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Thinking Provisionally about Method: Jacques Derrida, Deconstruction and Political Theory

Political Theory
Methods
Mixed Methods
Theoretical
P15
Emanuela Ceva
University of Geneva
Nikolas Kirby
University of Oxford

Wednesday 16:00 - 17:00 (23/02/2022)


Abstract

Speaker: Lasse Thomassen, Queen Mary University of London What does it mean to use deconstruction as a methodological approach in political theory? This paper argues that deconstruction treats its own practice as essentially provisional, and that it does so in a way that distinguishes it from other methodological approaches in political theory. Deconstruction as a methodological approach arguably also implies the deconstruction of method. The paper places deconstruction in the tension between these two. On the one hand, I argue that we can treat deconstruction as a methodological approach, and that it is possible to systematize it. On the other hand, I show how deconstruction puts into question the traditional idea of a method as a neutral technique to appropriate an object of knowledge. The result is that we must treat the deconstructive “moves” and deconstructive “concepts” as essentially provisional. The same goes for deconstructive readings: these too are essentially provisional. I substantiate this take on deconstruction starting from a discussion of Jacques Derrida’s writings on method and on the status of deconstruction. I then introduce three of Derrida’s basic “concepts:” infrastructure, aporia and iterability. I bring the discussion together by way of an extended example: Derrida’s deconstruction of the concept of event, specifically 9-11. Here, as in the following section, I show what we do when we use a method, including deconstruction. The following section draws on Derrida’s work on Europe, and I show how the use of examples should be understood in terms of articulation: when we use an example, we articulate it, just as we articulate what is exemplified. I bring this to bear on the issue of case studies, drawing on the work of Bent Flyvbjerg and Charles Ragin. My discussions of the event, the example and the use of case studies serve to show how, in deconstruction, the theoretical and the empirical stand in a continuous tension that can never be resolved. This is precisely the reason why we must treat deconstruction as essentially provisional. However, the conclusion extends beyond deconstruction to political theory in general. Deconstruction makes visible the provisional character of political theory in general.