Subject to Change: Democracy, Disidentification, and the Digital

Asenbaum, H. 2019. Subject to Change: Democracy, Disidentification, and the Digital. PhD thesis University of Westminster Centre for the Study of Democracy

TitleSubject to Change: Democracy, Disidentification, and the Digital
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsAsenbaum, H.

Radical democratic politics in the digital age is characterized by the widespread emergence of participatory spaces generated by state actors and social movements. These new formats of citizen engagement are situated in the context of social inequalities and discrimination of marginalized identities. To counter this problem, feminist debates in democratic theory associated with the term “difference democracy” advocate a politics of presence through physically embodied representation of marginalized groups, providing visibility in the space of appearance. This strategy, however, entails essentializing tendencies as subjects are judged by their physical appearance rather than the content they utter, a problem described as the “dilemma of difference”.

This thesis seeks ways out of the dilemma of difference by advancing both freedom and equality in participatory spaces. It explores the relations of freedom and equality that are
described as competing values in the democratic paradox. To make the freedom to explore the multiple self compatible with the equality facilitated through the presence of the marginalized, the thesis engages with a range of radical democratic perspectives. To the established participatory, deliberative, and agonistic approaches it adds feminist and transformative perspectives. On these grounds, it develops the concept of a politics of becoming, which is seen as part of a progressive strategy of systemic transformation. Inspired by queer and gender theory, the politics of becoming reinterprets presence as the performative act of self-constitution. To enlarge the free spaces of the subject to change, the thesis suggests radical democratic practices of disidentification through anonymity that affords the opportunity to reject hegemonic identity interpellations and contributes to a democratization of self-constitution.

Drawing on new materialist thought allows for an interpretation of both spatial configurations and the subject as agentic assemblages. Anonymity and other modes of disidentification enable an interruption of such assemblages and reassemble spaces and the self. Digital means of communication provide new affordances for identity expressions. The emerging cyborgian subjects reassemble identity and reconfigure the space of appearance. This results in a new politics of presence that expresses embodied difference but still provides freedom for the subject to change.

File Access Level
Open (open metadata and files)
Publication dates
PublishedSep 2019

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