The following outline is provided as an
overview of and topical guide to critical theory:
Importantly, the concept implies a
continuum, not a simple binary - every actual assemblage
(a flexible term alluding to the heterogeneous composition of any
complex system, individual, social, geological) is marked by
simultaneous movements of territorialization (maintenance) and of
Various means of deterritorializing are
alluded to by the authors in
their chapter "How to Make Yourself A Body Without Organs" in A
including psychoactives such as peyote. Experientially, the effects of
such substances can include a loosening (relative deterritorialization)
of the worldview of the user (i.e. his/her beliefs, models, etc.),
subsequently leading to an antiredeterritorialization (remapping of
beliefs, models, etc.) that is not necessarily identical to the prior
: 1972 books
| Philosophy books
| Freudian psychology
| Cognitive science
| Works by
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari
List of critical theorists
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
See also Critical
theory (Frankfurt School)
Fredric Jameson (1991)
or, The Cultural Logic of Late
or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
Verso, 1991. Just two sections from Chapter 1 reproduced here.
The last few years have been marked by an inverted millenarianism
in which premonitions of the future, catastrophic or redemptive,
have been replaced by senses of the end of this or that (the end
of ideology, art, or social class; the “crisis” of Leninism,
social democracy, or the welfare state, etc., etc.); taken together,
all of these perhaps constitute what is increasingly called
The case for its existence depends on the hypothesis of some radical
break or coupure, generally traced back to the end of the 1950s
or the early 1960s.
As the word itself suggests, this break is most often related
to notions of the waning or extinction of the hundred-year-old
modern movement (or to its ideological or aesthetic repudiation). Thus
abstract expressionism in painting, existentialism in philosophy,
the final forms of representation in the novel, the films of the
great auteurs, or the modernist school of poetry (as
and canonised in the works of Wallace Stevens) all are now seen
as the final, extraordinary flowering of a high-modernist impulse
which is spent and exhausted with them. The enumeration of what
follows, then, at once becomes empirical, chaotic, and heterogeneous:
Andy Warhol and pop art, but also photorealism, and beyond it,
the “new expressionism”; the moment, in music, of John
Cage, but also the synthesis of classical and “popular”
styles found in composers like Phil Glass and Terry Riley, and
also punk and new wave rock (the Beatles and the Stones now standing
as the high-modernist moment of that more recent and rapidly evolving
tradition); in film, Godard, post-Godard, and experimental cinema
and video, but also a whole new type of commercial film (about
which more below); Burroughs, Pynchon, or Ishmael Reed, on the
one hand, and the French nouveau roman and its succession, on
the other, along with alarming new kinds of literary criticism
based on some new aesthetic of textuality or écriture
... The list might be extended indefinitely; but does it imply
any more fundamental change or break than the periodic style and
fashion changes determined by an older high-modernist imperative
of stylistic innovation?
It is in the realm of architecture, however, that modifications
in aesthetic production are most dramatically visible, and that
their theoretical problems have been most centrally raised and
articulated; it was indeed from architectural debates that my
own conception of postmodernism – as it will be outlined in the
following pages – initially began to emerge. More decisively
than in the other arts or media, postmodernist positions in
have been inseparable from an implacable critique of architectural
high modernism and of Frank Lloyd Wright or the so-called international
style (Le Corbusier, Mies, etc), where formal criticism and analysis
(of the high-modernist transformation of the building into a virtual
sculpture, or monumental “duck,” as Robert Venturi puts
it), are at one with reconsiderations on the level of urbanism
and of the aesthetic institution. High modernism is thus credited
with the destruction of the fabric of the traditional city and
its older neighbourhood culture (by way of the radical disjunction
of the new Utopian high-modernist building from its surrounding
context), while the prophetic elitism and authoritarianism of
the modern movement are remorselessly identified in the imperious
gesture of the charismatic Master.
Postmodernism in architecture will then logically enough stage
itself as a kind of aesthetic populism, as the very title of Venturi’s
influential manifesto, Learning from Las Vegas, suggests.
However we may ultimately wish to evaluate this populist rhetoric,
it has at least the merit of drawing our attention to one fundamental
feature of all the postmodernisms enumerated above: namely, the
effacement in them of the older (essentially high-modernist) frontier
between high culture and so-called mass or commercial culture,
and the emergence of new kinds of texts infused with the forms,
categories, and contents of that very culture industry so passionately
denounced by all the ideologues of the modern, from Leavis and
the American New Criticism all the way to Adorno and the Frankfurt
School. The postmodernisms have, in fact, been fascinated precisely
by this whole “degraded” landscape of schlock and kitsch,
of TV series and Reader’s Digest culture, of advertising
and motels, of the late show and the grade-B Hollywood film, of
so-called paraliterature, with its airport paperback categories
of the gothic and the romance, the popular biography, the murder
mystery, and the science fiction or fantasy novel: materials they
no longer simply “quote” as a Joyce or a Mahler might have
done, but incorporate into their very substance.
Nor should the break in question be thought of as a purely cultural
affair: indeed, theories of the postmodern – whether celebratory
or couched in the language of moral revulsion and denunciation
– bear a strong family resemblance to all those more ambitious
sociological generalisations which, at much the same time bring
us the news of the arrival and inauguration of a whole new type
of society, most famously baptised “Postindustrial society”
(Daniel Bell) but often also designated consumer society, media
society, information society, electronic society or high tech,
and the like. Such theories have the obvious ideological mission
of demonstrating, to their own relief, that the new social formation
in question no longer obeys the laws of classical capitalism,
namely, the primacy of industrial production and the omnipresence
of class struggle. The Marxist tradition has therefore resisted
them with vehemence, with the signal except on of the economist
Ernest Mandel, whose book Late Capitalism sets out not
merely to anatomise the historic originality of this new society
(which he sees as a third stage or moment in the evolution of
capital) but also to demonstrate that it is, if an thing, a purer
stage of capitalism than any of the moments that preceded it. I will
return to t is argument later; suffice it for the moment
to anticipate a point that will be argued in Chapter 2, namely,
that every position on postmodernism in culture – whether apologia
or stigmatisation – is also at one and the same time, and necessarily,
implicitly or explicitly political stance on the nature of
multinational capitalism today.
A last preliminary word on method: what follows is not to be read
as stylistic description, as the account of one cultural style
or movement among others. I have rather meant to offer a periodising
hypothesis, and that at a moment in which the very conception
of historical periodisation has come to seem most problematical
indeed. I have argued elsewhere that all isolated or discrete
cultural analysis always involves a buried or repressed theory
of historical periodisation; in any case, the conception of the
“genealogy” largely lays to rest traditional theoretical
worries about so-called linear history, theories of “stages,”
and teleological historiography. In the present context, however,
lengthier theoretical discussion of such (very real) issues can
perhaps be replaced by a few substantive remarks.
One of the concerns frequently aroused by periodising hypotheses
is that these tend to obliterate difference and to project an
idea of the historical period as massive homogeneity (bounded
on either side by inexplicable chronological metamorphoses and
punctuation marks). This is, however, precisely why it seems
to me essential to grasp postmodernism not as a style but rather
as a cultural dominant: a conception which allows for the presence
and coexistence of a range of very different, yet subordinate,
Consider, for example, the powerful alternative position that
postmodernism is itself little more than one more stage of modernism
proper (if not, indeed, of the even older romanticism); it may
indeed be conceded that all the features of postmodernism I am
about to enumerate can be detected, full-blown, in this or that
preceding modernism (including such astonishing genealogical precursors
as Gertrude Stein, Raymond Roussel, or Marcel Duchamp, who may
be considered outright postmodernists, avant la lettre). What
has not been taken into account by this view, however, is the
social position of the older modernism, or better still, its passionate
repudiation by an older Victorian and post-Victorian bourgeoisie
for whom its forms and ethos are received as being variously ugly,
dissonant, obscure, scandalous, immoral, subversive, and generally
“antisocial.” It will be argued here, however, that
a mutation in the sphere of culture has rendered such attitudes
archaic. Not only are Picasso and Joyce no longer ugly, they
now strike us, on the whole, as rather “realistic,”
and this is the result of a canonisation and academic
of the modern movement generally that can be to the late 1950s. This is
surety one of the most plausible explanations for the
emergence of postmodernism itself, since the younger generation
of the 1960s will now confront the formerly oppositional modern
movement as a set of dead classics, which “weigh like a nightmare
on the brains of the living,” as Marx once said in a different
As for the postmodern revolt against all that, however, it must
equally be stressed that its own offensive features – from obscurity
and sexually explicit material to psychological squalor and overt
expressions of social and political defiance, which transcend
anything that might have been imagined at the most extreme moments
of high modernism – no longer scandalise anyone and are not only
received with the greatest complacency but have themselves become
institutionalised and are at one with the official or public culture
of Western society.
What has happened is that aesthetic production today has become
integrated into commodity production generally: the frantic economic
urgency of producing fresh waves of ever more novel-seeming goods
(from clothing to aeroplanes), at ever greater rates of turnover,
now assigns an increasingly essential structural function and
position to aesthetic innovation and experimentation. Such economic
necessities then find recognition in the varied kinds of institutional
support available for the newer art, from foundations and grants
to museums and other forms of patronage. Of all the arts, architecture
is the closest constitutively to the economic, with which, in
the form of commissions and land values, it has a virtually unmediated
relationship. It will therefore not be surprising to find the
extraordinary flowering of the new postmodern architecture grounded
in the patronage of multinational business, whose expansion and
development is strictly contemporaneous with it. Later I will
suggest that these two new phenomena have an even deeper dialectical
interrelationship than the simple one-to-one financing of this
or that individual project. Yet this is the point at which I
must remind the reader of the obvious; namely, that this whole
global, yet American, postmodern culture is the internal and
expression of a whole new wave of American military and economic
domination throughout the world: in this sense, as throughout
class history, the underside of culture is blood, torture, death,
The first point to be made about the conception of periodisation
in dominance, therefore, is that even if all the constitutive
features of postmodernism were identical with and coterminous
to those of an older modernism – a position I feel to be demonstrably
erroneous but which only an even lengthier analysis of modernism
proper could dispel the two phenomena would still remain utterly
distinct in their meaning antisocial function, owing to the very
different positioning of postmodernism in the economic system
of late capital and, beyond that, to the transformation of the
very sphere of culture in contemporary society.
