Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship

By Noëlle McAfee | Go to book overview
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2 Subjects-in-Process

Now I turn to another account of subjectivity, one that is similar to Habermas’s in many ways: it draws on Hegel as well as Freud; it understands the self as constituted through language and through social interaction; it is concerned with how the subject comes to be an effective agent in a social world steered by linguistic communication; and it is very much part of the continental tradition of philosophy. But beyond these similarities, Julia Kristeva’s philosophy is very much une étrangère to Jürgen Habermas’s, as strange as contemporary French philosophy is to German critical theory. The two sets of approaches, styles, and concerns are so dissimilar that the names Habermas and Kristeva are hardly ever uttered in the same breath. His Germanic concern with reason is alien to her focus on the fluidity and multiplicity of our ways of making meaning. Yet despite the divergence, the two have been working on similar projects. In the only other account I have found comparing them, Allison Weir notes the similarity of their theories: “Both Habermas and Kristeva propose models of individuation as a capacity for participation in a social world, and both presuppose that this capacity depends on a capacity for mutual understanding through the internalization of linguistic and social norms” (Weir 1995, 269). Weir’s language of “social norms” and “individuation” is more suited for Habermas than Kristeva; but it is true that we can read Kristeva as concerned with coming to be a speaking subject in a world with others, using a language that helps us regulate and act in the world, even as our heterogeneous


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