Foundation by exclusion: jealousy and envy

Stenner, Paul (2013). Foundation by exclusion: jealousy and envy. In: Malkmus, Barhard and Cooper, Ian eds. Dialectic and Paradox: Configurations of the Third in Modernity. Oxford: Lang, pp. 53–80.


The emotions of jealousy and envy are grasped in conventional psychological theory as discrete intrapsychic states of feeling triggered by a complex of causes. A case will be made that experiences of jealousy and envy are better understood in terms of people’s involvements in dynamic micro-social systems that characteristically produce themselves by way of paradoxical relations to third parties. Experiences that come to be called jealousy and envy are typically characterized by an implicit triangular structure of social relations (subject, object and rival), and hence can be considered as ‘configurations of the third’. Jealousy, for instance, names the troubled relationship of a subject to a rival they wish to exclude from relations with their object. The rival is a third party that threatens to ‘interrupt’ a valued relationship with another, and hence to expose the subject to exclusion. In situations of envy it is the subject who is self-perceived to be an excluded third figure, and in cases of malign envy, the subject wishes to inflict that exclusion on the target of their envy by interrupting the contested relationship. Although they are usually treated as separate and distinct emotions, these observations indicate an intimate relationship between jealousy and envy, and perhaps a zone of indistinction between them. They also raise questions about the mimetic nature of desire in Girard’s sense of desire as mediated through a relationship with a third party or ‘model’.

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