Subverting Institutions: Derrida and Zhuangzi on the Power of Institutions

Main Article Content

Steven Burik


This paper shows how both Jacques Derrida and Zhuangzi use their respective ways of subverting philosophical systems, by and large through language systems, to arrive at an (implicit or explicit) subversion of political power or political systems or institutions. Political institutions are presented as including more general institutions such as the media, press, and academic and other kinds of institutions that influence the way our societies function, the way we live, work, and think. The paper first highlights the similarities and differences in the application of subversive techniques in Derrida and Zhuangzi as they battle against their respective opponents. After that it shows how their subversion of philosophical systems and language flows over into the subversion of political systems. The hope or goal of subversion or critique is often understood to be not only overthrowing the old system, but replacing it with a better one, even when the change or overthrow comes from within the system itself. But this paper aims to show that both Derrida and Zhuangzi, although in very different contexts, also seem to subvert that hope, and that they may or may not offer some kind of way out of this conundrum.

Article Details

How to Cite
Burik, S. (2019). Subverting Institutions: Derrida and Zhuangzi on the Power of Institutions. Journal of World Philosophies, 4(1), 102-120. Retrieved from
Author Biography

Steven Burik

Steven Burik is currently Assistant Professor in Philosophy at Singapore Management University. He holds a PhD in comparative philosophy from the National University of Singapore. His research interests are mainly in comparative philosophy, continental philosophy (Heidegger, Derrida), Chinese philosophy (Daoism), and critical thinking. His works include The End of Comparative Philosophy and the Task of Comparative Thinking (State University of New York Press), a co-authored textbook in critical thinking, and articles in various journals and books, including Philosophy East and West and Comparative and Continental Philosophy. He is currently working on an edited volume (with Ralph Weber and Robert Smid), tentatively called Comparative Philosophy and Method: Contemporary Practices and Future Possibilities, which brings together leading scholars thinking about the methodology in comparative philosophy.