Carmen Puchinger

PhD Candidate
Ethiek Instituut

I am a PhD Candidate in the socialphilosophical research project 'Theorizing Freedom from Below' funded by a VIDI Grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and led by Dr. Dorothea Gädeke.
My dissertational thesis is dedicated to a Critical theory of republican freedom focusing on the lived experience of (resisting) class-based domination.
This experience of (un-)freedom is placed at the center of my considerations and thus informs the project in a substantive as well as methodological negative way resulting in the theoretical approach of theorizing freedom from below. In this sense, my endeavour undertakes to engage in a non-ideal, antagonistic manner with and against the tradition of the Political Theory of Republicanism. For the latter, freedom consists precisely in non-domination. My enquiry aims to discuss the potentials and limits of Republicanism through class-based domination, and in this way focuses innovatively on a lived experience, understood decidedly as reflection of structural domination.

Theorizing Freedom from Below 01.09.2022 to 31.08.2027
General project description

Freedom is the opposite of slavery and domination – or so the republican tradition of political thought argues. Yet, theories of republican freedom rarely engage with actual slavery. Their focus rather lies on specifying the status of free citizens. Slavery merely serves as a metaphor for the condition that is to be avoided. This focus reflects the perspective of those who are concerned with safeguarding their existing freedom. But can such theories make sense of struggles to attain freedom, such as Black Lives Matter or MeToo? Can we fully understand what freedom means without the experience of resisting unfreedom, that is, of resisting existing forms of slavery or domination?

The research project aims to show that theorizing freedom in a way that gains a critical grip on the social world requires rethinking freedom from below; that is by shifting the focus from the lived experience of freedom to the lived experience of slavery and domination – and the struggles against it. The classic republican ideal of the free – i.e. white, male property-owning – citizen serves as a guide to select relevant cases: starting with slave narratives in the 18th century, we will analyse struggles against race-based, gender-based and class-based domination through the work of activists and writers not commonly part of the philosophical canon. 

This analysis will serve (1) to reconstruct conceptions of freedom and resistance emerging from their struggles; (2) to develop a methodological account of how lived experience inform and limit theorizing abstract normative concepts; (3) to analyse whether and if so how theorizing freedom from the perspective of the free citizen may contribute to reproducing the subtle forms of domination against which these writers and activists fought; and (4) to demonstrate how theorizing freedom from below can help address current forms of domination, in the university and beyond. 

NWO grant VIDI