Lexicon for Political Theory: Encyclopedia in the Making

Lexicon for Political Theory: Encyclopedia in the Making

The Lexicon group studies foundational concepts in political theory and initiates the writing of original essays in the field. The project’s gradually expanding compilation of concepts will include traditional concepts drawn from the canon of political theory alongside concepts imported from other disciplines; concepts that have seeped into our language and perception from everyday experiences or concepts extracted from local or foreign political histories; and invented concepts, designed to enable the description of new phenomena. Through the critical interpretation and redefinition of these concepts the group seeks to broaden the horizons of the theoretical thought and at the same time to shed light on present political conditions. The selection of the concepts and their networking – the various ways in which they will be linked and intertwined, weaving and unraveling coherent discourses – is one of the group’s main preoccupations.

Against the backdrop of present-day relations between power, state, market, and religion, and in light of the new conflicts that are related to them, the Lexicon project seeks to reintroduce a series of basic questions about the essence of government and the boundaries of the political act; the reciprocal relations between mechanisms of the state, and the market; political theology and religious politics; the institution of citizenship and the distinction between citizens and non-citizens; the global political order and the new forms of rule it engenders; and more. The discussion of these issues carries a particular importance in the state of Israel, whose establishment was never anchored in a strong tradition either of political theory or of constitutional law, and in which still today there is hardly any critical thinking about the most basic foundational political questions and assumptions. The research conducted as part of the Lexicon group feeds on a close observation of the Israeli predicament, attempting to explore the imprint that it leaves upon the theoretical thought. However, the theoretical thought itself is not centered on Israel and is directed also at a global discourse community engaged in political-critical thought.

The research in this project is guided by a return to the most ancient philosophical question – “What is X?” – posed here for the purpose of testing common expectations and widely accepted theoretical frameworks. The lexical investigation does not seek definitions that reconstruct and summarize the history of the use of a particular concept under discussion, nor does it presume to seal the debate regarding this concept; on the contrary: it encourages new and original answers, welcomes multiple perspectives and interpretive disagreements, and strives to bring to the fore both cultural and disciplinary differences. This discussion takes place in full awareness of the fact that every explication of a concept must necessarily address a whole combination of concepts that are interconnected either within a single discourse or across discourses; the (re)definition is put forth in order to problematize this combination and discuss it critically.

The framing question “What is X?” functions as a formal common denominator of the various individual studies the project will initiate and compile. In content, the only feature common to these lexical essays, or definitions, is their emphasis on the political aspect of the concepts they present and explain. However, the project neither presupposes nor seeks to impose any one conception of the political: its nature will emerge anew, implicitly or explicitly, with each new definition of a concept and with the links that form between these definitions.

The project’s two avenues for exposure are a series of conferences and a journal. The conferences, held twice a year, host researchers from all areas of the humanities and social sciences interested in rethinking the basic concepts of their field and considering in particular the political aspect of these concepts. Papers presented at the conferences are submitted for publication in Mafte’akh, an online academic journal that will appear twice a year and function as a lexicon in the making. Papers submitted for publication in Mafte’akh undergo the usual procedures of academic evaluation. The journal’s editing is carried out by a class of M.A. students. Its first issue has appeared in Hebrew in January, 2010. An English version is scheduled to appear several months later, and beginning in 2011 the journal will appear regularly in both languages, providing a platform for researchers worldwide.

The Lexicon project is affiliated with several other research groups, which will promote lexical studies in areas of particular interest:

A research group on political economy, led by Dr. Noam Yuran. The group examines the unique form of the current economy, tracing political concepts in the writings of contemporary economists and interpreting them critically. This work is understood as a perquisite for the rebuilding of a conceptual language in the field of political economics, in light of the estrangement in recent decades of critical scholarship from economic issues.

Photo-lexic is an international research group led by Dr. Ruthie Ginsburg. More than half of its members are non-Israelis and it operates primarily online. The group studies and develops concepts relating to photography, both as image and as practice, with a special focus on the ways in which people – those who take pictures, those who appear in them, and those who look at them – use photography. Photography is perceived in this context as a possible instrument of power and government as well as a civilian practice that challenges the sovereign power and disrupts its field of vision. By exploring photography as a form of being-together, the group seeks to rethink central concepts of political philosophy from the point of view of the ruled rather than the rulers.

A research group on the political and philosophical theory of space, led by Ariel Handel, operated between 2009 and 2013. The group studied and developed concepts relating to the political construction of space and spatial aspects of politics. The group’s goal was to rethink space not just as an object of research and an element of the political but also as a research tool that stands to broaden and enrich our understanding of the political matter and the political field.

Academic Director:
Dr. Ariel Handel