Article written by Frank C. Richardson and 2009 DPDF Revitalizing Development Studies Fellow Nicolette D. Manglos, featured in Pastoral Psychology, Volume 62, No. 4:
This paper presents a critical overview of René Girard’s mimetic theory, identifies several concerns about the adequacy of mimetic theory’s account of human agency and interdependence, and suggests ways this account might be clarified and enhanced. We suggest that mimetic theory tends to reify or hypostatize the core reality of mimetic desire, which sometimes is spoken of as a kind of trans-individual entity that directs human action, no doubt because of Girard’s concern to avoid any taint of individualism or subjectivism. We argue, however, that hermeneutic and dialogical philosophies like those of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Mikhail Bakhtin explicate profound human relationality and interdependence in a way that obviates individualism without overriding or obscuring personal responsibility. The concern of many Girardian theorists that hermeneutic philosophy covers over or even rationalizes conflictual and violent human dynamics, we contend, is unfounded. However, we insist that most contemporary social theory, including hermeneutic thought, fails to do full justice to the challenges posed by envy, enmity, and scapegoating violence in human affairs and to the struggle for a good or decent life that mimetic theory richly portrays. Thus, we explore some of the possibilities for a fruitful cross-fertilization of mimetic theory and hermeneutic/dialogical viewpoints. Similarly, we argue that recent work on virtue ethics in theoretical psychology contains rich resources for elaborating what would be involved in a so-called “positive” or “creative” mimesis that moves beyond the destructive kinds of mimetic entanglement upon which Girardian thought has tended to concentrate. Finally, we suggest that any effort of this sort to clarify what Girard terms our “interdividual” human reality and to investigate positive mimesis would be greatly assisted by Eugene Webb’s delineation of a fundamental kind of “beneficient motivation” or positive “existential appetite,” a third species of human desire in addition to the two that Girard clearly identifies, namely finite needs and the kind of insatiable, artificial craving that the term mimetic desire usually designates.