Spannungsübung 3

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Spannungsübung ICI Berlin

The Power of Tolerance

A Debate with Wendy Brown and Rainer Forst

Dec 2008

The ideal of tolerance is only invoked once there is a conflict. But what does it mean to answer a conflict with a call for tolerance? Is tolerance a form of conflict resolution or rather a means of sustaining? Does tolerance help to turn conflicts into productive tensions or does it perpetuate the power relations underlying conflicts? To what extent does tolerance hide its involvement with power and thereby constitute a form of de-politicization? At the same time, the discourse of tolerance also produces its own conflicts and tensions: from the controversies on what should be tolerated and up to what point, to the use of violence against intolerant cultures and practices.

Tolerance is at once a celebrated and a highly contested term of political discourse and social practice. How can it be seen on the one hand as an attitude of superiority as well as a practice of domination, and on the other hand as an instrument in the fight for justice, a stepping stone towards recognition and the realization of ‘the good society’? What is the difference between the attitude of tolerance and the practice of toleration? What kind of social identities does tolerance produce?

In the third ICI-Spannungsübung, Wendy Brown (UC Berkeley) and Rainer Forst (University of Frankfurt/Main) discussed different discourses of tolerance, their normative premises, limits, and political implications. The main focus was on social and political conflicts over the recognition of differences in civil societies, national politics, and transnational relations.

Wendy Brown is Emanuel Heller Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. She received her Ph.D in political philosophy from Princeton University in 1983 and taught at Williams College and at the University of California Santa Cruz prior to going to Berkeley in 1999. Brown’s interests include the history of political theory, critical theory, and cultural theory (including postcolonial, feminist, and critical race theory). Her current research focuses on the relationship of political sovereignty to global capital and other transnational forces, including those identified as religion, law, culture and morality. Brown’s most recent book is Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire (Princeton UP, 2006).

Rainer Forst is Professor of Political Theory and Philosophy at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt/M., and one of the most original representatives of the younger generation of the Frankfurt School of critical theory. He received his doctorate under the supervision of Jürgen Habermas in 1993 (engl. Contexts of Justice, Univ. of Calif. Press 2002, German 1994). His areas of research are moral philosophy and political theory, esp. issues of tolerance, democracy, political and social justice. Forst’s book on tolerance (German edition in 2003) provides a comprehensive study of the controversial, but highly relevant topic: Tolerance in Conflict. History, Content and Presence of a Controversial Concept (Cambridge UP 2009). His most recent book is The Right to Justification (Columbia UP 2009, German 2007).


Introduction: Christoph Holzhey

Moderation: Antke Engel

© 2008 by the participants and ICI Berlin

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