Lexicon Entries: Volume 1
Archive | Blood | Colony | Concept | Conquest | Crisis | Federation | Force | Guilt | Identity | Parasite | Torture

Archive

Ariella Azoulay

Withheld rage, suffocation, nausea, anger, frustration, fright, horror and helplessness, no less than hope or passion reported by those infected with archive fever, bear witness to the fact that archive documents are not merely a collection of dead letters. Archive documents are not items of a completed past, but rather active elements in a present that must be properly and carefully handled, precisely because they are the means by which destruction might continue to be wrought, just as they might enable some restitution of that which continues to exist as present, in the present. The extensive power vested in guardians of the archive must not make us underestimate the importance of the archive fever typical of our time – and the possibility it offers us to re-think the archive at its foundation from the perspective of this fever, from the acts of those whom it infects. Read more...

Blood

Gil Anidjar

The inclusion of blood in a lexicon of political concepts would seem to require the removal of two quite formidable obstacles. First, blood is not a concept. And second, blood is not political. I shall return to the first obstacle, but I should begin by deferring to understandable reservations with regards to the removal of the second. For who, after all, would want to claim blood for the political, to make blood political and tear down the wall, close the gap that separates blood from politics? Who would wish together to have and to hold in unholy matrimony blood and politics? Are not the worst perversions, the worst exceptions, of our global political history conjured easily enough by this ominous apposition? Read more...

Colony

Ann Laura Stoler

“Colony” inhabits an ambiguous sort of space in its oscillation between the still neutrality of a common noun and a political concept in wait, poised to discharge its potentiality. Philosophers bypass it. As a common noun with no conceptual caché, its referents fall too easily into unproblematic and manifest place. For political theorists who prefer to grapple with the more compelling “ism’s” from which the “colony” arises, or is given rise to, the term has little to say. Specialists instead vie for definitional authority over what colonialism is or is not, a contest perceived to have higher political stakes. Today, “What is a colony?” barely merits an analytic pause; it remains undisturbed, a quiescent non-question. Read more...

Concept

Adi Ophir

Of the many thinkers engaged in conceptual work, only few stop and ask “What is a concept?” Philosophy and the “philosophically-prone” fields tend to welcome conceptual work and be patient with the time it takes. But this patience and tolerance is not enough to compensate for the lack of an institution whose aim is to provide a conceptual exhibition with the kind of conditions the museum provides for aesthetic exhibition, the courtroom for the factual, and the dictionary for the semantic one. Plato tried to establish his academy for that purpose, yet it was quickly flooded by other questions and new practices of inquiry. Even before the demand that it would promote faith or prove beneficial to society, the academy failed to provide conceptual inquiry with taken-for-granted institutional conditions that would help direct the attention of viewers/listeners/readers to the discursive dimension of the concept, to its being a unique statement. Read more...

Conquest

Yves Winter

Conquest was a legitimate mechanism of acquiring territory and subjugating populations from the 16th through the 20th century. But how did a type of political violence that forcibly establishes a relation of domination become a juridical institution, codified in early modern European law and widely recognized as a valid mode of acquisition? Historically, this process has to be contextualized in a larger story that precedes the European colonization of the New World by at least 500 years. Read more...

Crisis

Janet Roitman

Crisis is an omnipresent sign in almost all forms of narrative today; it is mobilized as the defining category of our contemporary situation. The recent bibliography in the social sciences and popular press is vast; crisis texts are a veritable industry. As will be made clear below, crisis serves as the noun-formation of contemporary historical narrative; it is a non-locus from which one claims access to history and knowledge of history. In reflecting upon the status of this term as the most common and most pervasive qualifier of contemporary historical conditions – and even of “history” itself – this essay sets the stage for a general inquiry into the status of “crisis” in social science theory and writing. Read more...

