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Thinking the 'Social' with Claude Lefort
Brian C. J. Singer Thesis Eleven 2006 87: 83 DOI: 10.1177/0725513606068777 The online version of this article can be found at: http://the.sagepub.com/content/87/1/83
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as a strictly modern ‘phenomenon’. Singer ABSTRACT This article examines Claude Lefort’s writings in order to think about the ‘social’.THINKING THE ‘SOCIAL’ WITH CLAUDE LEFORT Brian C. its own divisions. understood as separate from the political. At a ﬁrst moment. once knowledge need no longer be. above all. it appears as an event in. arises between these two moments. the collective order was presented through the representation of power. without determinate content. and in its separation. such that three domains emerge.com at BROWN UNIVERSITY on May 9. that is the enunciation of the principles by which the latter establish the order. J. Number 87. In this regard the ‘social’ appears as a presupposition that serves to stabilize an inherently conﬂictual political order. renders power immanent. particularly as it emerges with modern democracy. knowledge. it also accounts for the fragility of all discourses that would speak in its name (social science. however. While this emptiness proves a stimulus for the construction of new savoirs. KEYWORDS Claude Lefort • political • power • representation • social Claude Lefort is known primarily as a thinker of the ‘political’. The article concludes with a few words about the ‘death of the social’. Prior to the modern democratic revolution. sociology).sagepub. the modern democratic revolution. each with its own logic. in a sense. 2012 . The ‘social’. This article asks if his thought Thesis Eleven. and in consequence an object of. social theory. itself identiﬁed with both law and knowledge. under the sign of the general will. November 2006: 83–95 SAGE Publications (London. Thousand Oaks. At another level the ‘social’ emerges as a response to the difﬁculties presented by a strictly political representation of societal order – difﬁculties in no small part due to the revolutionaries’ inability to countenance the separation between the three domains. primarily. and therefore also a source of uncertainty. It is. At one level. knowledge. and referred to a transcendent source.1177/0725513606068777 Downloaded from the. its own notion of representation. At a second moment. coherence and sense of the world. a knowledge of power or law. CA and New Delhi) Copyright © 2006 SAGE Publications and Thesis Eleven Co-op Ltd DOI: 10. an ‘empty’ presupposition. it separates power from law and.
in discourse. law and knowledge converge within the ﬁgure of the divinity. Warrant for this claim can be found in one of Lefort’s more difﬁcult essays. The social here applies to all societies. in each of these terms’ signiﬁcation. Consider the character of this change. the source of all law. and be modelled on. Near the beginning of the essay. many have noted that. 2012 . The latter is deﬁned not just as ‘a system of oppositions by which social forms can be identiﬁed and articulated with one another’ (1982: 194). he makes it clear that the social appears explicitly as such. as more likely. 1982). He adds that the character of these oppositions depends on ‘the conﬁguration of the signiﬁers of law. Thus there is neither law nor knowledge outside the position of power: the law is deﬁned through the power that gives it substance. Of course. such that the institution of that order was represented as proceeding from an extra-social. intelligible in its own terms – this ultimately being what is meant by the ‘discovery’ of the social. therefore. The suggestion is that the social order was confused with the natural or. and need to be unpacked and expanded. and guarantor of the world’s coherence. CONFIGURATIONS OF POWER. if less perfectly. when re-presented in human institutions. Human power. highly suggestive. With a change in the symbolic order. while power is deﬁned through Downloaded from the. his comments on the social remain quite brief. Earlier societies spoke of the social in non-social terms. integrity and intelligibility. As this essay’s central thematic concerns ideology. They are. nonetheless. as long as religion remained dominant. LAW AND KNOWLEDGE In the religious symbolic order. the three terms are all referred to a divinity that is all-powerful and all-knowing. the super-natural world. The claim of this article is that the social was only ‘discovered’ during the 18th and 19th centuries. divine power. and consequently. As power.sagepub. there is a change in the relations between law. knowledge and law in order to render the latter visibly present to the human world. In modern societies the social order is deemed immanent to society and. if only schematically.84 Thesis Eleven (Number 87 2006) can also serve to think about the ‘social’. ‘Outline of the Genesis of Ideology in Modern Societies’ (Lefort. knowledge and law must participate in. only in modern societies. Still. The promise of Lefort’s discussion lies in its association of secularization with the idea of a change in the ‘symbolic order’. which corresponds roughly to that between ‘an order of practice and an order of representation’ (1982: 183). Lefort draws a distinction between the ‘institution of the social’ and the ‘discourse on the social’. power and knowledge’ (1982: 186). they will also converge. at least in its pre-modern Christian variant. and that this discovery must be related to the modern democratic revolution. transcendental source. as they had not disentangled ‘the social order’ from ‘the order of the world’ (1982: 187). power and knowledge.com at BROWN UNIVERSITY on May 9. the nature of social being was misrecognized.
