The burden social theorists must be willing to accept, respond to, and act upon pertains to the difficulties that predictably accompany all efforts to convey to nontheorists the…
The burden social theorists must be willing to accept, respond to, and act upon pertains to the difficulties that predictably accompany all efforts to convey to nontheorists the unwelcome fact of heteronomy – that as actors, we are not as autonomous as we were told and prefer to assume – and to spell out what heteronomy in the form in which it has been shaping the developmental trajectory of modern societies means for professional theorists. I introduce the concept of “vitacide,” designed to capture that termination of life is a potential vanishing point of the heteronomous processes that have been shaping modern societies continuing to accelerate and intensify in ways that prefigure our future, but not on our human or social terms. Heteronomy pointing toward vitacide should compel us as social theorists to consider critically both the constructive and destructive trajectory that social change appears to have been following for more than two centuries, irrespective of whether the resulting prospect is to our liking or not. In this context, the classical critical theorists of the early Frankfurt School, especially Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, pursued what turned out to be an evolving interest in rackets, the authoritarian personality, and the administered society – concepts that served as foils for delineating the kind of theoretical stance that is becoming more and more important as we are moving into an increasingly uncertain future.
Michael Brown argues that what unites the human and social sciences is their evolving character, made explicit in the concepts of “reflexivity,” “course of activity,” and…
Michael Brown argues that what unites the human and social sciences is their evolving character, made explicit in the concepts of “reflexivity,” “course of activity,” and “theorizing.” Once the social sciences are taken as a whole, the notion of “sociality” will allow to grasp society as ever changing, as a becoming. I shall examine the notion of sociality in the literary criticism of Lukács, Goldmann, and Adorno, three authors who consider the essay as the adequate open form of critique in times of rapid social change. Originally adopted by the young Lukács, the essay tended to be abandoned by him when elaborating the concept of critical or socialist realism as a repository of timeless cultural values. In his studies in the European realist or the soviet novel, for example, on Balzac, Stendhal, Thomas Mann, or Solzhenitsyn, the dialectical concept of social totality becomes a sum of orientations, presenting the individual writer with the moral task to choose “progress” and discard “negativity.” The social is thus narrowed to individual choice. Different from Lukács, Goldmann's literary theory defines cultural production as a matter of the social group, the transindividual subject. Goldmann was deeply marked by Lukács's early writings from which he gained notably the notion of tragedy and the concept of maximum possible consciousness—the world vision of a social group which structures the work of a writer. Cultural creation is resistance to capitalist society, as evident in the literature of absence, Malraux's novels, and the nouveau roman. In the writings of Adorno the social is lodged within the avant-garde, provided that one takes its means and procedures literally, e.g., the writings of Kafka. By formal innovation—among others the adoption of the essay, the small form, the fragment—art exercises criticism of the ongoing rationalization process and preserves the possibility of change (p. 319).
Purpose – Appreciating the continuing relevance and contribution of Theodor W. Adorno's work requires acknowledgement of the difficulty to grasp his philosophy in a way that is…
Purpose – Appreciating the continuing relevance and contribution of Theodor W. Adorno's work requires acknowledgement of the difficulty to grasp his philosophy in a way that is consistent with that which is to be understood, as the necessary first step to achieving concordant understanding.
Design/methodology/approach – To assay an understanding of Adorno's quest for the object beyond the concept, it is best to undertake a journey through the complexity of his thinking, beginning with the book he wrote with Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment.
Findings – The difficulty to capture the substance of philosophy in a manner that allows for representation arises from the inherently processual character of philosophy, which is always both unfinished and without secure summation of report at any step along the way. Indeed, the difficulty is all the greater with respect to Adorno, in light of his postulate that philosophy “must strive, by means of the concept, to transcend the concept.”
Research limitations/implications – Adorno's obsession to overcome the compulsion of identity made him perceptive and blind at the same time. To liberate his insights from their reconciliatory-philosophical shroud, one would have to expose the concept of rationality to the same obsessive gaze under which false generalities dissolve in Adorno's philosophy.
Originality/value – The inherently processual character of Adorno's philosophy makes his writings especially germane to present conditions of modern society, as they highlight the importance of efforts to develop theories that are sufficiently sensitive to the dynamic character of modern society, including its inconsistencies and its contradictions.
This conceptual paper is offered in place of a systematic analysis of militarization in organizations and the wider world. It proceeds on the understanding that militarization implies deep historical tendencies that are not easy to simply avoid, especially where one wishes to observe or to analyse phenomena systematically.
This paper seeks out alternative means of engagement with references to the psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud, the critical theory of Theodor Adorno and the poetry of W.H. Auden. The departure, however, is taken in response to a brief and questionable statement by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) about world history and the position of reason since the end of the Second World War.