This point will be further discussed at the conclusion of this
book. I must now briefly address a different kind of objection
to periodisation, a concern about its possible obliteration of
heterogeneity, one most often expressed by the Left. And it is
certain that there is a strange quasi-Sartrean irony – a “winner
loses” logic which tends to surround any effort to describe
a “system,” a totalising dynamic, as these are detected
in the movement of contemporary society. What happens is that
the more powerful the vision of some increasingly total system
or logic – the Foucault of the prisons book is the obvious example
– the more powerless the reader comes to feel. Insofar as the
theorist wins, therefore, by constructing an increasingly closed
and terrifying machine, to that very degree he loses, since the
critical capacity of his work is thereby paralysed, and the impulses
of negation and revolt, not to speak of those of social transformation,
are increasingly perceived as vain and trivial in the face of
the model itself.
I have felt, however, that it was only in the light of some conception
of a dominant cultural logic or hegemonic norm that genuine difference
could be measured and assessed. I am very far from feeling that
all cultural production today is postmodern in the broad sense
I will be conferring on this term. The postmodern is, however,
the force field in which very different kinds of cultural impulses
– what Raymond Williams has usefully termed “residual”
and “emergent” forms of cultural production – must make
their way. If we do not achieve some general sense of a cultural
dominant, then we fall back into a view of present history as
sheer heterogeneity, random difference, a coexistence of a host
of distinct forces whose effectivity is undecidable. At any rate,
this has been the political spirit in which the following analysis
was devised: to project some conception of a new systematic cultural
norm and its reproduction in order to reflect more adequately
on the most effective forms of any radical cultural politics today.
The exposition will take up in turn the following constitutive
features of the postmodern: a new depthlessness, which finds its
prolongation both in contemporary “theory” and in a
whole new culture of the image or the simulacrum; a consequent
weakening of historicity, both in our relationship to public History
and in the new forms of our private temporality, whose “schizophrenic”
structure (following Lacan) will determine new types of syntax
or syntagmatic relationships in the more temporal arts; a whole
new type of emotional ground tone – what I will call “intensities”
– which can best be grasped by a return to older theories of the
sublime; the deep constitutive relationships of all this to a
whole new technology, which is itself a figure for a whole new
economic world system; and, after a brief account of postmodernist
mutations in the lived experience of built space itself, some
reflections on the mission of political art in the bewildering
new world space of late or multinational capital.
The conception of postmodernism outlined here is a historical
rather than a merely stylistic one. I cannot stress too greatly
the radical distinction between a view for which the postmodern
is one (optional) style among many others available and one which
seeks to grasp it as the cultural dominant of the logic of late
capitalism: the two approaches in fact generate two very different
ways of conceptualising the phenomenon as a whole: on the one
hand, moral judgments (about which it is indifferent whether they
are positive or negative), and, on the other, a genuinely dialectical
attempt to think our present of time in History.
Of some positive moral evaluation of postmodernism little needs
to be said: the complacent (yet delirious) camp-following celebration
of this aesthetic new world (including its social and economic
dimension, greeted with equal enthusiasm under the slogan of
society”) is surely unacceptable, although it may be somewhat
less obvious that current fantasies about the salvational nature
of high technology, from chips to robots – fantasies entertained
not only by both left and right governments in distress but also
by many intellectuals – are also essentially of a piece with more
vulgar apologies for postmodernism.
But in that case it is only consequent to reject moralising
of the postmodern and of its essential triviality when juxtaposed
against the Utopian “high seriousness” of the great
modernisms: judgments one finds both on the Left and on the radical
Right. And no doubt the logic of the simulacrum, with its
of older realities into television images, does more than merely
replicate the logic of late capitalism; it reinforces and intensifies
it. Meanwhile, for political groups which seek actively to intervene
in history and to modify its otherwise passive momentum (whether
with a view toward channelling it into a socialist transformation
of society or diverting it into the regressive re-establishment
of some simpler fantasy past), there cannot but be much that is
deplorable and reprehensible in a cultural form of image addiction
which, by transforming the past into visual mirages, stereotypes,
or texts, effectively abolishes any practical sense of the future
and of the collective project, thereby abandoning the thinking
of future change to fantasies of sheer catastrophe and inexplicable
cataclysm, from visions of “terrorism” on the social
level to those of cancer on the personal. Yet if postmodernism
is a historical phenomenon, then the attempt to conceptualise
it in terms of moral or moralising judgments must finally be identified
as a category mistake. All of which becomes more obvious when
we interrogate the position of the cultural critic and moralist;
the latter, along with all the rest of us, is now so deeply immersed
in postmodernist space, so deeply suffused and infected by its
new cultural categories, that the luxury of the old-fashioned
ideological critique, the indignant moral denunciation of the
other, becomes unavailable.
The distinction I am proposing here knows one canonical form in
Hegel’s differentiation of the thinking of individual morality
or moralising from that whole very different realm of collective
social values and practices. But it finds its definitive form
in Marx’s demonstration of the materialist dialectic, most notably
in those classic pages of the Manifesto which teach the hard
of some more genuinely dialectical way to think historical development
and change. The topic of the lesson is, of course, the historical
development of capitalism itself and the deployment of a specific
bourgeois culture. In a well-known passage Marx powerfully urges
us to do the impossible, namely, to think this development positively
and negatively all at once; to achieve, in other words, a type
of thinking that would be capable of grasping the demonstrably
baleful features of capitalism along with its extraordinary and
liberating dynamism simultaneously within a single thought, and
without attenuating any of the force of either judgment. We are
somehow to lift our minds to a point at which it is possible to
understand that capitalism is at one and the same time the best
thing that has ever happened to the human race, and the worst.
The lapse from this austere dialectical imperative into the more
comfortable stance of the taking of moral positions is inveterate
and all too human: still, the urgency of the subject demands that
we make at least some effort to think the cultural evolution of
late capitalism dialectically, as catastrophe and progress all
Such an effort suggests two immediate questions, with which we
will conclude these reflections. Can we in fact identify some
“moment of truth” within the more evident “moments
of falsehood” of postmodern culture? And, even if we can
do so, is there not something ultimately paralysing in the dialectical
view of historical development proposed above; does it not tend
to demobilise us and to surrender us to passivity and helplessness
by systematically obliterating possibilities of action under the
impenetrable fog of historical inevitability? It is appropriate
to discuss these two (related) issues in terms of current possibilities
for some effective contemporary cultural politics and for the
construction of a genuine political culture.
To focus the problem in this way is, of course, immediately to
raise the more genuine issue of the fate of culture generally,
and of the function of culture specifically, as one social level
or instance, in the postmodern era. Everything in the previous
discussion suggests that what we have been calling postmodernism
is inseparable from, and unthinkable without the hypothesis of,
some fundamental mutation of the sphere of culture in the world
of late capitalism which includes a momentous modification of
its social function. Older discussions of the space, function,
or sphere of culture (mostly notably Herbert Marcuse’s classic
essay The Affirmative Character of Culture) have insisted
on what a different language would call the “semi-autonomy”
of the cultural realm: its ghostly, yet Utopian, existence, for
good or ill, above the practical world of the existent, whose
mirror image it throws back in forms which vary from the legitimations
of flattering resemblance to the contestatory indictments of critical
satire or Utopian pain.
What we must now ask ourselves is whether it is not precisely
this semi-autonomy of the cultural sphere which has been destroyed
by the logic of late capitalism. Yet to argue that culture is
today no longer endowed with the relative autonomy it once enjoyed
as one level among others in earlier moments of capitalism (let
alone in pre-capitalist societies) is not necessarily to imply
its disappearance or extinction. Quite the contrary; we must
go on to affirm that the dissolution of an autonomous sphere of
culture is rather to be imagined in terms of an explosion: a prodigious
expansion of culture throughout the social realm, to the point
at which everything in our social life – from economic value and
state power to practices and to the very structure of the psyche
itself – can be said to have become “cultural” in some
original and yet untheorised sense. This proposition is, however,
substantively quite consistent with the previous diagnosis of
a society of the image or the simulacrum and a transformation
of the “real” into so many pseudo-events.
It also suggests that some of our most cherished and time-honoured
radical conceptions about the nature of cultural politics may
thereby find themselves outmoded. However distinct those conceptions
– which range from slogans of negativity, opposition, and subversion
to critique and reflexivity – may have been, they all shared a
single, fundamentally spatial, presupposition, which may be resumed
in the equally time-honoured formula of “critical distance.”