for power is divided between the immediately visible positions occupied by the power-holders and the sovereign position they claim to represent. comparatively speaking.sagepub. become knowledgeable. knowledge (like power and law. an unsatisfactory form to be sure. knowledge and power are still conjoined. law and knowledge without which there would be no institution. but one still subject to the changes being examined. Power here bears. if constitutions never declare the all-powerful sovereign people to be all-knowing. they separate and pursue their own particular ‘logics’. the perspective of knowledge and its transformation. 2012 . Institution appears present only to the extent that it is represented in the theological-political discourse. A power that separates from its law is no longer power. particularly in matters of political judgement. if only tentatively. Everyone can. This last statement suggests a qualiﬁcation. with his own personal archive. Words are often not just words. indirectly. Nonetheless. the latter appearing less a discourse about the ‘social’ than a discourse constitutive of the ‘social’. The latter is. and in several senses. All this supposes that knowledge. And everyone can become his own object of knowledge. In effect. they mould the institutional world. This article looks at this separation from. and serves to sustain power and its law. an explicitly symbolic dimension. and should receive an education. This has implications for the distinction between ‘the institution of the social’ and the ‘discourse on the social’ (here a politico-theological discourse on a social ‘under erasure’). its occupants no longer incarnate the constitution of an order. Similarly. or at least the position of the power-holders. the emptying of the place of power itself implying a new ‘conﬁguration of the signiﬁers of power. One wonders if this separation from knowledge also applies to the sovereign. knowledge is only genuine knowledge if it is validated by power. moreover) is general. if it is not to become an instrument of oppression by the few. in the ﬁgures of the general will. After all. Everyone is a potential source of knowledge. Ultimately. the focus of Lefort’s essay. for the latter renders present the power. Institution thus appears via discourse. above all.com at BROWN UNIVERSITY on May 9. ideology being a form of knowledge. And acts are often ritual acts because they communicate between worlds. as the three terms no longer refer to a single extra-social source.Singer: Thinking the ‘Social’ with Claude Lefort 85 the law that gives it form. but its corruption. and deserves to be heard regardless of position. Modern democratic power is less explicitly symbolic: as the place of power is ‘empty’. law and knowledge’. must be dissociated from the position of power. power speaks truth in order to sustain a lawful world. In modern democratic regimes. as it relays the divine word constitutive of the order of the world from which the ‘social’ is not yet disentangled. modern democratic regimes still entail a symbolic order. in principle. Truths that lie outside the orbit of power appear senseless because they would refer to a disorderly and incoherent world. common sense and public Downloaded from the.
