Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

A Phenomenology of Negative Sociality

Michael Staudigl

Thursday 2 December 2021

16:20 - 17:00

Zoom 1-1

With the concept of ‘‘negative sociality,’’ I intend to discuss an eminently problematic issue that confronts our traditional phenomenologies of intersubjectivity, sociality, and symbolic interaction with a severe objection. This syntagma, in fact, bears witness to the suspicion that inherently negative experiences—ranging from mistrust, discrimination, and contempt to all forms of violence—cannot be cancelled out or integrated by a community or a society that is characterized by responsibility, justice, discursive deliberation, or reciprocal recognition. This suspicion confronts us with the necessity to critically assess and perhaps fundamentally revise these concepts, eventually the concept of the social as such.

Against this background, I will present the thesis that the social, under these conditions, cannot be consistently brought under the rule of law or be pacified by the rules of coexistence, but has to be taken seriously in its protean and unforeseeable, normatively undeterminable character, thus pointing us to Nietzsche’s “beyond good and evil.” Consequently, the classical orientation of phenomenology that was based on the teleological assurance of perceptual harmony (Husserl) and universal compossibility (Merleau-Ponty), etc., is presented to be in need of correction. ‘‘Negativity’’ hence must not be misunderstood as a phenomenon of contingent deficiency that could be caught up with discursively, mediated dialectically, or overcome procedurally. If, however, it is not to be understood in such terms as a contingent deficiency of justice, trust, responsibility, communalization, solidarity, communication, as tends to be assumed by the mainstream of social philosophy, founding ideas of unity (harmony, concordia, homonoia, universality, the ‘‘reciprocity of perspectives,’’ the ‘‘non-violent discourse,’’ or the ‘‘ideal communication society’) lose their foundational and integrational significance for the understanding of social phenomena.

This paper (1) outlines the idea of “negative sociality,” and (2) discusses the socio-political consequences of a phenomenological outlook on this kind of negativity that is neither willing to sacrifice experiences of negativity to a socio-technological quest for unity and order, nor to hypostatize them as the presumed other of reason and order as such. In conclusion (3), I will argue for a diacritical hermeneutic phenomenology that is able to describe social phenomena in their irreducible ambiguity, that is, as being constituted in an interplay of order/disorder, violence/counter-violence., etc., which must not be resolved in a one-sided fashion since this would imply violence, too.