Responsibility at the Limit
: The Line Between Ethics and Politics

  • Madeleine Louise Fagan

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis engages critically with the question of how poststructuralist notions of ethics and responsibility might inform practical politics. The thesis reviews extant literature in Politics and International Relations which addresses this question and identifies a series of problematic assumptions that underlie these approaches. These tensions are, I argue, a result of a disjuncture between the question asked and the literature drawn upon to answer it. To explore these issues further the thesis then goes back to the work of Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Nancy which underpins much of the secondary literature, to provide alternative readings of these authors which allow for a different framing of responses to this question. Rather than approaching ethics and politics as originally separable or derivable from one another the thesis argues that the focus needs to shift instead to the relationship between these concepts. The originary ethics drawn from Levinas in order to provide an ethical politics is, I argue, not straightforward. Instead, as the question is traced through this literature the notion of a transcendent Other and the corresponding idea of a pure ethical or responsible relation as a necessary or possible starting point for ethics is challenged. Nancy’s focus on the line or limit refigures the relationship between ethics and politics in such a way that they are only on the line which both separates and joins them. In this alternative reading both immanence and transcendence are corrupted as grounds, so nothing remains to provide answers on the better way to proceed. Ultimately, returning to the original question, this means that there are no grounds—particularly ethical ones—on which to construct a ‘politics of’ anything; only ethical-political decisions on possible answers can be made.
Date of Award16 Feb 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council
SupervisorJenny Edkins (Supervisor) & Hidemi Suganami (Supervisor)

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