No theory of cultural politics current on the Left today has been
able to do without one notion or another of a certain minimal
aesthetic distance, of the possibility of the positioning of the
cultural act outside the massive Being of capital, from which
to assault this last. What the burden of our preceding demonstration
suggests, however, is that distance in general (including “critical
distance” in particular) has very precisely been abolished
in the new space of postmodernism. We are submerged in its henceforth
filled and suffused volumes to the point where our now postmodern
bodies are bereft of spatial coordinates and practically (let
alone theoretically) incapable of distantiation; meanwhile, it
has already been observed how the prodigious new expansion of
multinational capital ends up penetrating and colonising those
very pre-capitalist enclaves (Nature and the Unconscious) which
offered extraterritorial and Archimedean footholds for critical
effectivity. The shorthand language of co-optation is for this
reason omnipresent on the left, but would now seem to offer a
most inadequate theoretical basis for understanding a situation
in which we all, in one way or another, dimly feel that not only
punctual and local counter-culture forms of cultural resistance
and guerrilla warfare but also even overtly political interventions
like those of The Clash are all somehow secretly disarmed and
reabsorbed by a system of which they themselves might well be
considered a part, since they can achieve no distance from it.
What we must now affirm is that it is precisely this whole
demoralising and depressing original new global space which is
the “moment of truth” of postmodernism. What has been
called the postmodernist “sublime” is only the moment
in which this content has become most explicit, has moved the
closest to the surface of consciousness as a coherent new type
of space in its own right – even though a certain figural concealment
or disguise is still at work here, most notably in the high-tech
thematics in which the new spatial content is still dramatised
and articulated. Yet the earlier features of the postmodern which
were enumerated above can all now be seen as themselves partial
(yet constitutive) aspects of the same general spatial object.
The argument for a certain authenticity in these otherwise patently
ideological productions depends on the prior proposition that
what we have been calling postmodern (or multinational) space
is not merely a cultural ideology or fantasy but has genuine historical
(and socioeconomic) reality as a third great original expansion
of capitalism around the globe (after the earlier expansions of
the national market and the older imperialist system, which each
had their own cultural specificity and generated new types of
space appropriate to their dynamics). The distorted and unreflexive
attempts of newer cultural production to explore and to express
this new space must then also, in their own fashion, be considered
as so many approaches to the representation of (a new) reality
(to use a more antiquated language). As paradoxical as the terms
may seem, they may thus, following a classic interpretive option,
be read as peculiar new forms of realism (or at least of the mimesis
of reality), while at the same time they can equally well be analysed
as so many attempts to distract and divert us from that reality
or to disguise its contradictions and resolve them in the guise
of various formal mystifications.
As for that reality itself, however – the as yet untheorised original
space of some new “world system” of multinational or
late capitalism, a space whose negative or baleful aspects are
only too obvious – the dialectic requires us to hold equally to
a positive or “progressive” evaluation of its emergence,
as Marx did for the world market as the horizon of national economies,
or as Lenin did for the older imperialist global network. For
neither Marx nor Lenin was socialism a matter of returning to
smaller (and thereby less repressive and comprehensive) systems
of social organisation; rather, the dimensions attained by capital
in their own times were grasped as the promise, the framework,
and the precondition for the achievement of some new and more
comprehensive socialism. Is this not the case with the yet more
global and totalising space of the new world system, which demands
the intervention and elaboration of an internationalism of a radically
new type? The disastrous realignment of socialist revolution
with the older nationalisms (not only in Southeast Asia), whose
results have necessarily aroused much serious recent left reflection,
can be adduced in support of this position.
But if all this is so, then at least one possible form of a new
radical cultural politics becomes evident, with a final aesthetic
proviso that must quickly be noted. Left cultural producers and
theorists – particularly those formed by bourgeois cultural traditions
issuing from romanticism and valorising spontaneous, instinctive,
or unconscious forms of “genius,” but also for very
obvious historical reasons such as Zhdanovism and the sorry
of political and party interventions in the arts have often by
reaction allowed themselves to be unduly intimidated by the
in bourgeois aesthetics and most notably in high modernism, of
one of the age-old functions of art – the pedagogical and the
didactic. The teaching function of art was, however, always stressed
in classical times (even though it there mainly took the form
of moral lessons), while the prodigious and still imperfectly
understood work of Brecht reaffirms, in a new and formally innovative
and original way, for the moment of modernism proper, a complex
new conception of the relationship between culture and pedagogy.
The cultural model I will propose similarly foregrounds the
and pedagogical dimensions of political art and culture, dimensions
stressed in very different ways by both Lukacs and Brecht (for
the distinct moments of realism and modernism, respectively).
We cannot, however, return to aesthetic practices elaborated on
the basis of historical situations and dilemmas which are no longer
ours. Meanwhile, the conception of space that has been developed
here suggests that a model of political culture appropriate to
our own situation will necessarily have to raise spatial issues
as its fundamental organising concern. I will therefore provisionally
define the aesthetic of this new (and hypothetical) cultural form
as an aesthetic of cognitive mapping.
In a classic work, The Image of the City, Kevin Lynch taught us
that the alienated city is above all a space in which people are
unable to map (in their minds) either their own positions or the
urban totality in which they find themselves: grids such as those
of Jersey City, in which none of the traditional markers (monuments,
nodes, natural boundaries, built perspectives) obtain, are the
most obvious examples. Disalienation in the traditional city,
then, involves the practical reconquest of a sense of place and
the construction or reconstruction of an articulated ensemble
which can be retained in memory and which the individual subject
can map and remap along the moments of mobile, alternative
Lynch’s own work is limited by the deliberate restriction of his
topic to the problems of city form as such; yet it becomes
suggestive when projected outward onto some of the larger national
and global spaces we have touched on here. Nor should it be too
hastily assumed that his model – while it clearly raises very
central issues of representation as such – is in any way easily
vitiated by the conventional poststructural critiques of the “ideology
of representation” or mimesis. The cognitive map is not
exactly mimetic in that older sense; indeed, the theoretical issues
it poses allow us to renew the analysis of representation on a
higher and much more complex level.
There is, for one thing, a most interesting convergence between
the empirical problems studied by Lynch in terms of city space
and the great Althusserian (and Lacanian) redefinition of ideology
as “the representation of the subject’s Imaginary relationship
to his or her Real conditions of existence.” Surely this
is exactly what the cognitive map is called upon to do in the
narrower framework of daily life in the physical city: to enable
a situational representation on the part of the individual subject
to that vaster and properly unrepresentable totality which is
the ensemble of society’s structures as a whole.
Yet Lynch’s work also suggests a further line of development insofar
as cartography itself constitutes its key mediatory instance. A return
to the history of this science (which is also an art)
shows us that Lynch’s model does not yet, in fact, really correspond
to what will become map-making. Lynch’s subjects are rather clearly
involved in pre-cartographic operations whose results traditionally
are described as itineraries rather than as maps: diagrams organised
around the still subject-centred or existential journey of the
traveller, along which various significant key features are marked
oases, mountain ranges, rivers, monuments, and the like. The
most highly developed form of such diagrams is the nautical itinerary,
the sea chart, or portulans, where coastal features are noted
for the use of Mediterranean navigators who rarely venture out
into the open sea.
Yet the compass at once introduces a new dimension into sea charts,
a dimension that will utterly transform the problematic of the
itinerary and allow us to pose the problem of a genuine cognitive
mapping in a far more complex way. For the new instruments -
compass, sextant, and theodolite – correspond not merely to new
geographic and navigational problems (the difficult matter of
determining longitude, particularly on the curving surface of
the planet, as opposed to the simpler matter of latitude, which
European navigators can still empirically determine by ocular
inspection of the African coast); they also introduce a whole
new coordinate: the relationship to the totality, particularly
as it is mediated by the stars and by new operations like that
of triangulation. At this point, cognitive mapping in the broader
sense comes to require the coordination of existential data (the
empirical position of the subject) with unlived, abstract conceptions
of the geographic totality.
Finally, with the first globe (1490) and the invention of the
Mercator projection at about the same time, yet a third dimension
of cartography emerges, which at once involves what we would today
call the nature of representational codes, the intrinsic structures
of the various media, the intervention, into more naive mimetic
conceptions of mapping, of the whole new fundamental question
of the languages of representation itself, in particular the
(well-nigh Heisenbergian) dilemma of the transfer of curved space
to flat charts. At this point it becomes clear that there can
be no true maps (at the same time it also becomes clear that there
can be scientific progress, or better still, a dialectical advance,
in the various historical moments of map-making).
Transcoding all this now into the very different problematic of
the Althusserian definition of ideology, one would want to make
two points. The first is that the Althusserian concept now allows
us to rethink these specialised geographical and cartographic
issues in terms of social space – in terms, for example, of social
class and national or international context, in terms of the ways
in which we all necessarily also cognitively map our individual
social relationship to local, national, and international class
realities. Yet to reformulate the problem in this way is also
to come starkly up against those very difficulties in mapping
which are posed in heightened and original ways by that very global
space of the postmodernist or multinational moment which has been
under discussion here. These are not merely theoretical issues;
they have urgent practical political consequences, as is evident
from the conventional feelings of First World subjects that
(or “empirically”) they really do inhabit a “postindustrial
society” from which traditional production has disappeared
and in which social classes of the classical type no longer exist
– a conviction which has immediate effects on political praxis.
The second point is that a return to the Lacanian underpinnings
of Althusser’s theory can afford some useful and suggestive
enrichments. Althusser’s formulation remobilises an older and
henceforth classical Marxian distinction between science and ideology
that is not without value for us even today. The existential
– the positioning of the individual subject, the experience of
daily life, the monadic “point of view” on the world
to which we are necessarily, as biological subjects, restricted – is in
Althusser’s formula implicitly opposed to the realm of
abstract knowledge, a realm which, as Lacan reminds us, is never
positioned in or actualised by any concrete subject but rather
by that structural void called le sujet supposé savoir
(the subject supposed to know), a subject-place of knowledge. What is
affirmed is not that we cannot know the world and its
totality in some abstract or “scientific” way. Marxian
“science” provides just such a way of knowing and conceptualising
the world abstractly, in the sense in which, for example, Mandel’s
great book offers a rich and elaborated knowledge of that global
world system, of which it has never been said here that it was
unknowable but merely that it was unrepresentable, which is a
very different matter. The Althusserian formula, in other words,
designates a gap, a rift, between existential experience and scientific
knowledge. Ideology has then the function of somehow inventing
a way of articulating those two distinct dimensions with each
other. What a historicist view of this definition would want
to add is that such coordination, the production of functioning
and living ideologies, is distinct in different historical situations,
and, above all, that there may be historical situations in which
it is not possible at all – and this would seem to be our situation
in the current crisis.
