Sociology 3533
Special topics
"Derrida and the Future of the Social."


This course introduces a new way of studying society, derived from the work of the contemporary French thinker, Jacques Derrida. For 200 years we have thought of society as if it were a model or a picture - for example a model populated by classes or by economic individualists or by a conscience collective - that we could study objectively. But what if instead, 'society' or the 'social' was the nickname for the relationship to the other, which dislocates us from ourselves and presents us from taking up a position as subjects over against an objective field. We systematically introduce this idea through such enigmatic notions from Derrida's work as the gift, the yes, the to-come, hospitality, the messianic, affirmation, undecideability, the perhaps, the spectre, justice, singularity, the proper name, the signature, responsibilty, and the event.

Students are required on an ongoing basis to find empirical examples from the media, politics, culture and the arts, etc., and/or their own observations and lives, with which to 'test' Derrida's insights. These examples will be reported in a weekly journal and will form the basis for weekly class discussions.

This is a lecture course with substantial discussion. Evaluation will be by tests or papers, a journal and a term paper. 3 credit hours.

Method of evaluation:

Test or short essay [student chooses]: 15%
Test or short essay [student chooses]: 15%
Test or short essay [student chooses]: 15%
Term paper or take-home exam [student chooses]: 30%
Weekly journal: 25%

Readings will consist of excerpts from some of the following: work of Derrida; the sources Derrida is writing on; relevant social theorists and related thinkers; the work of thinkers close to Derrida. All required readings will be distributed weekly, for a one-time photocopy fee of $20.

Course outline [all section headings are quotes from Derrida's work, or quotes contained in his work]:

1. "The thing itself always escapes"

We introduce Derrida's deconstruction [roughly meaning destabilization and dislocation] of "the metaphysics of presence", that is the idea that each moment of time is a single self-identical point, and the related idea that we have originary self-present intuitions of objects of knowledge. This view of time and knowledge, Derrida argues, constitutes the dominant theme of Western philosophy and culture.

Please note that nearly all readings will be excerpts from the works in question, photocopied and distributed in class. For publication details, see the list of references at the end of the syllabus.

Derrida Speech and Phenomena
     Introduction to Husserl's Origin of Geometry
Edmund Husserl Origins of Geometry.

2. "'I would like to learn to live, finally.'"

We indicate how Derrida's deconstruction of the metaphysics of presence is relevant not only to philosophy, but to the social sciences and humanities more generally. We indicate that the social sciences and humanities have theories about how the world is and how we get knowledge of it which conform to Derrida's account of the metaphysics of presence. In addition, we indicate that these theories also contain an implicit ethics, in the form of implicit prescriptions about how we should live. All these elements of the theories call out for deconstruction.

Short excerpts from Comte, Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Mead, Mauss and others, and from selected humanists and literary theorists.

3. "That dangerous supplement"

We reconceive human culture or society not as a self-contained entity or reality, but as a disturbing, unending, "dangerous supplement" to nature, and we explore the implications of this reconception in relation to such topics as artificial reproduction and biotechnology. This is elaborated in part through Derrida's reading of Rousseau.

Derrida, Of Grammatology.
Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract
     The Confessions.
Paul DeMan, "Promises" in Allegories of Reading.
Colm Kelly "Derrida and Social Constructionism."

4. "'The mystical foundations of authority'"

Derrida shows that contrary to certain enlightenment or rationalist assumptions, no social institutions are self-founding or self-generating. An institution is generated through a constitutive appeal to the past or the future, to God or to reason, which justifies the institution after the fact. This appeal resists complete rational transparency, but this does not impy cynicism or passivity, but on the contrary, a sort of heightened or hyper-responsibility. This is elaborated through Derrida's reading of Pascal, of Walter Benjamin and of the American Declaration of Independence.

Derrida, "Force of Law: 'The Mystical Foundations of Authority.'"

Walter Benjamin 'Critique of Violence.'

5. 'mad with that kind of justice'

Contrary to a common misconception, deconstruction is a response to an 'undeconstructible' justice, conceived of as the response to the irreducible otherness of the other. We contrast this with received notions of ethics and of politics. Developed in Derrida's readings of Benjamin, of Marx and of Kafka.

Derrida, "Force of Law: 'The Mystical Foundations of Authority.'"
Walter Benjamin 'Critique of Violence.'
Geoffrey Bennington Interrupting Derrida
Franz Kafka, "Before the Law."

6. "'...the subject is hostage...'"

Contrary to a long-standing theme in our culture, we show that the other comes before the self and constitutes the self before any autonomy, or active decision of the self. The theoretical and ethical implications of this insight are elaborated, and are contrasted with the canonical interpretation of the self-other relationship in sociology, that proposed by the American pragmatist, George Herbert Mead. The ideas are developed through Derrida's reading of Levinas.

Derrida Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas
George Herbert Mead, Mind, Self and Society.
Emmanuel Levinas 1989 The Levinas Reader.

7. " 'The time is out of joint.'"

Time and history are not a series of smoothly proceeding 'points' or moments, where past meets present and flows into future. Instead, the past and the future interrupt the present, like the view in the rear-view mirror of the car - what is behind us recedes from in front of us. This leads to a rethinking of the 'social' or the 'socius', not as a community of selves nor as a conglomeration or conflict of collectivities, but as the constitutive haunting of the 'community' of the living by that which can never be present: the spectre, the 'arrivant', the à-venir. This also leads to a rethinking of justice and ethics. The ideas are developed through Derrida's reading of Marx, and his comments on the current state of the world and on Fukayama's 'end of history' thesis.

Derrida, Spectres of Marx
     "Force of Law: 'The Mystical Foundations of Authority.'"
Marx, Capital, V. 1.

8. "The madness of economic reason".

We examine the disturbing or maddening relationship between the impossible notion of a general economy of pure unencumbered gifts, and the more familiar restricted economy of exchange, mutual obligation, and profit or return. Developed through Derrida's reading of a canonical text in the social sciences, Marcel Mauss's, The Gift, and through his reading of Baudelaire's story 'Counterfeit Money.'

Derrida, Given Time.
Marcel Mauss, The Gift.
Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess.
Colm Kelly, "On the 'economic' with Mauss, Bataille and Derrida."

9. 'Tout autre est tout autre [every other is every other/every other is totally other]'

This is Derrida's idiomatic aphorism for getting at the aporia of being obliged to respond at the same time to the singularity of every other, and to the equality or sameness of every other. Developed through Derrida's re-reading of the old testament story of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac, and Kierkegaard's interpretation of this story.

Derrida, The Gift of Death
Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling.

10. "I have only one language, and it is not mine."

Derrida addresses the nature and inherent limits of claims about having a language and a cultural identity. These claims to cultural and linguistic self-identity always come from and by way of some linguistic and cultural other, and so are inherently contradictory or aporetic. The implications of this are worked out for questions about multiculturalism, cultural identity and language politics. Developed in part through Derrida's reading of Paul Valery.

Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other.
      The Other Heading.
Paul Valery, "Europe", in History and Politics.

11. "...the desert in the desert..."

Derrida has increasingly addressed religious themes in recent years. We examine his profound engagement with what we might call the quasi-experience of the 'religious,' for example in his analysis of the co-existence in religion of the drive for purity, place and truth, and of the the automatic, of repetition and of the mechanical, for example in everything to do with ritual, sacrifice and worship. This links religion to the techno-scientific modernity which it often seems to oppose, and also shows that this modernity is itself dependent on a certain structure of experience which is qausi-religious. We will contrast Derrida's approach to religion with the canonical sociological approaches of Emile Durkheim and Max Weber.

Derrida, "Of an apocalytic tone recently adopted in philosophy."
      "Faith and Knowledge."
Emile Durkheim, Elementary Forms of the Religious Life.
Max Weber, Sociology of Religion.

