Studying the State through the Scandal: On the Epistemic Value of Transgression

A session led by Jana Vargovčíková

‘In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking. Now, heaven knows, anything goes.’ (Cole Porter).

Far from being anomalies or mere accidents, transgressions are conditioned and given meaning by norms. Subsequently, norms repeatedly reaffirm their legitimacy and meaning in contrast to transgressions. What is considered as transgression and when transgression gains the potential of being turned into a scandal varies in time and space, as the quote suggests. That is why, given the imbrication of norms and transgressions, social scientists and philosophers have turned to cases of transgression in order to understand order, social norms and institutions, as well as to comprehend the nature of the distinction between the two (e.g. Foucault, Becker, Hughes, Goffman). Leaving normative preconceptions aside, then, a sociologist or political scientist can learn from an anthropologist and treat transgressions in the political realm as indicators of the (symbolic, but not exclusively so) structure of the state. Political scandals as narratives of events labelled as transgressive represent precisely such means of enquiry into how a political body organizes the limits of its norms (De Blic & Lemieux) and into how citizens relate to the political order (Gupta).


  • Damien de Blic & Cyril Lemieux. ‘Le scandale comme épreuve.’ Politix 71 (3): 9–38, 2005.
  • Akhil Gupta. ‘Blurred Boundaries: The Discourse of Corruption, the Culture of Politics, and the Imagined State.’ American Ethnologist 22 (2): 375–402, 1995.
  • Chris Jenkins. ‘Transgression: The Concept.’ Architectural Design 83 (6): 20, 2013.