But the Lacanian system is threefold, and not dualistic. To the
Marxian-Althusserian opposition of ideology and science correspond
only two of Lacan’s tripartite functions: the Imaginary and the
Our digression on cartography, however, with its final revelation
of a properly representational dialectic of the codes and capacities
of individual languages or media, reminds us that what has until
now been omitted was the dimension of the Lacanian Symbolic itself.
An aesthetic of cognitive mapping – a pedagogical political culture
which seeks to endow the individual subject with some new heightened
sense of its place in the global system – will necessarily have
to respect this now enormously complex representational dialectic
and invent radically new forms in order to do it justice. This
is not then, clearly, a call for a return to some older kind of
machinery, some older and more transparent national space, or
some more traditional and reassuring perspectival or mimetic enclave:
the new political art (if it is possible at all) will have to
hold to the truth of postmodernism, that is to say, to its fundamental
object – the world space of multinational capital – at the same
time at which it achieves a breakthrough to some as yet unimaginable
new mode of representing this last, in which we may again begin
to grasp our positioning as individual and collective subjects
and regain a capacity to act and struggle which is at present
neutralised by our spatial as well as our social confusion. The
political form of postmodernism, if there ever is any, will have
as its vocation the invention and projection of a global cognitive
mapping, on a social as well as a spatial scale.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Truth theory
Truth can have a variety of meanings, from the state of being
the case, being in accord with a particular fact or reality, being in
accord with the body of real
things, events, actuality, or fidelity to an original or to a standard.
In archaic usage it could be fidelity, constancy or sincerity in
action, character, and utterance.
The term has no single definition yet about which over fifty percent of
professional philosophers and scholars agree, and various theories
and views of truth continue to be debated. There are differing claims
on such questions as what constitutes truth; what things are truthbearers
capable of being true or false; how to define and identify truth; the
roles that revealed and acquired knowledge play; and whether truth is subjective,
relative, objective, or absolute. This article introduces
the various perspectives and claims, both today and throughout history.
Nomenclature and etymology
The English word truth is from Old
English tríewþ, tréowþ,
trýwþ, Middle English trewþe,
cognate to Old High German triuwida, Old
Norse tryggð. Like troth, it is a -th
nominalisation of the adjective true (Old English tréowe).
The English word true is from Old English (West Saxon) (ge)tríewe, tréowe, cognate to Old
Saxon (gi)trûui, Old High German (ga)triuwu (Modern German treu "faithful"), Old
Norse tryggr, Gothic triggws,
all from a Proto-Germanic *trewwj- "having good
faith". Old Norse trú,
"faith, word of honour; religious faith, belief"
(archaic English troth "loyalty, honesty, good
faith", compare Ásatrú).
Thus, 'truth' involves both the quality of "faithfulness, fidelity,
loyalty, sincerity, veracity",
and that of "agreement with fact or reality",
in Anglo-Saxon expressed by sōþ.
All Germanic languages besides English have introduced a
terminological distinction between truth "fidelity" and truth
"factuality". To express "factuality", North Germanic opted
for nouns derived from sanna "to assert, affirm", while
continental West Germanic (German
and Dutch) opted for continuations of wâra "faith, trust,
pact" (cognate to Slavic věra "(religious) faith", but
influenced by Latin verus). Romance languages use
terms following the Latin veritas,
while the Greek aletheia and Slavic pravda have separate etymological origins.
The major theories of truth
The question of what is a proper basis for deciding how words,
symbols, ideas and beliefs may properly be considered true, whether by
a single person or an entire society, is dealt with by the five major
substantive theories introduced below. Each theory presents
perspectives that are widely shared by published scholars.
There also have more recently arisen "deflationary" or "minimalist"
theories of truth based on the idea that the application of a term like
true to a statement does not assert anything significant about
it, for instance, anything about its nature, but that the label
truth is a tool of discourse used to express agreement, to
emphasize claims, or to form certain types of generalizations.
For the truth to correspond it must first be proved by evidence or
an individuals valid opinion, which have similar meaning or context.
This type of theory posits a relationship between thoughts or
statements on the one hand, and things or objects on the other. It is a
traditional model which goes back at least to some of the classical
Greek philosophers such as Socrates,
This class of theories holds that the truth or the falsity of a
representation is determined in principle solely by how it relates to
"things", by whether it accurately describes those "things". An example
of correspondence theory is the statement by the Thirteenth Century
philosopher/theologian Thomas Aquinas: Veritas est adaequatio
rei et intellectus ("Truth is the equation [or adequation] of
things and intellect"), a statement which Aquinas attributed to the
Ninth Century neoplatonist Isaac Israeli.
Aquinas also restated the theory as: “A judgment is said to be true
when it conforms to the external reality” 
Correspondence theory practically operates on the assumption that
truth is a matter of accurately copying what was much later called "objective reality"
and then representing it in thoughts, words and other symbols.
Many modern theorists have stated that this ideal cannot be achieved
independently of some analysis of additional factors.
For example, language plays a role in that all languages have words
that are not easily translatable into another. The German word Zeitgeist
is one such example: one who speaks or understands the language may
"know" what it means, but any translation of the word fails to
accurately capture its full meaning (this is a problem with many
abstract words, especially those derived in agglutinative
languages). Thus, some words add an additional parameter to the
construction of an accurate truth predicate. Among the philosophers
who grappled with this problem is Alfred
Tarski, whose semantic theory is summarized
further below in this article.
Proponents of several of the theories below have gone further to
assert that there are yet other issues necessary to the analysis, such
as interpersonal power struggles, community interactions, personal
biases and other factors involved in deciding what is seen as truth.
For coherence theories in general, truth requires a proper fit of
elements within a whole system. Very often, though, coherence is taken
to imply something more than simple logical consistency; often there is
a demand that the propositions in a coherent system lend mutual
inferential support to each other. So, for example, the completeness
and comprehensiveness of the underlying set of concepts is a critical
factor in judging the validity and usefulness of a coherent system.
A pervasive tenet of coherence theories is the idea that truth is
primarily a property of whole systems of propositions, and can be
ascribed to individual propositions only according to their coherence
with the whole. Among the assortment of perspectives commonly regarded
as coherence theory, theorists differ on the question of whether
coherence entails many possible true systems of thought or only a
single absolute system.
Some variants of coherence theory are claimed to characterize the
essential and intrinsic properties of formal
systems in logic and mathematics.
However, formal reasoners are content to contemplate axiomatically independent
and sometimes mutually contradictory systems side by side, for example,
the various alternative
On the whole, coherence theories have been criticized as lacking
justification in their application to other areas of truth, especially
with respect to assertions about the natural world, empirical
data in general, assertions about practical matters of psychology and
society, especially when used without support from the other major
theories of truth.
Coherence theories distinguish the thought of rationalist
philosophers, particularly of Spinoza, Leibniz, and G.W.F. Hegel, along with the British
philosopher F.H. Bradley.
They have found a resurgence also among several proponents of logical positivism, notably Otto
Neurath and Carl Hempel.
holds that truth is constructed by social processes, is historically
and culturally specific, and that it is in part shaped through the
power struggles within a community. Constructivism views all of our
knowledge as "constructed," because it does not reflect any external
"transcendent" realities (as a pure correspondence theory might hold).
Rather, perceptions of truth are viewed as contingent on convention,
human perception, and social experience. It is believed by
constructivists that representations of physical and biological
reality, including race, sexuality, and gender
are socially constructed.
Giambattista Vico was among the first to
claim that history and culture were man-made. Vico's epistemological
orientation gathers the most diverse rays and unfolds in one
axiom – verum ipsum factum – "truth itself is
constructed". Hegel and Marx
were among the other early proponents of the premise that truth is, or
can be, socially constructed. Marx, like many critical theorists who
followed, did not reject the existence of objective truth but rather
distinguished between true knowledge and knowledge that has been
distorted through power or ideology. For Marx scientific and true
knowledge is 'in accordance with the dialectical understanding of
history' and ideological knowledge 'an epiphenomenal expression of the
relation of material forces in a given economic arrangement'.
holds that truth is whatever is agreed upon, or in some versions, might
come to be agreed upon, by some specified group. Such a group might
include all human beings, or a subset
thereof consisting of more than one person.
Among the current advocates of consensus theory as a useful
accounting of the concept of "truth" is the philosopher Jürgen Habermas.
Habermas maintains that truth is what would be agreed upon in an ideal speech situation.
Among the current strong critics of consensus theory is the philosopher
The three most influential forms of the pragmatic theory of truth
were introduced around the turn of the 20th century by Charles Sanders Peirce, William
James, and John Dewey.
Although there are wide differences in viewpoint among these and other
proponents of pragmatic theory, they hold in common that truth is
verified and confirmed by the results of putting one's concepts into
defines truth as follows: "Truth is that concordance of an abstract
statement with the ideal limit towards which endless investigation
would tend to bring scientific belief, which concordance the abstract
statement may possess by virtue of the confession of its inaccuracy and
one-sidedness, and this confession is an essential ingredient of truth."
