This article discusses why the theme of exile, marginality and the role of outsiders occupied Judith N. Shklar and how it impacted on her teaching and writing. More specifically it draws on Shklar’s last Harvard lectures and essays in which she reflects systematically on the questions of obligation and exile. It maintains that the relatively late turn towards exile is neither accident nor retrospective construction. Throughout her adult life Judith Shklar argued from a position of ‘optimal marginality’ – what has been called ‘exile from exile’ – that allowed her to situate and present herself simultaneously as an outsider and to present her political theory as a kind of pedagogic and maieutic discourse. This was a way of turning traumatic personal experiences into a creative academic performance marked by true intellectual curiosity.
This article theorizes the European-level political response to the radical right by suggesting a focus on the conceptions of politics, society and of the European Union itself that inform this response. Analyses of the ways in which the political mainstream relates to such movements remain under-theorized and often fall back on understandings of political action in narrow instrumental terms. Instead, this article proposes an approach to this response which emphasizes the process through which shared understanding of the European political project surface. It engages with these issues by turning to ideas that emerged in relation to the rise of European fascism in the 1930s on how to mount an effective defence of democracy. The underlying social analysis that fed into such strategies, the article argues, serves as a useful framework for analysis of the contemporary European response to the radical right.
The relationship between politics and the digital has largely been characterized as one of epochal change. The respective theories understand the digital as external to politics and society, as an autonomous driver for global, unilateral transformation. Rather than supporting such singular accounts of the relationship between politics and the digital, this article argues for its specificity: the digital is best examined in terms of folds within existing socio-technical configurations, and as an artefact with a set of affordances that are shaped and filled with meaning by social practice. In conceptualizing the digital as numeric, countable, computable, material, storable, searchable, transferable, networkable and traceable, fabricated and interpreted, it becomes clear that the digital cannot be divorced from the social. These affordances of the digital are discussed in relation to specific political, digital practices that are further developed in the different contributions in this special issue, such as predictive policing (Aradau and Blanke, this issue), data protection (Bellanova, this issue), extremist recruitment videos (Leander, this issue), political acclamation (Dean, this issue), and pandemic simulations (Opitz, this issue).
Research into the sociology of intellectual life reveals numerous appeals to the public conscience of intellectuals. The way in which concepts such as ‘the public intellectual’ or ‘intellectual life’ are discussed, however, conceals a long history of biased thinking about thinking as an elite endeavour with prohibitive requirements for entry. This article argues that this tendency prioritizes the intellectual realm over the public sphere, and betrays any claims to public relevance unless a broader definition of what counts as intellectual life is introduced. By calling for a shift from the notion of public intellectuals to Jane Jacobs’ (1961) idea of the ‘public character’, a publicly situated and affect-laden conception of intellectual life is articulated with the aim of redefining intellectual life as an ordinary, collective pursuit, rather than the prerogative of a few extraordinary individuals, as well as restoring the role of the senses in theoretical discussions on the life of the mind. The theoretical scope of this article therefore is to cast the net wider in the search for meanings of what public intellectual life is, can or may be in a larger context than ‘intellectualist’ discussions currently allow.
This article asks if and under what conditions ethnic diversity could become the foundation for a prosperous society. Recent studies on ethnic diversity and social cohesion suggest that diversity has a negative effect on social cohesion and therefore is detrimental to the social prosperity of individuals and communities. This article argues that although such a negative correlation may apply to contexts with well-consolidated ethnic groups, it does not necessarily apply to ‘super-diverse’ places with multiple small ethnic groups and multiple social, legal and cultural differences that cut across ethnicity. Drawing on ethnographic material from East London, the authors contend that, in super-diverse places, ethnic diversity could become a valuable aspect of community life, while inequalities in social, cultural and symbolic capital become central points of social antagonism to the detriment of prosperity.
If the twentieth century was the age of the world picture taken as a photograph of the Whole Earth from outer space, today’s observations of the planet are produced by means of computer simulation. Pandemic models are of paramount sociological interest in this respect, since modelling contagion is closely intertwined with modelling the material connectivities of social life. By envisioning the global dynamics of disease transmission, pandemic simulations enact the relationscapes of a transnational world. This article seeks to analyse such an enactment: It asks how simulation methods can establish a particular relation to the social from within the social. To provide an answer to this question, and adopting Niklas Luhmann’s theory of world society, pandemic simulations are described as modes of global self-observation that can be specified factually, socially, spatially and temporally. They instantiate a ‘doubling of reality’ designed to apprehend the potential future threat of disease transmission along the pathways marked by global infrastructures. They constitute scopic regimes that virtually synthesize a global situation of universal communicability in order to turn the world into an object of political intervention.
This article explores one aspect of digital politics, the politics of videos and more specifically of DAESH recruitment videos. It proposes a practice theoretical approach to the politics of DAESH recruitment videos focused on the re-production of regimes of (in)visibility. The article develops an argument demonstrating specifically how digital and commercial logics characterize the aesthetic, circulatory, and infrastructuring practices re-producing the regime of (in)visibility. It shows that digital/commercial logics are at the heart of the combinatorial marketing of multiple, contradictory images of the DAESH polity in the videos; that they are core to the participatory, entrepreneurial, individualized and affective processes of contagion determining whom the videos reach and involve; and that they shape the sorting, linking, flagging and censoring of the videos that define their accessibility on the internet. The theoretical and political cost of overlooking these digital and commercial characteristics of DAESH visibility practices are high. It perpetuates misconceptions of how the videos work and what their politics are and it reinforces the digital Orientalism/Occidentalism in which these misconceptions are anchored.
Starting with Popper, social theorists across the board have acknowledged that traditions serve socially valuable functions. However, while traditions are usually understood as ‘living’ entities that come in overlapping varieties and evolve over time, the socially valuable functions attributed to tradition tend to presuppose invariability in ways of thinking and acting. Addressing this tension, this article provides a detailed analysis of the concept of tradition, and directs special attention to conceivable criteria for the authentic continuation of a tradition. It is argued that the ways of thinking and acting that constitute the material of a tradition must – among faithful members of that tradition – stand in a relation of equivalence – not identity or similarity. The implications of this account concern our ability to decide (normatively) conflicts over authenticity among rival tradition branches as well as the role that traditions play in policy-making.
The main aim of this article is to offer a sociological concept of crisis that, defined as the expected yet non-lineal outcome of the internal dynamics of modern societies, builds on the synergies between critical theory and systems theory. It contends that, notwithstanding important differences, both traditions concur in addressing crises as a form of self-reproduction of social systems as much as a form of engagement with the complexities and effects of such processes of reproduction. In order to make our comparison exhaustive, this article explores critical and systems theories’ notions of crisis at three levels: (1) their conceptual delimitation of crises; (2) their methodological proposals to empirically observe crises; and (3) their normative attempts to contribute to their resolution. As crises remain a distinctive structural feature of the social world and a rich source of knowledge about it, reflexivity must be seen as a crucial form of engagement with the negative expressions of social life itself.
From ‘connecting the dots’ and finding ‘the needle in the haystack’ to predictive policing and data mining for counterinsurgency, security professionals have increasingly adopted the language and methods of computing for the purposes of prediction. Digital devices and big data appear to offer answers to a wide array of problems of (in)security by promising insights into unknown futures. This article investigates the transformation of prediction today by placing it within governmental apparatuses of discipline, biopower and big data. Unlike disciplinary and biopolitical governmentality, we argue that prediction with big data is underpinned by the production of a different time/space of ‘between-ness’. The digital mode of prediction with big data reconfigures how we are governed today, which we illustrate through an analysis of how predictive policing actualizes between-ness as hotspots and near-real-time decisions.
Responding to claims of Anthropocene geoscience that humans are now geological agents, social scientists are calling for renewed attention to the social, cultural, political and historical differentiation of the Anthropos. But does this leave critical social thought’s own key concepts and categories unperturbed by the Anthropocene provocation to think through dynamic earth processes? Can we ‘socialize the Anthropocene’ without also opening ‘the social’ to climate, geology and earth system change? Revisiting the earth science behind the Anthropocene thesis and drawing on social research that is using climatology and earth systems thinking to help understand socio-historical change, this article explores some of the possibilities for ‘geologizing’ social thought. While critical social thought’s attention to justice and exclusion remains vital, it suggests that responding to Anthropocene conditions also calls for a kind of ‘geo-social’ thinking that relates human diversity and social difference to the potentiality and multiplicity of the earth itself.
This article engages with the production and government of migrant multiplicities in border zones of Europe, arguing that the specificity of migrant multiplicities consists in their temporary and divisible character. It is argued that there are three different forms of migrant multiplicities: (1) the multiplicity produced due to migrants’ spatial proximity; (2) the virtual multiplicity generated through data; and (3) the visualized and narrated multiplicity that emerges from media portraits of the ‘spectacle’ of the arrivals of migrants. It is claimed that multiplicities are made to divide and partition the migrants and thus prevent the formation of a collective political subject. In the concluding section, the article deals with the ambivalent character of the term ‘the mob’, addressing the twofold dimension of migrant multiplicities: these are in fact generated by techniques of power, at the same time exceeding them and representing potential emerging political subjects.
