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What Is a People? seeks to reclaim "people" as an effective political concept by revisiting its uses and abuses over time. Alain Badiou surveys the idea of a people as a productive force of solidarity and emancipation and as a negative tool of categorization and suppression. Pierre Bourdieu follows with a sociolinguistic analysis of "popular" and its transformation of democracy, beliefs, songs, and even soups into phenomena with outsized importance. Judith Butler calls out those who use freedom of assembly to create an exclusionary "we," while Georges Didi-Huberman addresses the problem of summing up a people with totalizing narratives. Sadri Khiari applies an activist's perspective to the racial hierarchies inherent in ethnic and national categories, and Jacques Rancière comments on the futility of isolating theories of populism when, as these thinkers have shown, the idea of a "people" is too diffuse to support them. By engaging this topic linguistically, ethnically, culturally, and ontologically, the voices in this volume help separate "people" from its fraught associations to pursue more vital formulations.
Together with Democracy in What State?, in which Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Daniel Bensaid, Wendy Brown, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Rancière, Kristin Ross, and Slavoj iek discuss the nature and purpose of democracy today, What Is a People? expands an essential exploration of political action and being in our time.
Since the Reagan and Thatcher revolutions of the 1980s, there has been little consensus on what welfare ought to do or how it ought to function. At the same time, post-Wall continental Europe searches for a "third way" between state-planned socialism and laissez-faire capitalism. In Reflexive Democracy, Kevin Olson takes on this contemporary conceptual crisis. He calls for a "political turn" in considerations of the welfare state, arguing that it should no longer be understood in primarily economic terms -- as a redistributive and regulatory mechanism -- but in political terms, as a means of living up to deep-seated values of political equality.
Drawing on arguments by T. H. Marshall and Jürgen Habermas, Olson proposes a conception of political equality as the normative basis of the welfare state. He argues that there are inextricable connections between democracy and welfare: the welfare state both promotes political equality and depends on it for its own political legitimacy. The paradox of political equality as a precondition for political equality is best solved, Olson argues, by guaranteeing citizens the means for equal participation. This is a reflexive conception of democracy, in which democratic politics circles back to sustain the conditions of equality that make it possible.
This view, Olson writes, is meant not to replace traditional economic concerns but to reveal deep interconnections between democratic equality and economic justice. It counters paternalistic ideas of welfare reform by focusing on citizen participation. This conception moves beyond simple equality in the possession of goods and resources to propose a rich, materially grounded conception of democratic equality.