This statement emphasizes Peirce's view that ideas of approximation,
incompleteness, and partiality, what he describes elsewhere as fallibilism
and "reference to the future", are essential to a proper conception of
truth. Although Peirce uses words like concordance and correspondence
to describe one aspect of the pragmatic sign
relation, he is also quite explicit in saying that definitions of
truth based on mere correspondence are no more than nominal
definitions, which he accords a lower status than real
version of pragmatic theory, while complex, is often summarized by his
statement that "the 'true' is only the expedient in our way of
thinking, just as the 'right' is only the expedient in our way of
By this, James meant that truth is a quality the value of which is
confirmed by its effectiveness when applying concepts to actual
practice (thus, "pragmatic").
less broadly than James but more broadly than Peirce, held that
inquiry, whether scientific, technical, sociological, philosophical or
cultural, is self-corrective over time if openly submitted for
testing by a community of inquirers in order to clarify, justify,
refine and/or refute proposed truths.
A number of philosophers reject the thesis that the concept or term truth
refers to a real property of sentences or propositions. These
philosophers are responding, in part, to the common use of truth
(e.g., that some particular thing "...is true") which was particularly
prevalent in philosophical discourse on truth in the first half of the
20th century. From this point of view, to assert the proposition “'2 +
2 = 4' is true” is logically equivalent to asserting the proposition “2
+ 2 = 4”, and the phrase “is true” is completely dispensable in this
and every other context. These positions are broadly described
- as deflationary theories of truth, since they attempt to
deflate the presumed importance of the words "true" or truth,
- as disquotational theories, to draw attention to the
disappearance of the quotation marks in cases like the above example, or
- as minimalist theories of truth.
Whichever term is used, deflationary theories can be said to hold in
common that "[t]he predicate 'true' is an expressive convenience, not
the name of a property requiring deep analysis."
Once we have identified the truth predicate's formal features and
utility, deflationists argue, we have said all there is to be said
about truth. Among the theoretical concerns of these views is to
explain away those special cases where it does appear that the
concept of truth has peculiar and interesting properties. (See, e.g., Semantic paradoxes,
In addition to highlighting such formal aspects of the predicate "is
true", some deflationists point out that the concept enables us to
express things that might otherwise require infinitely long sentences.
For example, one cannot express confidence in Michael's accuracy by
asserting the endless sentence:
- Michael says, 'snow is white' and snow is white, or he says
'roses are red' and roses are red or he says ... etc.
This assertion can also be succinctly expressed by saying: What
Michael says is true.
Performative theory of truth
Attributed to P. F. Strawson is the performative theory
of truth which holds that to say "'Snow is white' is true" is to
perform the speech act
of signaling one's agreement with the claim that snow is white (much
like nodding one's head in agreement). The idea that some statements
are more actions than communicative statements is not as odd as it may
seem. Consider, for example, that when the bride says "I do" at the
appropriate time in a wedding, she is performing the act of taking this
man to be her lawful wedded husband. She is not describing
herself as taking this man, but actually doing so (perhaps the most
thorough analysis of such "perlocutionary" statements is J.
L. Austin, "How to Do
Things With Words").
Strawson holds that a similar analysis is applicable to all speech
acts, not only to special perlocutionary ones: "To say a statement is
true is not to make a statement about a statement, but rather to
perform the act of agreeing with, accepting, or endorsing a statement.
When one says 'It's true that it's raining,' one asserts no more than
'It's raining.' The function of [the statement] 'It's true that...' is
to agree with, accept, or endorse the statement that 'it's raining.'"
According to the redundancy theory of truth,
asserting that a statement is true is completely equivalent to
asserting the statement itself. For example, making the assertion that
" 'Snow is white' is true" is equivalent to asserting "Snow is
Redundancy theorists infer from this premise that truth is a redundant
concept; that is, it is merely a word that is traditionally used in
conversation or writing, generally for emphasis, but not a word that
actually equates to anything in reality. This theory is commonly
attributed to Frank P. Ramsey, who held that the use of
words like fact and truth was nothing but a roundabout
way of asserting a proposition, and that treating these words as
separate problems in isolation from judgment was merely a "linguistic
A variant of redundancy theory is the disquotational theory which
uses a modified form of Tarski's schema: To say that '"P" is true' is to say that P.
Yet another version of deflationism is the prosentential
theory of truth, first developed by Dorothy Grover, Joseph Camp,
and Nuel Belnap
as an elaboration of Ramsey's claims. They argue that sentences like
"That's true", when said in response to "It's raining", are prosentences, expressions that merely repeat
the content of other expressions. In the same way that it means
the same as my dog in the sentence My dog was hungry, so I
fed it, That's true is supposed to mean the same as It's
— if you say the latter and I then say the former. These variations do
not necessarily follow Ramsey in asserting that truth is not a
property, but rather can be understood to say that, for instance, the
assertion "P" may well involve a substantial truth, and the theorists
in this case are minimalizing only the redundancy or prosentence
involved in the statement such as "that's true."
Deflationary principles do not apply to representations that are not
analogous to sentences, and also do not apply to many other things that
are commonly judged to be true or otherwise. Consider the analogy
between the sentence "Snow is white" and the character named Snow
White, both of which can be true in some sense. To a minimalist, saying
"Snow is white is true" is the same as saying "Snow is white," but to
say "Snow White is true" is not the same as saying "Snow White."
Several of the major theories of truth hold that there is a
particular property the having of which makes a belief or proposition
true. Pluralist theories of truth assert that there may be more than
one property that makes propositions true: ethical propositions might
be true by virtue of coherence. Propositions about the physical world
might be true by corresponding to the objects and properties they are
Some of the pragmatic theories, such as those by Charles Peirce and William
James, included aspects of correspondence, coherence and
Crispin Wright argued in his 1992 book Truth
that any predicate which satisfied certain platitudes about truth
qualified as a truth predicate. In some discourses, Wright argued, the
role of the truth predicate might be played by the notion of
Michael Lynch, in a 2009 book Truth
as One and Many,
argued that we should see truth as a functional property capable of
being multiply manifested in distinct properties like correspondence or
Most believed theories
According to a survey of professional philosophers and others on
their philosophical views which was carried out in November 2009 (taken
by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and/or
PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students) 44.9% of respondents accept
or lean towards correspondence theories, 20.7% accept or lean towards
deflationary theories and 13.8% epistemic theories.
Truth in logic
is concerned with the patterns in reason
that can help tell us if a proposition
is true or not. However, logic does not deal with truth in the absolute
sense, as for instance a metaphysician
does. Logicians use formal languages to express the truths
which they are concerned with, and as such there is only truth under
some interpretation or truth within some
A logical truth (also called an analytic truth or a necessary truth)
is a statement which is true in all possible worlds
or under all possible interpretations, as contrasted to a fact
(also called a synthetic claim or a contingency) which
is only true in this world
as it has historically unfolded. A proposition such as “If p and q,
then p.” is considered to be logical truth because it is true because
of the meaning of the symbols and words in it and not because of any
facts of any particular world. They are such that they could not be
Truth in mathematics
There are two main approaches to truth in mathematics. They are the model
theory of truth and the proof
theory of truth.
Historically, with the nineteenth century development of Boolean algebra
mathematical models of logic began to treat "truth", also represented
as "T" or "1", as an arbitrary constant. "Falsity" is also an arbitrary
constant, which can be represented as "F" or "0". In propositional logic,
these symbols can be manipulated according to a set of axioms and rules of inference,
often given in the form of truth
In addition, from at least the time of Hilbert's program at the turn of the
twentieth century to the proof of Gödel's theorem and the development
of the Church-Turing thesis
in the early part of that century, true statements in mathematics were
generally assumed to be those statements which are provable in a formal
The works of Kurt Gödel, Alan
Turing, and others shook this assumption, with the development of
statements that are true but cannot be proven within the system.
Two examples of the latter can be found in Hilbert's problems. Work on Hilbert's 10th
problem led in the late twentieth century to the construction of
specific Diophantine equations
for which it is undecidable whether they have a solution,
or even if they do, whether they have a finite or infinite number of
solutions. More fundamentally, Hilbert's first
problem was on the continuum hypothesis.
Gödel and Paul Cohen showed that this
hypothesis cannot be proved or disproved using the standard axioms of set
theory and a finite number of proof steps.
In the view of some, then, it is equally reasonable to take either the
continuum hypothesis or its negation as a new axiom.
Semantic theory of truth
The semantic theory of truth has as
its general case for a given language:
- 'P' is true if and only if P
where 'P' is a reference to the sentence (the sentence's name), and
P is just the sentence itself.
Logician and philosopher Alfred
Tarski developed the theory for formal languages (such as formal logic). Here he restricted it in this
way: no language could contain its own truth predicate, that is, the
expression is true could only apply to sentences in some other
language. The latter he called an object language,
the language being talked about. (It may, in turn, have a truth
predicate that can be applied to sentences in still another language.)
The reason for his restriction was that languages that contain their
own truth predicate will contain paradoxical sentences like the Liar: This
sentence is not true. See The
As a result Tarski held that the semantic theory could not be applied
to any natural language, such as English, because they contain their
own truth predicates. Donald Davidson used it as
the foundation of his truth-conditional semantics
and linked it to radical interpretation in a form of
is credited with noticing the existence of such paradoxes even in the
best symbolic formalizations of mathematics in his day, in particular
the paradox that came to be named after him, Russell's paradox. Russell and Whitehead attempted to solve these
problems in Principia Mathematica by putting
statements into a hierarchy of types,
a statement cannot refer to itself, but only to statements
lower in the hierarchy. This in turn led to new orders of difficulty
regarding the precise natures of types and the structures of
conceptually possible type
systems that have yet to be resolved to this day.