In a recent scholarly debate, the Anthropocene concept has been criticized for diverting attention from the political aspects of contemporary environmental crises, not least by way of the long timescales it implies. This article therefore takes on the matter of long-termism as an historical and political phenomenon, by applying a conceptual historical perspective. Examples are drawn from historical studies of forest politics. It is argued that conceptions of the long term, as in all concepts in political language, are historical and therefore problematic to legitimately define conclusively. However, many of the environmental crises looming in our time do indeed call for long-term perspectives. As a solution in accordance with its historical and democratic conceptual character, it is suggested that political long-termism paradoxically can and should be constantly deliberated upon and renewed in the short term. Its conceptual history can then serve two purposes: First, history can offer exempla of how long-termism can be conceptualized and institutionalized in ways that encourage continuous deliberation and reconceptualization. Second, historical conceptualizations of the long term can be drawn upon, both negatively and positively, in this continuous deliberation.
This article examines the emergence of a ‘financial subject’ in the transformation of the UK economy since 1979, using a critical realist approach to subjectivity that investigates underlying causal mechanisms and structures as they affect daily life. Financial restructuring, including widespread borrowing and increasing personal investment, has forged links between finance markets and personal finance, as workers’ wages are financialized. This engenders entrepreneurial subjectivity, with individuals interpellated to be self-reliant in managing possible risks. It argues that the process of subjectivation, where individuals recognize themselves and their goals relative to financial markets, exemplifies the development of financialization itself, since it gives an insight into the successful reproduction of social relations of finance. It illustrates the instability related to wages and inequality, as some subjects have to contend with unpredictable employment prospects as potential future risks that complicate the practices of personal investment and borrowing, creating new hierarchies bound up with the financialization of the economy.
The article combines the research strategies developed by Bruno Latour and Niklas Luhmann to problematize how we interpret the world when discussing globalization. Two previous approaches – global modernity and global consciousness – interpret the world as completely objective (nature transcends culture). Another approach – global governmentality – interprets the world as completely subjective (culture transcends nature). Against these approaches, this article proposes a new one: the symmetrical anthropology (or sociology) of globalization. Inspired by Latour’s variable ontologies, it considers multiple descriptions of the world and multiple descriptions of society simultaneously. It considers globalization as one description of society and searches for the description of the world corresponding to it. It distinguishes three descriptions of the world: (1) the world as natural order; (2) the world as external object; and (3) the world as levels of organization. It is argued that the description of the world that is the most closely connected with globalization is the third one.
The Anthropocene debate is one of the most ambitious scientific programmes of the past 15 or 20 years. Its main argument is that, from a geological point of view, humans are considered a major force of nature, thus implying that our current geological epoch is dominated by human activity. The Anthropocene has slowly become a contemporary meta-narrative that seeks to make sense of the ‘earth-system’ as a whole, and one whose vision of the future is dystopian rather than progressive: as the exploitation of the planet’s natural resources reaches tipping point, the very prospects of the continuity of human life are being questioned. This article aims to explore the implicit notions of the human – indeed of the anthropos – that are being mobilized in the Anthropocene debate. It will proceed in two stages: first, the article will spell out the main arguments of the Anthropocene debate with a particular focus on trying to unpack its implicit ideas of the human. Second, it will use my approach to philosophical sociology to highlight some of the limitations and contradictions of the ideas of agency, reflexivity and responsibility that underpin the Anthropocene debate.
This study reassesses the concept of the Anthropocene as a new geological age as it is influencing contemporary debates in social theory. As a unit of geological time whose changes are allegedly caused, directly and indirectly, by human beings, this scientific concept challenges the existing constructions of theoretical binaries, such as nature/culture, environment/society, objectivity/subjectivity or happenstance/design, in social theory. The analysis suggests many understandings of the Anthropocene in social theory are politicized over-interpretations of natural events, and these moves appear to be developing moral rhetorics of, and operational plans for, managing the Anthropocene to create specific outcomes for those who are the managers as well as the managed. The fact that human beings do not, in fact, have this measure of technical control is ignored by advocates of Anthropocenarian politics to advance their policy agendas.
Noting a lack of consensus in the recent literature on the Anthropocene, this article considers how social anthropologists might contribute to its theorizing and dating. Empirically it draws on the author’s long-term fieldwork in Hungary. It is argued that ethnographic methods are essential for grasping subjectivities, including temporal orientations and perceptions of epochal transformation. When it comes to historical periodization, however, ethnography is obviously insufficient and proposals privileging the last half-century, or just the last quarter of a century, seem inadequate. Influential theories, which define ‘modernity’ in terms of developments emanating from the countries of the North Atlantic in the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries (Gellner, Polanyi, Wolf), remain partial and Eurocentric. To comprehend the social preconditions of the Anthropocene in a holistic fashion (the crucial contribution of comparative anthropology), it is necessary to follow Jack Goody and trace how the urban revolutions of the Bronze Age united Eurasia through the diffusion of new forms of economy, polity and cosmology.
In the twentieth century, the social scientific study of religion was dominated by debates surrounding secularization. Yet throughout its reign, secularization theory was subject to a series of theoretical and empirical challenges. Pronouncements of a forthcoming revolution in theory were frequent, yet secularization theory remained largely undisturbed. However, recent years have seen secularization theory decreased in status. Some have located its heir in the post-secular, yet the concept has invited fractious debate. This article surveys a range of engagements with the post-secular, seeking to identify convergences that sit beneath an otherwise divided field. While this survey reveals the failure of the post-secular to fully supplant secularization theory, it does find that central debates in the field today have departed significantly from earlier generations of scholarship, particularly in a reflexivity toward the field’s basic concepts, a skepticism of teleological theories of history, and a renewed focus on the relationship between religion and politics.
Many theorists, in their search for a better explanation of the dynamics of structure and agency, have expressed the need for a theory in which reflexivity and habitus are reconciled. In this article, we argue that a dissociative theory of mind can provide the essential framework in which habitual routines and reflexivity function in parallel. This is explored using the examples of athletic training and hypnosis, where the interplay between conscious and unconscious mechanisms is displayed. In both settings, there is evidence to show that conscious reflexiveness and intersubjective and unconscious automatic processes are necessary to reach the desired outcome. We conclude that a dissociative theory of mind can shed new light on the relationship between habitus and reflexivity.
This article examines a fundamental theoretical aspect of the discourse on ‘intersectionality’ in feminist and anti-racist social theory, namely, the question whether intersecting social divisions including those of sex, gender, race, class and sexuality are interacting but independent entities with autonomous ontological bases or whether they are different dimensions of the same social system that lack separate social ontologies and constitute each other. Based on a historical reconstruction of its genesis, the article frames this as a dispute between system-theoretical and dialectical, ‘Critical Theory’-related approaches and argues that the latter better capture the dynamics of contemporary society, including the perspective of its transcendence.
After briefly surveying three generations of comparative sociologists, interdisciplinary regional and trans-regional studies are shown to complement the work of the third generation of comparative sociologists on civilizational analysis and multiple modernities. Drawing examples from the interdisciplinary Persianate studies, promoted by the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies in the last two decades, and by other recent interdisciplinary studies of performance and world literature as well as Caribbean regional studies, it is argued that the rise of interdisciplinary studies in social sciences and humanities may in fact redeem the unfulfilled promise that comparative sociology once offered. These recent studies constitute a significant contribution to our theoretical understanding of different patterns of socio-cultural development beyond the West, whose historical experience gave birth to modern social science disciplines, and thereby to register the historical experience of a very sizeable portion of humankind as the basis for the reconstruction of social theory in the global age.
Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) offers an ‘infra-language’ of the social that allows one to trace social relations very dynamically, while at the same time dissolving human agency, thus providing a flat and de-centred way into sociology. However, ANT struggles with its theoretical design that may lead us to reduce agency to causation and to conceptualize actor-networks as homogeneous ontologies of force. This article proposes to regard ANT’s inability to conceptualize reflexivity and the interrelatedness of different ontologies as the fundamental problem of the theory. Drawing on Günther, it offers an ‘infra-language’ of reflexive relations while maintaining ANT’s de-centred approach. This would enable us to conceptualize actor-networks as non-homogeneous, dynamic and connecting different societal rationales while maintaining the main strengths of ANT.
It is a common complaint that sociology has little regard for history. One important exception to this standard criticism is the sociology of religion of Robert N. Bellah and his ‘revival’ of Karl Jasper’s notion of the axial age. In this article, Bellah’s evolutionary notions of religion are explored within a debate about historical disjunctures and continuities. A significant challenge to the idea of the continuity of axial-age religions comes from the notion of an Anthropocene. Our relationship to nature has fundamentally changed and the possibilities for ‘improving’ the human body create a significant ontological challenge to the continuity/preservation of embodied practice as the underpinning of axial-age religions. The Anthropocene age presents a turning away from the religious legacies of the past, because biotechnical developments change not only our relationship to nature but they presage a radical change to the human body. Can the axial-age religions as our contemporaries survive the construction of hybrid post-bodies? In conclusion, insofar as there has been a ‘protestantization’ of religions with modernity involving an erosion of habitualized religion, an individualized and dis-embodied religiosity may be compatible with our anthropocenic future, but this possibility represents a discontinuity with the past and not a continuity.
