Otherness, Difference and Responsibility. Basic vocabulary

Singular Event (emblem)

There are singular events. These can be understood as the contingent and sometimes paradoxical encounter of multiple and heterogeneous singular mechanisms that do not follow a preordained script but rather, as did the actors in the Commedia dell’Arte, are improvised along the way by resorting to formulas that are updated and modified by them, thus giving rise to an occasion, an opportunity for invention. Among these mechanisms that do not respond to individual initiative but to the joint effect of their resulting forces there are bodies, political and social discourses, modes of living, collectives, practices, different sensitivities, animal and plant species, minerals, fictions, among others.

Consequently, a singular event must not be confused with any common event or an objective fact, with a circumstance, a juncture, since it does not involve an expected result of certain conditions of possibility. It is rather that which ensues in practice, unexpectedly; that is the result of the force exerted by alterity to right the wrongs (desfacer entuertos) brought about by domination and make way for inventions that do not contribute to domination itself. It is not, however, a miracle giving rise to a single new event in simple opposition to determinant laws. It must be said that there is a singular event as a result of continuous, critical, differentiating and multiplying transformation of the human condition, transformation that takes place as a result of affirmative ingenuity.

ingenuity: skill or cleverness that allows someone to solve problems,

Alterity (emblem)

Said of a condition that marks the relationship with others (bodies of knowledge, groups or individuals, humans or animals, things and states of things), namely, with that which is different. It also adopts the form of a work on difference that, by intervening in the construction of subjectivities, in the formation of historic-social identities, exposes the building of identities to the vicissitudes of time and of circumstances (material, passional, political).Furthermore, frequent use is made of the notion of alterity in different discourses. In this case, the difference hinges on the unity, the homogeneity of meaning and the manner in which it comes to be used within the bodies of knowledge, in arguments and verbal exchanges in public spaces, thus evidencing its provisional character by the use made of it in debates, controversies, collective decisions, demands.

In both of the above mentioned instances, as a work of difference and as used in different discourses, alterity operates on forms of exclusion that are constitutive of groups, individuals and subjectivities, revealing the relationships of domination that lend them structure and provide them with meaning, transforming the mechanical reproduction of subordination into new relationships that are not oriented towards domination. We say then that alterity operates parasitically on every identity, but does not constitute its antagonistic opposite (identity-alterity).

Thus, a duty of alterity can be conceived, that entails making its meanings and effects open to the public through argumentative debate. This duty, not implying imposition or coercion, is a call not to quash the other’s demands and that forces us to respond. It is then a call not to reduce the other or others to the figure of a singular or collective paradigmatic and/or archetypical (anthropocentric, ethnocentric, falocentric) ego, which arises from both public debate and from critical praxis*. A policy* of alterity springs forth from the latter, in the defense of the dignity of that which is alien, a policy that treats every instance of alterity as singular and irreducible.

Appropriation (emblem)

The term appropriation designates a procedure, not an end; a procedure by which a discourse is privatized and becomes exclusive of groups, individuals and institutions. This exclusiveness, that characterizes academia and other institutions, allocates discourse to certain agents and decides on the manner in which it is to be used, as well as its designation or reference. The first effect of such privatization is to neutralize discourses and disassociate these from debate, thus withdrawing them from public use by other social agents. Hence, exclusive appropriation coercitively cancels the disruptive effects of rhetoricity*, since it fixates the meaning of a word or discourse, it naturalizes that which refers to, and allows for, the exclusion of critique. On a first approach to rhetoricity, it can be explained as a condition for discursive exchanges that avoids privatization of sense; it entails a strategic condition. This condition accounts for the production of sense as a surplus of meaning; surplus from the perspective of grammar, linguistics and logic of language and which is therefore designated as rhetorical. Rhetoricity is only present when multiple uses are made of discourse.