12. "'Oh my friends there is no friend.'"

in the late 1990's Derrida published Politics of Friendship, an intervention into our notions of politics, which deconstructs the distinction between friend and enemy, on which, Derrida argues, politics is still based. Derrida attempts to open up a new future for democracy, a democracy to come, which would break with the patriarchal and nationalist model we have inherited, and which would develop a "universalizable culture of singularities", cultivating a hospitality towards the 'arrivant', the other or the stranger who comes from outside. We develop this account in terms of Derrida's reading of Nietzsche and of Carl Schmitt, the controversial German political theorist, and we contrast Derrida's account of ethics and politics with the 'decisionist' politics of the great German sociologist, Max Weber.

Derrida, Politics of Friendship
Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political
Weber, "Science as a Vocation."
      "Politics as a Vocation."

Select Bibliography

'Declarations of Independence.' New Political Science 15 (summer 1986): 7-15.

'Edmund Husserl's Origin of Geometry: An Introduction.' Transl. John Leavey, Jr. New York: Harvester Press, 1978. (Repr.: Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.) Incl. Husserl, 'The Origin of Geometry', trans. David Carr.)

"Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of 'Religion' at the Limits of Reason Alone." Tr. S. Weber. Pp. 1-78 in J. Derrida and G. Vattimo, eds., Religion. Stanford University Press, 1998.

"Force of Law: 'The Mystical Foundation of Authority.'" Cardozo Law Review: Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice. 11:5-6 (1990): 920-1045.

The Gift of Death. Tr. David Wills. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Given Time: The Time of the King. Vol. I: Counterfeit Money. Tr. Peggy Kamuf. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Monolingualism of the Other 1998. Tr. P. Mensah. Stanford University Press.

'Of an Apocalyptic Tone Recently Adopted in Philosophy.' Oxford Literary Review 6.2 (1984): 3-37.

Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.

The Other Heading: Reflections on Today's Europe. Trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael B. Naas. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.

The Politics of Friendship. Tr. G. Collins. London: Verso 1997.

Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, & the New International. Trans. Peggy Kamuf. London: Routledge, 1994.

Speech and Phenomena, and Other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs. Trans. David B. Allison. Preface by Newton Garver. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973.

Readings in social and political theory:

Georges Bataille 1985 Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939. Ed. A. Stoekle. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Walter Benjamin 'Critique of Violence.' Pp. 277-300 in Reflections: Essays, aphorism and autobiographical writings. Ed. with an introduction by Peter Demetz. Tr. by Edmund Jephcott. New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

Emile Durkheim [1912] 1915 The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Tr. J. W. Swain. New York: The Free Press.

Colm Kelly 1998. "Derrida and Social Constructionism." Unpublished ms.

Colm Kelly 2000 "On the 'economic' with Mauss, Bataille and Derrida." Unpublished ms.

Emmanuel Levinas 1989 The Levinas Reader. Ed. Sean Hand. Oxford, UK and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Paul de Man 1979. Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke and Proust. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press.

Marcel Mauss 1969 The Gift. Tr. Ian Cunnison. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

George Herbert Mead [1934] 1967. Mind, Self and Society: From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. Ed. Charles W. Morris. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau [1762] 1968 The Social Contract. Tr. M. Cranston. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin.

Carl Schmitt The Concept of the Political. Translated with an introduction by George Schwab. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1976.

Max Weber 1946. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Tr. and ed. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. New York: Oxford University Press.

Max Weber 1978. Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology. Eds. G. Roth and C. Wittich. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.

Literary readings:

Franz Kafka "Before the Law."
William Shakespeare. Excerpts from Hamlet.
Paul Valery "The European" in History and Politics.
Chares Baudelaire "Counterfeit money."

Dr. Colm Kelly
Sociology 1006 - Introduction to Sociology
Sociology 3013 - Classical Sociological Theory
Sociology 3023 - Modern Sociological Theory
Sociology 3533 - Special topics "Derrida and the Future of the Social."
Sociology 4013 - Senior Seminar: The Modern University
Sociology 4033 - Advanced Sociological Theory

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