This article approaches social media from the theory of the religio-political practice of acclamation revived by Agamben and following twentieth-century social and political thought and theology (of Weber, Peterson, Schmitt, Kantorowicz). It supplements that theory by more recent political-theoretical, historical and sociological investigations and regards acclamation as a ‘social institution’ following Mauss. Acclamation is a practice that forms publics, whether as the direct presence of the ‘people’, mass-mediated ‘public opinion’, or a ‘public mood’ decipherable through countless social media postings. The article surveys issues of differential geographies of access, weighting of posts, value-creation, orality and gesture, algorithmic governmentality, and Big Data and knowledge production. It argues that social media constitute a public from a mass of individualized, private postings. It concludes that they make possible forms of political calculability and action, yet are continuous with ritual and liturgical elements of political life. This study contributes to an analytics of publicity.
Following the recent recognition that humans are an active force in nature that gave rise to a new geological epoch, this article explores the implications of the shift to the Anthropocene for social theory. The argument assumes that the emerging conditions compel an expansion and deepening of the timescale of the social-theoretical perspective and that such an enhancement has serious repercussions for the concept of human agency. First, the Anthropocene is conceptualized as a nascent cognitively structured cultural model rather than simply a geological epoch. Second, the vast and deep timescale, in the light of which the new time unit and its generative agency alone make sense, is analysed along with the human world’s objective, sociocultural and subjective axes. Finally, the elements of the concept of agency are recomposed in their temporal and relational contexts. At the reflexive level throughout, the need for social theory to develop a cognitive-theoretical approach in conjunction with a weak naturalistic ontology is suggested.
This article challenges the urge within Actor-Network Theory, posthumanism, and the ontological turn in sociology and anthropology to dissolve analytical distinctions between subject and object, society and nature, and human and non-human. It argues that only by acknowledging such distinctions and applying a realist ontology can exploitative and unsustainable global power relations be exposed. The predicament of the Anthropocene should not prompt us to abandon distinctions between society and nature but to refine the analytical framework through which we can distinguish between sentience and non-sentience and between the symbolic and non-symbolic. The incompatibility of posthumanist and Marxist approaches to the Anthropocene and the question of agency derives from ideological differences as well as different methodological proclivities. A central illustration of these differences is the understanding of fetishism, a concept viewed by posthumanists as condescending but by Marxists as emancipatory.
We are living in an era of multiple crises, multiple social resistances, and multiple cosmopolitanisms. The post-Cold War context has generated a plethora of movements, but no single unifying ideology or global political program has yet materialized. The historical confrontation between capital and its alternatives, however, continues to pose new possibilities for social and systemic transformations. Critical analysis of ideological divisions among today’s diverse emancipatory and transformative movements is important in order to understand past and present shortcomings, and many continuing difficulties in imagining crisis-free alternative futures. Inspired by a multiplicity of responses from the Global South and the Global North, and by furthering Delanty’s critical cosmopolitanist approach, this article aims to create a new framework for interpreting ‘transformative visions’ that challenge systems of domination embedded in capitalist social relations. The framework is designed to enable the evaluative analysis of such visions, as well as the exploration of embedded ideological obstacles to dialogue and collaboration among them.
American society was transformed by the expansion of capital Westward and the explosion in opportunities for land-grabbing and agricultural and industrial investment. F.J. Turner’s ( 1961) frontier thesis portrays this transformation as the fulfilment of American character. The tensions between character and personality are examined following the ideas of Carl Schmitt on the significance of ‘the occasion’ in acquiring competitive advantage. Schmitt indicated the significance of a ‘vertical’ frontier in challenging social conventions and this constitutes a counterpoint to the ‘horizontal’ frontier developed in the frontier thesis of Turner. The importance of the occasion and personality in developing the American way of life is presented by an examination of the vaudeville and celebrity traditions in American entertainment.
This article takes issue with the practical and the cognitive roles of normality within political life and its relevance to the constitution of the groups that comprise a political community. From a practical viewpoint, normality fosters standards of correctness; from a cognitive viewpoint, these standards are what allows individuals to perceive themselves, and to be recognized, as group members. To achieve this aim, the article delves into Carl Schmitt’s and Pierre Bourdieu’s accounts of how politics is a field where semantic struggles take place that are meant to impose alternative visions of the social world. Different types of connections and relationships among individuals and groups (which rule out alternative connections and relationships) shore up a specific vision of the social world (which rules out alternative visions). The article concludes by saying that awareness of the normalizing effects of politics is key to producing a counter-politics meant to defy the naturalization and de-historicization that every political representation furthers.
Nowadays, the widespread view is that classical sociology is tainted with ‘methodological nationalism and it would appear that there has been a significant overlap between social and political space. We disagree with this point of view for three reasons: (1) by dealing with the global world, classical sociology has already glimpsed the possibility of going beyond the nation-state as a unit of analysis; (2) having operated above all with the notion of ‘social’ rather than ‘national’, its categories are transnational; and (3) when classical sociology has dealt with national society, studies have not reified it within its political boundaries. Consequently, in our opinion, classical sociology highlights both analytical categories that go beyond the ontology of the nation-state as well as new socio-political forms defined within the trajectory of modernity under the pressure of globalization processes.
For Hannah Arendt, some of the most distinctive features of the modern age derived from the adoption of a process-imaginary in science, history, and administration. This article examines Arendt’s work, identifying what it calls the ‘process-frame’ in her criticism of imperialism, economy, and the biologization of politics. It discusses an interpretation in which ‘natality’ presents a completely alternative mode of temporality, a resistance to the process-frame. This interpretation, it is argued, needs to be specified by taking into account that political action both interrupts and starts processes of its own. To confine and overcome the negative effects of process-framing, it is important to emphasize action as a world-building activity – something capable of establishing a relatively stable area of the common world by initiating processes of its own. Second, it is also important to cultivate ways of thinking and perceiving particular acts as meaningfully independent of all-embracing processes.
Hannah Arendt’s Jewish writings were central to her thinking about the human condition and engaged with the dialectics of modernity, universalism and identity. Her concept of the ‘conscious pariah’ attempted both to define a role for the public intellectual and understand the relationship between Jews and modernity. Controversially she accused Jewish victims of lack of resistance to the Nazis and argued that their victimization resulted from apolitical ‘worldlessness’. We argue that although Arendt’s analysis was original and challenging, her characterization of Jewish history as one of ‘powerlessness’ is exaggerated but, more importantly, her underdeveloped concept of ‘the social’ is insensitive to the complex modalities of resistance and consciousness among subaltern Jewish communities. Furthermore, her lack of interest in religious observance obscures the importance of Judaism as a resource for resistance. This is illustrated by the ‘hidden transcripts’ of Jewish resistance from the early modern period.
In the context of recent attempts to more adequately engage with Adorno’s approach to sociology and social theory, this article argues that such a project requires a more complete understanding of the philosophical basis of Adorno’s critical material perspective on knowledge and language. In particular, the interpretation of Adorno within sociology has been hampered by a fundamental misunderstanding regarding his methodology of critique and composition, which prioritizes the content of Adorno’s claims regarding sociology and social theory, over their rhetorical and performative character. This character is identifiable in Adorno’s prose, and grasped through a close attention to his account of the negative dialectic. Using Bernstein’s articulation of the ‘complex concept’ as an analytical framework, and Adorno’s introduction to Durkheim as its material, the article argues that the inability to grasp the rhetorical character of Adorno’s critical interpretive approach prevents an understanding of his potential relevance for sociology and social theory.
The label ‘Frankfurt School’ became popular in the ‘positivism dispute’ in the mid-1960s, but this article shows that it is wrong to describe Jürgen Habermas as representing a ‘second generation’ of exponents of critical theory. His communication theory of society is intended not as a transformation of, but as an alternative to, the older tradition of thought represented by Adorno and Horkheimer. The novel and innovative character of Habermas’s approach is demonstrated in relation to three thematic complexes: (1) the public sphere and language; (2) democracy and the constitutional state; and (3) system and lifeworld as categories for a theory of modernity.
This article analyses the contributions of the sociologies or theories of the South to the contemporary debates on the production of theory in the social sciences. Starting with the assumption that these projects adopt a critical view of how sociology has privileged certain objects over others in a colonial way, it proposes an analysis that makes use of certain aspects of the actor-network theory. This approach, it is suggested, will help the sociologies of the South to focus on the production of ontoforms as their specific object, ontoforms which expand and at times challenge the established hegemonic notions of the social and of agency in this area of knowledge.
