Dialogue with the disgusting: Exploring the limits of agonistic pluralism

Stream: Panel 77 - Political Theory: Non-domination, Global Justice and the Limits of Marketized Governance 
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 11.00 am – 12.30 pm


Agonism is now established as an important strand of democratic theorising. In the agonistic view, democracy is envisioned as a continual clash of ideas and identities, and conflict over such views is understood as an essential political dynamic that allows opposing groups to engage in democratic contestation about their future ways of living together. Agonistic theorists defend the place of such conflict in democratic politics, and propose an expansion of political space into institutions that are available to a multitude of conflicting voices. Yet the agonistic view is sometimes in tension with other values and institutions of democratic politics. The right of citizens to be protected from hate speech and other forms of structural violence has been enshrined in legislation. Progressive organisations have advanced campaigns seeking the refusal of entry visas to those deemed dangerous in this regard and activists seeking to denounce offensive opinions have been known to withdraw from public events at which they might share a platform with those whose views are deemed unfit for democratic debate. This paper considers the democratic risk posed by such strategies. Rather than subjecting offensive views to democratic contestation, driving them out of public debate potentially valorises them to extremists. Thus, the paper considers the options available for instead engaging offensive views, exploring how to create institutional political space in which these confrontations and contestations can occur in real time.


Sarah Maddison (Presenter), University of Melbourne
Sarah Maddison is Associate Professor in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. Her areas of research expertise include reconciliation and conflict transformation, Indigenous political culture, and social movements. In 2015 Sarah published a new book Conflict Transformation and Reconciliation (Routledge) based on research in South Africa, Northern Ireland, Australia, and Guatemala. Her other recent books include Black Politics (2009), Beyond White Guilt (2011) and Unsettling the Settler State (co-edited with Morgan Brigg, 2011).