Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam [ Erasmus University home page | Dept. of Philosophy home page ]

Self-perception and institutional sustenance

Level: Master, 7 ECTS
Period:  1st  semester
Two-hour seminar, once a week, for 15 weeks
Oral examination and paper
Objective of the course: Students should be able to present a comprehensive overview of the essential relations beteen institutional and personal life, inclusing topics such as public vs private and state vs civil society.
Admission: completed BA in philosophy, or permission from departmental examinations committee.
Registration: not necessary (at first class meeting)
Contact: Gijs van Oenen (H5-27; 4088999;

Recently there has been much debate about the ‘crisis of the Rechtsstaat’: the supposed desintegration of shared understandings concerning the rule of law and its implications for the self-understanding of citizens. Members of a state, or legal community, function in different capacities: as private persons, as market actors, as citizens in the public sphere, and as legal subjects of the state. Although, from the point of view of social theory and social philosophy, these roles, or capacities, can and should be separated, it should be recognized that they have become thoroughly intertwined and ‘interactive’. Market functioning, or more broadly economics, plays an important role in political argument. And conversely, market functioning is enabled and sustained by structures and understandings embedded in political and legal institutions.

This course aims to analyse the self-understanding of modern subjects in terms of their belonging or functioning in institutions such as the family, the market, the public sphere, the Rechtsstaat, and politics. Why do people perceive the Rechtsstaat to be in crisis? Who is to blame for the apparent decline of the public sphere: indecisive government, lax law enforcement officials, or overassertive citizens? Does the public sphere fall victim to the private wealth, public poverty tendency of late modern societies? What institutions can be relied on to remedy the defects of such societies? For instance: supervisory bodies, regulatory agents, independent councils? Or would this rather exacerbate the problem and scatter responsibility even further?

Course schedule

5/9  Introduction

12/9   Michel Maffesoli, 'The return of the tragic in postmodern societies.' In: New Literary History, 2004, 35, p. 133-149.
Christoph Deutschmann, ‘The promise of absolute wealth: capitalism as a religion?’. In: Thesis Eleven, 66, August 2001, p. 32-56.

19/9   Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid modernity. London: Polity press 2000, ch1: Emancipation, 16-52;

26/9  Abram de Swaan, The management of normality. London: Routledge 1990. Ch7: The politics of agoraphobia: on changes in emotional and relational management, p. 139-167 

3/10  Robert Lane, The market experience. Cambridge university press 1991. Ch10: Markets and self-esteem, p. 181-206; ch16: Giving work priority over consumption, 314-338; ch.17: Maximizing pay: costs and consequences, 339-363

10/10  Marshall Berman, All that is solid melts into air. The experience of modernity. New York: Simon & Schuster 1982. Part III: Baudelaire: modernism in the streets, p. 131-171

17/10 David Garland, The culture of control. Oxford university press 2001. Ch.5: Policy predicament: adaptation, denial, and acting out, p. 102-138, and ch.7: The new culture of crime control, p. 167-192

24/10  Pheng Cheah, Spectral nationality. Passages of freedom from Kant to postcolonial literatures of liberation. New York: Columbia university press 2003. Hegel’s organic state and the ghost of national culture, p. 141-178; Marx and the national question, p. 179-208  

31/10  Richard Sennett, The corrosion of character. New York: W.W. Norton 1998. Preface, Ch.1: Drift, and ch.2: Routine, p. 9-45

7/11  Richard Sennett, The corrosion of character. Ch3: Flexible, ch.4: Illegible, ch.5: Risk, p. 46-98

14/11  Richard Sennett, The corrosion of character. Ch.6: The work ethic, ch.7: failure, ch.8: The dangerous pronoun, p. 98-148

21/11  Gijs van Oenen, A machine that would run of itself. Interpassivty and its impact on political life. In: Theory & Event, 9/2, 2006.

28/11  Richard Sennett, The culture of the new capitalism. Yale university press 2006, ch1: Bureaucracy, p. 15-82

5/12  Richard Sennett, The culture of the new capitalism, ch.2: Talent and the specter of uselessness, p. 83-130

12/12  Richard Sennett, The culture of the new capitalism, ch.3: Consuming politics and ch.4: Social capitalism in our time, p. 131-197


Last change: October 24,  2006

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