According to the main theories of the knowledge-based economy (KBE), the recent transformations of capitalism are the origins of a general societal change. Managerial theories consider KBE to be a series of win-win mechanisms that simultaneously favour firms, workers and consumers. The cognitive capitalism theory perceives in the development of cognitive capitalism signs of the formation of a post-capitalist economy. This article discusses the main features of these two theoretical orientations and identifies some core ambivalences in KBE. The relationship between the market and society in KBE is marked by a dialectical process. The former incorporates mechanisms of potential economic valorization generated by informal social relationships. To this end, it must internalize actors, practices and cultures that are partially in conflict with it, given that it must make ever greater attempts to bring the overall process back within the ownership regime. One thus witnesses a reduction of the barriers between firms and society, that can simultaneously engender a more subtle dominance of the former over the latter, or the growth of autonomy, self-organization and peer cooperation among social actors. This second possibility relies entirely upon politics and collective action.
Large exchange markets, big money, interest-bearing credit, big landholdings, proletarian masses, imperial expansion and even ‘capital’ or ‘salaried workers’, are not in themselves specific, unique institutional features of Modern Capitalism. This article argues that the features that characterize Modern Capitalism are a massive emergence of ‘free’, monetized wage labour, a self-propelled rush to unbounded world expansion and the progressive conversion of expropriated and privatized land into a monetized commodity, as well as a radically new use of the ancestral social institutions of money and credit as an instrument for financing the production of commodities to obtain a surplus in the form of monetary profit, but also to generate expropriatory social debt relations. This article explains these dynamic historical forces and their importance for political philosophy and for legal and economic history and economics and sheds some light on the relationship between ‘capitalism’ and ‘modernity’.
Europe is experiencing rapidly accelerating poverty and social exclusion, following half a decade of financial crisis and austerity politics. The key problem behind Europe's malaise, in our view, is the economic disenfranchisement of large parts of its population in the winner-takes-all-society. This article proposes that we examine the contribution of republican political theory as a distinctive approach that provides us with the conceptual and normative resources to reclaim what we call the political economy of democracy, the constellation of political and economic institutions aimed at promoting broad economic sovereignty and individuals’ capacities to govern their own lives. This article identifies three key ideas that together constitute a distinctively republican approach to political economy: (1) establish an economic floor; (2) impose an economic ceiling to counter excess economic inequality; and (3) democratize the governance and regulation of the main economic institutions.
The nationally embedded and relatively broad-based economies characteristic of developed industrial countries are usually seen as the incarnation of a modern economy. These economies are largely internally oriented and are based, to a relatively great extent, on production and services based on local and national needs. Their provenance is generally assumed to have been processes of development that began in the sixteenth century and that, in the nineteenth century, accelerated with the expansion of industrial production and the growth of global trade. This article challenges that assumption. It argues that today’s modern economies represent, not the culmination of long-term processes, but a recurring phenomenon within capitalism. It argues that, in the history of capitalism, there have been phases of nationally embedded and global free market capitalism – periods when capital is relatively more, and relatively less, free from the regulation of nation state. Today’s nationally embedded economies represent, not a further point along a unilinear developmental trajectory, but a return to features of the moral economies that characterized both European and non-European societies before the nineteenth century.
Theodor Adorno has often been portrayed as the prototypical example of the permanent exile, even though, after living fifteen years in Britain and the US, he returned to Germany in 1949 and spent the last twenty years of his life there. This article traces Adorno’s reflections on his homecoming and analyses how his experiences of exile and return shaped his mature thought. Conceiving homecoming not simply as a return to one’s origins but as a continuation of a radical experience of the foreign, it builds on the remarkable continuity of Adorno’s theory of intellectual experience over time. The article also explores homecoming in relation to Adorno’s thought on language and translation, an aspect that has been little studied in the existing literature, both in terms of the articulation of a philosophy of language where the foreign plays an important role, and in terms of how language and translation were directly connected with Adorno’s return.
Public policy in post-apartheid South Africa has been characterized by a mix of state regulation and ‘neo-liberalism’. This article argues that this mix is rooted in the model of economic modernity adopted in South Africa in the 1920s and 1930s, and underpinned by the institutions of a modern state. In an economy transformed by mining and subsequent secondary industrialization, the state played a central role in facilitating capitalist growth, including through the regulation of labour. I argue that, contrary to the conventional understanding, the enduring characteristic of the political economy of modernization in South Africa was not so much the mobilization of cheap African labour, mostly migrants from across Southern Africa, but was rather the institutionalization of high wages and protected incomes for economic, social and political insiders. Anglo-centric institutions and conceptions of industrial and social citizenship were adapted to the colonial context in South Africa. The imperatives of both gold-led capitalist industrialization and the governance of a society in which the settler or immigrant population remained a minority required that the African population was excluded from most dimensions of this citizenship. But the institutions, discourses and ideologies associated with high wages (for citizens) continued to structure economic life in South Africa through and after the apartheid period. South Africa’s mode of economic modernization thus reflects the possibly unique interaction of a British model of economic modernization with the social, economic and political realities of a colonial society.
This article presents three interpretations of glocalization in social-scientific literature as a means of reframing the terms of scholarly engagement with the concept. Although glocalization is relatively under-theorized, two key interpretations of the concept have been developed by Roland Robertson and George Ritzer. Through a critical and comparative overview, the article offers an assessment of the advances and weaknesses of each perspective. Both demonstrate awareness regarding the differences between globalization and glocalization, but this awareness is far from explicit. Both interpretations fail to draw a consistent analytical distinction between the two concepts and ultimately succumb to reductionism: either glocalization is subsumed under globalization or globalization is transformed into glocalization. Next, a third interpretation of glocalization as an analytically autonomous concept is presented. Working definitions of glocalization and of glocality as analytically autonomous from globalization and globality are developed and examples are offered. By addressing the key themes of power and temporality, this third interpretation transcends the limits of the other two interpretations.
The aim of this article is to show the peculiarities of modernity in a peripheral capitalist country like Brazil. To do this, our understanding of modernity and its relationship with capitalist progress will be explained. Subsequently, the particular character of capitalism in peripheral regions, with an emphasis on the Brazilian experience, will be analysed. More specifically, we shall explore the meaning of capitalist progress in Brazil in the last two decades, underlining Brazil’s role as an international platform for financial valorization and the retrocession of the country’s industrial production in a context of monetary stability. These observations on a peripheral economy and its historical trajectory will allow us, in a third step, to analyse the particularity of Brazilian modernity today. Finally, we shall discuss the role of compensatory income programs and the rise of the so-called ‘new middle class’ in this scenario.
This article endeavors to describe and explain the constitution of modernity, its different trajectories, and its ongoing crisis using the Weberian concept of ‘legitimate order’, and by considering the changing relations between orders. One possible basis for the interpretation of the changing constitution of modernity – which involves, most significantly, a move beyond the great public/private dichotomy – is drawn from economic theory, or rather theories, of goods. The ability of certain orders to produce certain types of goods and to allocate them defines different types of society; in different societies, the same good will differ in nature and occupy a place within different property regimes. Changing relations can also be analyzed on the basis of the capacity of an order to impose upon others its negative externalities, and to manage effectively the production and allocation of its characteristic goods at different territorial scales.
Durkheim’s claim in Suicide that humanity’s ‘inextinguishable thirst’ (soif inextinguible) causes suffering was adopted from Arthur Schopenhauer’s argument that the will-to-live’s ‘unquenchable thirst’ (unlöschbaren Durst) causes suffering, which was previously adopted from the Buddha’s argument that ‘ceaselessly recurring thirst’ (trsnā) causes suffering. This article retraces this demonstrable though seemingly unlikely history of ideas and reveals that the philosophical underpinnings of Durkheim’s theory of anomie are rooted, through Schopenhauer, whose thought influenced many thinkers during the Neo-Romantic fin de siècle period, including Durkheim, in the Buddha’s Second Noble Truth – a doctrine made available to Schopenhauer in European translations of Buddhist texts during the previous turn of the century’s ‘Oriental Renaissance’. By achieving a more thorough understanding of the ambiguous concept of anomie through its Eastern intellectual origins, this project shows that the common conceptualization of anomie as ‘normlessness’ is inconsequential without presupposing that humans thirst and unconstrained thirst causes pain.
This article investigates the political role of social theories in contemporary Iran. It focuses, specifically, on how the 1979 Revolution marks a passage in Iranian political and social thought from political radicalism informed by Marxism to reformist liberalism inspired by local readings of Weber, Habermas, and Giddens. By investigating the writings of public intellectuals and political activists involved in Iran’s reform movement, the article traces their transformation from leftist revolutionary radicals to liberal proponents of free market, democracy, and religious pluralism. It will be argued that an inadequate understanding of economic issues underlies the political failings of this movement.
Latin American social protection systems show that the fundamental ambivalence of modernity is captured by the twin notion of liberty and discipline in the context of a plurality of modes of socio-political organization. According to this understanding, this article analyses the potential of the so-called Conditional Cash Transfer programmes, which are widespread in the region, to strength or reduce personal autonomy. These programmes are promoted by claiming their virtues to reduce poverty and impose good behaviour on poor people in order to improve the ‘human capital’ of future generations. However, numerous elements challenge these alleged virtues: arbitrary selection of beneficiaries, interference in people’s lives, stigmatization of recipients, inability to achieve universal coverage and act in a preventive manner with regards to urgent needs, the creation of poverty traps and informal working, etc. Taking these elements into account, this article explains how these programmes do not improve people’s autonomy and political independence.
