• Reimagining the State

    Ruth Kinna (see profile)
    Political science, Liberalism, Power (Social sciences)
    Item Type:
    Prefiguration, Contract theory, free agreement, Political theory, Power
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    What does it mean to re-imagine the state? In political theory the exercise has involved telling and re-telling the story of the contract. Accounts of this foundational agreement establish the basis for the state’s just constitution and define the limits of legitimate protest, empowering those who are purported to agree, namely the citizens, to act when the terms of the agreement are breached. This chapter asks how far contract is a master’s tool or, as Audre Lorde once argued in another context, a device that allows ‘only the most narrow perimeters of change’ (Lorde 2007 [1984]: 111). Moving between contemporary political theory and the history of ideas, it outlines the work of two leading critics of contract, Charles Mills and Carole Pateman. Mills subversively re-frames John Rawls’s Theory of Justice to defend contract as a ‘master’s tool’ that can be used by disadvantaged groups against ‘master’s’ to redress historic and current injustices. Pateman rejects contract entirely and proposes an alternative idea of free agreement to support radical transformation. To consider the implications of their critiques for political action, I develop a model of prefigurative politics. This is used to show how Mills and Pateman differently construe the ownership of the tools available to marginalised and disadvantaged groups. The argument is that Pateman’s rejection of contract reveals the limits of Mills’s subversive reframing. Relating a story of contract that Mills by-passes, Pateman’s work describes a fluid, plural condition of anarchic politics that imagines citizens negotiating their own justice claims in prefigurative direct actions. Free agreement represents a full reclamation of the tools that masters’ claim as their own. Re-imagined through free agreement, the state is also transformed.
    pre-print of published article
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    Book chapter    
    Last Updated:
    3 years ago
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