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Democratic Realism. Unfolding Equality and the Demand of the Impossible

In most liberal political theories equality is conceived as a fundamental norm that ideally orients processes of social reproduction. The aesthetic and political perspective known as realism can be interpreted to offer a different take: instead of a normative approach to equality realism tries to effectively uncover relations of equality in the materiality of the lives of those exposed to and subjected by the different forms of (brute) inequality. It does so by unfolding and exploring the reality of these lives, their everyday experiences and common culture.

By following the realist approach, this project offers to gain a new perspective on contemporary struggles against the unequal valuation of lives within modern, even democratic societies. It does so by merging three different notions of realism: first, as an aesthetic understanding of equality in the tradition of the arts, literature and film that make use of documentary methods, ethnographic and archival counter-investigations. Second, as a political perspective on power relations and political contestations that does not refer solely to the false or incomplete implementation of the juridically determined norm of equality, but rather produces a different description of the reality of failed norms and therefore allows for a more radical critique. Third, as a utopian stance that envisions equality by way of demanding the impossible, opening up processes of social transformation beyond mere technocratic reforms.

Felix Trautmann