but between laws that must be stated in order to be effective. Paradoxically. are even more effective for being ‘real’ rather than symbolic. still has to gesture to an underlying ‘reality’. however. as its discovery of a terrain that marks the limits of its empire.1 Lefort speaks of two disentanglings: ﬁrst. This accords with what we know about those generally considered the pre-revolutionary precursors of social theory: Montesquieu criticized contractualism. THE SOCIAL DISTINGUISHED FROM THE POLITICAL When one speaks of a ‘social contract’ in. ‘the disentangling of the political and the non-political within the social order’ (1982: 187).com at BROWN UNIVERSITY on May 9. A similar argument can be made regarding the relation of knowledge to law.86 Thesis Eleven (Number 87 2006) opinion (Singer. When democracy is deﬁned in terms of a general accord that establishes the nation. and second. and legislative hubris more generally. Scientiﬁc laws. recognizes these laws. To pose the existence of a ‘hidden’. should be understood as proceeding from the political. For knowledge of the social order would still be restricted to knowledge of juridical law. cannot but appear to interfere with the accord’s transparency and. Knowledge is no longer restricted to a concern with (the power of) law. ‘the disentangling of the political and the mythical-religious’. the existence of the national society depends on general knowledge of the accord and agreement as to its wisdom. say. one has yet to discover the social. This second disentangling. for much of their truth value depends on their place of enunciation. its purchase. at least as distinct from the political. that demands a different kind of knowledge. between scientiﬁc and juridical law – a division crucial to ‘the disentangling of the social order from the order of the world’. This division implies not just a distinction between two forms of causality. if not necessarily modelled on scientiﬁc law. if the division between the two laws rigorously corresponded to that between ‘the social order and the order of the world’. The discovery of the social thus requires the development of an extra-juridical knowledge of the social order which. demanded by the modern democratic revolution. knowledge and law would not be separated relative to the social order. when enunciated from a position of power. even as knowledge of the latter would be considered directly constitutive of that order. the stones included. the discovery of the social proper. juridical laws will not be obeyed if not known. bears considerable symbolic efﬁcacy (an efﬁcacy greater than the ﬁgures of the previous paragraph). the manner of Rousseau. non-consensual social order. And yet. the separation of knowledge from law is perhaps ﬁrst evidenced by the development of a division in law. 2004b). Such knowledge. is not. and laws that do not. These are ﬁgures with considerable symbolic potency. of course.sagepub. potentially. Stones fall according to the law of gravity independent of whether anyone. by contrast. while the Downloaded from the. This is to say that the statement of juridical law. at ﬁrst. 2012 .
law or knowledge? The problem with the revolutionary democratic imaginary is that it confuses the three forms. 2004a). it also served to stabilize the separation of knowledge. in the context of the French Revolution. 2012 . What is the nation? Within social contract theory it is given through its constitution. Thus the continuous purges. the latter is by deﬁnition a representation. sovereign principle. It also accords with the common argument that the postrevolutionary development of social thought in the 19th century was a response to the shortcomings of the French Revolution. as well as the festivals that reiterate the original act of political constitution with a display of general assent. But what then does representation refer to? What does it mean to represent a collectivity? The answer is less simple than it appears. A non-political social. though it is not the immediate object of a knowing gaze or consenting will. This renders what Lefort terms the ‘play of divisions’ difﬁcult and.sagepub. the generality of one term blends into the generality of the others: if the voluntas of power is not general. and the nation will not live up to its concept. law and power which the democratic revolution momentarily threatened to erase. As a written document. the three terms again converge. by virtue of their self-evidence (and by the self-evidence of their virtue). law and knowledge here all appear general: the sovereign encompasses all citizens. at a distance. Consider for a moment this revolutionary democratic imaginary that refuses to separate the political from the non-political. by contrast. any sign of division threatening the republic one and indivisible with symbolic collapse (Singer. Power. 1986). which then makes it difﬁcult to separate the representation from the represented. Much depends on what sort of representation one is talking about – a representation of power. One cannot simply say that representation no longer participates in the formation of the represented. however. the law brooks no privileges. In a sense. here we are speaking of a Downloaded from the. murderous. Moreover. points to a half-buried stratum of collective existence not directly encompassed by rights. then the laws passed will not be in the general interest. Singer. though from within a position of immanence. representation no longer refers to the rendering present to this world of an order that originates in another through a power that bridges both.com at BROWN UNIVERSITY on May 9. But even what is based on purportedly self-evident truths does not really exist until it has been declared to exist. With the political disentangled from the mythical-religious. that the representation merely reﬂects. but a representation of what? Let us say that it reiterates truths that. and the political truth is born of a general accord. are present to each and every citizen – as if the constitution were merely a piece of paper representing a contract already present in hearts and minds. Moreover.Singer: Thinking the ‘Social’ with Claude Lefort 87 Scottish Enlightenment sought to oppose civic republicanism (Pocock. a pre-existing.2 The discovery of a non-political social was not. 1985. simply a matter of intellectual history. laws or powers – a stratum that bears signs of a minimal consistency and intelligibility. Much of our problematic can be resituated in terms of the question of representation.
