Political Theory and the Public

Convenor: Luke Ulas, Goethe University Frankfurt (ulas@em.uni-frankfurt.de)

Normative political theory offers prescriptions for how to structure given aspects of our shared public life. Yet much political theory proceeds without any direct interaction with the public(s) on behalf of whom normative prescriptions are supposedly developed. Clearly, it is a virtue of political theory that theorists are not susceptible to the whims of the public in the same way that, for example, politicians are: theorists need never cede philosophical rigour and consistency to political expediency, and nor is the ‘success’ of their prescriptions contingent upon popularity. But it is far less clear that the practice of political theory ought to proceed without any sort of interaction with the public. This workshop will engage with a range of theoretical issues that arise from consideration of the political theorist’s relationship with the public.

The political theorist can interact (or not) with the public at two main junctures: theory development and theory dissemination. The first of these relates to the extent to which theorists allow their normative theorising to be informed by the existing beliefs, opinions and/or commitments of the public to whom the resulting theory is supposed to pertain.

Different methodological approaches here each bring with them theoretical costs and benefits that require enumeration, comparison and assessment that is so far largely missing.

The second juncture concerns the effort the theorist makes to disseminate their theorising to the public. There is a range of ways in which the theorist might understand the public import of their work. At one end of this range, they may explicitly understand their work to be a political intervention; at the other end, they may instead understand their work as nothing more than a contribution to a ‘closed game’ played by fellow political theorists. How theorists do in fact conceive of their work seems likely to have implications for how and where that work should be disseminated, as well as what is said by the theorist.

Within these two broad areas of focus, possible topics for papers include but are not limited to:

– Methodological approaches to the public in normative theorising

– Political theory and the displacement of politics

– Public attitudes and the feasibility of normative prescriptions

– The political theorist and normative ‘expertise’/epistemic privilege

– Critical approaches to normative theorising

– Theories of the public sphere(s)

– Obligations to publicly disseminate theoretical work

– Pragmatism and honesty in political theorising

– Political theory as activism/political intervention

– The value of theoretical work without political engagement

– Esotericism

If you are interested in participating in this workshop, please submit an abstract for your proposed paper (max. 500 words), as well as a separate cover sheet with your full details, to ulas@em.uni-frankfurt.de by Sunday the 24th of May. Applicants will be informed of a decision by the 7th of June. Speakers will be expected to submit their paper for circulation to the other workshop participants at least a week before the workshop.

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