‘The absent community’ symposium was recently held at Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS). The Symposium brought together a small group of scholars from the disciplines of Philosophy, Political Studies, History, Jurisprudence, and Literary Studies.

The theme was sparked by the idea that ‘absence’ tends to be coded as ‘loss’, which animates many claims and programmatics in the political arena – such as loss the ‘unity of the party’, and of ‘social cohesion’; loss of a relation to land, place, home, and work. Critically taking up some of these notions, contributors addressed the question as to how the framings of absence, ‘loss’, and envisaged restitution differentially structure political agency, social policy, and collective identifications, claims, and mobilisations – past and present.

A recurring theme was the philosophical and political role of violence. Some contributions suggested that violence should not be taken as indication of failed institutions, or failed democracy, as if ‘violence’ and ‘democracy’/‘justice’ were simply inversely related to each other. Their interrelation would need to be considered, rather, in relation to action-orientations – normatively, and politically-socially.

Where ‘community’ and ‘solidarity’ is predicated on a constitutive absence – rather than ‘loss’ – a political understanding emerges, which has played itself out in the formation of ‘interpretive communities’. However, their openness, plurality, and dialogicity is limited by considerations of the distinctions that would need to be drawn between information, opinion, belief, knowledge and judgement – for which we would need to develop new criteria in reconsidering human relationality in the anthropocene.