These are the questions that I address in this paper. While I refer to Max Weber’s remarks on legitimacy, my thesis is my own. My claim is that legitimacy involves temporal identity. It depends upon the ability of both individuals and peoples to identify themselves as the same over time. Legitimacy’s breakdown is the breakdown of this identity. 

Tyler Perkins: Syntax Error

     Changes in the social world become intelligible as transformations of the meaning-structures that guide and inform our daily interactions with the world. Language, Husserl writes, belongs to the horizon of civilization and “one is conscious of civilization from the start as an immediate and mediate linguistic community” (“Origin of Geometry” 358). Although changes in the social sphere are sometimes felt on a bodily or emotional register, they achieve the status of “change” when they become “sedimented”—i.e., when they are taken for granted as valid. Language and sedimentation give rise to and preserve cultural formations, but it is because of our ability to reactivate and transform meaning-structures that the horizon of civilization is an open and endless one (ibid).
     As phenomenologists interested in exploring the phenomena of social change, we should take seriously the implications of the development of new technologies on the cultural world. Technology is peculiar in the sense that it is a cultural object, one that exists within the social sphere, yet it also carries the capacity to shape and alter the social world in significant ways.
    This paper will argue that the structures of our social world rest on the production, reproduction, and preservation of meaning-structures. As transcendental structures, they point to those features of the world that enable us to create new forms of life and imagine future social configurations. I take Husserl to be right, generally, but we might recognize an important limitation to the Husserlian account; namely, that he lacks perspective on the contemporary relationship between language, meaning, and technology. 

 Vít Pokorný:  Tactility and Social Change: the Case of Untouchables

    The dynamic structure of a social field is determined and permeated with the shaping power of embodiment. The goal of this article is to show that institutionalized hierarchical relations a symbolic differences are rooted in the basic process of bodily perception. In this respect, tactile experience represents a relevant research terrain because, (1) it exhibits pre-symbolic and pre-linguistic nature of embodiment; 2) difference established on the level of tactility determine other differences on the psychological, social and cultural levels of the human situation.
      Institution of „untouchability“ is an example of a social phenomenon that allows us to relate tactile experiences with social dynamic. Untouchability is a problem mostly discussed in connection with Hindu societies (India, Pakistan) and the groups of „dalits“. Yet, many anthropological and historical studies prove that the phenomenon of untouchability is widespread mostly, but not exclusively, in contemporary as well as past hierarchical societies. The hypothesis presented here states that the emergence and existence of untouchability evolves from process on bodily, resp. tactile level. Untouchability is derived from the relation towards physical, but also symbolic purity and impurity. It pertains to groups of the most pure (brahmin caste, Japanese emperor), hence the most powerful, as well as the most impure, those who are in direct contact with filth, faeces, death, disease or blood, and who are actually powerless. Boundaries established primarily on bodily level thus generate differences and boundaries on the level of social structure, morality and political power.
      In the end, the emancipatory process of various groups of untouchables that is still under way in many contemporary societies must be taken in consideration. It opens question about relations between embodiment, rigid social hierarchy and democratization, as it unfolds in situations when democratic processes corrode traditional social structures.

Martin Ritter: Asubjective or Trans-Subjective Movement? Thinking Patočka’s Society Through

“It is the task of the present to build … such an asubjective concept of movement in which movement would be again that which internally builds being of entities … and makes possible to understand both the most elementary and the highest; nature, human being and society as well.” Arguing against modern mathematical concept of movement in which movement merely proceeds on beings but is not that by which beings are what they are, Patočka seeks to think movement in its realization. Is it possible, then, to account for the realization of social change in Patočka’s phenomenology? As a matter of fact, Patočka’s approach to society is rather macroscopic. In the studies like The Super-civilisation and Its Inner Conflict from the 1950s, Europe and Post-Europe from the early 1970s or Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History, Patočka identifies and analyses the movement of large socio-cultural entities; he especially focuses on the movement, and the decline, of Europe. Yet, his concept of the movement of existence, emphasizing corporeity and sociality of human being, allows for focusing also on a more microscopic level. And, although Patočka’s reflections on the movement of existence considers a singular existent being, they clearly demonstrate this singular movement, by which an existent human being becomes what it is, as being conditioned by what can be called trans-singular or trans-subjective processes. I focus on these trans-subjective, and not only asubjective, moments to evaluate whether Patočka’s approach can offer a plausible model for thinking society in its transformation.