the Terror being the attempt to ensure the survival of the sovereign by forcing nation and representation to coincide. One cannot underestimate the enormous symbolic efﬁcacy of the representation of the law here. prior to the Revolution. The tendency. The sovereign power constituted by the (fundamental) law refers to the general will of the people that exists to maintain and extend the law. the representational logics of law and power overlap. Political representation need no longer embody the wholeness and wholesomeness of the social bond. not because inspired by God. threaten to reveal that will as internally divided and different from its representation. in short. as the sovereign people is constituted through the (fundamental) law. It refers instead to a Downloaded from the. If. off the representative will. One might think such a translation unnecessary. The dramatic. all political divisions.sagepub. The real problem emerges with the translation from the representation of law to that of power. it will be no mere piece of paper. Thus the propensity to postpone elections which. appear as a direct menace to the nation one and indivisible. supposes the existence of different forms of representation corresponding to the different spheres. which is to say. at least not continuously. After all. then. as the nation is too large to assemble in person. with the proviso that the latter reﬂect the national will as closely as possible (a proviso that appears all the more necessary as. democratic political representation no longer represents the collectivity. identiﬁed with the sovereign power and its act of foundation. 2012 . But this will cannot manifest itself directly. a ﬁltering mechanism for the promotion of superior individuals to positions of authority). is to read not just the ‘general will’. whether within or between representatives and represented. it will appear sacrosanct. Once polity and society can be distinguished. coherence and identity of the collectivity are no longer suspended on its political representation. political representation was considered inherently aristocratic. If events at the level of political representation are not to directly threaten the ‘order of society’. in the register of power the representatives and represented refer to two different groups of people.88 Thesis Eleven (Number 87 2006) declaration of law that constitutes the sovereign nation that declares the law.com at BROWN UNIVERSITY on May 9. Indeed. but because confounded with the sovereign act that founds the nation. even impossible. character of such a logic underlines the need to separate polity and society. ultimately unsustainable. while periodically permitting the direct manifestation of the sovereign will. However. the latter must appear as existing relatively independent of political representation. but the nation’s very existence. When the order. it must be represented in terms other than those of law or power. a constitution genuinely takes hold. politics can be ‘desacralized’. Instead it must manifest itself indirectly through its political representation. opening the way for a logic of substitution that operates in the following manner. then. if in the register of the law the referent (the represented) cannot be easily separated from its enunciation (the representation). The second disentangling.
