Democratic agon: striving for distinction or struggle against domination and injustice?

Jean-Philippe Deranty, Emmanuel Renault

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In recent years, many theorists have sought to appropriate an agonistic conception of politics from Arendt as a way to thematize the possibility of transforming reductive social identities (e.g. Honig 1995; Tully 1999; Markell 2003). On this account agonistic politics concerns the ‘striving for distinction’ (that is the competition amongst equals to define and implement the common good). The virtue of this approach is that it redeems the very name of politics in an age of utter political cynicism. First, because it restores the notion of politics as true transformative action. But also because Arendt’s insistence on the equality of those who take part in politics immediately translates into a critique of oppressive social identities. And finally, because she shows how political participation provides the opportunity to develop a true self, that is a self emancipated from such identities. However, this approach treats political participation as the solution to problems which in fact are the very obstacles that make political participation problematic in the first place. Is political participation threatened solely by the destruction of the political sphere (in particular by totalitarian forces, as in Arendt’s diagnosis)? Or is there not another factor just as significant, namely exclusion from politics?.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLaw and agonistic politics
EditorsAndrew Schaap
Place of PublicationLondon ; New York
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor and Francis Group
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781317107927, 9781315591476
ISBN (Print)9780754673149
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Publication series

NameThe Edinburgh Centre for Law and Society

Bibliographical note

Book first published 2009 by Ashgate Publishing.


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