Populism, neoliberalism, and globalisation are just three of the many terms used
to analyse the challenges facing democracies around the world. Critical Theory
and Sociological Theory examines those challenges by investigating how the
conditions of democratic statehood have been altered at several key historical
intervals since 1945. The author explains why the formal mechanisms of
democratic statehood, such as elections, have always been complemented by civic,
cultural, educational, socio-economic, and, perhaps most importantly,
constitutional institutions mediating between citizens and state authority.
Critical theory is rearticulated with a contemporary focus in order to show how
the mediations between citizens and statehood are once again rapidly changing.
The book looks at the ways in which modern societies have developed mixed
constitutions in several senses that go beyond the official separation of
legislative, executive, and judicial powers. In addition to that separation, one
also witnesses a complex set of conflicts, agreements, and precarious
compromises that are not adequately defined by the existing conceptual
vocabulary on the subject. Darrow Schecter shows why a sociological approach to
critical theory is urgently needed to address prevailing conceptual deficits and
to explain how the formal mechanisms of democratic statehood need to be
complemented and updated in new ways today.
Epistemology should be the axe that breaks the ice of a traditionalism that covers and obstructs scientific enlightenment. This book explores the arguments between critical theory and epistemology in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Focusing on the first and second generations of critical theorists and Luhmann's systems theory, it examines how each approaches epistemology. The book offers a critique of the Kantian base of critical theory's epistemology in conjunction with the latter's endeavour to define political potential through the social function of science. The concept of dialectics is explored as the negation of the irrational and, furthermore, as the open field of epistemological conflict between rationality and irrationality. The book traces the course of arguments that begin with Dilthey's philosophy of a rigorous science, develop with Husserl's phenomenology, Simmel's and Weber's interest in the scientific element within the social concerns of scientific advance. In structuralism, the fear of dialogue prevails. The book discusses the epistemological thought of Pierre Bourdieu and Gilles Deleuze in terms of their persistence in constructing an epistemological understanding of social practice free from the burdens of dialectics, reason and rationality. It also enquires into issues of normativity and modernity within a comparative perspective on modernism, postmodernism and critical theory. Whether in relation to communication deriving from the threefold schema of utterance- information- understanding or in relation to self- reflexivity, systems theory fails to define the bearer or the actor of the previous structural processes. Critical realism attempted to ground dialectics in realism.
This book offers a unique and timely reading of the early Frankfurt School in response to the recent 'affective turn' within the arts and humanities. It revisits some of the founding tenets of critical theory in the context of the establishment of the Institute for Social Research in the early twentieth century. The book focuses on the work of Walter Benjamin, whose varied engagements with the subject of melancholia prove to be far more mobile and complex than traditional accounts. It also looks at how an affective politics underpins critical theory's engagement with the world of objects, exploring the affective politics of hope. Situating the affective turn and the new materialisms within a wider context of the 'post-critical', it explains how critical theory, in its originary form, is primarily associated with the work of the Frankfurt School. The book presents an analysis of Theodor Adorno's form of social critique and 'conscious unhappiness', that is, a wilful rejection of any privatized or individualized notion of happiness in favour of a militant and political discontent. A note on the timely reconstruction of early critical theory's own engagements with the object world via aesthetics and mimesis follows. The post-Cold War triumphalism of many on the right, accompanied by claims of the 'end of history', created a sense of fearlessness, righteousness, and unfettered optimism. The book notes how political realism has become the dominant paradigm, banishing utopian impulses and diminishing political hopes to the most myopic of visions.
Why theory? takes six major literary theorists and explores their work
using examples from contemporary film and television. Each chapter is devoted to
a single theorist and addresses three of their ideas in particular – a
methodical approach that, coupled with the concrete and accessible
illustrations, helps to strip away the obscurity that has built up around the
discipline. The theorists discussed, representing the cultural critique of
the period 1970–2000, are Clifford Geertz, Hayden White, Julia Kristeva, Homi K.
Bhabha, Pierre Bourdieu and Martha Nussbaum. The diverse illustrations are taken
from the mainstream film and television of the past two decades, and include
The West Wing (1999), Spider-Man 2 (2004), Frozen
(2013) and Twelve Years a Slave (2013). Providing a broad range of
specific examples drawn from everyday life, they allow for sophisticated ideas
to be quickly grasped, while demonstrating the enduring power of cultural theory
to explain the world around us. Ideal for students of literature and
cultural studies, Why theory? will also be of interest to academics and
general readers looking for a new way to approach the discipline, as well as a
convincing reassertion of its value.
They can speak like Hegel. But they have no language left but the dialectical one. The countermeasure I have in mind is to make the theory
decisions as transparent as possible.
