The Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought, Goldsmiths University of London

Research Centre run jointly between the Departments of Sociology and English and Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths University, London

Third Year Modules

Philosophy and Power: What is Normal? (based in Sociology)

The question of power cuts across  many school and texts of modern and contemporary philosophy. Though principally associated with the field of political philosophy, from ancient disquisitions on the relation between ethics, justice and political power, to contemporary explorations of power as a multi-dimensional social relation, power has also been crucial to debates in ontology and metaphysics, as well as to philosophy’s complex interactions with other disciplines, from sociology to psychiatry, anthropology to feminism and gender studies. Possible questions for consideration involve: What is the history of philosophy’s conceptualisation of power? What is power’s relation to violence, authority, and domination? What is the relation between power and resistance? How are theories of power linked to theories of the subject? In what way is the gendered and racialised character of social and political power significant for philosophical reflection? How is power exerted on bodies? What is the relationship between power and right, as well as between power and justice? What different philosophical approaches (phenomenology, feminist philosophy, genealogy) can be applied to the question of power?

This year’s module will approach the broader question of philosophy and power through a systematic investigation of a seemingly simple but in the final analysis immensely fraught question: What is normal? Starting off from Michel Foucault’s pioneering work on the history of ‘madness’ in Europe, we will explore how philosophers have approached the question of normality and its definitions, and especially the way in which they have inquired into the association between normality, power and certain kinds of individuals or subjects – showing that the question ‘What is normal?’ is always shadowed by its menacing counterpart: ‘Who is normal?’ We will explore how Foucault’s approach to the historical construction of different understanding of normality can be related and contrasted to those of other philosophers: Georges Canguilhem on the normal, the pathological and the critical epistemology of ‘life’; Jacques Derrida on reason and deconstruction; Jürgen Habermas on normativity. In the second half of the course, building on Foucault’s work, we will explore the philosophical consequences of interrogating ‘normality’, and the power to define it, in different domains. We will begin by considering Deleuze & Guattari’s objections to the psychoanalytic norm represented by the ‘Oedipus complex’, in its link to capitalist power, moving on to the appropriation by Judith Butler of aspects of Foucault’s methodology to subvert social and philosophical presuppositions about ‘normal’ regimes of gender and sexuality, and to the criticisms levied at Butler from a psychoanalytic perspective by Joan Copjec. In the final two lectures, we will consider the way in which attention to ‘race’ and racialization, as effects of power, radically questions philosophical and psychological conceptions of the ‘normal subject’, considering first Frantz Fanon’s contributions to anti-psychiatry and then philosophical debates about blackness and anti-blackness.

Philosophy and Difference (based in CCS) 

Difference has been a key theme in various subfields of philosophy including feminist philosophy, philosophy of race, philosophy and literature, philosophy of history, philosophy of science, and philosophy of religion. This module seeks to unpack the ways in which notions of difference can be theorized and the dangers that arise when we fail to account for the various factors that affect our conceptions of difference. Possible questions for consideration include: How is difference gendered? How are our social institutions constituted? How do we individuate relations between various kinds and their features? What are the performative, normative, phenomenological, and metaphysical distinctions that matter? What methodologies (interdisciplinary, feminist, archival, genealogical, analytic, etc.) might help us to approach questions about what we value, how we categorize reality, and how we organize experience?

Readings will be selected from all areas of philosophy and from related disciplines, and will be particularly solicited from women and other groups historically underrepresented in the field. 

Texts and topics will vary with the instructor and generally arise from the instructor’s current research interests.