which served as a common place for representation and for things. social theories. Here the sense of the term institution must be speciﬁed. where the ‘order of the social’ is rendered present through the representation of an extra-social power. but also because of a division from power that allows the national society to appear as more and other than the sovereign. a change that. By contrast. discourse from institution. 2012 . In the religious symbolic regime. 2002: 259). his discussion of the shift from the classic to the modern episteme that separates words from things. and resists power’s diktat. I am arguing. and words from things. a tangled skein at once synchronic and diachronic. This last phrase refers to Foucault’s Les mots et les choses and. the emergence of the social from the political supposes a form of knowledge that separates political representation from national existence. is from now on shattered. the enunciation of knowledge remains joined to the expressions of law and power. in a sort of behind-the-scenes world even deeper and more dense than representation itself’ (Foucault.e. the emergence of the social requires a separation between ‘the institution of the social’ and the ‘discourse on the social’. more precisely. . the signiﬁer of a reality that slips beneath the surface of law’s empire. If modern democracies have instituted a distinct political sphere open to the play of division. Returning to Lefort’s original terms. ‘The space of order.’ This order resides ‘henceforth outside representation. for empirical visibility and for the essential rules . the social appears as the moment of collective existence that lies ‘outside representation’. consummates the differentiation of knowledge from law and power. in the very sense of representation. Once the latter admits its distance from institution. relative to knowledge. enunciation from its referent. Henceforth. In its gesture to an underlying reality.com at BROWN UNIVERSITY on May 9. and inseparable from.Singer: Thinking the ‘Social’ with Claude Lefort 89 political competition only loosely connected to a society that exists on its own terms. . Everything that has been said so far suggests that the discovery of the social is not exclusively a matter of knowledge. the social solicits new savoirs – social sciences. a discourse that makes truth claims about social institution. it is not just because of the establishment of a division within power (between the sovereign people and its representatives).sagepub. sociology – themselves the occasion for the creation of new empiricities. with all the corresponding symbolic effects. As such. Nonetheless it remains primarily such as the presence of the social depends on a change in the representation of knowledge consequent to its separation from power and law. power and its representation. I Downloaded from the. knowledge appears as a necessary moment of. as knowledge of the social order is still equated with knowledge of power at its source (even if the latter is no longer extra-social). Foucault’s history illuminates a change. beyond its immediate visibility. In the revolutionary democratic imaginary. an index of the depths below that replaces the light from above. It seems odd to pair Foucault with Lefort3 – still. it becomes a discourse about the social. i. the social appears as that which is not immediately apparent.
once the difference between representation and reality has been posed. 2012 . that must be admitted. 2003: 7) The discovery of the social. i. (Lefort. in effect. .sagepub. with the idea of a constituting consciousness. law and contract – terms that are inevitably the expression of a (conjunction of) will(s) – the social now demands the ‘admission’ of a difference between discourse and institution. One must add. on the basis of instituted knowledge. He rejects. ideology tries to narrow this difference in order to neutralize the effects of division and historicity that bespeak the uncertainties of ‘the instituting moment’. In its refusal to be reduced to the terms of power. According to Lefort. But where once institution could only be presented through discourse.e. representation and ‘reality’. the idea of a world within which nothing can be discovered that has not been constituted by that consciousness’ activities. Understood in its double sense. the difference cannot Downloaded from the.com at BROWN UNIVERSITY on May 9. conceal its own coherence behind the erasure of the signs of its difference. which Lefort recently edited. ‘namely that the institution of the social can account for itself’ (1982: 201) – as if social reality could be represented as independent of representation. Here we touch on a matter that goes beyond ideology: the illusion that shadows the emergence of the social. enunciation and referent. implies a discovery of the institutional dimension of collective life beyond the constituting consciousness of the political. and notably from his 1954–5 course at the Collège de France. institution supposes that the instituting and the instituted do not coincide. and reality only through representation. Such a discourse would represent reality as devoid of discourse (including an instituting discourse) and represent itself as the selfdecipherment of that non-discursive reality. In what Lefort disparagingly refers to as ‘sociologisms’. and simultaneously as the latter’s source or cause. to bring thought into contact with the instituting moment’ (1982: 202). Such is the supposition of the emergence of genuine social knowledge: ‘the attempt . by enjoining a discourse that would hide behind the facts.90 Thesis Eleven (Number 87 2006) assume that Claude Lefort draws it from Merleau-Ponty. In this attempt. . if the non-coincidence of the instituting and instituted is to be acknowledged. It would. However. or what in reality is unwanted and unexpected. the discourse on the social speaks in the name of reality by presenting itself as simultaneously external to and engendered by the reality it ‘reﬂects’. the temptation now is to seek to narrow the distance from the side of reality. it is not just the difference between discourse and institution. as though the coherence of its speech were immanent to ‘reality’ alone. then. ideology is the attempt. This discovery points beyond the sense of the social as an association formed by the enunciation of an action in common. to dissimulate the ‘real’. In the preface he writes: Merleau-Ponty explicitly distinguishes between the problematic of institution and that of constitution (in the Kantian sense). but the irreducibility of this difference.