Miri Rozmarin: Political Temporalities in the Age of Rapid Social Changes

     In this paper, I focus on the temporality of social change, and more specifically how the lived time of a sense of past and the future are political sites that can either promote or hinder social change.
     The first part of the paper focuses on the contemporary experience of temporality. It argues that contemporary temporality is a fractured one, in which past, present, and future are disintegrated and narrowed. The alienation from a sense of significant past and graspable future render people more vulnerable to reactionary – and often, violent – discourses, which offer alternative temporal orientations in the guise of some mythic religious or nationalist past, a messianic future, or a neoliberal fragmented present. Thus, creating political temporalities is an important aspect of transformative social processes and political struggles.
     The second part of the paper argues that although we tend to associate social change with the ability to imagine a different and better future, the past is also a crucial resource for social change. I argue that the past can be a rich affective resource for the intensification of moral imagination, as a crucial condition for having a social emancipatory vision. I also argue that for underprivileged groups, the past is always a work of imagination, because the dominant production of knowledge either ignores or pathologizes their history.
     The Third part of paper offers a brief account of a political temporality, as connections between past, present, and future that engage with the contemporary social reality and enable to sustain transformative dynamics through which people can mobilize their vulnerability in ways that would gradually transform their reality. I refer to these connections with the past as transformative lineages. These lineages appropriate the notion of lineage from its biological patriarchal connotations, and instead refers to intensive corporeal relations that serve as a source for social transformation. Weaving transformative lineages is a political action that employs vulnerability as a sensibility and a disposition to see beyond what is constituted as recognized subjectivity.

Emre Şan: The Phenomenological Significance of Vulnerability and Its Impact on Social Movements

     The present crisis of democracy is challenged by political dissidents in both the West and the East. Present authoritarian governments (modern dictatorships) close the public sphere as a sphere of freedom of expression and thus hinder protests and social movements coercively. The political life of a dissident refers to combat and struggle but these notions are not enough to express the feeling of suffering and indignation (thumos) involved in dissent. The resistance of dissidents presupposes a certain type of vulnerability created by existential insecurity under authoritarian regimes. Refusal of the established order entails great risks and exposure. So what will be the political consequences if we think of vulnerability as the condition of possibility of political resistance? If vulnerability is part of the meaning and action of resistance how can we then reinterpret the political dimension of dissent today? The relationship between vulnerability and resistance is often interpreted in terms of opposition because, unlike collective resistance, vulnerability seems to require a certain form of protection and is defined by passivity. Following Patočka’s analysis of theory of the solidarity of the shaken, which describes a resistance to a permanent state of war in the form of dehumanizing total mobilization, I aim to show the role of the recognition of vulnerability in the practices of political resistance and civil disobedience. The challenge of the debate on the solidarity of the shaken is not only theoretical, it is also a political and social issue. War is not the only platform where the danger becomes so great that many people are exposed to the experience of the solidarity of the shaken. We can think of the reappearance of such a phenomenon in contemporary acts of civil disobedience. They have all, despite their cultural, ideological and historical differences, show how a community of vulnerable subjects became political by taking possession of a space and time of their own, creating an “another common world”.
     Like Patočka’s definition of “life in amplitude”,1 civil disobedience has the meaning of both an épreuve and a protest, and it is on the basis of this structure that one can understand its meaning. Thus civil disobedience is not just a crowd that advances in the street or a group that intervenes to break the order of things. It is about a difficulty that causes suffering and a claim of justice as a form of resistance. The importance of civil disobedience lies precisely in starting the process of production of new collective subjects. As in the solidarity of the shaken, it features unexpected political encounters that cannot be defined by a juxtaposition of ideological, social or ethnic identities. On the contrary, participants in civil disobedience gain their “dissident” identities through their reciprocal actions in solidarity. Therefore solidarity forms social relations which challenge the hierarchical structure of society built up by the antagonistic climate of politics. In this sense, such a public space has the potential to provide a stronger foundation for political unity than communities based on “coalitions of interest”. However, such a collective relationship cannot be explained by a moral law or altruistic behaviour. The new shaken subjectivities appear not by pre-established roles in society but precisely by their response to an ethical call of an event of political injustice.

