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Christopher F. Zurn

This chapter is a critical review of Amy Allen's book The Politics of Our Selves. It briefly reconstructs some of the book's impressive achievements: articulating a…

Abstract

This chapter is a critical review of Amy Allen's book The Politics of Our Selves. It briefly reconstructs some of the book's impressive achievements: articulating a synthetic account of gendered subjectivity that accounts for both subjection and autonomy; imaginatively integrating poststructuralist and communicative theories; and, furthering important new interpretations of Butler, Foucault, and Habermas. It also raises critical concerns about Allen's project: her specific conception of autonomy and its justification; her suspicions of the notion of historical progress; her psychological explanation of the continuing power of pernicious norms of gendered subjectivity; the usefulness of psychoanalysis for critical social theory; and, the role of cultural, structural, and materialist explanations and political strategies.

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The Diversity of Social Theories
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-0-85724-821-3

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George Steinmetz

This review of Amy Allen’s book, The End of Progress (2016), first addresses the structure of the book and focuses on specific points made in individual chapters…

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This review of Amy Allen’s book, The End of Progress (2016), first addresses the structure of the book and focuses on specific points made in individual chapters, including the affinity between postcolonial theory and the approaches of Adorno and Foucault in subjecting the notion of historical progress to “withering critique,” and Allen’s alternative approach to decolonization; Habermas’ aim to put critical theory on a secure normative footing; Honneth’s stance that the history of an ethical sphere is an unplanned learning process kept in motion by a struggle for recognition; Forst’s attempt to reconstruct Critical Theory’s normative account through a return to Kant rather than Hegel; and Allen’s claim that her approach is fully in the spirit of Critical Theory and could be seen as continuation of Critical Theory’s first generation, as in Adorno, and how it is a “genealogical” approach that draws on Adorno’s negative dialectics and critique of identity thinking, as well as on Nietzsche’s conception of genealogy, as developed by Foucault. The second part of my response raises three issues: (1) Allen’s partial compromise with the idea of progress; (2) whether critical theory would profit from engagement with other critical theories and theories of ethics, beyond postcolonial theory; and (3) nonwestern theories shed a different light on the question of Allen’s critique, a theme that also draws attention to the gesture of decolonizing, the distinctions between colonialism and empire, and the sociology of knowledge production.

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Johanna Meehan

Amy Allen's book, The Politics of Our Selves, advances feminists beyond current stalemates that insist that to acknowledge the importance of Habermas's normative insights…

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Amy Allen's book, The Politics of Our Selves, advances feminists beyond current stalemates that insist that to acknowledge the importance of Habermas's normative insights, is to deny the significance of Foucault's description of the impact that power has on subject formation. In this article I describe Allen's position and suggest its strengths and importance, criticize some of Allen's arguments and offer suggestions for advancing the direction of Allen's argument.

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The Diversity of Social Theories
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-0-85724-821-3

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Reha Kadakal

Allen’s critique of current Frankfurt School theory presents the joint methods of “problematizing genealogy” and “metanormative contextualism” as alternative for the…

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Allen’s critique of current Frankfurt School theory presents the joint methods of “problematizing genealogy” and “metanormative contextualism” as alternative for the normative grounding of critical theory. Through a close reading of Allen’s critique, I investigate whether Allen’s identification of philosophy of history is an accurate diagnosis of the problems of the normative grounding of current Frankfurt School theory, whether Allen’s distinction between metanormative and normative levels is tenable for critical theory, and whether Allen’s methodology constitutes a viable alternative for the normative grounding of critical theory. As an alternative, I suggest scrutinizing the grounding strategies of current Frankfurt School theory to expand beyond their genealogy in Enlightenment thought, and address the question of what made the affirmative form of thought underlying current Frankfurt School theory a historical possibility. Expanding on Allen’s reiteration of the mediated nature of categories, I suggest that the stark contrast between forms of thought underlying first- and second-generation Frankfurt School critical theory needs to be understood not in relation to philosophy of history but against the backdrop of the specific context of the European historical present that informs its normative universe.

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Colin Koopman

This review essay of Amy Allen's The Politics of Our Selves focuses on the book's excellent work in addressing some of the centermost philosophical and metaphilosophical…

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This review essay of Amy Allen's The Politics of Our Selves focuses on the book's excellent work in addressing some of the centermost philosophical and metaphilosophical problems in contemporary critical theory. I first consider the book's intricate discussions of the work of Habermas and Foucault. I then leverage these discussions to pose a question that is crucial for contemporary critical theory. The crucial question concerns the metaphilosophical status of critical theory with respect to what we ought to expect contemporary critical theory to do. What is the best way of interpreting critical theory as a philosophical project?

