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Langendam, T.G.

Department of Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy

Conflict within institutions: an inquiry into institutionalization of agonism

Agonistic theory is a relatively new political theory that emphasises the permanent presence and/or value of conflict in society. Agonistic democracy is often considered rather as an ethos, a way of being towards those you are in conflict with, than a form of government. Therefore, little focus has been on the role of institutions.

Edward Wingenbach (2011) has made the only serious attempt so far to investigate institutionalisation of agonistic democracy. He claims that institutions cannot themselves be agonistic, but that some are more congenial towards agonism than others. He argues that institutions should have the goal of fostering an agonistic ethos amongst citizens. I argue, however, that agonistic institutions can and should be valuable in those situations where an ethos is either absent or not sufficient. Instead of merely fostering an ethos, institutionalisations of agonism should have different goals, such as transforming conflict into a non-violent or even productive form. Such institutionalisations can be conceived possible if one makes a distinction between William Connolly’s agonism and Chantal Mouffe’s agonism. That such institutionalisations are possible is proven in this paper by giving two examples of them.

The first example is the Northern Irish Good Friday Agreement. It is a historical example that Mouffe mentions in an interview, but of which she does not seem to fully grasp what it actually achieves. The paper also discusses whether the Agreement can apply to other contexts.

The second example is a thought experiment of an agonistic citizen assembly, which has the goal of bringing disruption by challenging existing norms and of creating an outlet for passions. Both are examples of institutionalisations of agonism that have different goals than fostering an agonistic ethos.

Last modified:13 February 2015 12.03 p.m.