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Course 805: Normativity and Experience (Optional)


Ph.D Course (Optional): Winter 2009

 Normativity and Experience

Instructor: Vivek Dhareshwar

There are different kinds of objects and domains. Some are abstract, sets and numbers, for example. Others are concrete, chairs and trees, for example. Yet others, such as the state or the university, are different from both the abstract and the concrete objects, while sharing some properties with them.  Then there are the ”theoretical entities” of the natural sciences such as “electron” or “centre of gravity.” Theoretically and practically, we have or develop different ways of understanding these domains and handling the objects therein.  Or alternatively, we could say that these objects/domains have their own ways of being known. Such questions relating to the existence-claims of these very different kinds of objects fall within an inquiry that can be broadly termed ontological.  There are, however, some puzzling entities, especially in what we take to be the experiential domain which is the concern of the human sciences (including cultural studies): for example, to take entities that are very familiar indeed, “human rights” or “civil society” or even “history” and ‘self”?  What kind of ontological inquiry will help us assess their status?

In this seminar we will be taking the ontological route to figure out the peculiar status of norms and normativity.  “Sexuality” will serve as a paradigmatic example as well as a point of departure.  For several reasons (to be explored in the seminar) normativity is one of the hardest theoretical or philosophical question to tackle. We will get an initial conceptual handle on the idea of a “normed” object and the process by which a domain gets normativized by studying the domain “sexuality” through the work of Foucault.  With the help of the insights and heuristics developed from that study, we will then explore other objects/domains.  

The course will be grouped around three problematics (4-5 week for each):

Knowledge and Scientism: the discussion will mainly focus on Foucault’s  The History of Sexuality, Vols I & II and The Hermeneutics of the Subject. The questions to be explored: how do we distinguish scientism from knowledge? What is “scientia sexualis”? Is Foucault a constructivist? What’s problematization and what’s normativization? How’s ethics related to experience?  

Self and Action in Ethics and Politics: readings will be drawn from, Kant, Nietzsche, Marx,  Balagangadhara, Bernard Williams. We will try to get clear on morality and ethics and also seek to understand what kind of domain politics is.

Human Sciences and the Western Culture: Thanks to the western intellectual tradition’s attempt to develop scientific understanding of itself and other cultures, we have had a proliferation of domains/objects/concepts such as the “caste system,” “polytheism,” “secularization,” so forth. We will take up the creation of the “caste-system” for closer scrutiny and explore what kind of domain or entity it is. We will return to the question of scientism and knowledge and explore the relationship among  experience, normativity and knowledge. Readings will be in Barbosa, Abbe Dubois, Said, Balagangadhara, Dumont, Cohn, Dirks et al.

Detailed schedule will be handed out after the first meeting. Except for the segment A (the first 4 weeks), I want to keep the content of the next two tentative. How much ground we cover and with what intensity will depend on your energy, interest and commitment.  I think we will have a better idea of that after we have covered the first segment.  The procedure in class will be as follows: I will present for an hour or so building the main argument, and providing the context for the specific stage of the inquiry and formulating questions for discussion. The rest of the time will be for presentation and discussion.

Course Requirement:

The readings are fairly substantial and demanding. Assigned reading must be read carefully before each class. One class presentation.  Three short papers (3-5 pages) due at the end of each segment.  One long paper (15-20 pages) which may be an elaboration of one of the short papers.

Session 1:

Introduction. The course as an inquiry.  The themes and issues to be taken up. The larger argument that will be orchestrated. Work commitment required.

Session 2: Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. I Link found here
Issues raised by Foucault; framework for understanding Foucault’s inquiry.

Session 3:

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality Vol. II: The Uses of Pleasure Link found here

Supplementary readings: Davidson, Lacquer, Freud.

Session 4 The Hermeneutics of the Subject

Session 5: Foucault’s genealogy of western culture.


Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morality.
Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals.
Barbosa, A Description Of The Coasts Of East Africa And Malabar In The Beginning Of The Sixteenth Century.
Dubois, Description of the Character, Manners, and Customs of the People of India and of Their Institutions. Religious and Civil. 
Balagangadhara, The Heathen in His Blindness (selections) and other essays.Link found here
Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vols I & II; The Hermeneutics of the Subject (selections).
Dirks, Castes of Mind.
Cohn, An Anthropologist among the Historians.
Dumont, Homo Hierarchicus.
Hacking, Social Construction of What?
Said, Orientalism.
Inden, Imagining India.
Wittgenstein, “Lecture on Ethics.”
Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy.
Nancy, Dis-Enclosure: The Deconstruction of Christianity.


Freud, Three Essays on Sexuality
Davidson, The Emergence of Sexuality
Brown, The Body and Society
Lacquer, Making Sex
Searle, The Construction of Social Reality
Susan Bayly, Caste in South Asia


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