Toward an Asymmetrical Ethics: Power, Relations, and the Diversity of Subjectivities
International conference organised November 13 to 15 by the Centre for Studies in Practical Knowledge at the School of Culture and Education, Södertörn University.
In Western societies and philosophical traditions, the egalitarian relation between rational subjects has since long been understood as an ethical ideal for intersubjective relations. This ethics presupposes a relation between two independent subjects of the same kind: autonomous, rational, and (self-)transparent subjects. And even when this understanding of subjectivity is not applicable, the ideal remains the same.
When this egalitarian ethic is applied to, for example, relations between children and adults, humans and animals, care-giver and patients with dementia, teachers and pupils, there is a risk that the variety of subjectivities involved in these relations will not be acknowledged, and thus opens up for a hidden abuse of power. These problems are also relevant for empirical research where asymmetrical relations are at the center, for example research that aims at giving voice to other subjectivities, which also turns this into it a question of methodology and research ethics.
But are not all relations asymmetrical? Human life itself begins as an asymmetrical relation between a pregnant mother and her fetus. And perhaps, as is the case in this relation, asymmetrical relations need not be based in injustice. We can even ask ourselves if anyone in fact lives up to the ideal of rational subjectivity presupposed by egalitarian ethics. Instead, a description of asymmetries might reach an intrinsic dimension of intersubjective life and an understanding of such asymmetries that would make our understanding of different kinds of subjectivities and relations richer.
But how are we to formulate an ethics of asymmetry that moves away from the long-standing influence of “symmetrical ethics,” which permeates contemporary life? Where, and how, is it needed? How would it be possible to develop an asymmetrical ethics that is not caught up in power abuse, static and rigid relations, or locked in fixed hierarchies? And how can we formulate
an ethics of asymmetry in which the meaning of equality, integrity, power, freedom, etc., can be thought anew?
Questions and topics
We invite researchers from all human and social sciences, as well as artistic researchers and artistic practitioners, to investigate these questions further. Questions and topics may include philosophical issues of asymmetrical ethics, for example the asymmetrical nature of life, asymmetry and power, and asymmetrical relations within an egalitarian ideal. We also invite submissions from broader research areas that may include human-animal studies, disability studies, studies on elderly care, educational relations, childhood studies, theory and methodology of science, etc.