Kripke's theory of truth
contends that a natural language can in fact contain its own truth
predicate without giving rise to contradiction. He showed how to
construct one as follows:
- Begin with a subset of sentences of a natural language that
contains no occurrences of the expression "is true" (or "is false"). So
The barn is big is included in the subset, but not " The
barn is big is true", nor problematic sentences such as "This
sentence is false".
- Define truth just for the sentences in that subset.
- Then extend the definition of truth to include sentences that
predicate truth or falsity of one of the original subset of sentences.
So "The barn is big is true" is now included, but not either "This
sentence is false" nor "'The barn is big is true' is true".
- Next, define truth for all sentences that predicate truth or
falsity of a member of the second set. Imagine this process repeated
infinitely, so that truth is defined for The barn is big; then
for "The barn is big is true"; then for "'The barn is big
is true' is true", and so on.
Notice that truth never gets defined for sentences like This
sentence is false,
since it was not in the original subset and does not predicate truth of
any sentence in the original or any subsequent set. In Kripke's terms,
these are "ungrounded." Since these sentences are never assigned either
truth or falsehood even if the process is carried out infinitely,
Kripke's theory implies that some sentences are neither true nor false.
This contradicts the Principle of bivalence:
every sentence must be either true or false. Since this principle is a
key premise in deriving the Liar paradox, the paradox is dissolved.
View of truth as somebody
Expressing the serious view of Christians, especially the Catholic Church, not limited to truth in
matters of religion, Father John
repeatedly states and is frequently quoted as stating (with minor
variations in wording) that "The Truth is not a something. It is a
Somebody. And His Name is Jesus Christ.”
Christians cite the Gospel of John, in which Jesus Christ is quoted as telling Thomas the Apostle that "I am the way,
the truth, and the life."
The Catechism of the Catholic
Church states that "God ... is the truth"
and that "the whole of God's truth" is manifest in His son, Jesus Christ.
"He is the Truth." [emphasis in original]
Ancient Egyptians held "In a hymn to Amon-Re, the creator and sustainer
of the world, Ma’at equates with truth: Thy Mother is Truth, O Amon!"
In Zoroastrian theology, the angel Rashnu, who presides at the "ordeal
court", is truth personified. 
Islamic prophecy projects: "All glory will come after his advent. He
will be the personification of Truth and Uprightness, as if Allah had
descended from the Heaven." (Tazkira, Page 691)
The ancient Greek
origins of the words "true" and "truth" have some consistent
definitions throughout great spans of history that were often
associated with topics of logic, geometry,
induction, and natural philosophy.
ideas about truth are commonly seen as consistent with correspondence
theory. In his Metaphysics,
Aristotle stated: “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not
that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what
is not that it is not, is true”.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy proceeds to say of Aristotle:
Aristotle sounds much more like a genuine correspondence theorist
in the Categories
(12b11, 14b14), where he talks of “underlying things” that make
statements true and implies that these “things” (pragmata) are
logically structured situations or facts (viz., his sitting, his not
sitting). Most influential is his claim in De Interpretatione
(16a3) that thoughts are “likenessess” (homoiosis) of things. Although
he nowhere defines truth in terms of a thought's likeness to a thing or
fact, it is clear that such a definition would fit well into his
overall philosophy of mind.
Very similar statements can also be found in Plato (Cratylus 385b2,
In early Islamic philosophy, Avicenna
(Ibn Sina) defined truth in his Metaphysics of Healing, Book I, Chapter
What corresponds in the mind to what is outside it.
elaborated on his definition of truth in his Metaphysics
Book Eight, Chapter 6:
The truth of a thing is the property of the being of each thing
which has been established in it.
However, this definition is merely a translation of the Latin
translation from the Middle Ages.
A modern translation of the original Arabic text states:
Truth is also said of the veridical belief in the existence [of
Following Avicenna, and also Augustine and Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas stated in his Disputed
Questions on Truth:
A natural thing, being placed between two intellects, is called true
insofar as it conforms to either. It is said to be true with respect to
its conformity with the divine intellect insofar as it fulfills the end
to which it was ordained by the divine intellect... With respect to its
conformity with a human intellect, a thing is said to be true insofar
as it is such as to cause a true estimate about itself.
Thus, for Aquinas, the truth of the human intellect (logical truth)
is based on the truth in things (ontological truth).
Following this, he wrote an elegant re-statement of Aristotle's view in
his Summa I.16.1:
Veritas est adæquatio intellectus et rei.
(Truth is the conformity of the intellect to the things.)
Aquinas also said that real things participate in the act of being
of the Creator
who is Subsistent Being, Intelligence, and Truth. Thus, these beings
possess the light of intelligibility and are knowable. These things
are the foundation of the truth that is found in the human mind, when
it acquires knowledge of things, first through the senses,
then through the understanding and the judgement done by reason.
For Aquinas, human intelligence ("intus", within and "legere",
to read) has the capability to reach the essence
of things because it has a non-material, spiritual
element, although some moral, educational, and other elements might
interfere with its capability.
Immanuel Kant discussed the correspondence
theory of truth
in the following manner, criticizing correspondence theory as circular reasoning.
Truth is said to consist in the agreement of knowledge with the
object. According to this mere verbal definition, then, my knowledge,
in order to be true, must agree with the object. Now, I can only
compare the object with my knowledge by this means, namely, by taking
knowledge of it. My knowledge, then, is to be verified by itself, which
is far from being sufficient for truth. For as the object is external
to me, and the knowledge is in me, I can only judge whether my
knowledge of the object agrees with my knowledge of the object. Such a
circle in explanation was called by the ancients Diallelos.
And the logicians were accused of this fallacy by the sceptics, who
remarked that this account of truth was as if a man before a judicial
tribunal should make a statement, and appeal in support of it to a
witness whom no one knows, but who defends his own credibility by
saying that the man who had called him as a witness is an honourable
According to Kant, the definition of truth as correspondence is a
"mere verbal definition", here making use of Aristotle's distinction
between a nominal definition: a definition in name only, and a real
definition: a definition that shows the true cause or essence
of the term that is being defined. From Kant's account of the history,
the definition of truth as correspondence was already in dispute from
classical times, the "skeptics" criticizing the "logicians" for a form
of circular reasoning, though the extent to which the "logicians"
actually held such a theory is not evaluated.
tried to distance his philosophy from psychology by presenting truth as
being an external self–moving object instead of being related to inner,
subjective thoughts. Hegel's truth is analogous to the mechanics
of a material body in motion under the influence of its own inner
force. "Truth is its own self–movement within itself."
Teleological truth moves itself in the three–step form of dialectical
toward the final goal of perfect, final, absolute truth. For Hegel, the
progression of philosophical truth is a resolution of past oppositions
into increasingly more accurate approximations to absolute truth. Chalybäus used the terms "thesis," "antithesis," and "synthesis"
to describe Hegel's dialectical triplicity. The "thesis" consists of an
incomplete historical movement. To resolve the incompletion, an
"antithesis" occurs which opposes the "thesis." In turn, the
"synthesis" appears when the "thesis" and "antithesis" become reconciled
and a higher level of truth is obtained. This "synthesis" thereby
becomes a "thesis," which will again necessitate an "antithesis,"
requiring a new "synthesis" until a final state is reached as the
result of reason's historical movement. History is the Absolute Spirit
moving toward a goal. This historical progression will finally conclude
itself when the Absolute Spirit understands its own infinite self at
the very end of history. Absolute Spirit will then be the complete
expression of an infinite God.
is a combination or separation of two or more concepts.
If a judgment is to be an expression of knowledge,
it must have a sufficient reason or ground
by which the judgment could be called true. Truth is the reference
of a judgment to something different from itself which is its
sufficient reason (ground). Judgments can have material, formal,
transcendental, or metalogical truth. A judgment has material
truth if its concepts are based on intuitive perceptions that are
generated from sensations. If a judgment has its reason (ground) in
another judgment, its truth is called logical or formal. If a
judgment, of, for example, pure mathematics or pure science, is based
on the forms (space, time, causality) of intuitive, empirical
knowledge, then the judgment has transcendental truth.
When Søren Kierkegaard, as his
character Johannes Climacus, wrote that "Truth is
Subjectivity", he does not advocate for subjectivism
in its extreme form (the theory that something is true simply because
one believes it to be so), but rather that the objective approach to
matters of personal truth cannot shed any light upon that which is most
essential to a person's life. Objective truths are concerned with the
facts of a person's being, while subjective truths are concerned with a
person's way of being. Kierkegaard agrees that objective truths for the
study of subjects like mathematics, science, and history are relevant
and necessary, but argues that objective truths do not shed any light
on a person's inner relationship to existence. At best, these truths
can only provide a severely narrowed perspective that has little to do
with one's actual experience of life.
While objective truths are final and static, subjective truths are
continuing and dynamic. The truth of one's existence is a living,
inward, and subjective experience that is always in the process of
becoming. The values, morals, and spiritual approaches a person adopts,
while not denying the existence of objective truths of those beliefs,
can only become truly known when they have been inwardly appropriated
through subjective experience. Thus, Kierkegaard criticizes all
systematic philosophies which attempt to know life or the truth of
existence via theories and objective knowledge about reality. As
Kierkegaard claims, human truth is something that is continually
occurring, and a human being cannot find truth separate from the
subjective experience of one's own existing, defined by the values and
fundamental essence that consist of one's way of life.
Friedrich Nietzsche believed the
search for truth or 'the will to truth' was a consequence of the will
of philosophers. He thought that truth should be used as long as it
promoted life and the will to power, and he thought untruth was better
than truth if it had this life enhancement as a consequence. As he
wrote in Beyond Good and Evil, "The
falseness of a judgment is to us not necessarily an objection to a
judgment... The question is to what extent it is life-advancing,
life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps even species-breeding..."
