Difference, boundaries and violence : a philosophical exploration informed by critical complexity theory and deconstruction

Hermanus, Lauren (2010-12)

Thesis (MA (Philosophy))--University of Stellenbosch, 2010.


ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis is a philosophical exposition of violence informed by two theoretical positions which confront complexity as a phenomenon. These positions are complexity theory and deconstruction. Both develop systemsbased understandings of complex phenomena in which relations of difference are constitutive of the meaning of those phenomena. There has been no focused investigation of the implications of complexity for the conceptualisation of violence thus far. In response to this theoretical gap, this thesis begins by distinguishing complexity theory as a general, trans-disciplinary field of study from critical complexity theory. The latter is used to develop a critique and criticism of epistemological foundationalism, emphasising the limits to knowledge and the normative and ethical dimension of knowledge and understanding. The epistemological break implied by this critique reiterates the epistemological shift permeating the work of, among others, Friedrich Nietzsche and Jacques Derrida. In this context, critical complexity theory begins to articulate the idea of violence on two levels: first, as an empirical, ethical problem in the system; and, secondly, as asymmetry and antagonism. Violence in this second sense is implicated in the dynamic relations of difference through which structure and meaning are generated in complex organisation. The sensitivity to difference and violence shared by critical complexity theory and deconstruction allows for the parallel reading of these philosophical perspectives; and for the supplementation and opening of critical complexity theory by deconstruction within the architecture of this thesis. This supplementation seeks to preserve the singularity of each perspective, while exploring the potential of their points of affinity and tension in the production of a coherent philosophical analysis of violence. Deconstruction offers a more developed understanding of violence and a wealth of related motifs: différance, framing, law, singularity, aesthetics and others. These motifs necessitate the inclusion of other philosophical voices, notably, that of Nietzsche, Arendt, Kant, Levinas, and Benjamin. In conversation with these authors, this thesis links violence to meaning, to its possibility, to its production and to the process by which meaning comes to change. Given these links, violence is conceptualised in relation to the notion of difference on three distinct levels. The first is the difference between elements in a complex system of meaning; the second is the notion of difference between systems or texts around which boundaries or frames can be drawn; and the third is the notion of difference between meaning and the absence of meaning. This discussion examines the relationship between this violence implicated in the constitution of meaning and the more colloquial understanding of violence as atrocity, as rape, murder and other socially, politically and ethically problematic expressions thereof. It is to empirical violence, following Derrida and Levinas, that we are called to respond and to intervene in the suffering of the other. The ethical and political necessity of response anchors this discussion of violence. And, it is towards the possibility of an adequate response – the possibility of an ethics sensitive to its own violence and a politics that is directed at the eradication of empirical violence – which this discussion navigates.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie tesis is ’n filosofiese uiteensetting van geweld wat deur twee denkwyses ingelig word wat kompleksiteit as fenomeen konfronteer. Hierdie denkwyses is kompleksiteitsteorie en dekonstruksie. Altwee ontwikkel sisteemgebaseerde verduidelikings van komplekse fenomene waar verhoudings van verskille die betekenis van hierdie fenomene beslaan. Daar is tot dusver nog geen gefokusde ondersoek na die implikasies van kompleksiteit vir die konsepsualisering van geweld nie. As antwoord op hierdie teoretiese leemte, begin hierdie tesis deur kompleksiteitsteorie as ’n algemene, trans-dissiplinêre studierigting van kritiese kompleksiteitsteorie te onderskei. Laasgenoemde word gebruik om kritiese denke van epistemologiese grondslae te ontwikkel, en beklemtoon die perke op kennis en die normatiewe en etiese aspek van kennis en verstaan. Die epistemologiese verwydering wat deur hierdie kritiek geïmpliseer word, herhaal die epistemologiese verskuiwing wat die werk van onder andere Friedrich Nietzsche en Jacques Derrida, deurdring. In hierdie konteks begin kritiese kompleksiteitsteorie om die konsep van geweld op twee vlakke te verwoord: eerstens as ’n empiriese, etiese probleem in die stelsel en tweedens as asimmetrie en antagonisme. Geweld in die tweede opsig word in die dinamiese verhoudings van verskil geïmpliseer, waar struktuur en betekenis in komplekse organisasie gegenereer word. Die sensitiwiteit vir verskil en geweld wat deur kritiese kompleksiteitsteorie en dekonstruksie gedeel word neem parallelle lesings van hierdie filosofiese perspektiewe in ag; sowel as die aanvulling en oopmaak van kritiese kompleksiteitsteorie deur dekonstruksie binne die struktuur van hierdie tesis. Hierdie aanvulling wil die enkelvoudigheid van elke perspektief bewaar, terwyl dit die potensiaal van hul punte van verwantskap en spanning in die produksie van ’n koherente filosofiese analise van geweld verken. Dekonstruksie bied ’n meer ontwikkelde verstaan van geweld en ’n rykdom van verwante motiewe: différance, beraming, wet, enkelvoudigheid, estetika en ander. Hierdie motiewe noodsaak die insluiting van ander filosofiese stemme, soos Nietzsche, Arendt, Kant, Levinas en Benjamin. Hierdie tesis tree in gesprek met hierdie skrywers en skakel geweld aan betekenis, aan die moontlikheid, aan die produksie en aan die proses waardeur betekenis na verandering lei. Gegewe hierdie skakels, word geweld in verhouding tot die begrip van verskil op drie spesifieke vlakke gekonsepsualiseer. Die eerste is die verskil tussen elemente in ’n komplekse stelstel van betekenis; die tweede is die begrip van verskil tussen stelsels of tekste waar grense of rame om getrek kan word; en die derde is die begrip van verskil tussen betekenis en die afwesigheid van betekenis. Hierdie bespreking stel ondersoek in na die verhouding tussen hierdie geweld wat in die samestelling van betekenis geïmpliseer word en die meer alledaagse verstaan van geweld as wreedardigheid, as verkragting, moord en ander maatskaplike, politiese en etiese problematiese uitdrukkings daarvan. Ons word geroep om op empiriese geweld, in navolging van Derrida en Levinas, te reageer en in te gryp om die lyding van ander te keer. Die etiese en politiese noodsaaklikheid van reaksie dien as grondslag vir hierdie bespreking van geweld. Uiteindelik beweeg hierdie bespreking nader aan die moontlikheid van ’n voldoende reaksie – die moontlikheid van ’n etiek wat sensitief vir sy eie geweld is en ’n politiek wat op die uitwis van empiriese geweld gerig is.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/5254
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