Eigensinn: Spaces of action and practices of domination

The work and ideas of Alf Lüdtke
By Thomas Lindenberger, Alf Lüdtke

In his short foreword, Thomas Lindenberger reminds us that the article published in French by Le Mouvement social is the introduction to a collective volume published in Polish around the notion of Eigensinn. Like most of Alf Lüdtke’s texts, this text written in German in collaboration with a co-author is a collective “intellectual adventure” that needs to be continued.This paper gives a reflection on the concept of Eigensinn and how it allows us to understand and analyse behaviour and social situations of domination in authoritarian regimes and dictatorships, first of all, but also in democracies. It begins with an analysis of the term itself, emphasising its polysemy and highlighting the positive and negative connotations that it takes on in everyday use and in German literature. Basically, the term refers to a certain relationship to power and has been used in sociology, psychology and pedagogy in various interpretive contexts. The authors view this vagueness and polysemy as a richness that can be exploited. Far from being an overarching concept, it acquires meaning in and through specific empirical work. This should make it possible to highlight the way in which actors caught up in relations of domination can remain “themselves” (bei sich). What Hegel interprets in a passage of Phenomenology of Mind as “skill” constitutes in this context an essential resource for the protagonists: master and slave involved in a relationship of domination. The text then offers examples of the richness of this concept to understand the behaviour of agents in authoritarian bureaucracies (Prussia) or violent ones (Nazism) as victims of these same bureaucracies for whom Eigensinn ultimately designates the ability to seize the last opportunities to act in a situation of total and mortal powerlessness. The last part of the text explores the use that could be made of this concept to analyse power relations in democratic contexts.

Go to the article on Cairn-int.info