(aphorism 4). He proposed the will to power as a truth only
because according to him it was the most life affirming and sincere
perspective one could have.
Robert Wicks discusses Nietzsche's basic view of truth as follows:
Some scholars regard Nietzsche's 1873 unpublished essay, "On Truth
and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense" ("Über Wahrheit und Lüge im
außermoralischen Sinn") as a keystone in his thought. In this
Nietzsche rejects the idea of universal constants, and claims that what
we call "truth" is only "a mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and
anthropomorphisms." His view at this time is that arbitrariness
completely prevails within human experience: concepts originate via the
very artistic transference of nerve stimuli into images; "truth" is
nothing more than the invention of fixed conventions for merely
practical purposes, especially those of repose, security and
Alfred North Whitehead
a British mathematician who became an American philosopher, said:
"There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to
treat them as whole truths that play the devil".
The logical progression or connection of this line of thought is to
conclude that truth can lie, since half-truths
are deceptive and may lead to a false conclusion.
According to Kitaro Nishida,
"knowledge of things in the world begins with the differentiation of
unitary consciousness into knower and known and ends with self and
things becoming one again. Such unification takes form not only in
knowing but in the valuing (of truth) that directs knowing, the willing
that directs action, and the feeling or emotive reach that directs
finds that trying to discuss truth as "absolute truth" is sterile and
that emphasis ought to be placed on "optimal truth". He considers truth
as stemming from the survival imperative of grasping one's environment
physically and intellectually, whereby young children instinctively
seek truth so as to orient themselves in "a strange and powerful
world". The accuracy of their perceived approximation of the truth will
therefore have direct consequences on their ability to deal with their
environment. Fromm can be understood to define truth as a functional
approximation of reality. His vision of optimal truth is described
partly in "Man from Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics"
(1947), from which excerpts are included below.
- the dichotomy between 'absolute = perfect' and 'relative =
imperfect' has been superseded in all fields of scientific thought,
where "it is generally recognized that there is no absolute truth but
nevertheless that there are objectively valid laws and principles".
- In that respect, "a scientifically or rationally valid statement
means that the power of reason is applied to all the available data of
observation without any of them being suppressed or falsified for the
sake of a desired result". The history of science is "a history of
inadequate and incomplete statements, and every new insight makes
possible the recognition of the inadequacies of previous propositions
and offers a springboard for creating a more adequate formulation."
- As a result "the history of thought is the history of an
ever-increasing approximation to the truth. Scientific knowledge is not
absolute but optimal; it contains the optimum of truth attainable in a
given historical period." Fromm furthermore notes that "different
cultures have emphasized various aspects of the truth" and that
increasing interaction between cultures allows for these aspects to
reconcile and integrate, increasing further the approximation to the
Truth, for Michel Foucault,
is problematic when any attempt is made to see truth as an "objective"
quality. He prefers not to use the term truth itself but "Regimes of
Truth". In his historical investigations he found truth to be something
that was itself a part of, or embedded within, a given power structure.
Thus Foucault's view shares much in common with the concepts of Nietzsche.
Truth for Foucault is also something that shifts through various episteme
considered truth to be largely simulated, that is pretending to have
something, as opposed to dissimulation, pretending to not have
something. He took his cue from iconoclasts
who he claims knew that images of God demonstrated the fact that God
did not exist.
Baudrillard wrote in "Precession of the Simulacra":
- The simulacrum is never that which conceals the
truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum
Some examples of simulacra that Baudrillard cited were: that prisons
simulate the "truth" that society is free; scandals (eg, Watergate)
simulate that corruption is corrected; Disney simulates that the U.S.
itself is an adult place. One must remember that though such examples
seem extreme, such extremity is an important part of Baudrillard's
theory. For a less extreme example, consider how movies usually end
with the bad being punished, humiliated, or otherwise failing, thus
affirming for viewers the concept that the good end happily and the bad
unhappily, a narrative which implies that the status quo and
institutionalised power structures are largely legitimate.
Philosopher and theologian Joseph Ratzinger,
before his election as Benedict XVI, commented upon the relationship
of truth with tolerance,
For him, "beyond all particular questions, the real problem lies in the
question of truth."
Ratzinger refers to achievements of the natural sciences
as evidence that human reason has the power to know reality and arrive
at truth. He also argues that "the modern self-limitation of reason"
rooted in Immanuel Kant's philosophy, which views
itself incapable of knowing religion and the human
sciences such as ethics, leads to dangerous pathologies of religion
and pathologies of science.
He thinks that this self-limitation, which "amputates" the mind's
capacity to answer fundamental questions such as man's origin and
purpose, dishonors reason and is contradictory to the modern
acclamation of science, whose basis is the power of reason.
In his book Truth and Tolerance, Ratzinger argued that truth
are identical. And if well understood, according to him, this is "the
surest guarantee of tolerance."
Truth in logic
Theories of truth
- ^ Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, truth, 2005
see Holtzmann's law for the -ww- :
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Zoëga (1910), Northvegr.org
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has "Steadfast in adherence to a commander or friend, to a principle or
cause, to one's promises, faith, etc.; firm in allegiance; faithful,
loyal, constant, trusty; Honest, honourable, upright, virtuous,
trustworthy; free from deceit, sincere, truthful " besides "Conformity
with fact; agreement with reality; accuracy, correctness, verity;
Consistent with fact; agreeing with the reality; representing the thing
as it is; Real, genuine; rightly answering to the description; properly
so called; not counterfeit, spurious, or imaginary."
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(Macmillan, 1969) Prior uses Bertrand Russell's
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widely known under this name.
- ^ Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
Vol.2, "Correspondence Theory of Truth", auth: Arthur N. Prior,
p223-224 Macmillan, 1969)
Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
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for instance, assembled a controversial but quite coherent system in
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debated even today. Similarly, the systems of Leibniz and Spinoza are characteristic systems that are
internally coherent but controversial in terms of their utility and
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- Smart, Ninian (1969), The Religious
Experience of Mankind, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, NY.
- Tarski, A., Logic, Semantics,
Metamathematics: Papers from 1923 to 1938,
J.H. Woodger (trans.), Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 1956. 2nd
edition, John Corcoran (ed.), Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis, IN,
- Wallace, Anthony F.C.
(1966), Religion: An Anthropological View, Random House, New
- Audi, Robert (ed., 1999), The Cambridge
Dictionary of Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,
UK, 1995. 2nd edition, 1999. Cited as CDP.
- Blackburn, Simon (1996), The Oxford
Dictionary of Philosophy, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK,
1994. Paperback edition with new Chronology, 1996. Cited as ODP.
- Runes, Dagobert D. (ed.), Dictionary
of Philosophy, Littlefield, Adams, and Company, Totowa, NJ, 1962.
- Webster's New International Dictionary of the English
Language, Second Edition, Unabridged (1950), W.A. Neilson, T.A.
Knott, P.W. Carhart (eds.), G. & C. Merriam Company, Springfield,
MA. Cited as MWU.
- Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1983),
Frederick C. Mish (ed.), Merriam–Webster Inc., Springfield, MA. Cited
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Social theories are theoretical frameworks which are used to
study and interpret social phenomena within a particular school of
thought. An essential tool used by social scientists,
theories relate to historical debates over the most valid and reliable
methodologies (e.g. positivism and antipositivism), as well as the primacy of
either structure or agency.
Certain social theories attempt to remain strictly scientific,
descriptive, and objective. Conflict theories,
by contrast, present ostensibly normative positions, and often critique
the ideological aspects inherent in conventional, traditional thought.
Тhe origins of social theory are difficult to pinpoint, but debates
frequently return to Ancient Greece (Berberoglu
2005, p. xi). From these foundations in Western philosophy arose Enlightenment social contract theory, sociological
positivism, and modern social science. Today,
'social science' is used as an umbrella term to refer, not just to sociology,
but also to economics, political science, jurisprudence,
and other disciplines. Social theory is accordingly interdisciplinary;
drawing upon ideas from fields as diverse as anthropology
and media studies.
Social theory of an informal nature, or authorship based outside of
academic social and political science, may be referred to instead as "social criticism" or "social commentary". Similarly, "cultural criticism"
may be associated both with formal cultural and literary scholarship, as well as other
non-academic or journalistic forms of writing.
Social theory as a discipline
Harrington discusses the etymology of social theory, stating that
while the term did not exist in any language before the twentieth
century, its origins are ancient and lie in two words; ‘social’ from
the Latin socius and ‘theory’ from the Greek theoria
Social theorising aided the Greeks in making sense of their lives, and
in questioning the value and meaning of things around them.
Social theory as a distinct discipline emerged in the 20th century
and was largely equated with an attitude of critical thinking, based on
rationality, logic and objectivity, and the desire for knowledge
through aposteriori methods of
discovery, rather than apriori methods of tradition.
With this in mind it is easy to link social theory to deeper seated
in relation to the natural sciences
Compared to disciplines within the objective natural sciences --
such as physics
-- social theorists may make less use of the scientific method, and their conclusions
and data can be interpreted more subjectively. While standards of rigor
do exist within quantitative social science methodologies, their
precision is bounded by a degree of uncertainty inherent in human
behavior. However, because experiments in the natural sciences are
necessarily social artifacts,
and social theory treats social artifacts as being constructed, social
theorists posit that even experiments in the natural sciences and their
concomitant results are social constructions. Social theories can
complement research in the natural sciences and vice-versa.
