Continental Philosophy Review

, Volume 41, Issue 4, pp 501–521 | Cite as

Ricoeur and the pre-political

  • Farhang Erfani
  • John F. WhitmireJr.


We argue that Paul Ricoeur’s work on narrative and alienation provides a largely untapped, though potentially fruitful way of re-thinking the question of political agency within the context of globalization. We argue that the political agency of many around the world has been placed in an exceedingly fragile position due to the rapid pace of globalization, the movement of multi-national corporations from their previous national headquarters, etc. We use Ricoeur’s work to argue that the alienation of globalization is not something that can be simply overcome either in a unified world-state or a retreat to protectionist nationalism, because institutional mediation—and consequently alienation—is in some sense constitutive of all politics: the world of political representation operates by its own set of rules, which are at least partially disconnected from the represented world. Using the work of Mouffe, a radical democratic theorist, we then flesh out an ideal of agonistic citizenship (which recognizes both the need for and the inevitability of discursive struggle in politics) in a number of overlapping communities of interest, rather than tying political participation solely to the sovereign government of my state. The state will remain important, but because globalization has disenfranchised so many from their participation in “local” modes of self-governance (tied to the state in which they live), we have a responsibility to re-envision what political participation means outside the traditional context of the state. Rather than merely citizens of a particular state, we need to begin thinking of ourselves politically—and then acting—as “citizens” of Green Peace, Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders, or whatever other supra-local concrete universals or communities of interest to which we belong, investing the time and energy there that we might previously have invested solely in our state’s government. (By implication, we must also ensure that these organizations work in transparent democratic ways themselves.) We believe that by re-plotting our narratives of political engagement in this way, we can positively respond to the alienation created by globalization, while avoiding both the extremes of “McWorld” (hyperglobalism) and “Jihad” (complete skepticism towards, or war against globalization) that Benjamin Barber and David Held have recently described.


Ricoeur Mouffe Radical democracy Globalization Citizenship Cosmopolitanism Agonism NGO Political philosophy Political theory 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and ReligionAmerican UniversityWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Departments of Journalism, Media and PhilosophyNelson Mandela Metropolitan UniversityPort ElizabethSouth Africa
  3. 3.Department of Philosophy and ReligionWestern Carolina UniversityCullowheeUSA

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