Archive (lemma)

Said of an artifact produced by the act of archiving. “Archiving” in its turn intends to name various complex historiographic actions such as recording, conserving, protecting and even maintaining vigilance over documents, the purpose of which is to organize them into an archive that is authorized by said historiographic body of knowledge. It is limited by an institutional space to which a basis of authority or power is conferred (original, sovereign, mythological, democratic, etc.). To a greater extent it entails the unity of something, a thing or state of things that is called an archive, even when it is of a heterogeneous nature. It can be either a physical or electronic/virtual archive. The unity expected of an archive, since it is meant to give order to that which is dispersed and/or heterogeneous, may be achieved by the materiality of the medium, to wit, photographs, films, published documents, etc. However, we must keep in mind that an archive makes a selection of that which it records. An election is made of that which is considered as worthy of preservation and sorts it following an order; it classifies the material and grants it the dignity of a document. He who archives, or that which archives (when involving a program to capture and conserve), makes the decision on what should be noted, detected and considered as recordable, namely, archival material. This then defines that which is archivable and that which escapes, as unclassifiable, from its force. We will discuss this at the end of this entry.

We then say that the archive, or archival practice, is exclusive. When an attempt is made to include that which has been excluded, the unity of the archive, its requirements and criteria, in sum, that which is archivable, the central condition of archiving and its purpose as guardian of history are dissolved. The inclusion of that which is difficult to include, brings into question whether the archive is simply a container for memory, or else an operation or machine used to instrumentally and technically preserve something. It is most likely all of the foregoing, and above else a way to bring past and memory to the present, and a way to give meaning, sense and legitimacy to that which is chosen to be kept, preserved and protected from the destructive effect of the passage of time or offered to the sense and sensitivity of future generations. If we choose this last complex activity, we must admit that the actions of recording, filing and preservation of a given collection always modify that which is archived. That is, they adapt the archival item to a given medium, bring it to life, restoring the object or document to a pristine state (undoubtedly an illusory state), it is formatted and remasterized, bringing to light visual relationships that might not have been visible previously, as in the case of film, and in addition, they recontextualize the materials offering them in a very specific manner for inspection and treatment by the viewing public. Archiving no doubt exercises a specific force that acts not only against that which is excluded from the ambit of memory, but against the memory whose substantive action from which it claims to proceed.

Therefore, this issue should be given thought and be made the subject of argumentative debate: to visibilize this archiving force, the power of the archive to give shape and form to the memory of the oppressed and to social recollection, and also its capacity to shroud its own coercive presence. Here violence* is not absolute and its force is not lethal, although undoubtedly it involves the exercise of power which not only prohibits and attempts to erase, but is at the source of the archive itself.

There are international institutional interests that run through archives, that is, they transcend national borders; for instance, the archive of actions brought before the International Court of Justice, and there are interests within nations, that act only within the purview of the legal bodies of a state. Therefore, official archives may be subject to intervention and such interventions adopt the form of the anti-archive. The results of these interventions, that are unclassifiable, are closely held in social and collective memories, and flow together into the “tradition of the oppressed”, as a consequence of brushing history against the grain in the Benjaminian sense.

Critique (lemma)

Actions and tasks undertaken within the diversity and plurality of the public space in defense of alterity, and in opposition to authoritarian and violent forms of appropriation of that which is done and said. In this sense, it has a specific character, since it refers to specific contents of said actions, but it is also an experience that can be generalized. In this regard, critique is characterized by being part of praxis and does not constitute either a value judgment or an epistemological judgment, both of which are subject to question by it. Moreover, it questions implicit or forgotten assumptions when choosing one meaning or other in the exchange of ideas. These assumptions become evident when genealogical examination, inherent to any critical review, shows that they are cultural constructs and not indubitable epistemological or originating fundamentals (such as gender*). Critique is not only concerned with the past, but draws its strength from the socio-political proposition of the future to be; its intent is not that of taking over, orienting or determining such future to be. It therefore involves a praxis that, not only calls into question prejudices that dominate social creative imagination, but proposes without reservation, new courses of action and arguments. 

Debate (lemma)

A collective, socio-historical practice that encourages inquiry into institutional (or other) modes of the appropriation of discourse, of argumentation, its procedures and contents, techniques, of bodies of knowledge generally, and of the memory of experience. It is characteristically unconditional; that is, it allows unrestricted questioning. Debate results from the impossibility of a natural and immediate reference between words and things, and from the manner in which said impossibility affects descriptions that are defended and refuted in public spaces for decision. The value and sense of such descriptions is actually what is discussed. Consequently, this practice relates more to procedures rather than to specific contents (what is discussed/how it is discussed). From this perspective, that which is public is the experimental practice of the political community or the social action arising from it, continuously changeable, flexible and plastic. In this particular case, the political, supported by that which is public, designates the free invention of social actions, the manner in which these are applied and their effects or consequences. The inventiveness or the innovative force arising from debate is directed towards both the community that gives rise to it, who feeds on it, and may be given any other use made possible by exchanges taking place with other communities. So it is in the case of exchanges between academia and social activism.

Debating communities may be inter- and trans-disciplinary. Despite the care given to, and vigilance over the terms of each discipline when thinking about social referents, habitual common sense leaves its imprint when dialog and debate take place. Exerting constant vigilance on such habits as well as on conceptualization itself is advisable. This first attempt to build a vocabulary for debate is essential. Vigilance calls for the use of interpretation strategies such as critique*, cultural and ideological critique, rhetoric*, pragmatics and genealogy, among others. We have made use of all the foregoing in this vocabulary. The second step shall be determined by the particular characteristics of that which is subject to debate: a given decision, i.e., the criminalization or decriminalization of abortion. However, the most important task of a debating community is the analysis of that which is put into action (privileges and hierarchies, discourse order, racial or ethnocentric perspectives, etc.) at the time it is established. A community is then autopoietic and critical at the same time.

Lately we have seen the emergence of knowledge societies and even of research cities. Their main characteristic is that they fail to question their right to exercise the truth in the name of that which is human and the privileges that constitute their foundations. Our project is the exact opposite: we start by putting into question its own authority to exercise critique.

Exclusion/Inclusion (emblem)

Used to designate discursive and non-discursive practices to select and separate social agents;  to configure authorized and non-authorized spaces where social agents can act and express themselves, to configure forms of the sensible that produce figures of subjectivity (metaphorical interpretations of oneself) and practices of subjectification (relations of domination such as man/woman, teacher/student). All these practices constitute, and in turn explain, social order as naturally asymmetrical and hierarchical. Since there is no process of identity that does not entail the exclusion of the other or others, processes of exclusion are a constituent part of every individual or collective configuration of social agents. That is to say, practices of this type  result in relations of domination if they reinforce the asymmetrical and hierarchical social order, albeit they are also opportunities allowing for the political exercise of resistance, since such exercise entails instances in which a position is adopted in respect to the past, history and social memory or with respect to the present. The adoption of a position may be considered as a provisional and strategic declaration of identity. This has been so for social movements such as the Zapatista movement and also the different feminist movements in their various historical and political actions. Thus, it becomes necessary to critically question these processes in their singularity.

Experience (emblem)

Experience is life mediated by discourse, this mediation made almost imperceptible by habit. Experience is that which is interpreted and which is accorded attention and sense, even if it does not meet the requirements of a practical order or norm. In this regard it is usual to talk about an individual experience and a collective experience. For example, for women, individually and collectively, gender is an experience, that is to say, the gender experienced is not the prior and natural given. In this example, it is evident that the sense given to experience depends on certain historical forms of configuration. In both cases or types, the experienced endures by transmission or communication, which is accorded, in its turn, a cultural and civilizing configuration. This configuration, even though coercive, can unquestionably be subject to critique and resistance. Resistance is also a mode of experience.

In conjunction with mediation by language, experience may be thought of in relation to time. Indeed, a specific experience does not depend a given and progressive temporal line that is supposedly natural and detached from practice; each experience has its own temporality, its perceived time, its acknowledged (or not acknowledged) past and its expectation to last by communication and transmission of its contents.

it is not a place in, or a repository of the past, and it is not merely a lived experience; it is in itself human knowledge and action in its socio-historical dimension. It is therefore problematic. It entails the capability to transmit (or its impossibility, for reasons that must be investigated in each specific case); it entails also the problem that arises from losing the habit of sharing events that concern us with others, and in so doing allowing those others to appropriate them in their own manner, and includes the decision made when it is needed or, in the presence of a interpretative commotion, the opposite need to start from zero, as if nothing had occurred (thus forcing .social imagination into action). A commotion of experience and its impact suspend judgment momentarily, by depriving it of the elements needed to pass it. This momentary suspension allows us to focus on that which has been preserved by habit and inquire into its structure, origin and lasting nature. It is thus an indispensable figure of critique.


Strategic feminisms (lemma)

Said of the multiple political exercises, bodies of knowledge and discourses which as critique* deal at present with gender issues (gender being understood as a social construct and not the natural fate of sexual opposition). By political questioning of the modern concept of the subject, they pursue the characterization of the non-identitarian feminine subject, which cannot be defined by the traditional hierarchized masculine-feminine opposition. They include post-colonial feminisms that have revealed appropriation and reappropriation exercises of the term “feminism”, and of its spaces of influence and academic, economic, tax, political, social and other privileges.

Talking about strategic feminisms entails inquiring into a genealogy* that maintains the radical challenging nature that has characterized the various historical feminist movements. This radical nature manifests itself today in contingent political movements whose work is not reduced to occupying established places in domination-subjection relationships, but rather to reveal asymmetries and how these are produced, as well as to put into question such relationships. Sexual division of labor is one of them.


Politics (lemma)

Politics is understood by us to be collective actions that produce social transformations in practice, on forms of organization, on institutions and on forms of subjectivity. Thus, politics as an activity would not be linked to attaining control over the administration of forces (of the state and the institutions they create). What is determinant in political action is never a mere result, but the procedures by which a result is attained, in contrast to state rationale that is structured on the logic of means/ends. A political action is defined rather by experiences* of reorganization (or disaggregation) of forces in a collectivity, than by the establishment of a new or old power. Political actions either operate on power relations to prevent hierarchies, or are heteronomous. If thus understood, political action gives rise, on the one hand, to strategies of collective and individual unsubjectification (of a practice, institution or form of subjectivity), and on the other, of subjectification, to give an account of oneself on the basis of new interpretations or productions of sense. Moreover, its role in history is that of generator of singular events. In brief, politics does not administer the forces deriving from diversity and plurality that arise from society, or its foundation in the figure of the individual, where the social would be the other of politics and the individual the other of the State. Politics is the activity taking place among collectivities and among individuals whose creative power draws its sustenance not from society as a deed from the past, but from social and collective organization that offers an opening to an unforeseen future for humanity.


Solidarity (Emblem)

This term refers to the political exercise of freedom, resistance and/or unsubjectification practices. It alludes to strategic processes such as those that take place in debating communities. Thus understood, solidarity does not stem from altruism, but builds links among individuals and groups that break through relations of domination, opening interstitial (public but not state) spaces of equality, having an effect on the juridical horizon of equality, giving rise to experiences that are beyond the scope of the hegemonic regulatory power.

Hence, there are gender, ethnic, class, and political solidarities, and solidarities that are transgender, transethnic; transpolitical and transterritorial, such as the relationship between foreign friends (Benjamin). These involve multivocal experiences, that go beyond binary, hierarchical oppositions, they are alternate human experiences that disrupt the laws governing standard exchanges such as the laws of the market that bind us as consumers. They allow the free play of forces and of centrifugal and centripetal desires that disrupt order while giving rise to new forms of appropriation and expropriation of discourses and actions.


Public and Private uses of discourse (lemma)

The private use of vocabularies and languages is always governed by rules to control who is authorized to speak, and where, when and how to do it; it prescribes the subject matter and consequently its forms of exclusion. It is subject to an operating territory and inquiry can be made into its conditions of possibility, that is, the limits and forms of its operativity. 

Public use of discourse does not respond to such conditions of possibility, and rather than being external to private uses, it establishes a tensional relation with the latter. Debate* is its only territory, and critique is its sole ruler. The singular event is its virtue and it belongs to the genealogy of politics, as defined in this vocabulary. The typology of uses, now as 26 centuries ago, is in the hands of rhetoric*, that analyzes discursive procedures and meaning instead of being restricted to locutionary content and its logical and grammatical forms, set by a hegemonic tradition. Politics* that conceives new human experiences depends on public practices of argumentation and debate.


Violence (lemma)

This word has different uses, and frequent abuse is made of these. To avoid such abuse, it is convenient to differentiate among them. In the first instance the word is used generally to designate a series of actions that affect bodies (either individual or collective, human or other). Every violent act destabilizes a normal state, and entails therefore an extraordinary force. Nevertheless, violence is a constituent part of the human world (of impulses of the psyche, of power relations, and generally of the coercive dimension of every institution and state apparatus). Without intending to be exhaustive, we include some of the particular uses of the term that are worthy of reflection.

The first one is gender-based violence.  Gender* evidence –that is, the hierarchical and asymmetrical differentiating operation between two genders, socially, legally, culturally and ideologically driven− is one of them. It involves in practice a violent form of domination and discrimination, having self-instituting power that preserves and reinforces heterosexual asymmetry, standardizing bodies with the aid of the victims themselves, which we all are, thus reproducing the reduction of bodily forces to a given and acritical physiological substrate: to sexuality. Nevertheless, sexuality conceived thus to give meaning and value to individuation and to its partition into two forms of subjectification is a debatable foundation, given its ideological and juridical-political function. This function arises when the vocabulary used in physiology shifts, to be used for sociological, anthropological, legal-political and ethical descriptions that are brought into play in debate. Each and every one of us reproduces the domination and hierarchization of our own habits. Gender* is violently exercised not on bodies*, as if bodies were inert matter or a substrate, but by bodies themselves, where these become both instruments and action.

There is also discourse violence, when the word is uttered, hurled at the other, not only as an insult intended to harm as a weapon; there is violence in the irresponsibility of discourse when used to say everything and nothing, when it designates excessively, generalizes and prevents careful reflection. The violence that we exert against ourselves, depriving us from the assertive word, has as its context for action the life of the community and society. Discourse appropriation* processes are another form  in which violence is exercised, in this case by allocating the use of discourse to certain individuals or groups, removing it from public* use.

We can also talk about image violence. It is pertinent to say that images exert violence on us when their visual impact becomes tactile commotion, afflicted corporality. And the grain of the photograph, for example,  translates into the focus of attention of a gaze, or rather the specific concretion of a look that pauses, gives consideration and elaborates on the act of paying attention, that is to say, of responding to the force of things by looking at them while paying dutiful attention. In this instance, the act of viewing is hurtful, painful, as when we behold the face of a loved one who has just died. Pain assails the eye −it could be said that it penetrates it− and secretly runs through the body that is shocked rather than moved to emotion. This is the reason for the care we wish to exercise in searching for a relation of mutual updating between word and image, updating of a peculiar experience. A relation that is not one of continuity, not of adaptation but of inquiry: images do not illustrate words, nor do words need images to lend sense and value to the gaze (as in the case of a photo caption in the press). But we must reflect also that perhaps the violent image is not just a form of inscribing sense into memory or into a life experience, nor is it just a mere picture, a copy of, and a substitute for, the fact or outward object, nor is it a document that can remain subject to the law of the archive*. Furthermore, It is not a cultural stereotype or slogan –“example of the brutality of man against man”, “this must never happen again”. We should not exhaust the force of the image, its creative force, its shocking force: it is to a large extent a state of things, the occasion for a discussion between the status of space and the status of time, a conversation of sorts and a questioning of the sense and value of both of the foregoing in our own and world experience. Although word and image are both inscriptions and, therefore, a matter that is close to the archive, they are also a singular opportunity for transforming meaning, of a change that opens up a new path for experience and welcomes the unexpected, the uncalculated and the possibility of a change for the better.


Vocabulary for debate (emblem)

We use the term vocabulary to designate the relations and opportunities for problematization arising between words as a result of the uses made of them by the collectivity and to deal with public* matters. Asystematic relations, that are neither necessary or preceded by some theory or other, that are established by their specific (rhetorical) uses and by the socio-political effects they produce. Vocabularies are, because of the manner in which they are established, contingent associations of meaning, and this means that their linkage, opposition or complementarity rules cannot be predetermined, and therefore their status and future depend on the fortuitous encounters of decisional, semantic and pragmatic forces which we call uses. Thus understood, vocabularies posses their own temporality and a force for endurance and transmission which can be subject to genealogical inquiry. Their critical capability is evidenced through the social and political debate that brings academia and social organizations and movements together.

The study of vocabulary inquires into the life of words, their diverse or disseminated uses within a given timeframe and the appropriations of sense and the opportunities for their use to which they give rise during the time the vocabulary is active and alive. The life of words is sketched onto a field of experience and onto sociopolitical practice that delves into its effect on the community of speakers.