Historical analysis, it is argued, is essential for any understanding of processes of militarization but not adequate on its own.
Militarization means, at least in the first instance, the adoption of military modes of organization and engagement in supposedly non‐military environments. But at a deeper level, which is nonetheless manifest in both a developing technology and an increasingly technological attitude, it implies the repetition of basic attitudes to others and to life. Furthermore the very meaning of militarization is likely to undergo metamorphoses as a result of these trends.
We argue that aspects of the Luhmannian strand of systems theory could be mobilized in a crypto-normative way for an immanent critique of certain trends in contemporary social…
We argue that aspects of the Luhmannian strand of systems theory could be mobilized in a crypto-normative way for an immanent critique of certain trends in contemporary social development, especially the growing economic determination of different spheres of life and the formation of sectorial industries – such as healthcare, education, crime control, etc. – with the consequent erosion of the autonomy of these spheres and the progressive exhaustion of social conditions for the exercise of freedom and the experience of difference.
A decisive step in this approach to systems theory lies in the indication of certain “elective affinities” between Luhmann and Adorno, reinforcing the plausibility of an internal connection between these different theoretical conceptions – not their mere instrumental appropriation and external juxtaposition. From this point of view, we argue that aspects of Luhmann's conceptual construction – notably the way the system-environment relationship is thought – hold a strong family resemblance with the Adornian mode of conceiving the subject–object relationship in the speculative key of negative dialectics.
Conceived as a critical model that modulates society's real abstractions toward difference and systemic autonomy, and especially as a critical model that underlines possibilities of reciprocal mediation between system and environment, systems theory seems to emphatically put itself in tension with what, at least in part, could be seen as its other: neoliberal governmentality, the generalization of the commodity form and the instrumentalization of the individual by unilateral systemic imperatives in global capitalism.
In recent years, the concept of “reification” has virtually disappeared from debates in social theory, including critical social theory. The concept was at the center of the…
In recent years, the concept of “reification” has virtually disappeared from debates in social theory, including critical social theory. The concept was at the center of the revitalization of Marxist theory in the early twentieth century generally known as Western Marxism. Georg Lukács in particular introduced the concept to express how the process described in Marx's critique of alienation and commodification could be grasped more effectively by combining it with Max Weber's theory of rationalization (see Agger, 1979; Stedman Jones et al., 1977).1 In Lukács's use, the concept of reification captured the process by which advanced capitalist production, as opposed to earlier stages of capitalist development, assimilated processes of social, cultural, and political production and reproduction to the dynamic imperatives and logic of capitalist accumulation. It is not just interpersonal relations and forms of organization constituting the capitalist production process that are being refashioned along the lines of one specific definition of economic necessity. In addition, and more consequentially, the capitalist mode of production also assimilates to its specific requirements the ways in which human beings think the world. As a result, the continuous expansion and perfection of capitalist production and its control over the work environment impoverishes concrete social, political, and cultural forms of coexistence and cooperation, and it brings about an impoverishment of our ability to conceive of reality from a variety of social, political, and philosophical viewpoints.
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…
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.
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…
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.
Herbert Marcuse's vision of liberation from the ‘affluent society’ constitutes one of the most significant interventions into public life of any philosopher in the last half of…
Herbert Marcuse's vision of liberation from the ‘affluent society’ constitutes one of the most significant interventions into public life of any philosopher in the last half of the 20th century. Yet his major works are little read today in philosophy departments in North America, where, if first-generation Frankfurt School critical theory is on the menu, it is usually represented by the work of Theodor W. Adorno. Within North American and, to a lesser extent, European sociology, on the other hand, Marcuse is still generally acknowledged as an important influence, although the extent and nature of his legacy remains unclear. This article examines the relevance and applicability of some of Marcuse's theories to recent developments within sociology, and especially to the growing and influential critical literature within the sociology of consumption, in which ideas that originate in first-generation Frankfurt School theory are clearly operative, but rarely acknowledged.1 The scope of the paper is restricted to three of Marcuse's most influential theoretical claims: (1) An underlying ‘performance principle’ has become a primary determining factor in shaping the economic, social and cultural systems of advanced industrial societies. (2) Resistance to the general developmental tendencies of these societies is being contained and weakened through a process of ‘repressive desublimation’; and (3) The human activity of play, understood as a distinct field of free (i.e., unalienated) human activity, is threatened by the ascendancy of instrumental rationality. These claims are evaluated in terms of their applicability to the problem of self-experience and the threat to individuality that is a principal feature of contemporary consumer capitalism.