The Universality of Non-Belonging
Todd McGowan with Jana Bacevic
What does it mean not to belong? Belonging, we are told, is essential for citizenship and participation in modern societies. Belonging invokes solidarity, but also uniformity and conformism. This conversation will explore the intersections between universality and particularity through an emphasis on the universality of non-belonging, and its role in rethinking political futures.
Thanks to philosophers in the last half of the 20th century, universality has received very bad press. It is understood as an external force that dominates particular identities by forcing them to conform to its singular ideal. But the problem isn’t universality. It is this conception of it. What is universal is not what dominates us but the point of absence within the social structure. This necessary structural absence is where we find what doesn’t belong, and this non-belonging itself is universal. We share in our failure to belong, even though some experience this failure more directly than others. It is the point from which social movements take up their energy and ask us to see the universality of non-belonging as a way of restructuring society.
Todd McGowan is professor of film studies at the University of Vermont. The unifying thread of his research is the belief that theory has the ability to shed fresh light on what seems firmly established and that it can enrich both our lives and our creative endeavours. His new book, Universality and Identity Politics, was published this year.
Jana Baćević is Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology at Durham University. Her work is in social theory, sociology of knowledge, and politics of knowledge production; she has published extensively on the relationship between knowledge, education and processes of social and political transformation. Twitter: @jana_bacevic