Derrida's Institutions: The Political Philosophy of Jacques Derrida

Change log
Ó Fathaigh, Cillian 

This thesis examines the role of institutions in Jacques Derrida’s philosophy. It argues that there is an intimate connection between Derrida’s political engagements and his philosophy which has hitherto been neglected. Drawing on a range of unexamined television, print and radio contributions by Derrida, as well as archival research into his unpublished seminars, the thesis places these in dialogue with canonical texts and critical interpretations, thus contributing to a more precise understanding of his philosophy in the light of his substantial political involvement.

The text opens with a consideration of iteration, determination and effacement in Derrida’s work. I argue that these are the major terms for understanding Derrida’s political philosophy. This is sustained throughout the thesis, through a consideration of exappropriation and the terms promesse and mémoire. Within this framework, and in a broadly chronological way, Derrida’s institutional and political engagements are analysed. I coin the term exappropriating institutions to describe a shared structure and coherent strategy across these interventions. This includes work on educational reform in the GREPH and the Collège international de philosophie; support for undocumented migrants, including his neglected collaboration with Pierre Bourdieu to support persecuted intellectuals; his view of media institutions, télétechnologies and the need to reform public space; his position on Europe and particularly his support for a European army; and, finally, his focus on international law and its institutions alongside the need to reform the United Nations and his support for altermondialisme. Throughout the thesis, I argue that the double movement of Derrida’s philosophy, the critique/plus-que-critique, is present within his political engagements and that this connects it closely to his philosophy. Through this we come to see the importance of critique for Derrida, but also that the movement beyond this is also closely tied to determination. Ultimately, I argue that exappropriating institutions is a normative structure in Derrida’s philosophy and represents a model for politics.

Overall, this work demonstrates the important intersection between philosophy and the political that marked much of Derrida’s career, and I argue on this basis that these interventions and engagements should be understood as part of a consistent and coherent Derridean political philosophy.

Crowley, Martin
Jacques Derrida, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Institutions, Engagements, International
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge