Constructivism, Essentialism, and the Between: Human Being and Vulnerability in Judith Butler, Steven Pinker and Colin Gunton

  • Datum:
  • Plats: Humanistiska teatern, Engelska parken, Thunbergsvägen 3H, Uppsala
  • Doktorand: Sverker, Joseph
  • Om avhandlingen
  • Arrangör: Teologiska institutionen
  • Kontaktperson: Sverker, Joseph
  • Disputation

This dissertation explores the division between biology and the social by means of Christian theology. The question is approached by reading and interacting critical theorist Judith Butler, psycholinguist Steven Pinker and theologian Colin Gunton.

With Gunton the author argues that a relational, but ‘weak’, ontology is needed. With this ‘ontology of the between’ Pinker and Butler can be explored in different ways. Pinker’s understanding of the individual and culture is challenged and worked towards one where culture and environment share meaning. Butler’s theory of performativity is reworked in light of Gunton’s and Pinker’s concepts of time. When some significant themes such as these have been dealt with Pinker, Butler and Gunton are made to interact on the question of the human being.

In the dissertation, the concept of person is central for it emphasises the complex interrelationality of human existence. Gunton’s concept of ‘spirit’ as an ‘openness to the other’ and Butler’s stress on vulnerability are ontologically significant. But the author also stresses that we are our bodies, constituted as person by the self-giving of the other. Therefore, informed by christology, a kenotic personalism is most fundamental for humans.

This insight is taken to the context of school. With Butler’s theory of interpellation reinterpreted, it is argued that school as an institution fulfils a double role with its pupils. As an institution of the state, school ‘individualises’ its pupils and the autonomy of the pupil is constructed. But as a place for learning, the relational comes to the fore and the pupil’s personhood emerges. But, it is argued, if vulnerability is fundamental for what it is to be human then too much individualisation will undermine that vulnerability and dependence on the other.

The dissertation therefore concludes that the division between biology and the social discloses a deeper divide, namely that between fundamentally vulnerable persons and constructed independent individuals. The constitution of the person depends on the giving of the other and institutions always partly fail in recognising the fundamentally human. But not only school fails; all humans fail in giving to the other sufficiently for personhood, all but one.