This conversation is with Todd May, who is a political philosopher and social activist based at Clemson University. Among his many books are, more recently, A Fragile Life: Accepting Our Vulnerability (2017) and Nonviolent Resistance: A Philosophical Introduction (2015).
In your writings, you continue to highlight the contemporary importance of continental thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Jacques Rancière, among others. How do they still help us develop a critique of violence adequate to our times?
Todd May: Let me address this in two parts: the issue of the critique of violence and then the alternative of nonviolence. Regarding violence, we need to ask a bit about what violence is. In my book on nonviolence, I confessed to being unable to come up with an adequate overall definition of violence. However, traditionally violence is considered to be of at least three types: physical, psychological, and structural. It is structural violence that is most relevant to consider here. Let me focus on Foucault and Rancière. In his most famous works, Discipline and Punish and the first volume of The History of Sexuality, Foucault can be read — rightfully so, in my view — as offering us genealogies of particular kinds of structural violence, violence that stems not from direct person-to-person contact but instead emerges from the structure of a social situation.