Niklas Luhmann, Introduction to Systems Theory1
Damit fehlen ausreichende Anhaltspunkte für ein Ausschöpfen des
Möglichen, für Rationalisierung. Wir leben, wie man seit dem Erdbeben
von Lissabon weiß, nicht in der besten der möglichen Welten, sondern
in einer Welt voll besserer Möglichkeiten.
Niklas Luhmann, Theorie der Gesellschaft oder Sozialtechnologie2
Beginning classical social theory introduces students and educated general readers to thirteen key social theorists by way of examining a single, exemplary text by each author. After an introductory reflection on the concept of ‘social theory’, the book is organized chronologically, ranging from Comte to Adorno. The chapters address key themes of classical social theory, including modernity, democracy, gender, class, the commodity form, community, social facts, race, capitalism, strangeness, love and marriage. They present a diverse range of arguments that introduce readers to how classical theorists thought and wrote. The book is written as a tool that promotes independent, critical engagement with, rather than reproduction of knowledge about theory. It answers the need for a book that helps students develop the skill to critically read theory. After short, contextualizing introductions to each author, every chapter presents a close reading of one single key text demonstrating how to break down and analyze their arguments. Rather than learning how to admire the canonical theorists, readers are alerted to the flow of their arguments, the texts’ contradictions and limitations and to what makes them ‘classical’. Having gotten ‘under the skin’ of one key text by each author will provide readers with a solid starting point for further study. The book will be suitable as the principal textbook in social theory modules as much as alongside a more conventional textbook as a recommended additional tool for self-study. It will appeal to undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as educated lay readers.
This book is concerned with the scope of cultural theory in its modern, it might even be said in its modernist, form. The three thinkers under most consideration in the book are Theodor Adorno, Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu, who might hardly be seen as representatives of cultural theory per se if that enterprise is taken to be what it should often taken to be. The book starts with Adorno (1903-1969) not just because his work is an apt way to introduce further some very basic themes of the book: in particular those of critical autonomy and educationality. Adorno's reflections on art and culture are contributions to the ethical understanding of autonomy, emphasising the importance of the cultivation of critical reflection. The argument here is that he is, rather, an ethico-critical theorist of democracy and a philosopher of hope. The book then situates the work of Michel Foucault (1926-1984), in other ways so different from Adorno, in terms of a broadly, if minimally, parallel agenda in modern cultural theory. It outlines some of the importance of Foucault's notion of an 'aesthetics of existence' in relation to his work as a whole. It further invokes related themes in the work of Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002). Finally, it moves things in a different direction, towards postmodernism, invoking the increasing role of the cultural and aesthetic dimension in contemporary experience that is often taken as a central aspect of the postmodern turn.
Theory often eclipses the text, just as the moon's shadow obscures the sun in an eclipse, so that the text loses its own voice and begins to voice theory. This book provides summaries or descriptions of a number of important theoretical essays. It commences with an account of the 'liberal humanism' against which all newer critical approaches to literature, broadly speaking, define themselves. The book suggests a useful form of intensive reading, which breaks down the reading of a difficult chapter or article into five stages, as designated by the letters 'SQRRR': Survey, Question, Read, Recall, and Review. It explains the rise of English studies by indicating what higher education was like in England until the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The book talks about the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, Roland Barthes, and Jacques Derrida. It lists some differences and distinctions between structuralism and post-structuralism under the four headings: origins, tone and style, attitude to language, and project. Providing a clear example of deconstructive practice, the book then describes three stages of the deconstructive process: the verbal, the textual, and the linguistic. It includes information on some important characteristics of literary modernism practiced by various writers, psychoanalytic criticism, feminist criticism and queer theory. The book presents an example of Marxist criticism, and discusses the overlap between cultural materialism and new historicism, specific differences between conventional close reading and stylistics and insights on narratology. It covers the story of literary theory through ten key events.
This book tells the story of the political and intellectual adventures of Edward Palmer Thompson, one of Britain's foremost twentieth-century thinkers. It shows that all of Thompson's work, from his acclaimed histories to his voluminous political writings to his little-noticed poetry, was inspired by the same passionate and idiosyncratic vision of the world. The book demonstrates the connection between Thompson's famously ferocious attack on the ‘Stalinism in theory’ of Louis Althusser and his assaults on positivist social science in such books as The making of the English working class, and produces evidence to show that Thompson's hostility to both left- and right-wing forms of authoritarianism was rooted in first-hand experience of violent political repression.
Legacies of theory
‘Is there life after theory?’ a major UK conference wanted to know in 2003. The book of the conference was called Life. After. Theory (ed. Michael Payne and John Schad, Continuum, 2003) and it contains interviews with the major participants – Jacques Derrida, Frank Kermode, Toril Moi, and Christopher Norris. Interestingly, the title of the conference itself was a question – it had been advertised as ‘Is there life after theory?’ – whereas the title of the book might be taken as a profession of faith in the view that there is indeed life