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Interactive metal fatigue. The interpassive transformation of democratic life

This research project runs at the Department of Philosophy of Erasmus University Rotterdam from december 2007 till december 2012. It is supported by a grant from NWO, the Dutch Council for Scientific Research, within its research domain Omstreden Democratie (Contested Democracy).

Project leader is Dr Gijs van Oenen, Department of Philosophy, Erasmus University Rotterdam.

  A short summary of the project

Increasingly people seem unable to act in accordance with norms that are generally accepted, even - and here’s the rub - when they themselves subscribe to the very same norms. This phenomenon of, sometimes even self-declared, moral incapacitation has, ironically, been brought about exactly by a social and moral success-story, that of achieved emancipation and democracy. No one can be forced nowadays to live according to norms he or she does not rationally assent to. This, however, creates an unanticipated burden: exactly because we feel obliged to live up to all our self-imposed norms, we sometimes fail to do so. Thus we feel dissatisfied, without being able to explain this to ourselves: aren’t we now free, self-directing individuals who really do want to be ruled by self-imposed norms?

The hypothesis of this research project is that modern democracy suffers from ‘interactive metal fatigue’, or ‘interpassivity’. That is, the incessant democratic interaction and rational consent that modern society exacts from us, and that we indeed voluntarily affirm, is becoming ‘too much of a good thing’ for us. We do not manage to live up to our own promise of emancipated life. Symptoms of this condition are now starting to show up, in the form of e.g. aversion, capsularization, detachment, disinterest and outsourcing.

The research project aims to track down and analyse the symptoms of interpassivity in three main areas of modern social life: politics and governance; labor and economics; citizenship and public space. This leads to a new cultural-philosophical diagnosis of problems and tensions in several spheres of society that have not yet, or not yet adequately, been analysed. In this way, the research program is pioneering on two levels. First, an innovative conceptual framework is constructed around the notion of ‘interpassivity’ that covers and integrates several themes in social, cultural and political philosophy. Second, this framework is used to identify and diagnose a number of urgent problems in actual social reality, such as: dissatisfaction with politics and democracy; the decline of the public space and of social commitment (‘private wealth, public poverty’); and the ‘outsourcing’ of responsibilities.

  Project information

  For more information please contact:

Gijs van Oenen
address  Deparment of Philosophy EUR, Woudestein campus, H-building, room H5-27
postal address  Deparment of Philosophy EUR, P.O. Box 1738, 3000 DR Rotterdam
phone  010.4088999/8963. fax 010.2120448
email vanoenen@fwb.eur.nl

last change: June 6, 2010