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The Diversity of Social Theories
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-0-85724-821-3

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Kevin Olson

This chapter rethinks the future of critical theory by engaging Amy Allen’s recent work. Allen does the Frankfurt School a great service by drawing a sharp-edged picture…

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This chapter rethinks the future of critical theory by engaging Amy Allen’s recent work. Allen does the Frankfurt School a great service by drawing a sharp-edged picture of some significant problems. I aim to think along with her in a spirit of shared sympathies that follow sometimes divergent paths. I agree with Allen’s critique of Frankfurt tendencies toward Eurocentrism, progress thinking, and historical teleology. However, I also argue that critical theory must be more thoroughly reconfigured to adequately address the struggles and wishes of our age. Specifically, recent work of the Frankfurt School displaces critique in two important ways. The first is a tendency to work at a paradigmatic, meta-level of analysis rather than focusing on concrete problems. The second is a tendency to rely on democratic procedure for normativity without taking account of the tensions and contradictions in actual political cultures. In place of these uncritical tendencies, we need more interpretive and freely experimental critical strategies. One example is an interpretive approach that problematizes political cultures, revealing the tensions ignored by proceduralism. Another example lies in the rich archives of postcolonial thought that have had such a large impact on contemporary political and social life. Postcolonial critique is a non-dogmatic and flexible form of interpretation that has great potential to address problems of racism, international inequality, and the false universalism of many of our ideals.

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Karen Ng

This chapter offers a review of Amy Allen’s The End of Progress: Decolonizing the Normative Foundations of Critical Theory (2016) and presents the book as having both a…

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This chapter offers a review of Amy Allen’s The End of Progress: Decolonizing the Normative Foundations of Critical Theory (2016) and presents the book as having both a negative and positive aim. Its negative aim is to offer a critique of the Eurocentric narratives of historical progress that serves the function of normative grounding in the critical theories of Jürgen Habermas and Axel Honneth. Its positive aim is to provide a new approach to the normative grounding of critical theory that eschews Eurocentric narratives of progress through the idea of metanormative contextualism. For Allen, metanormative contextualism is developed through an engagement with the works of Adorno and Foucault. This chapter raises some critical questions concerning the position of metanormative contextualism, arguing that there are significant differences between Adorno and Foucault that render the position unstable. Specifically, Adorno’s normative conception of truth, alongside his critical naturalism presented through the notion of natural history, makes him ill-suited as a representative of Allen’s metanormative contextualism and complicates the contributions of Foucault’s genealogical analyses. The chapter concludes that a careful consideration of Adorno’s views reveals him to be opposed to the two central tenets of metanormative contextualism as defined by Allen.

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The Challenge of Progress
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-78714-572-6

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Book part

Amy Allen

My response to the thoughtful and insightful critical discussions of my book, The End of Progress, offered by Reha Kadakal, George Steinmetz, Karen Ng, and Kevin Olson…

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My response to the thoughtful and insightful critical discussions of my book, The End of Progress, offered by Reha Kadakal, George Steinmetz, Karen Ng, and Kevin Olson, restates its motivation and rationale to defend my interpretive claims regarding Adorno, Foucault, Habermas, Honneth, and Forst by applying standards drawn from the first two theorists that are consonant with postcolonial critical theory to the perspectives, claims, and theoretical contributions of the latter three theorists. Habermas, Honneth, and Forst presume a historical present that has shaped the second, third, and fourth generations of the Frankfurt School they represent – a present that appears to be characterized by relative social and political stability – a stability that only applies in the context of Europe and the United States. Elsewhere, anti-colonial struggles, proxy wars, and even genocides were related to the persistent legacies of European colonialism and consequences of American imperialism. Yet, critical theory must expand its angle of vision and acknowledge how its own critical perspective is situated within the postcolonial present. The essays of Kadakal and Ng express concerns about my metanormative contextualism and the question of whether Adorno’s work can be deployed to support it. Steinmetz challenges my “process of elimination” argument for metanormative contextualism and asks why I assume that constructivism, reconstructivism, and problematizing genealogy exhaust the available options for grounding normativity. Olson calls for a methodological decolonization to complement the epistemic decolonization I recommend. Critical theory should produce critical theories of actually existing societies, rather than being preoccupied with meta-theory or disputes over clashing paradigms.

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Harry F. Dahms

The contributions included in this volume provide critical assessments of both a range of traditions in social theory, and of their current relevance. In addition, they…

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The contributions included in this volume provide critical assessments of both a range of traditions in social theory, and of their current relevance. In addition, they represent endeavors to apply, refine, integrate, or advance particular traditions in order to enhance our ability to analyze conditions of social life in the twenty-first century and to confront a variety of related challenges. Several of the contributions present efforts to combine the application, refinement, integration, and advancement of particular theoretical traditions. Thematically, they cover several areas in social theory and a spectrum of perspectives, including poststructuralism, feminist theory, and especially critical theory. Chapters address such issues as the authoritarian personality; charisma; the relationship between power, agency, and subjectivity; self-estrangement; pragmatism; and globalization.

Details

The Diversity of Social Theories
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-0-85724-821-3

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