Practical Philosophy Seminar - Oda Storbråten Davanger

"A New Reading of the Rights Paradox for Identities of Difference in Democracy"



A phenomenological approach to understanding identities of difference such as gender or race has emerged as a third option to the two dominant modes of understanding the political “self”. These two are universal humanism emphasizing sameness for all human beings in the liberal tradition on the one hand, and the communitarian tradition emphasizing plurality and differences on the other hand. These two traditions lead to different solutions for democratic equality: The former ascribes to formal equality under the law in neutral terms, whereas the latter favors affirmative action and quotas that takes advantage of differenced identities to overcome structures of domination.

I defend political philosopher Wendy Brown’s Rights Paradox against criticism in order to demonstrate why a phenomenological approach is useful for understanding the kinds of democratic issues at play in movements such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. According to Brown, neutral rights fail to rectify injustice by presuming apriori equality whereas identity-specific rights rely on identities as being othered and subordinated. The claimant is then forced to publicly subsume a subordinated, othered identity in order to call upon the law to address an injustice, which evokes ressentiment or a ‘wounded attachment’ to one’s identity of difference. I propose a reading of the paradox that relies on phenomenological notions of the symbolic, and articulates a problem for identity-based emancipation movements in democracy; engaging the very premises of a logic it aims to disavow.



Published May 6, 2021 1:03 PM - Last modified June 28, 2022 10:10 AM