Philosophy and Critical Theory

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Thomas Osborne

This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book claims that there is, or was, such a thing as modern cultural theory and argued that there is, or was, something ultimately ethical about it. It also claims that cultural theory, at least in its modern form, is characterised by what, for want of better terminology, can be described as a knowledge-constitutive interest that is ultimately ethical in character. This absolutely does not mean that modern cultural theory provides yet another view of what it is to have or be a self in the contemporary era. The book describes Theodor Adorno, Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu as modern cultural theorists to claim that they can be understood, according to a common thread, an agenda, or a 'genre of inquiry'.

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Thomas Osborne

Pierre Bourdieu is most often regarded as a general social theorist, a cultural sociologist or even just a very wide-ranging 'methodologist'. This latter view would make him a figure somewhat like Anthony Giddens or Roy Bhaskar in the English-speaking social sciences. 'The real is the relational' is Bourdieu's most succinct contribution to the social sciences: a relationist theory of society according to which agents move around in particular social spaces, with particular positionings, tendencies and trajectories. Bourdieu's principle of reflexivity is an objectivizing one. The point about objectivising reflexivity is that it provides an analogue to the objectivising tendencies of 'scientific' sociological analysis itself. Reflexivity divides into at least two forms in Bourdieu's work: the sociology of the intellectual field itself, and what Bourdieu calls auto-analysis. The chapter discusses the notion of reflexivity. To understand this notion, it considers the nature of science on Bourdieu's account.

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Thomas Osborne

This chapter describes Theodor Adorno as probably the greatest Marxist cultural theorist of the twentieth century. The uses of Adorno's work are related to the fact that he is at once close to and distant from the perspective of postmodernism. Adorno is interested in the forces which restrict or act as blockages or which suffocate the potentiality for critical self-reflection. The chapter considers these blockages in more detail. The endlessly paradoxical character of Adorno's thought is central and certainly the reliance on paradox derives from G.W.F. Hegel's philosophical lineage. The best way to isolate what is specific to Adorno's own way of doing things is via the work of that proto-postmodernist and brilliant Adorno-interlocutor, Walter Benjamin. In his celebrated 'Work of art' essay, Benjamin sought signs of aesthetic and political redemption in the fate of contemporary cultural production.