Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship

Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship

Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship

Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship


Do poststructuralist accounts of the self undermine the prospects for effective democratic politics? In addressing this question, Nolle McAfee brings together the theories of Jrgen Habermas and Julia Kristeva, two major figures whose work is seldom juxtaposed. She examines their respective notions of subjectivity and politics and their implicit definitions of citizenship: the extent to which someone is able to deliberate and act in community with others..

Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship begins by tracing the rise of modern and poststructural views of subjectivity, and then critiques these views as they are represented in the writings of Habermas and Kristeva. McAfee argues that Habermas's theory of subjectivity is overly optimistic about the possibility for individuals to know their own interests and act autonomously. Kristeva's poststructuralism has its own problems: it seems to limit political agency, since it considers the subject to be split and at odds with itself. Nevertheless, this book shows how Kristevan conceptions of the self can contribute to Habermas's hope for a more democratic, deliberative politics.

Combining an insight from poststructural theory--that identity is constituted by a web of relationships--with the theory of deliberative democracy, McAfee argues that we need not be the kinds of individuals supposed by the modern liberal tradition to be effective political agents. The more we recognize our indebtedness to and relationship with others in our midst, the more likely we are to be capable members of political communities.


For most of my adult life, I’ve had one foot in academe and another in politics, realms most people tend to shun. I first went from college to politics because I wanted, like many other young people, to make a difference. I tried politics of all sorts: a youthful emergence as a feminist; a brief dally with conservatism; calling on universities to divest from apartheid regimes; organizing graduate students to take a stand against U.S. intervention in Nicaragua; working for progressive legislation on Capitol Hill; building coalitions; training grassroots activists in how to use the media and lobby Congress; and labor organizing. Holding the notion that politics is war by other means, I fought against the pesticide industry, the tobacco industry, the publishing industry, and the media. I rallied for women, farm workers, writers, student workers, and Greek nationalists. I tried the politics of militance and the politics of compromise, from writing for underground newspapers to lobbying Congress. the result? the whole enterprise disheartened me. All told, I found that whether I took a radical stand or a forgiving one, the outcome was the same: nothing really changed.

This failure was understandable when “the enemy” was industry, powerful corporate interests, entrenched lobbyists, the usual powersthat-be. But it was something else altogether when “the enemy” turned out to be one’s own side, that is, “the people.” How many times have I, with so many other political activists, asked: Why do people do things that aren’t in their own interests? Why do poor . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.