Gústav Adolf Bergmann Sigurbjörnsson: Seeking the Limits of Normality: Intersubjectivity, Normality and Epistemology

     In this paper I’m going to suggest a constructive relation between, on the one hand, work being done in social epistemology and, on the other, Edmund Husserl’s lifeworld analysis as well as a more general phenomenological analysis of intersubjectivity.
     In her Epistemic Injustice (2007), Miranda Fricker explores the possibilities of there being injustices done to individuals and groups that are primarily epistemological. These injustices, it is suggested, violate subjects not only as individuals but as knowers. One of her primary innovations is found in the emphasis she puts on giving an account of hermeneutical issues concerning experiential realities that do not seem to fit into the reality of the rest of the community. This applies especially in the case of those that are underrepresented. Her clearest example of this is of sexual harassment in the workplace in the 1970’s, where women’s experiential reality of harassment and abuse was rejected, ignored and not considered “real”. In these cases, Fricker suggest, the experiential reality of women fell into a hermeneutical lacuna.
      Arguably, this notion of the hermeneutical lacuna is the least developed part of Fricker’s research, and the reason for this, it will be suggested, is a lack of conceptual clarity when analysing and addressing issues that involve the first person perspective. In this paper I will put forth the hypothesis that every hermeneutical lacuna is followed by a correlative phenomenological “un-reality”, i.e. a lack of phenomenological correlation between individuals, where the experience of one person seemingly cannot be encountered by another.
     To address the issue of conceptual clarity as regards phenomenological reality I will utilize the works of Edmund Husserl, primarily his later works. The concept of lifeworld (Lebenswelt) will be highlighted in the light of recent developments (e.g. Steinbock 1995, Heinämaa 2013, Taipale 2012). Here an exploration of the concepts of homeworld (Heimwelt) and alienworld (Fremdenwelt) will become a focal point along with the conceptual binary of normality/abnormality. The limits of empathy (Einfühlung) will be explored as well as questions on how the various positionalities of different groups of society affect their experiential reality.
     I aim to show that phenomenological analysis can and should inform an epistemological analysis that seeks to uncover epistemic injustices. I will suggest that one way to understand hermeneutical lacunas is to see them as the result of normalized hermeneutical procedures. To uncover the nature of these procedures and to problematize them, a phenomenological account of normality will prove to be highly useful. 

Agatha Anna Slupek: Between Rupture and Reproduction: Castoriadis' Theory of Social Change  

The pragmatist philosopher Hans Joas (Joas1993) wrote of Cornelius Castoriadis that his theory of institutionalization as a creative process was of profound importance to social scientists invested in projects of social and political change. Indeed, while Castoriadis rarely engaged with phenomenologists overtly, aside from relatively brief engagement with Merleu-Ponty and Heidegger (Castoriadis1997), his attention to the social and historical conditions within which social change becomes possible, as well as his insistence on the relational autonomy of the self, position his works as a productive site from which to think a historically informed – and radical – phenomenology of social change. In this paper, I outline Castoriadis’ theory of social change as it appears in his philosophical writings on the Greeks and on the imagination. I propose that this theory of social change stays a middle ground between the determinism of necessity (reproduction) and chaos of contingency (rupture). Castoriadis presents us with an understanding of contingency, creativity, and change that relies neither on the self’s mastery of the future, nor on an untenable understanding of the self as sovereign. My second aim is to place the contingency of creative action and social change in the thought of Castoriadis in relation to debates regarding the discursive construction of the subject. In particular, I ask how Castoriadis’ understanding of social change might speak to Judith Butler’s (1997) Althusserian inspired theory of subjectivation. If indeed, as Joas notes, the essential creativity of institutionalization is one of Castoriadis’ profound sociological insights, how might this consideration loosen the grip that the reproduction of oppressive norms has on the gendered subject in Butler’s work?

