Thesis Eleven 87 (1):83-95 (2006)

This article examines Claude Lefort's writings in order to think about the ‘social’, understood as separate from the political, and in its separation, as a strictly modern ‘phenomenon’. Prior to the modern democratic revolution, the collective order was presented through the representation of power, itself identified with both law and knowledge, and referred to a transcendent source. At a first moment, the modern democratic revolution, under the sign of the general will, renders power immanent. At a second moment, it separates power from law and, above all, knowledge, such that three domains emerge, each with its own logic, its own notion of representation, its own divisions. The ‘social’, in a sense, arises between these two moments. At one level, it appears as an event in, and in consequence an object of, knowledge, once knowledge need no longer be, primarily, a knowledge of power or law, that is the enunciation of the principles by which the latter establish the order, coherence and sense of the world. At another level the ‘social’ emerges as a response to the difficulties presented by a strictly political representation of societal order–difficulties in no small part due to the revolutionaries’ inability to countenance the separation between the three domains. In this regard the ‘social’ appears as a presupposition that serves to stabilize an inherently conflictual political order. It is, however, an ‘empty’ presupposition, without determinate content, and therefore also a source of uncertainty. While this emptiness proves a stimulus for the construction of new savoirs, it also accounts for the fragility of all discourses that would speak in its name (social science, social theory, sociology). The article concludes with a few words about the ‘death of the social’
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DOI 10.1177/0725513606068777
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Liquid Modernity.Zygmunt Bauman - 2000 - Polity Press ; Blackwell.

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