Depoliticization as impotent praxis: A Sartrean perspective

Constellations 29 (2):184–196 (2022)
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This paper aims to provide a materialist definition of the concept of depoliticization. ‘Post-foundational’ theorists have emphasized how a state of depoliticization symbolic covers up the fact that society is contingently instituted. This paper argues that an exclusive stress on the symbolic dimension of depoliticization overlooks its practical and material character. Based on the phenomenological materialism that Jean-Paul Sartre developed in his Critique of Dialectical Reason, I conceptualize depoliticization as the practical inability of groups to transform the present structures of a society. In a state of depoliticization, practico-inert structures and serialities present an objective limit for political actors which their actions cannot transcend. Political contestations (debates, protests, strikes) can continue to take place, but they do so within predetermined objective and structural limits. This account shows that an exclusive stress on the symbolic markers of the political can obscure how democracy can function as an ideology, as power-holders legitimate themselves by acknowledging the legitimacy of political contestations that lack any practical capacity to transcend the given conditions towards the future.

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