Elias and Foucault ended up making the same core discovery about the same fundamental social process, which we term the ‘social constraints towards self-discipline’ process. We show how three distinct biographical and intellectual factors were important in guiding them toward this discovery: (1) their shared exposure to philosophical traditions associated with Heidegger’s break from Husserl; (2) their common, sustained contact with ‘clinical’ practices; and (3) the traumatic events each experienced in relation to intentional injury and death.
Recently, following the social and subjective consequences of the neoliberal wave, there seems to be a renewed interest in work as occupying a central place in social and subjective life. For the first time in decades, both sociologists and critical theorists once more again regard work as a major constituent of the subject’s identity and thus as an appropriate object of analysis for those engaged in critique of the social pathologies. The aim of this article is to present a succinct analysis of Axel Honneth’s thoughts on the concept of work and to propose an approach granting it a more substantial role in social theory. To this end, this article will embark upon a reappraisal of the importance of the material and psychological dimensions of the subject’s interactions in the world of work. It aims to demonstrate that the normative demands associated with these dimensions are, like the normative demands of recognition, immanent and universal. In other words, it will argue that the normative ideals related to individuals’ bodily and psychic life (in the workplace and beyond) are not necessarily utopian in the negative sense (abstract and unrealistic). If this is indeed the case, theorists could take these normative demands for emancipation as a guide to analyzing the sociological, political and moral implications of the transition from the ‘Fordist’ to the ‘post-Fordist’ organization of labor.
This article explores how the concept of agency in social theory changes when it is conceptualized as a relational rather than an individual phenomenon. It begins with a critique of the structure/agency debate, particularly of how this emerges in the critical realist approach to agency typified by Margaret Archer. It is argued that this approach, and the critical realist version of relational sociology that has grown from it, reify social relations as a third entity to which agents have a cognitive, reflexive relation, playing down the importance of interaction. This upholds the Western moral and political view of agents as autonomous, independent, and reflexive individuals. Instead, the article considers agency from a different theoretical tradition in relational sociology in which agents are always located in manifold social relations. From this, an understanding is created of agents as interactants, ones who are interdependent, vulnerable, intermittently reflexive, possessors of capacities that can only be practised in joint actions, and capable of sensitive responses to others and to the situations of interaction. Instead of agency resting on the reflexive monitoring of action or the reflexive deliberation on structurally defined choices, agency emerges from our emotional relatedness to others as social relations unfold across time and space.
The critical realist and Bourdieusian conceptions of action fundamentally disagree on a number of fronts: the synthetic versus dualistic relationship between structure and agency; the social nature of the self/body; the link between morphogenesis and reflexivity. Despite these differences, this article argues that re-reading Bourdieu’s theories with attention to some of the core tenets of critical realism (emergence, the stratification of reality, and conjunctural causality) can provide insights into how the habitus is capable of reflexivity and social change. In particular, this article reworks Bourdieu’s theory of habitus by suggesting that social selves are always situated at the intersection of multiple and competing social locations (or field positions) and that the habitus itself is always layered. Reflexivity arises from horizontal disjunctures (between field positions) and vertical disjunctures (across temporal sedimentation).
Social theorists in recent years have concerned themselves with the matter of the kind and intensity of people’s everyday reflective capacities. In this respect, Bourdieu has mostly been found wanting. This article seeks to counter this sentiment with recourse to an ‘anti-mechanistic’ reading of Bourdieu’s theory of practice. It begins by arguing that in imposing a strict delineation between consciousness and habitus, Bourdieu and his critics alike at times unwittingly conflate habitus and mechanistic habit, at once vaunting conscious deliberation and neglecting the non-habitual acts that habitus makes possible. Next it turns to the treatment, within the mechanistic reading, of the notion of the ‘social world’. The argument is that in this reading the social world is reified and rendered the mere background or setting for social practices rather than the product of those practices. Without recognition of this latter quality, the social world becomes hypostatized and exists outside of time. The secondary aim, then, is to argue for a thoroughgoing temporal relation to social reality in Bourdieu’s theory.
This article calls for a new theoretical synthesis that overcomes the fragmentation, specialization and professionalization within the social sciences. As an alternative to utilitarianism and the colonization of the social sciences by rational choice models, it proposes a new articulation of social theory, the Studies and moral, social and political philosophy. Based on a positive anthropology that finds its inspiration in Marcel Mauss’s classic essay on the gift, it recommends a return to classical social theory and explores articulations between theories of reciprocity, care and recognition.
In revisiting Durkheim’s humanism in recent years, attention has been drawn to his theory of moral individualism and the usefulness of his argument that a reformed democratic capitalism can reconcile individual freedom with collective constraint. This article investigates Durkheim’s understanding of the relationship between the individual and society in greater detail, showing in the process that his thinking was ambiguous and inconsistent. Although he flirted with the notion that capitalist modernity might actively foster and legitimize destructive forms of individualism, his default position was to attribute anti-social drives to a human nature set loose by weak or inadequate social norms, and then to idealize liberal humanism as the ethical remedy for this normative deficiency. The article argues that the inconsistencies in his thinking are significant, however, because they testify to the underlying contradiction between the logic of capitalism and the ideals of moral individualism, and to the difficulty of locating the moral individual in a morally irrational world.
The concept of governmentality has a textual and philosophical basis as well as being concerned with what might be called the practices of government. This article discusses and develops the governmentality argument with respect to the guru-led movements. It outlines the basics of Michel Foucault’s concept of governmentality, its analytical frame, the fact that governmentality moves beyond only the practices of the state and its nuances in a neoliberal frame of reference, drawing on Zygmunt Bauman and others. It then discusses the governmentality of guru-led movements through: (1) the political acts and powers of the gurus; (2) the supplementary and complementary efforts to aid the state by the guru-led movements; (3) instances of resistance and taking on the state, and (4) the flipside of governmentality, which manifests as hegemony, Hindutva politics and Hindu nationalism. Through the governmentality argument, aspects of the surveillance, discipline, control, interactivity and competition of the guru-led movements emerge. What is discussed is a post-disciplinary model of governance which devolves power downwards from crumbling state institutions to new agencies of control, in this case, the gurus and their institutions. This devolution, however, is not without its tensions and the article also argues that guru governmentality betrays traces of hybridity and non-linearity.
In modern societies collective identity is both an empty signifier and a sacred center: even as its existence is taken for granted, what is or should be is subject to a host of different and often conflicting interpretations. However, the narratives and representations of collective identity are in no way undermined by these public debates; these signifiers are seen rather as a problem that is in principle amenable to solution, as something that ought to be (re)solved. In fact, the empty signifiers of collective identity are constructed as solvable secrets precisely and primarily in public speech, open debate and perpetual critique. This article identifies the public and private modes of dealing with empty signifiers – through collective traumatic repressions, private resentments, public discourses adhering to argumentation ethics, and individual fabulations.
Scholars have sometimes argued that we should conceive of social research as a form of moral inquiry, at least in part, but none have made clear exactly how and why observational research can make a distinctive contribution to moral insight. Returning to an era before the modern distinction between social science and the humanities became entrenched, this article argues that Adam Smith provided a clear and forceful rationale for the moral role of social research, especially history. Smith believed that moral understanding relies on emotional reactions to richly described cases, preferably where our own interests are not at stake. These meditations on particular cases, in turn, provide the basis for moral generalizations that can inform future encounters with particular cases. This perspective led Smith (along with his friend David Hume) to the view that historical writing makes a more important contribution to moral understanding than abstract philosophy does. This article reconstructs Smith’s arguments about the role of empirical observation in cultivating moral sensibility in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, his Lectures on Jurisprudence, and his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. It then connects his argument to contemporary ideas about the nature of moral understanding in philosophy and cognitive science.
The close ties between modes of governing, subjectivities and critique in contemporary societies challenge the role of critical social research. The classical normative ethos of the unmasking researcher unravelling various oppressive structures of dominant vs. dominated groups in society is inadequate when it comes to understand de-politicizing mechanisms and the struggles they bring about. This article argues that only a non-normative position can stay attentive to the constant and complex evolution of modes of governing and the critical operations actors themselves engage in. The article outlines a non-normative but critical programme based on an ethos of re-politicizing contemporary pervasive modes of governing. The analytical advantages and limitations of such a programme are demonstrated by readings of both Foucauldian studies and the works of and debates regarding the French pragmatic sociology of Boltanski and Thévenot.
Social sorting of migrants and travellers based on data stored in information systems is at the centre of border controls and mobility management in Europe. Recent literature finds that the inclusion-exclusion distinction is insufficiently equipped to do justice to the variety of classifications that is being applied. Instead, a proliferation of refined categorizations determines the outcome of visa and permit applications. This article explores the ‘administrative ecology’ in between the two extremes of inclusion and exclusion. It claims information technologies encourage the emergence of an intermediary category of ‘non-publics’ situated between the level of groups and the level of individuals. The ontological and normative status of these ‘non-publics’ will be analysed by using some key notions of Actor-Network Theory.
