, Volume 51, Issue 3, pp 351-363
Date: 03 Nov 2011

‘In the Beginning is Relation’: Martin Buber’s Alternative to Binary Oppositions

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In this article we develop a relational understanding of sociality, that is, an account of social life that takes relation as primary. This stands in contrast to the common assumption that relations arise when subjects interact, an account that gives logical priority to separation. We will develop this relational understanding through a reading of the work of Martin Buber, a social philosopher primarily interested in dialogue, meeting, relationship, and the irreducibility and incomparability of reality. In particular, the article contrasts Buber’s work with that of poststructuralist theorists who take as their starting point the deconstruction of the Hegelian logic of binary oppositions. Deconstruction understands difference as the excess that undoes the binary, but Buber, we argue, shows how difference derives from the primacy and ontological undefinability of relation. Relational logic does not exclude the logic of separations and oppositions: relation is the primal ground that makes separations possible.

Biographical Details

The authors teach and write together in the School of Social Sciences and International Studies, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2052. They have written four books collaboratively: Passionate Sociology; The Mystery of Everyday Life; The First Year Experience; and Teachers Who Change Lives. Additionally, Ann is co-author of Gender at work and author of Undoing the Social, and Andrew is author of For Freedom and Dignity. They are currently working on a study of everyday ritual practice.