The Seeds of Penia: Radical Democracy’s Roots in Poverty & the Athenian Social Imaginary

14 August 2023, Version 1
This content is an early or alternative research output and has not been peer-reviewed at the time of posting.


This paper argues that the function and experience of poverty—what the Greeks call Penia—is a crucial and understudied aspect of Athenian democracy. It situates poverty as both a distinctly political experience and the principal feature of Athenian democracy that makes it such a potent source of democratic inspiration. Radical democratic theorist Cornelius Castoriadis - whose work on ancient Greece demonstrates the enduring relevance of Athens to ongoing democratic projects and thought - can decipher the significance of Penia by articulating vital links between poverty, political participation, and the imaginary institution of society. Castoriadis views democratic Athens a seed of germination from which new democratic projects can burst forth. I argue that these germs can be found most readily in the conceptual nature of Penia, which in turn gesture to the necessity of reanimating ongoing discussions of poverty’s role in democratic projects.


radical democracy
ancient Athens
social imaginary


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