Queer critics talk more and more about a normalization process whereby early lesbian and gay struggles against traditional values and institutions are being replaced by the pursuit of inclusion within mainstream society. The ‘assimilation’ of same-sex practices, critics contend, lowers the critical potential of homosexuals’ claims and marginalizes other less acceptable forms of sexualities. The present article contributes to this literature by tracing the roots and dynamics of normalization. It makes the claim that heteronormative categories infiltrated homosexual culture well before the spread of neoconservative gay movements and produced inner distinctions intended to exclude those who did not fit intergroup classifications. It then maintains that this analysis casts some interesting light on the current quest for gay rights, and in particular for same-sex marriage. By doing so, this article aims to tackle the broader question of how to produce societal changes able to circumvent rearguard reactions from the dominant culture.
Neoliberalism’s project of making the market the model for all modern freedoms means that critique needs to be able to unmask the distortions and to weigh the costs of its cultural appropriations and resignifications. This diagnostic/evaluative task presents a seeming challenge to the sociologist who is also answerable to scientific purposes that demand objectivity and impartiality. This article investigates two very different attempts to grasp this nettle. It contrasts Peter Wagner’s proposal to reclaim critique as ‘an essential feature of the social sciences’ with Axel Honneth’s call for a reinvigoration of the ‘sociologizing dimension’ of a critical theory tradition. It is argued that neither approach is fully adequate to the challenges set by neoliberalism. The final section of the article suggests that to demonstrate the efficacy of sociology’s contribution to a critique of neoliberalism we need to review the relationship between theoretical reflection and everyday thinking and permit the former to do more analytic/evaluative work.
In his attempt at a renewal of the concept of reification, Axel Honneth has referred to reification as a kind of forgetting. He uses an epigraph from Adorno and Horkheimer’s work to introduce this theme. This article considers the different accounts that are given by Honneth, on the one hand, and Adorno and Horkheimer, on the other, as to the way that reification is a forgetting of core experiential capacities of intersubjective human relations. It argues that Honneth’s account relies too much on a foundational and undifferentiated notion of ‘empathetic engagement’, and that in order to articulate the damage done by reification, we need to contend with the more radical notion of forgetting that is outlined in Adorno and Horkheimer’s work.
Many scholars have looked for similarities between the recent crisis in the Eurozone and the crises that have occurred in the past in developing countries and particularly in Latin America. Problems of balance of payments, public debt, overvaluation of the exchange rate and unregulated capital inflows are frequently mentioned to compare common features of different crisis events. Additionally, Continental European countries are following similar processes of welfare state retrenchment and labour market segmentation to Latin American cases in the past, but in different institutional contexts and with different levels of economic development. This article will discuss common features of past Latin American crises and the current crisis in the Eurozone in order to show how such a comparison could help to manage (and avoid) crises in an integrated financial world as well as to teach how a faulty institutional design can arise from a defective understanding of how financial capitalism works in a complex internationally integrated economic system.
This article studies the chronic and acute anomic social impacts of the development of market societies in Europe over the past few decades. Focusing on the firm but linking micro and macro levels, it argues that the passage from the welfare state to disembedded markets and neoliberal governance has generated individual and collective anomie by depriving social actors of agency and voice while caging them in the disciplinary constraints of an ideal competition society. Promoted by public and private governors animated by visions of managerial omnipotence, this reconfiguration has hollowed out the cluster of rights that was the basis of democratic and social citizenship in Europe. The article discusses the manifestations of anomie, stressing the violence flowing from the radical uncertainty to which atomized employees and more broadly citizens are facing in the reification of collective goals, which have been reduced to participation in market society. Drawing on the classical literature (Durkheim, Parsons, Merton) but expanding upon it, the article examines exit solutions, at the individual and collective levels, involving violence against the self (suicide) and others (mobbing, xenophobia, fascism), and concludes that Europe seems to be heading towards a protracted period of danger-laden chronic and acute anomie.
Given that we have democracy of a kind in most of Europe, and that there seems a reasonable prospect of its survival in, and extension to the rest of, the sub-continent, this article asks whether and to what extent we also need European-level democratic politics and how we might hope to achieve this, against the background of the current crisis. This article examines the ‘democratic deficit’ in the EU and the tensions between its formal decision-making structures and the growth of what has been called ‘executive federalism’, and also between collective planning and deregulation.
The article challenges the orthodoxy of current critical readings of the European crisis that discuss the failings of the EU in terms of the triumph of ‘neo-liberalism’. Defending instead a liberal view on international migration, which stresses the potentially positive economic, political and cultural benefits of market-driven forces enabling movements across borders, it details the various ways in which European regional integration has enabled the withdrawal of state control and restriction on certain forms of external and internal migration. This implementation of liberal ideas on the freedom of movement of persons has largely been of benefit to migrants, and both receiving and sending societies alike. These ideas are now threatened by democratic retrenchment. It is Britain, often held up as a negative example of ‘neo-liberalism’, which has proven to be the member state that most fulfils the EU’s core adherence to principles of mobile, open, non-discriminatory labour markets. On this question, and despite its current anti-immigration politics, it offers a positive example of how Europe as a whole could benefit from more not less liberalization.
The article argues that the ‘crisis of Europe’, triggered by market and governance dysfunctionalities (summarized as the Euro crisis), represents a ‘critical moment’ in the evolution of a European society. This society so far does not offer much resistance to such critical moments which is due to its incapacity to form a demos capable of acting together. The existing European society – and this is the basic claim – is nothing but the sum of individuals living in ‘sub-European’ (mainly national) groups. The evolution triggered by this critical situation opens pathways to turn these peoples of Europe into something more than being a sum of peoples governed by supranational bureaucracies. To decipher such processes a model is presented using Hirschman’s idea of exit, voice and loyalty as mechanisms to generate social ties. Two points arise as crucial. The first is the observation that national societies which continue to provide foundational claims for people have turned into interest groups in the context of the European Union. This undermines not only the ontological nationalism still dominating the self-presentation of national societies in Europe, but it also offers evolutionary paths towards a society beyond national foundational claims in Europe. Yet it also provokes reactive processes such as the return to the self-contained nation (or even ethnic group). This is the core of the crisis of Europe. The systemic crises of the state and the market in Europe are speeding up an evolutionary process of people-making, the outcome of which could be either the regression to a people with foundational identities or to a people without foundational identities. The latter will be described as a postnational society, which would make an emerging European society the first really modern society.
The European crisis has provoked widespread critique of capitalist arrangements in most if not all countries in Europe. But to what extent do contemporary social protest and critique indicate a revival of critical capacity? The range of criticisms against the existing capitalist system raised by various social movements is seen as ineffectual and fragmented. Such observations are mirrored in sociological analyses of the critique of capitalism. A distinct type of critique of capitalism has, however, not been explicitly conceptualized. This political critique, denouncing the depoliticization and the erosion of autonomy resulting from capitalist arrangements, indicates the crucial role of the political in formulating common projects. The article will, first, briefly discuss Boltanski and Chiapello’s historical identification of forms of critique of capitalism as well as the contemporary relevance of these. In a second step, it will conceptualize and in a way recuperate a political critique of capitalism. In a third step, it will show that the contours of a critique that explicitly refers to the political is available in the contemporary European context, not least in claims made by movements that pursue a ‘Europe of the Commons’ and an ‘alternative Europe’.
We are still unable to correctly identify the true crisis in Europe: whether it is a question of a lack of a demos or cratos; whether it is the democracy, legitimacy, or justice that is inadequate; whether we are facing a problem of intelligibility or of too little politicization. The article begin the analysis with three hypotheses: (1) none of the attempts to explain the crisis that focus on a single deficit or weakness seems satisfactory, so the discussion should focus on the way these types of deficiencies are expressed and the extent to which each one of them is involved. For this very reason, it makes no sense to entrust the entire solution to the strengthening of one single criterion (participation, effectiveness, or communication, for example). (2) Polarizing the legitimacy framework around two possibilities (input and output) seems to be a simplification that does not do justice to the intricate way in which the results and the procedures, effectiveness and consent are related in a democracy. (3) The resulting description cannot be less complex than that which it is attempting to describe, so the task of repairing EU legitimacy should be carried out through a sophisticated division of labor (between institutions, criteria, and values). The process of European integration may be one of the most interesting manifestations of a general problem in today’s societies: how to reconstruct political authority to confront the new challenges of communal life.
This article develops an assessment of the present-day European crisis management, referring to Wolfgang Streeck’s recent interpretation of the European ‘consolidation state’ as an attempt to install a ‘Hayekian’ regime of liberalized transnational markets. This article arrives at a diagnosis different from Streeck’s: if there has been a ‘Hayekian’ regime, it had already developed after the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1973 and the subsequent dismantling of capital controls in the USA and Europe. As it appeared in the financial crisis of 2007–2008, the ultimate practical test of the Hayekian vision was dramatically negative. European crisis management, as it is still largely occupied with the imperative to maintain the solvency of troubled Euro states vis-à-vis the capital markets, is not following a Hayekian script. Rather, it is confronted with the challenge of removing the debris of the collapse of the former Hayekian regime, taking the form of zombie banks and large uncovered capital claims. To master this challenge, not only intact European institutions and transnational cooperation in Europe would be required, but also much more democratic pressure from below.
