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From Domination to Emancipation and Freedom: Reading Ernesto Laclau's Post-Marxism in Conjunction with Philip Pettit's Neo-republicanism

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In this paper, I bring Ernesto Laclau's post-Marxist approach into conversation with the analytical thinker Philip Pettit, who has developed an influential neo-republican conception of freedom as 'non-domination'. Both thinkers aim to reconfigure power and domination towards more democratic and egalitarian relations and I evaluate the political implications of their respective conceptions of domination/non-domination, emancipation and freedom. I show that despite these common points of reference, the two authors exhibit considerable differences which manifest in their respective conceptions of structure and agency. In the opening section, I compare Laclau's and Pettit's respective conceptions of 'domination' where I highlight the differences between them in two alternate readings of Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House. In the second section, I examine their respective understandings of 'emancipation' and 'freedom', and I demonstrate that Pettit does not model his conception of freedom as non-domination on the idea of emancipation. This stands in contrast to Laclau, for whom emancipation remains the focal point of political struggle, despite formal equality, and who maintains the idea of the possibility of a more radical transformation in the underlying structures of society. In the final section, I consider Laclau's and Pettit's alternative conceptions of politics where both thinkers place a premium on democratic contest in challenging and overturning arbitrary power. I show that for Pettit political freedom is a mode of contestability within the established institutions, while Laclau's notions of emancipation and freedom functions at the level of competing hegemonic projects, and this facilitates a form of political struggle that might transcend the existing regime to instantiate a new institutional order. I conclude by amalgamating the respective strengths of both thinkers to provide a multi-layered analysis of contemporary forms of domination to better aid our understanding about the kinds of struggle needed to contest them.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 2019

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  • Global Discourse is an interdisciplinary, problem-oriented journal of applied contemporary thought operating at the intersection of politics, international relations, sociology and social policy. The Journal's scope is broad, encouraging interrogation of current affairs with regard to core questions of distributive justice, wellbeing, cultural diversity, autonomy, sovereignty, security and recognition. All issues are themed and aimed at addressing pressing issues as they emerge. Rejecting the notion that publication is the final stage in the research process, Global Discourse seeks to foster discussion and debate between often artificially isolated disciplines and paradigms, with responses to articles encouraged and conversations continued across issues.

    The Journal features a mix of full-length articles, each accompanied by one or more replies, policy papers commissioned by organizations and institutions and book review symposia, typically consisting of three reviews and a reply by the author(s). With an international advisory editorial board consisting of experienced, highly-cited academics, Global Discourse publishes themed issues on topics as they emerge. Authors are encouraged to explore the international dimensions and implications of their work.

    All research articles in this journal have undergone rigorous peer review, based on initial editor screening and double-blind peer review. All submissions must be in response to a specific call for papers.

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