Beata Stawarska: Subject and Structure in Feminist Phenomenology

      Feminist phenomenology is a live tradition of inquiry which addresses questions related to gender and sexuality in terms of their experience and expression by concrete subjects situated within the social world. In my paper, I propose to re-examine the alliance between feminist interests and phenomenological methods in light of the need to address social change. Specifically, following Beauvoir (2010) and Butler (1988; 1998), I propose that phenomenology becomes feminist when it accommodates a doctrine of constitution entailed by situated subjectivity, a social agent who is both a subject and an object of constitutive acts. Feminist phenomenology preserves the classical phenomenological emphasis on subjectivity but understands it in agreement with the feminist view that the personal is always already political. This means that even intimate and raw affects may be mediated and rendered intelligible by considering the larger field of social and historical forces they are situated within. However, on the feminist phenomenological view, subjective experience is not a simple effect resulting from pre-existing political arrangements. Contrary to Joan Scott’s (1992) narrow conception of subjective experience as an end-product of an underlying social process, Butler proposes (drawing on Beauvoir) that the relation between subjectivity and social structure is dual and reciprocal, and should be understood as a “dialectical expansion of both categories” (1988). The dialectical view does not simply oppose acculturation to modes of inventiveness, appropriation to agency, and social constraints to choice, but regards them as being interdependent and mutually constitutive. I propose that we adopt this dialectically expanded understanding of subjectivity and structure within feminist phenomenology. On this understanding, gender-based oppression and forms resistance are ambiguously situated at the intersection of individual projects in the present and historically sedimented social norms; it follows that oppressive social arrangements can become internalized and manifest themselves in individual affects and attitudes; however, the latter not only reflect but can also critically respond to accumulated social norms. Thus, even though oppressed groups can internalize and become complicit in their own oppression, they can also enact modes of resistance to the same subjugating arrangements. Feminist phenomenology thus accommodates the possibility of social change, of a re-structuring of the existing distributions of power and privilege from within, by a series of unprecedented acts. It combines the traditional academic goal of increasing knowledge through careful description of relevant subjective and social phenomena with the emancipatory goal of advancing the cause of socially oppressed groups through research and activism. The gendering process should therefore be understood in a phenomenologically relevant yet structurally and politically informed sense of a situated, action-bound, and potentially transformative experience of discovering, making, and re-making oneself in the social world. Contrary to Oksala (2016), we do not need to move beyond phenomenology in order to arrive at ‘better forms of society’ (Ibid); instead, we need to recover the elements of social critique from phenomenological works such as Beauvoir’s The Second Sex

Gerhard Thonhauser: A Postfoundational Ontology of Social Change

    The aim of this paper is to develop a postfoundational ontology of social change. I will depart from Heidegger’s claim that certain basic attunements (Grundstimmungen) have a crucial ontological function: They are ontological conditions that enable us to encounter ourselves and the world in an original way; they disclose the fundamental ontological make-up of dasein, the most basic conditions of our being-in-the-world. More specifically, the disclosive function of basic attunements confronts us with, first, the fundamental ungroundedness that lies at the bottom of all attempts to lay ground to our existence, and second, the radical situatedness that refers us to a past that outruns all possible attempts to capture our becoming.
     I will proceed in three steps: First, I will outline a political ontology by spelling out ungroundedness in terms of the necessarily contingent foundations of all social orders (cf. Butler 1992) and by discussing the consequences of such ungrounding grounds for our understanding of politics and the political (cf. Marchart 2007). As a second step, I will develop an understanding of political affectivity in terms of radical situatedness, i.e. the way in which one finds oneself as thrown into a concrete historical situation not of one’s making (cf. Slaby 2017). With reference to Heidegger’s lecture course Basic Concepts of Metaphysics (1929/30) I will suggest that radical situatedness does not primarily address each of us individually, but the way in which a particular community at a particular time is collectively situated in the world. Finally, I will combine these notions of political ontology and political affectivity with basic premises of the late Sartre and recent suggestions by Butler to develop an understanding of political action based on transient assemblies becoming united in struggle. This will allow me to identify the plural performativity (cf. Butler 2015) of groups-in-fusion (cf. Sartre 2004) as potential motor of social change.

