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  • Excluded Within: The (Un)Intelligibility of Radical Political Actors by Sina Kramer
  • Rick Elmore (bio)
Sina Kramer, Excluded Within: The (Un)Intelligibility of Radical Political Actors Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017, 256 pp. isbn: 978-0-1906-2598-6

Excluded Within is an inspired work of political philosophy that tackles the question of political agency and political exclusion. At the heart of Kramer's book is a desire to understand how certain agents fail to appear as politically intelligible, their actions variously seen as bewildering, wild, or simply apolitical. Antigone, Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin, and the 1992 Los Angeles riots/rebellion are, for Kramer, exemplars of this kind of ambiguous political agency, figures simultaneously included in and excluded from the space of politics. This status of being politically "excluded within" is illustrated in the debate over the very naming of the 1992 Los Angeles riots/rebellion as "riots," implying wild, unorganized, and destructive behaviors with no articulated political platform, while "rebellion" suggests organized, if still destructive, political action. What interests Kramer about these forms of political agency is the way in which they "paradoxically both ground … and troubl[e] the distinctions that structure political bodies and the terms of political agency," the exclusion of the lawless destruction of property implied in the notion of riots, for example, making possible the stability of the regimes of law and property ownership (Kramer 2017, 5). Hence, Excluded Within is an account of "constitutive exclusion," an analysis of the ways in which a logic of exclusion grounds the existence of political bodies and political agency particularly under existing regimes of [End Page 151] white supremacy, heteronormativity, patriarchy, and ableism. However, more than just a critical diagnosis, Kramer's book is a powerful and compelling work of political, and I am tempted to say revolutionary, hope; Excluded Within is guided by the belief that this world, with all of its violence and injustice, can and ought to be otherwise, and that critical, philosophical analysis has a role to play in transforming us and the world. Hence, Excluded Within will be of interest to anyone working on questions of political subjectivity and liberation. It is Kramer's emphasis on the possibility of overcoming constitutive exclusion and the unintelligibility of marginalized political agents that marks, for me, the essential advance of her work over the array of thinkers who take exclusion to be fundamental to politics.

Although Kramer deploys the concept of "constitutive exclusion" in a distinctly original way, her analysis draws on a long tradition in deconstruction, intersectional feminist theory, queer theory, and critical race theory of understanding exclusion as constitutive of politics. For example, in the deconstructively inspired political theory of Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, exclusion is characterized as an essential, ontological feature of all political systems, the marking of a "constitutive outside" required in order for there to be a political "inside" (Kramer 2017, 7–8). Similarly, feminist theory has long argued that the exclusion of women from politics is more than just a contingent failure of liberal democracies to live up to their own ideals, the very norms and activities of these institutions themselves gendered in ways that position the categories of politics and political agency as always already masculine (9). Expanding on these insights, and following the work of Judith Butler and French feminist philosophy, some theorists argue that the exclusion of the feminine (as well as other marginalized identities and positions) is built into the very "dialectic between universal and particular, and between inclusion and exclusion" (10). On these readings, the exclusion, occlusion, or forgetting of otherness would be a constitutive problem not only of politics but of thought itself, exclusion built into the epistemological and ontological structures of Western conceptuality. This notion, that marginalized identities might be structurally and, therefore, necessarily excluded from the sphere of politics, has led some theorists, particularly in queer theory, critical race theory, and disability studies, to argue that exclusion marks a common lack around which political solidarity and entirely new political conjuctures might be built (10–11). Yet while extensive, Kramer rightly identifies that this large body of work leaves a number of key issues concerning exclusion unsettled, most...


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pp. 151-156
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