Representation inevitably falls short of social reality. Society is now presented as a given. wherein the instituting continuously breaks through the instituted. Modern liberalism still draws on the individualism.com at BROWN UNIVERSITY on May 9. wherein conventions appear ‘natural’ while nature appears mutable. and appears neither natural nor artiﬁcial. at once descriptive and normative. The social. communal belonging or regime type. produces a purely conventional agreement). and conceived as an association. the social appears as the necessary presupposition of modern democracy. and all attempts to specify its content prove rather fragile. In its dependence on the will. once distinguished from the political. lawyers and sociologists all represent social reality differently. serving to ground its regime of representations. the social. conscious accord. is a source of stability. encompassing all of collective life in all its aspects.sagepub. no single perspective on the referent (politicians. as well as an event in knowledge. and dispersed through a variety of spheres. eventually the facts escape even the most ‘realist’ discourse. once the social is distinguished from the political. The social is also a source of uncertainty – the topos of an ‘institution’ ultimately experienced as ‘ïnsaisissable’ and ‘immaîtrisable’ (Lefort. and not just because the distance between the place of enunciation and its referent cannot. as a presupposition. shopkeepers. Indeed. as a source both of stability and uncertainty. be disguised. which can then only play catch-up. from all the particulars of position. The result is that the idea of the social becomes even more abstract. it appeared an abstraction. it is no longer an object of volition. suggestive of a new openness to institutional creativity. a strictly empirical entity.Singer: Thinking the ‘Social’ with Claude Lefort 91 be indeﬁnitely disguised. Thus the tendency of sociologists Downloaded from the. workers.). industrialists. etc. Being rooted in the bedrock of an evolving history. Ultimately. but seems to occupy an intermediary zone of its own. therefore. 1981: 173). to the point where it loses even its descriptive value. the contract. it proves relatively impervious to shifts in power. the social is without determinate content. appeared as both the most natural (as it accords with the nature of the free will) and most artiﬁcial of devices (as that will. However. as do economists. 2012 . and a new sensitivity to reality’s indeterminacy. THE FRAGILITY OF THE SOCIAL When the social was still indistinguishable from the political. In its dual aspect this discovery must be considered a political event (if one that points beyond the political4). freed of all natural constraints. egalitarianism and ‘spiritualism’ that such an understanding implies. devoid of any normative imperative to conform to its deﬁnition as a general. It was the result of an explicit conjunction of wills based on a shared interest. its meaning was clear. in the end.5 However. the failure is inscribed in the very nature of the object. Its instrument. artists. The discovery of the social signals a new ontology of collective life. Nor because there is no single place of enunciation and.
is towards ‘residual’ areas like deviance. 1992) or more indirectly. Margaret Thatcher – who claim that society does not exist. The social.sagepub. if not necessarily the hegemony of the polity or economy. the new.92 Thesis Eleven (Number 87 2006) to deﬁne their discipline tautologically. more providential (given its promise of a utilitarian utopia). sometimes pitched diacritically towards the political. Not only is the idea of social relations as constituted of a common accord still very much present in normative political theory. ranging from Social Catholicism to socialism. of the social as a set of policies. as the study of society. In truth. sometimes competing. sometimes associating. Downloaded from the. thereby. Anyone who has taught sociology knows that the pull of the discipline.com at BROWN UNIVERSITY on May 9. it appears to reconcile the instituting and the instituted). in the attempts to supplement economic capital with social capital or trust (Putnam. or of social relations. as with Hegel’s concept of civil society squeezed between family and state. the idea of a contractual association being too deeply rooted in the democratic imaginary to simply disappear. race and ethnicity. but as the sum of the interaction of individual wills. yet still upholds the free will as the source of all action. then the hegemony of their associated paradigms. It can claim an intermediary status. it does what the properly social does. or of the responses to that problem. 1984). in related terms. stabilizes the political. institutional sense of the social does not simply replace an earlier. at once. etc. 1994. beginning in the 1830s. 2012 . One calls on the social in order to criticize the ‘spiritualism’ of political theorists and the ‘instrumentalism’ of economists. 