Right-wing parties and governments in Europe have recently expressed greater hostility towards cultural pluralism, at times officially denunciating multiculturalism, and calling for the closure of borders and denial of rights to non-European nationals. Within this context, this article argues for rethinking Europe through radically transgressive and transnational understandings of cosmopolitanism as articulated by growing transnational populations within Europe such as immigrants, refugees, and irregular migrants. Transgressive forms of cosmopolitanism disrupt European notions of borders and identities in ways that challenge both liberal multiculturalism and assimilationist positions. This article explores the limits of traditional cosmopolitan thinking while offering a vision of cosmopolitanism based on everyday negotiations with cultural differences, explained using two illustrative examples or snapshots.
Foucault’s 1970–71 lectures at the Collège de France, The Will to Know, highlight the significance of themes of purity and impurity in Western thought. Reflecting on these themes coincided with the emergence of Foucault’s theory of power. This article presents the first analysis of Foucault’s investigation of purity and impurity in The Will to Know lectures, identifying the distinctive theory Foucault offers of purity as a discursive apparatus addressing correspondence between the subject and the truth through the image of relative integrity or mixture. It then traces Foucault’s subsequent reflections on these themes in his later writings on disciplinary power. The implications of Foucault’s position are considered; the article will close by putting Foucault’s ideas in dialogue with those of Kristeva, and in considering the role that purity and impurity may play in resistance.
Although the meaning and usefulness of Erving Goffman’s work are still being debated today, few would doubt the importance of his contributions to the sociological study of the self, emotions, deviance, and social interaction. Less well known to most contemporary sociologists is his effort to provide a sociological account of voluntary risk taking—participation in gambling, high-risk sports, dangerous occupations, certain forms of criminal behavior, and the like—activities he classified as ‘action’. While Goffman’s study of action anticipated the expansion of volitional risk taking in Western societies in recent decades, most contemporary research on this trend has been guided by a different concept—the notion of ‘edgework’. Contrasting the action and edgework approaches along three key parameters—fateful action versus corporeal edges, embodied semiotics versus embodied experience, and dramaturgical reflexivity versus hermeneutic reflexivity—reveals how the action and edgework concepts capture conflicting motivations for voluntary risk taking. Finally, this article considers how Goffman’s action framework can be reoriented to contemporary social conditions and integrated with the edgework perspective to yield a multidimensional theory of risk agency in late modern society.
Critically discussing the causal social ontologies presented by Dave Elder-Vass and John Searle, the article argues that these views implausibly identify the causal ontological source of human sociality in collectively known, recognized and accepted statuses, criteria, norms and the like. This is implausible, for it ignores human sociality as occurring in temporally and spatially dispersed on-going processes of human interaction of differently placed, often unequal, and thus epistemically differently equipped actors in division of labour. Human scientific concepts are best seen as picking out (aspects of) such complex and heterogeneous processes, not what the participating actors allegedly collectively know, accept or recognize about them. The article observes that similar appeals to collective recognition are also common in Wittgensteinian literature that, however, have claimed to reject the causal ontological view. It is argued that the ultimate value in rejecting the causal ontological view, and the accompanying idea of collective recognition, resides in that we thereby avoid epistemically homogenizing and over-intellectualizing the diverse mass of dispersed, often unequal, but interacting actors.
Despite its frequent appearances in sociological textbooks, dictionaries and theoretical opuses, ethnomethodology is still one of the most misunderstood and undervalued domains of sociological inquiry. This is particularly evident in the case of the central sociological question: social order. Harold Garfinkel, the founder of ethnomethodology, provided a unique answer to the question of order. His answer emphasized a contingent, situated character of constitutive practices of local order production. Initially a response to Talcott Parsons’ question about the conditions of the stability of social order, Garfinkel’s conception of constitutive order was later radicalized and used as the foundation of the programme of empirical ethnomethodological studies. To properly understand the radical character of the conception and programme, it is necessary to reveal the core elements of it and to separate them from the historically changed components.
At a time when ideas of crisis and critique are at the forefront of public discourse, this article seeks to understand moments of crisis vis-à-vis critique as a key feature of critical social theory. It addresses Jürgen Habermas’s strong claim that this relationship accounts for a ‘model of analysis’ concerned with grasping the ‘diremptions’ of social life. To elaborate this reading, the article pays attention to the main problems Habermas identifies in conventional ways of understanding the concepts of ‘crisis’ and ‘critique’ in social theory. The aim is to examine the mode in which he reconsiders each of these terms and then reasserts the dialectical link between them. I reconstruct this relationship by taking as cases two of his most substantive works of social theorizing: The Theory of Communicative Action, and Between Facts and Norms. Based on this interpretation, I suggest that though Habermas contributes to resituating the practice of critique as a communicative translation of objective crisis, he does not adequately account for another key movement: when critique actually initiates, enacts and furthers the moment of crisis.
The centrality of Lévinasian ethics to Zygmunt Bauman’s sociological vision has been affirmed by a number of writers. However, the way in which Bauman attempts to think through the implications of this ethical framework for political decision-making on a global scale has been seen as highly problematic. In recent years, Bauman has arguably begun to veer towards what can be seen as a more ‘legislative’ position, prioritizing what Lévinas calls archic issues relating to government, foundation and sovereignty, and arguably jettisoning his earlier commitment to socialism as the ‘active utopia’. It is the aim of this article to track this move in Bauman's thought, first of all locating structural continuities between his earliest English-language books written during the 1970s with those of the 1990s. It is shown that while much of the same terminology is carried over into his 1990s work, Bauman moves away from affirming the dynamics of human history and the almost ontological necessity of utopia, towards a sociologically suspect individual moral impulse which exists outside distinct social and historical formations. The sheer enthusiasm with which Bauman took hold of this idea had the result of completely frustrating the movement back to social formations. As such, it is argued that as Bauman moved towards theorizing the individual in ‘liquid modernity’ or consumer society, he developed a highly problematic concept of the individual which relies on the sociologically deterministic understandings of the human being which he was attempting to move away from before and during his engagement with Lévinas.
Faced with the confused meanings of the concept of generation, this article defends the need to move from Karl Mannheim’s excessive emphasis on political and intellectual self-awareness as a pre-condition for generation formation to an enlarged social and cultural definition of generations. By developing the concept of social generations, we argue that rather than concrete groups, generations are better conceived as discourses with which individuals relate in order to build self-identification. Individuals living in similar historical contexts may share mental and practical dispositions, but must always position themselves in face of the narratives that have come to be dominant to describe a given generational location. Such a contention implies redressing Mannheim’s culturalist view through a reformulation of his hierarchical view of the scheme of generations. By replacing generation-units by dominant ideas, we contend that generations are better conceived as discursive formations in the Foucauldian sense.
The principal aim of this article is to examine the capacity of existential analytic to suggest alternatives to entrenched dichotomies and dilemmas in practice theory, and more generally, in social theory. In this regard, the doctrine of trans-subjective existentialism is developed. The underlying aim is to inform hermeneutic engagement with social practices’ potentiality-for-being in order to illuminate a possible existential ontology of practices. It is argued that the concept of chronotope should be central in this ontology. Thus, the possibility of hermeneutic realism about social practices becomes open to scrutiny.
This article makes the case that speed has become significant, indeed central, as a social scientific category and focus of attention today. In particular, it engages with two contemporary theoretical currents that conceptualize the causes, consequences and manifestations of social speed as a fundamental feature of modernity. One key contribution is Hartmut Rosa’s interpretation of ‘social acceleration’, which is offered by him as part of a reinvigorated version of Critical Theory. Another is John Tomlinson’s (complementary but different) orientation, focusing on variant cultural settings and implications of speed. By juxtaposing and assessing these two thematizations of speed/acceleration, with other recent treatments brought in at various points, the article underlines the need to clarify and debate these modal notions as a distinctive issue for social analysis. In addition, I bring out more explicitly the ambiguous nature of speed as a descriptive and normative concern. In this respect, while there can be no denying its negative-oppressive force – both structurally and experientially – it is also necessary to attend to the more positive-enabling aspects of ‘fast’ subjectivity.
This article questions the popular assumption that the concept of civilization that entered public discourse in a grand way with Samuel P. Huntington’s sensational article on a ‘clash of civilizations’ refers to any meaningful historical formations that can be identified across time and space in plural manifestations, apparently withstanding collapse, disintegration and a final withering away. Contrasting Huntington’s rather stable universe with A. J. Toynbee’s and Eric Voegelin’s radically different perspectives on an open-ended dynamics of civilizational processes makes it possible to recognize that the sequence of institutional cycles and the succession of universes of symbolic meaning that accompany them may be limited. Civilizations are not natural phenomena but human constructs and have therefore limited timelines. Toynbee and Voegelin were facing an end of the history of traditional civilizations and all their pseudo-morphed variations. They envisioned something new would emerge out of the wasteland of meaning without clearly knowing what it would be. The political economy of globalization has certainly accelerated the terminal conditions of traditional civilizations that Toynbee and Voegelin had anticipated long before this modern endgame began. The signs of decay and death are overwhelming while the quests for a new universe of meaning are still in their infancy.