Federation

Jean L. Cohen

What chance is there for liberal democratic republics to avoid evisceration by centralizing distant executives and administrations of the now proliferating regional and global institutions? Is there a way to theorize a mode of political integration (growing larger) and a type of polity that is normatively attractive and feasible on the regional or even on the level of functional global governance...? I suggest that there is and that we proceed by rethinking the concept of federation as a type of union of states and peoples, a type of constitutional polity that is not itself a state. Reworking the concept of federation may allow us to construct the appropriate political referent of these processes and thus to address the legitimacy problematic of regional and global “governance” in creative way. Read more...

Force

Claudia Baracchi

In philosophical reflection, we consistently find the effort to connect the problem of force with the quest for justice and the institution of legality — the effort, that is, to integrate the apparently irreconcilable aspects of human life. At stake is no clear-cut dichotomy between force and reason, violence and intelligence, the animal and the properly human. The beast is both lion and fox. Force may be enacted under the guise of brutality as well as in the form of astute manipulation. In turn, cleverness may be employed to malevolent and destructive ends. Thereby force may be enormously magnified in its effectiveness and, concomitantly, the “human beast” may, precisely qua human and intelligent, be crucially enhanced in its beastly potential. Read more...

Guilt

Joshua Dubler

Assignments of guilt are efficient and compelling. Within a given habitus, guilt automatically inheres to its rightful, culpable object. That is to say, seemingly baffling or capricious determinations of guilt such as the criminal prosecutions of Hester Prynne for adultery or the Scottsboro boys for rape, faulting Oedipus for the plague or the stoning death of the Sabbath wood gatherer in the Book of Numbers ought to register to us not their senselessness, but rather the chasm between ourselves and the alternative social orders where their sense would have been seamlessly made. When looking less far afield, the guilt of the criminally and morally guilty manifests to cultural and subcultural insiders as being as obvious and natural as the guilt of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Nuremburg defendants, or whoever else the guilty might plainly happen to be for you, which depending on your habitus, might well be Dick Cheney, David Addington and John Yoo, irrespective of what the lawyers of the land might have to say about it. Read more...

Identity

Akeel Bilgrami

It is doubtful that the concept of identity is susceptible to a substantial philosophical treatment at a high level of generality. This is so not so much because there are too many disparate theories of identity, more because the sorts of things, the question of whose identity are taken up by philosophers, are too disparate to get a uniform treatment. Broadly speaking, two conspicuously different sets of interests make such a treatment especially difficult. The concept of ‘identity’ when applied to such very basic categories as objects, properties (or universals), events, and persons, forms a cluster of themes in metaphysics and these receive a kind of analysis far removed from such themes as national, ethnic, racial or sexual identity, which are usually discussed in political philosophy and moral psychology. No obviously common notion of identity, which is either tractable or interesting, spans both sets of interests. Read more...

Parasite

Anders M.Y. Gullestad

From holy, to base and comic, and then to degenerate and utterly worthless, fit for nothing but extinction: few examples show the extreme flexibility, adaptability and changing fortunes of concepts as well as that of the parasite. What’s more, this strange historical trajectory has turned the parasite into a key term for understanding the exclusionary mechanisms at the heart of modern Western societies, coming to function as a name for a class of beings not entitled to the same basic rights as others. While such mechanisms have historically found their clearest expression in totalitarian regimes, there is no doubt that milder versions are at work in even the most advanced liberal democracies, helping create and secure their borders through separating inside from outside, as well as marking that which is spatially located inside the borders, but which is thought not to properly belong. Read more...

Torture

J.M. Bernstein

My hypothesis is that moral modernity, or, what is the same, the moral foundation of political modernity, is perspicuously realized and articulated in the series of acts whereby, throughout Europe, torture was banned. Torture became, and sotto voce remains, the paradigm of moral injury, of what must never be done to an individual because it is intrinsically degrading and devaluing: it harms the human status as such by intentionally harming the present exemplification of it. Even when torture is regarded – however mistakenly – as morally justified, it remains violation and degradation.I take the philosophical ethnography of torture to be the reactivation of its now lost historical origin – lost not to memory, but to historically effective consciousness. The philosophical ethnography of torture is the sole means through which the phenomenon can be defined, that is, provided with a statement of its meaning that might become actual and meaningful. Read more...