Moral perfectionism and democratic responsiveness: reading Cavell with Foucault

Ethics and Global Politics 4 (4):207-229 (2011)
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Abstract

Starting from existing interpretations of Cavell’s account of moral perfectionism, this article seeks to elaborate an account of democratic responsiveness that foregrounds notions of ‘turning’ and ‘manifesting for another’. In contrast to readings of Cavell that privilege reason-giving, the article draws on the writings of Cavell as well as on Foucault’s work on parreēsia to elaborate a grammar of responsiveness that is attentive to a wider range of practices, forms of embodiment and modes of subjectivity. The article suggests that a focus on the notions of ‘turning’ and ‘manifesting for another’ is crucial if we are to account for the processes through which political imagination is opened up so as to bring about novel ways of being and acting. The arguments are illustrated with reference to recent events in the Arab Spring as well as to the politics of redress in a posttransitional social movement, Khulumani. Keywords: democracy; responsiveness; Cavell; Foucault; parrēsia; frank-speaking; moral perfectionism; reason-giving; ‘turning’; ‘manifesting for another’; political imagination (Published: 23 December 2011) Citation: Ethics & Global Politics, Vol. 4, No. 4 , 2011, pp. 207-229. DOI: 10.3402/egp.v4i4.14448

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