Richard Sennett can be interpreted as one of the more robust representatives of a current critique with regard to ethnic communities in urban areas, namely, that such ethnic enclaves are a proof of urban disintegration and failing citizenship. Firstly, I take issue with Sennett’s assumption that there is an inherent tension between in-group solidarity and the ability to deal with members of perceived out-groups. Secondly, instead of simply cutting citizens off from the wider public sphere and leaving them politically ineffective, as Sennett argues, urban communities can be instrumental in a struggle for emancipation and equal rights. Thirdly, a sense of belonging is a basic aspect of human well-being. Urban villages or ethnic clusters are able to provide this. Therefore, as long as a local identity is not exclusive or the effect of involuntary segregation, ethno-cultural concentrations in the city are acceptable from the moral-political point of view.
This article makes both a more general and a more specific argument, and while the latter relies upon the former, the inverse does not apply. The more general argument proposes that empirical disciplines such as sociology are better suited to the production of ethical knowledge than more characteristically abstract and legalistic disciplines such as philosophy and theology. The more specific argument, which is made through a critique of Bauman’s Levinasian articulation of ethics, proposes what it calls ‘pragmatic humanism’ as a viable alternative model for sociological ethics to follow. This model rejects the abstract notion of some innate and universally distributed moral impulse, and instead turns to acknowledgement of the precariousness of life as a strategic resource in the construction, rather than revelation, of ethical solidarity.
In liberal modernity, the democratic collective will of society was understood to emerge through the public and deliberative freedoms of associational life. Today, however, democratic discourse is much more focused on the formation of plural and diverse publics in the private and social sphere. In these ‘non-linear’ approaches, democracy is no longer seen to operate to constitute a collective will standing above society but as a mechanism to distribute power more evenly through the social empowerment of individuals and communities as the ultimate decision-makers. Government is brought back ‘to the people’ and democracy is seen to circulate through the personal decisions made in everyday life. This article seeks to analyse the development of non-linear approaches to the political sphere, which seek to overcome the rationalist assumptions of the public/private divide, paying particular attention to the work of two key liberal theorists, John Dewey and Friedrich von Hayek.
As Michel Foucault and others have shown, from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries, Western political discourse has perpetuated an art of governing aimed at societies and populations. This article argues that this modern art of governing is now coming undone, in the name of governance. The discourse on governance is taking us from an art of governing premised on producing policy for a society or a population to an art of governing premised on solving problems with no necessary reference to any kind of society or population. Tracing the evolution of that discourse, the article argues that existing social and political theory has failed to make sense of this shift. It concludes that in order to access and assess the new art of governing on its own terms we need a sociological imagination that stretches beyond societies and a political imaginary without the presupposition of collectivities.
This article proposes complementing actor-network theory (ANT) with Niklas Luhmann’s communication theory, in order to overcome one of ANT’s major shortcomings, namely, the lack of a conceptual repertoire to describe virtual processes such as sense-making. A highly problematic consequence of ANT’s actualism is that it cannot explain the differentiation of economic, legal, scientific, touristic, religious, medical, artistic, political and other qualities of actual entities, assemblages and relationships. By recasting Luhmann’s theory of functionally differentiated communication forms and sense-making as dealing with different types of virtual attractors calling for actualizations in concrete assemblages, I propose a symmetrical understanding of societal differentiation processes as based on the co-production of virtual attractors and actual assemblages.
The advent of an unregulated and financial form of capitalism, combined with a sharp rise in income inequalities and economic insecurity since the 1970s, appears to pose, at first glance, a significant challenge for the relevance of the works of first-generation critical theorists, which are often confined to an historically specific ‘artistic’ critique of the bureaucratic stage of capitalist development. Through an analysis of the various concerns and demands expressed by members of the alter-globalization and Occupy movements, the article nevertheless aims to demonstrate that first-generation critical theory can continue to play a significant role in conceptualizing contemporary forms of resistance by: (1) capturing the social malaise engendered by neoliberal capitalism; and (2) informing the practice of resistance in contemporary capitalist societies.
This article engages the French pragmatism of Laurent Thévenot, Luc Boltanski and Bruno Latour in debates on how to forge a moral-political sociology of ecological valuation, justification and critique. Picking up the debate initiated by Thévenot on the possible emergence of a novel ‘green’ order of worth, the article juxtaposes the sociology of critical capacity of Boltanski and Thévenot with the actor-network theory of Bruno Latour. In doing so, the article suggests that each of these three pragmatic sociologists succeeds, in characteristically different ways, in theoretically articulating an important but partial socio-political grammar of ecological worth. This claim is substantiated by invoking three case studies into environmental critique and compromise, on transnational carbon markets, urban sustainability projects, and Japanese whaling, respectively. Against this backdrop, the article concludes that – when read together as grammarians of the ecological bond – pragmatic sociology provides important insights into the bounded multiplicity of nature’s worth in political modernity.
Solidarity can be conceived in multiple ways. This article probes possible underlying ontological and normative assumptions of solidarity. In order to conceptually clarify the notion of solidarity, we distinguish between five types of solidarity. We suggest that solidarity is either grounded in the Enlightenment ideas of liberty, or a category of loyalty and allegiance. If the former is the case, solidarity can be justified on rational grounds. If the latter is the case, it is contingent on narratives of historical continuity and a non-rational sense of belonging. Moreover, we show that different types of solidarity can be derived from Anglo-Saxon and continental thought, which hints at different conceptions of community.
This article examines the role of class divisions in critical social theory through Habermas’ theory of law and democracy. It begins with Hegel’s view that social freedom involves reconciliation with the modern division of labor, which in turn requires membership in ‘estates’, and his thoughts on their role in the state. While subsequent Left Hegelian thinkers reject these institutions as authoritarian, the melancholic tenor of much Frankfurt School social theory stems partly from their view that class divisions are not only entrenched, but also ‘latent’ and therefore not amenable to reconciliation through the political process that Hegel envisions. Habermas’ conception of ‘interchange roles’ between the system and the lifeworld as sites of reification, but potentially of democratic contestation, synthesizes these lines of thought, by conceptualizing how the political mediation of class-based interests can be an ongoing possibility amidst a condition of latent class conflict.
This article elaborates the interactional freedom of friendship and its limits. It shows that friendship is marked by a normative freedom that makes it relatively resistant to reification, especially when compared to erotic love. It argues further, however, that due to friendship’s embeddedness in the contemporary gender order, this freedom is limited. Having first outlined the freedom hypothesis, the article goes on to argue that friendship’s normative freedom is made possible by its weak ‘institutional connectivity’. To clarify that point, the article illustrates friendship’s resistance to the reifying tendencies of therapy culture and then draws the gendered boundary of friendship’s freedom with reference to the position of heterosexual cross-sex friendship in the heteronormative social imaginary. The article concludes by way of argument for a differentiated approach to friendship and suggests that the analysis of its freedom provides significant clues concerning the work that remains to be done towards equal gender relations.
This article articulates a neo-pragmatist theory of human rights by drawing and expanding upon the American classical pragmatism of G.H. Mead. It characterizes this neo-pragmatist theory of rights by its anti-foundationalist, relational, fictive, and constitutive nature, and begins by providing a reconstruction of Mead’s social pragmatist approach to rights, a contribution systematically ignored by contemporary sociologists of rights. Next, it details the cost of this disciplinary oblivion by examining how much neo-pragmatism, critical theory, and legal consciousness studies have meanwhile gained by engaging with Mead’s work on rights. Finally, it discusses the contributions of this historical-theoretical exercise to the rapidly growing sociology of rights, and shows that by supplementing the neo-Meadian approach with a recent interpretation of Hobbes’s fictional theory of politics, there appear to be substantive gains in the empirical study of the origins, consequences, meaning, and denial of rights.
Theodor W. Adorno asked in 1968: What is the fundamental question of the present structure of society? Do we live in late capitalism or an industrial society? In today’s society, we can reformulate this question: What is the fundamental question of the present structure of society? Do we live in capitalism or an information society? This article deals with these questions. A typology of information society theories is presented. Radical discontinuous information society theories, sceptical views and continuous information society theories are distinguished. Second, an alternative concept that is grounded in Hegelian philosophy and Marxist political economy is presented. The basic argument is that the emergence of transnational informational capitalism is a transformational sublation, but not a radical one, and that informational capitalism is just one of the forms of capitalism that co-exist today. There is a unity of diversity of capitalism(s).
This paper advances a non-reductionist theorization of Europe as ‘multiplicity’. As an object and category of political reality, Europe is made (and re-made) within specific spatio-temporal settings. For this reason, the first section argues that Europe should be approached as an instance of ‘historical ontology’. This counters a reductionist tendency to ‘fix’ Europe with definitive political and cultural characteristics or historical trajectories. The second and third sections of the article interrogate a few of the ontological ‘lines of flight’ taken by contemporary Europe. The article discusses Europe’s multiplicity through its fields, imaginaries and ways of being in the world. Such a preliminary sketch of European multiplicity is not meant to be exhaustive. Rather, it suggests a new ethos around the study of European politics that privileges historicism, practice, and Europe’s recursive relationship to the world/globe.