Representation: constative and performative

Stream: Panel 42 - Political Theory: Alternatives to Representative Democracy 
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 2.00 pm – 3.30 pm


Political theory scholarship on the category representation has seen a consuctivist turn in recent year. In order to address the constructivist turn in representation, I turn to Jacques Derrida. Rather than turning directly to Derrida’s writing on representation (Of Grammatology, ‘Sending On’), I turn to his writings on the constative/performative distinction, above all in Limited Inc but elsewhere as well (e.g., ‘Declarations of Independence’). I will show how these writings on the constative and performative can be read as concerned with representation. And, by examining these writings and Derrida’s take on the constative/performative, we can get a deconstructivist view of representation, a view that is also a constructivist view of representation. Thinking of representation in terms of constative and performative and the tension between them offers a way to think of representation neither as a reflection of something extra-representational nor as a pure performative act of naming. I show this in the context of Derrida’s writings on representation, and I then use the book/film Brick Lane to illustrate this take on representation. Brick Lane is useful for this purpose because it, and the debate about it, is concerned with representations of Muslims and Islam in the context of British multiculturalism.


Lasse Thomassen (Presenter), Queen Mary, University of London
Lasse Thomassen ( is Senior Lecturer in the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches political theory. He is the author of Deconstructing Habermas (Routledge, 2007) and Habermas: A Guide for the Perplexed (2010), the editor of The Derrida-Habermas Reader (Edinburgh University Press, 2006) and the co-editor of Radical Democracy: Politics between Abundance and Lack (Manchester University Press, 2005). He has published widely on Habermas, deconstruction, identity politics and radical democracy and has just finished a book manuscript on the politics of identity and inclusion.