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Talk by Michiel Bot: The Politics of Offense *MOVED*

Monday, March 3, 2014

Giving and taking offense have taken center stage on the political scene since the end of the Cold War and especially since 9/11. Think, for instance, of the controversy following the publication of the Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in 2005, and of the peculiar way in which various Western European right-wing populists combine indignation with deliberate “political incorrectness,” presenting their anti-immigrant or anti-Islam rhetoric as a liberation from “multicultural censorship.”

In this presentation, Bot argues that giving and taking offense play an important role not only in establishing, but also in negotiating and critiquing affective investments in shared norms, and that this is important for democratic politics. Thus, Bot argues against “intellectualist” conceptions of democratic politics that either consider offense a threat to discussion in a purely rational public sphere (along Habermasian lines), or that mandate that “what can be offended must be offended” in order to liberate all citizens from their by definition “irrational” affective investments (along Nietzschean lines).

Bot also argues against theories of tolerance or multiculturalism that are premised on the claim that giving offense should always be avoided in the name of respect for difference or “modus vivendi.” Instead, Bot proposes that giving offense is central to the intimately connected practices of democracy and critique, which always involve challenging established moral, political, and aesthetic hierarchies, or what Jacques Rancière calls established partitions/sharings of “the sensible.” Taking offense, on the other hand, can be a critical move against attempts to invalidate all expressions of indignation as illegitimate interferences of moral or religious feeling in a public sphere that ought to be kept strictly “rational,” amoral, and “secular.” Closely examining what it means to give and take offense and to be offended, Bot situates his argument in relation to recent instances of the “affective turn” in political theory, from Sara Ahmed’s Cultural Politics of Emotion to Lars Tønders’ Tolerance: A Sensorial Orientation to Politics.

Time: 6:00 pm

Location: Olin, Room 202