1995. One thinks of the designation. while maintaining much of the contractual imagination. but in a way that is. Thus there are those – most famously. Donzelot. gender. or Hannah Arendt’s concept of the social distended between oikos and polis. as well as those for whom society exists. and to invoke some broader. more certain (given its law-like determinations). Yet the prestige of the two more established disciplines remains largely unscathed. more ﬂexible (with its mix of nature and artiﬁce. denser and ultimately more realistic perspective. of ‘the social problem’ at that point where democratic republicanism appeared incapable of responding to market dysfunctions (Castel. The latter economic representation points to an invisible principle of order that limits and. In other words. Seligman. social interactions. however large its claims. need not seek to encompass the political or the economic in the name of the whole. Most often the inaugural gesture of the disciplines that speak in the name of the social is to deny. but the idea that such relations are constituted of individual wills comes to deﬁne the basis of economic theory. One is tempted to speak of a shift in the apprehension of ‘the order of the social’ from the one big contract of the general political will to the many little contracts of the market economy. Or one thinks. social democracy and the World Social Forum. as in the neo-Habermassian version of civil society (Arato and Cohen. Often the social is invoked to speak less of the theoretical limits than the very real failings of economy and polity. And sometimes towards the economic. however. 1997). contractual sense. etc.
but appears a simulation. Sometimes what is understood is the end of the ‘idea’ of society – society as a normative order underwritten by an idea of justice embedded in the public sphere – an idea crushed by the sheer positivity of system functioning (Freitag. rhetorically at least. At other times. and in the graduate programmes in Sociology and Social and Political Thought at York University. though not entirely coherent with each other. 2002). Rather the implication is that the disarticulation of these signiﬁers has proceeded apace. some dozen articles in different journals. If identiﬁed with a form of governance. he speaks of an ‘invisible ideology’ – though the very fact that he still calls this an ideology suggests a note of caution. 2002). if ‘the conﬁguration of the signiﬁers of law. The more interesting of these deaths speak to the difﬁculty of engaging the distance established by the division between institution and representation. Something of this is anticipated by Claude Lefort when. dissolving the durability and externality that sociologists equate with social structure (Bauman.7 The implication is that the division between the institution of the social and the discourse on the social still holds. on the different elements of the emergence of the social as described here. understood as the container of the nation-state. If identiﬁed with a bounded society. Once the question of the social’s emergence is posed. one seems to be speaking of the death of the ‘instituted’. the product of the increasingly tactile immediacy of media representations (Baudrillard. practice and discourse. the claim that the social no longer seems real. and their corresponding forms of ‘governance’. fact and value. there is the death associated with a loss of referentiality. Indeed. The elaboration of this claim.sagepub. in almost systematic fashion.com at BROWN UNIVERSITY on May 9. He has written one book. the possibility of its disappearance has to be countenanced.6 appear to touch. however.Singer: Thinking the ‘Social’ with Claude Lefort 93 social policies. 2000. no-one would suggest that they have fused into the representation of a constituting consciousness at the source of collective life. After all. 1999). and translated several works from the French. e. Lastly. with the social turning liquid. All these different deaths. 1990: 63–78). 1983). which afford the social its principle of visibility. at the end of the essay under discussion. the reference is to economic globalization (Giddens. the social has been subjected. although it may now be harder to represent. knowledge and power’ are no longer quite the same as they were. Toronto. such that the diacritical markers that demarcated the social no longer hold with the same ﬁrmness. Brian Singer teaches at Glendon College in sociology. would require another article. ‘the end of the social’ has already been announced. Dubet. social insurance or social work. the end of the social refers simply to the waning of the welfare state (Rose. social welfare.ca] Downloaded from the. leaving the social both more pervasive and more difﬁcult to pin down. to several deaths. Sometimes its death or decline is attributed to the increased hegemony of (the representation of) the economic.g. [email: bsinger@yorku. 2012 . though as the term has several meanings.
