DIDIER ERIBON ° How and When Can We Say “We”? On Social Protest and Political Dissent

Lecture by Didier Eribon

Full Episode with Didier Eribon & Chantal Mouffe

Florian Malzacher, Chantal Mouffe, Didier Eribon © Ines Bacher
Florian Malzacher, Chantal Mouffe, Didier Eribon © Ines Bacher/Wiener Festwochen

Taking a starting point with Simone de Beauvoir’s iconic book „The Second Sex,” philosopher and sociologist Didier Eribon reflects on the construction of a „We“ that wants to be the subject and no longer just the objects of political discourses. But it is a heterogeneous “We” and its internal differences cannot be neglected. And of course, this new “We” does not and cannot replace the preexisting ones: the working-class movement or the black movement etc. They have to coexist with their own definitions and their own temporalities.
The Working class used to be such a „We“ before intellectuals and politicians from different political backgrounds started denying its existence, and the very existence of social classes in order to impose an idea of “individual responsibility” as a tool to dismantle large parts of the social welfare system.
Pushed into despair and anger many workers who formerly voted for the left and very often for the communists turned to far right wing parties. The capitalist as the enemy of the working class was replaced by migrants and anybody considered foreign or different. 
To believe that they also represented the working class and the “people” was one of the shortcomings of movements like Occupy Wall Street. They could not represent “The 99%”, because such a unified group does not exist.

Didier Eribon harshly criticizes recent French police violence against street demonstrations and insists on the unsurpassable plurality of movements like the gilets jaunes in France, or the recurring massive strikes and protests against the demolition of the public sector, as well as the demonstrations against racism etc. And he believes that it is necessary to revive and rethink the “spirit of may 68” as an intellectual and political framework to understand and support the multiple and heterogeneous forms of resistance.

VII: Agonistic Gatherings (Didier Eribon, Chantal Mouffe & Florian Malzacher)
VII: Agonistic Gatherings (Didier Eribon, Chantal Mouffe & Florian Malzacher)


Didier Eribon is a French sociologist and philosopher. He was professor of sociology in Amiens and visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, at the universities of Harvard and Yale, at New York University (NYU) and at Columbia University. His socio-autobiography Returning to Reims (2009) in which he reveals the break-up of French society attracted international attention. His work Insult and the Making of the Gay Self (1999) has become a classic and a founding document of Queer Studies. Among his most recent publications are La société comme verdict(2013) and Principes d’une pensée critique (2016).