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Rewriting the people : narrative, exilic thinking, and democratic agency beyond the west Khatami, Nojang


The vital originary moments of democracy rely on the work of dissidents using creative means to contest exclusion and domination. Much of contemporary political theory continues to mine the Western tradition of political thought for such democratic resources. Augmenting those well-known iterations, I look outside the confines of Western political theory to locate other histories and conceptual resources that inform ongoing resistance against exclusionary structures across time and place. Focusing on narratives of democratic agency in both Western and non-Western cases, this dissertation uncovers texts and actions that show how those outside or at the margins of different political orders empower themselves and work to radically reconstitute those societies. Against circumscribed definitions of “the people” instituted by executive and juridical authorities, those left out of the political realm evince what I term exilic thinking to challenge such exclusionary scripts and extend the scope of the demos. I argue that narratives of democratic empowerment are not merely the products of Western political theory, but transcultural and ubiquitous. Using a narratological method that combines insights from Hannah Arendt and Edward Said, I survey a select set of historical moments in Western and non-Western experience to identify worldly manifestations of agency in texts and practices underappreciated for their democratic significance. The democratic moments I analyse include dissident Sufism in the wake of the Islamic Golden Age; the poetics of exile in early Renaissance Florence; decolonial thought moving from the Americas to Africa and the Middle East; and contemporary struggles against exclusion and domination in Iran and North America. Taken together, these explorations shed new light on practices of resistance and collective self-governance, contributing to theoretical advances in the study of democracy and comparative political theory. Finally, I provide a praxis-oriented approach at the end of my dissertation to consider the efficacy of sharing aesthetic, literary, and exilic narratives in enabling common world-building practices in conditions of deep diversity.

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