Note the author. with their attempt to ground a community – as opposed to a society – in a revived political theology. Paris: Fayard. to have their origin. by the will alone. New York: Semiotext(e). another that the social has been reduced to social work. of elements of a ‘cultural’ understanding of the nation in response to the aporias of a strictly voluntary. 2. Bauman. consists in wanting to produce the political and. it is quite “spiritualist. European Journal of Social Theory 5(2). but. Paris: Seuil. or the End of the Social. a political theorist. Cambridge. while another sees the facts absorbed into representation (by the media). Cambridge: Polity. Jean (1983) In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities . contractual understanding (Singer. my translation). 2012 . The representative principle. that is. more generally. 2004: 230. Saint-Simon. Paris: Fayard Downloaded from the. CA: Stanford University Press. Foucault hardly speaks about the appearance of the social (not least because of his difﬁculties in speaking about the political). References Arato. Foucault.sagepub. 3. speak of the emergence of the ‘human sciences’. Comte and Durkheim can and have all been read in this manner. 1976: 243–7). Tocqueville. One death suggests the end of social work. Dubet. He describes the ‘invisible ideology’ in terms of a double movement: ‘eliminating the distance between the discourse on the social and social discourse. 1996). In an earlier article I tried to examine the emergence. he does. Michel (2002) ‘The Dissolution of Society within the “Social”’. within the French Revolution. There is no need to turn to a Bonald or de Maistre. Giddens. One sees representation (the representation of the norm) absorbed into the facts. MA: MIT Press. Jacques (1984) L’invention du social. London: Routledge. 7.” We want all our ties. the social bond. Marx. Jean (1992) Civil Society and Political Theory. Lefort. . Castel. 6. 4. Stanford. (Manent. at its root. Freitag. . Though there can be no doubt that Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s book of the same name did much to spread the use of the term ‘social’ (Williams. Claude (1981) L’Invention démocratique. cause and duration in a purely and sovereignly spiritual decision.com at BROWN UNIVERSITY on May 9. Robert (1995) Les metamorphoses de la question social. Andrew and Cohen.94 Thesis Eleven (Number 87 2006) Notes 1. Our period is perhaps not very religious. from the human soul alone. François (2002) Le déclin de l’institution. inserting the ﬁrst into the second’. Anthony (1990) The Consequences of Modernity. and ‘dissociating [this latter enterprise] from the afﬁrmation of totality’ (1982: 225). in the political and social order. Paris: Fayard. Baudrillard. Michel (2002) The Order of Things. even corporal ties. 5. Much of what is called nation-building should be understood as the attempt to establish the presence of a ‘pre-political’ society. Donzelot. Zygmunt (2000) Liquid Modernity. however. tends to fold the social into the political.
ctheory. Theory and the French Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Claude (1982) The Political Forms of Modern Society. Singer.asp Article: A147. MA: MIT Press. http://www. Studies in the Revolutionary Imaginary. Adam B. Pocock.com at BROWN UNIVERSITY on May 9. Journal of Classical Sociology 4(1). J.sagepub. NJ: Princeton University Press. Paris: Éditions Belin. Putnam. (1994) Making Democracy Work. Princeton. Manent. to Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Brian (2004a) ‘Montesquieu. Cambridge. London: Macmillan. G. Glasgow: Fontana. L’Institution et La Passivité. History and Theory 35(3). Singer. Downloaded from the. Singer. Paris: Gallimard. Rose. Brian (1996) ‘Cultural versus Contractual Nations: Rethinking their Opposition’. Singer. Brian (1986) Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Robert D. Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Claude (2003) ‘Préface’. NJ: Princeton University Press. A. Williams. Pierre (2004) Cours familier de philosophie politique. 2012 . The Three Figures of Knowledge and Power’. Brian (2004b) ‘Intellectuals and Democracy.net/default. Adam Smith and the Discovery of the Social’. Reframing Political Thought. Princeton.Singer: Thinking the ‘Social’ with Claude Lefort 95 Lefort. Nikolas (1999) Powers of Freedom. Commerce and History. Seligman. Notes de cours au Collège de France (1954–55). CTHEORY. (1985) Virtue. Raymond (1976) Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. (1997) The Problem of Trust. Lefort.