 Galit Wellner: Social Change in the Digital Age: Feudal Lords, Capitalists and Algorithms

     In one of his famous aphorisms Karl Marx states: “the windmill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam mill, society, with the industrial capitalist” (1847). This statement is frequently understood as positioning technology as that which leads to a certain social structure, in other words - as technologically deterministic. Today, however, many interpretations would read in it as a co-construction between the dominant technologies of a given period and the prevailing societal structure. Indeed, machines and capitalism evolved hand-in-hand throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. But since last few decades, a new type of technologies has emerged, known as digitality. Unlike machines, these technologies are not designed to move faster, be stronger or exceed the human body in any other way. They target the human mind. In the spirit of Marx, I ask who replaces the feudal lord and the capitalist in the digital age.
     My investigation departs from the postphenomenological scheme of “I–technology–world.” If phenomenology studies the experience of the “I” in the “world,” postphenomenology highlights the mediating role of technologies in our experience of the world. Technologies like the windmill mediate a particular worldview in which the feudal lord has a dominant position. The shift from tools to machines was accompanied by a change in the social world and the feudal lord gave way to the capitalist.
     From the basic postphenomenological scheme, several types of relations can be extracted. One of them is hermeneutic relations in which I read the world through the technology. The permutation is: I → (technology – world)
    I experience the technology and the world as a unit. For example, when I read the temperature on a thermometer, I perceive the outside world as “hot” or “cool” according to the reading of the scale. When I read a fiction book, the book and the imaginary world described become one. In the age of the machine this structure remains, with radio and television perceived to show reality “as is.” That is why people were panicked when Orson Welles broadcasted The War of the Worlds in 1938. In the age of digital technologies, especially with the introduction of AI, the scheme is transformed. For many, the network overcomes the world. Think of Trump’s tweets that reflect at best his opinion and wishes, rather than a true picture of the world.
    If the feudal lord held the power to read, and hence to know and interpret the world; and if the capitalist held the power to distribute newspapers (and later broadcast on radio and television) in which some news items were highlighted and others pushed to the fringes; in the digital age algorithms decide which headlines will be pushed to whom and how frequently. Understanding how the algorithms work may help politicians to win elections, but the algorithms change and in the next round the rules might be different.

 Çiğdem Yazici: The Politics of Location beyond the Secular/Islamic Binary in Feminism

     In her genealogy of being a South Asian in North America, calling for the politics of location, Mohanty says that “the crossing of regional, national, cultural, and geographical borders enables one to reflect on questions of identity, community, and politics.” Many scholars in post-colonial studies and feminist theory addressed the problems of orientalism in discussions on Islam and feminism mostly with dual oppositions like “Islamic versus Secular,” “Eastern versus Western,” and “Man versus Woman” when the location is dismissed. Alternatively, there is also awareness of many positions in the contexts of Europe and US with critical stance, not only against orientalism, but also against Islamophobia.  Yet, crossing these borders and thinking on the relation(s) between Islam and feminism, in the location of some specific cases in Turkey, calls for a phenomenological thinking of locally lived experiences of several intersections, which might not appear clearly in the framework of orientalism, nor in that of anti-Islamophobia.
     Considering the cultural and historical context of Turkey, Islam and feminism have also been discussed for long times as opposing systems of values where feminism stood for Westernization and secularization against the Islamic and Eastern ways of life in spite of many complicated and intersecting experiences in history. Plus, considering the recent years’ protest-scenes in Turkey, especially after the case of Özgecan, a female university student who was raped and murdered by a minibus driver in 2015, we have seen a shift in the scenes of reactions, where the longstanding traditional and moralist discourses condemning mostly the immorality of the rapist were replaced more with feminist discourses condemning the gender discrimination. It was significant that the feminist claims this time were not only articulated by organized feminist activists who have been labeled in the past mostly as Westernized elite groups, but by people, as a plural mix of middle, upper, and low classes, including religious and secular peoples together with ethnic differences. In these plural intersections, new types of gatherings appeared. For example, crowds of women from both religious and secular backgrounds, claimed and carried her coffin on the funeral day while in the tradition of Islam men carry coffins, and lead the community with a long protest march with placards “No to male violence!” Also many gatherings of men appeared with new scenes of protests; football fans carrying placards with her picture and slogans like “we are ashamed of our manhood!” and minibus drivers in many towns carrying her picture on their bus windows to support the protest scenes. Such a shift and social change, where the discourse of people appeared with gender consciousness and questioning rather than victim blaming, or at best moralist, discourses deserves serious attention.  To discuss this shift within the recent context of Turkey, the paper calls for ways of thinking the intersections of plural identities and location beyond the established binaries in order to see more hope for the future change regarding gender consciousness and equality in people.