The concept that social theory may supersede certain aspects of the
natural sciences is called the social construction of
Social theory takes knowledge, the manner in which we acquire
knowledge, and the institutions by which knowledge is reified and
disseminated among a human collectivity to be socially constructed. In
effect, the laws of nature can only be derived using social tools
within a social context. According to social theory, the understanding
of natural phenomena is predicated on the understanding of social
phenomena, as the interpretation of natural phenomena is a social
This interpretation of the natural sciences leads to some deeper epistemological
questions. By questioning the methods by which we deem knowledge to be
"objective," we necessarily put into question any scientific knowledge
whatsoever. Social theory does not exist in mutual exclusion to the
natural sciences; one is often complementary to the other. Rather,
social theory calls for natural scientists to examine their
methodologies with a critical eye by situating said methodologies
within a social context.
The earliest proto-social scientific observations are to be found in
the founding texts of Western philosophy (Herodotus,
and so on), as well as in the non-European thought of figures such as Confucius.
Prior to the enlightenment, social theory took largely narrative
and normative form. Expressed as stories and
fables, it may be assumed the pre-socratic philosophers and religious
teachers were the precursors to social theory proper.
Saint Augustine (354 - 430) and St. Thomas Aquinas (circa
1225 - 1274) concerned themselves exclusively with the idea of the just
society. St. Augustine describes late Ancient
Roman society but through a lens of hatred and contempt for what he
saw as false Gods,
and in reaction theorized The City of God.
Similarly, in China, Master
Kong (otherwise known as Confucius)
(551 - 479 BCE) envisaged a just society that went beyond his
contemporary society of the Warring States. Later
on, also in China, Mozi (circa 470 - circa 390 BCE)
recommended a more pragmatic sociology, but ethical at base.
Sociology in medieval Islam
There is evidence of early Muslim
sociology from the 14th
century: Ibn Khaldun, in his Muqaddimah
(later translated as Prolegomena in Latin),
the introduction to a seven volume analysis of universal history, was the first to
advance social philosophy and social science in
formulating theories of social cohesion and social conflict. He is thus considered by
many to be the forerunner of sociology.
During the Age of Enlightenment,
political entities expanded from basic systems of self-governance and
monarchy to the complex democratic and communist systems that exist in
the Industrialized and the Modern Eras. In the 18th century, after Montesquieu's The Spirit
established that social elements influence human nature, the
pre-classical period of social theories developed a new form that
provides the basic ideas for social theory, such as: evolution,
philosophy of history, social life
and social contract, public and general will,
competition in social space, organistic
pattern for social description and so forth. Jean-Jacques Rousseau in this time
played a significant role in social theory. He revealed the origin of inequality,
analyzed the social contract(and social compact) that forms social integration and defined the
social sphere or civil society.
He also emphasized that man has the liberty to change his world, a
revolutionary assertion that made it possible to program and change
The first “modern” social theories (known as classical theories)
that begin to resemble the analytic social theory of today developed
almost simultaneously with the birth of the science of sociology. Auguste
Comte (1798 - 1857), known as the "father of sociology" and
regarded by some as the first philosopher of science,
laid the groundwork for positivism
- as well as structural functionalism and social evolutionism.
In the 19th century three great classical theories of social and
historical change emerged: the social evolutionism
theory (of which Social Darwinism forms a part), the social cycle theory and the Marxist
historical materialism theory.
Another early modern theorist, Herbert Spencer (1820 - 1903), coined the
term "survival of the fittest".
Some Post-Modern social theorists like Shepard Humphries, draw heavily
upon Spencer's work and argue that many of his observations are
timeless (just as relevant in 2008 as 1898). Vilfredo Pareto (1848 - 1923) and Pitirim A. Sorokin
argued that 'history goes in cycles', and presented the social cycle theory to illustrate
their point. Ferdinand Tönnies (1855 - 1936)
made community and society (Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft,
1887) the special topics of the new science of "sociology", both of
them based on different modes of will of social actors.
Most of the 19th century pioneers of social theory and sociology,
like Saint-Simon, Comte, Marx, John Stuart Mill or Spencer, never held
university posts. In this sense they were broadly regarded as philosophers. Emile Durkheim, however,
endeavoured to formally established academic sociology, and did so at
the University of Bordeaux in 1895,
publishing his Rules of the Sociological
Method. In 1896, he established the journal L'Année
Sociologique. Durkheim's seminal monograph, Suicide (1897), a case study of suicide
rates amongst Catholic and Protestant populations, distinguished
sociological analysis from psychology
Many of the classical theories had one common factor: they all
agreed that the history of humanity
is pursuing a certain fixed path. They differed on where that path
would lead: social progress, technological
decline or even fall, etc. Social cycle theorists were much more
skeptical of the Western achievements and technological progress,
however, arguing that progress is but an illusion of the ups and downs
of the historical cycles. The classical approach has been criticized by
many modern sociologists and theorists, among them Karl
Popper, Robert Nisbet, Charles
Tilly and Immanuel Wallerstein.
Marx rejected Comtean positivism but nevertheless aimed to
establish a science of society based on historical materialism,
becoming recognised as a founding figure of sociology posthumously. At
the turn of the 20th century, the first wave of German sociologists,
including Max Weber and Georg
Simmel, developed sociological antipositivism. The field may be broadly
recognised as an amalgam of three modes of social scientific thought in
particular; Durkheimian sociological
positivism and structural functionalism, Marxist
historical materialism and conflict theory, and Weberian antipositivism and verstehen
Much of 19th-century classical social theory has been expanded upon
to create newer, more contemporary social theories such as Multilineal theories of evolution (neoevolutionism, sociobiology,
of post-industrial society) and various strains of Neo-Marxism.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, social theory became most
closely related to academic sociology
while other related studies such as anthropology,
and social work branched out into their own
disciplines. Such subjects as "philosophy of history" and other
such multi-disciplinary subject matter became part of social theory as
taught under sociology.
Attempts to recapture a space for discussion free of disciplines
began in earnest in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The Frankfurt Institute for Social Research
provides the most successful historical example. The Committee on Social Thought at
the University of Chicago followed in
the 1940s. In the 1970s, programs in Social
and Political Thought were established at Sussex and York. Others followed, with various
different emphases and structures, such as Social
Theory and History (University of California, Davis).
programs, notably that of Birmingham University,
extended the concerns of social theory into the domain of culture
and thus anthropology. A chair and undergraduate
program in social theory was established at the University of Melbourne and a
number of universities now specialize in social theory (UC-Santa Cruz is one example). Social theory
at present seems to be gaining more acceptance as a classical academic
In modern times, generally speaking, social theory began to stress
free will, individual choice, subjective reasoning, and the importance
of unpredictable events in place of the classic determinism
– thus social theory become much more complex. Rational Choice
Theory and Symbolic
furnish two examples. Most modern sociologists deem there are no great
unifying 'laws of history', but rather smaller, more specific, and more
complex laws that govern society.
Scholars and historians most commonly hold postmodernism to be a
movement of ideas arising from, but also critical of elements of modernism.
Because of the wide range of uses of the term, different elements of
modernity are chosen as being continuous, and different elements of
modernity are held to be critiqued. Each of the different uses also is
rooted in some argument about the nature of knowledge, known in
philosophy as epistemology.
Individuals who use the term are arguing that either there is something
fundamentally different about the transmission of meaning, or that
modernism has fundamental flaws in its system of knowledge.
The argument for the necessity of the term states that economic and technological conditions of our age have given
rise to a decentralized, media-dominated society in which ideas are simulacra and only inter-referential
representations and copies of each other, with no real original, stable
or objective source for communication
and meaning. Globalization, brought on by innovations in communication,
manufacturing and transportation, is often
cited as one force which has driven the decentralized modern life,
creating a culturally pluralistic and interconnected global society
lacking any single dominant center of political power, communication,
or intellectual production. The postmodern view is that
inter-subjective knowledge, and not objective knowledge is the dominant
form of discourse
under such conditions, and the ubiquity of copies and dissemination
fundamentally alters the relationship between reader and what is read,
between observer and the observed, between those who consume and those
who produce. Not all people who use the term postmodern or
postmodernism see these developments as positive. Users
of the term often argue that
their ideals have arisen as the result of particular economic and social
conditions, including what is described as "late capitalism" and the growth of broadcast
media, and that such conditions have pushed society into a new historical period.
The term "postmodernism" was brought into social theory in 1971 by
the Arab American Theorist Ihab
Hassan in his book: The Dismemberment of Orpheus: Toward a
Postmodern Literature. In 1979 Jean-François Lyotard wrote a
short but influential work The Postmodern Condition: A report on
knowledge. Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, and Roland Barthes were influential in 1970s in
developing postmodern theory.
See post-modern feminism,
postmodernism, and post-structuralism.
Almost all good research is guided by theory. Selecting or creating
appropriate theory for use in examining an issue is thus an important
skill for any researcher. Important distinctions: a theoretical
(or paradigm) is a worldview, the lens through which one organizes
experience (i.e. thinking of human interaction in terms of power or
exchange); a theory is an attempt to explain and predict
behavior in particular contexts. A theoretical orientation cannot be
proven or disproven; a theory can. Having a theoretical orientation
that sees the world in terms of power and control, I could create a
theory about violent human behavior which includes specific causal
statements (e.g. being the victim of physical abuse leads to
psychological problems). This could lead to an hypothesis
(prediction) about what I expect to see in a particular sample, e.g. “a
battered child will grow up to be shy or violent.” I can then test my
hypothesis by looking to see if it is consistent with data in
the real world. I might, for instance, review hospital records to find
children who were abused, then track them down and administer a
personality test to see if they show signs of being violent or shy. The
selection of an appropriate (i.e. useful) theoretical orientation
within which to develop a potentially helpful theory is the bedrock of
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Posthegemony is the theory that the concept of hegemony
can no longer properly describe social order.
Posthegemony finds that ideology is no longer a political driving
force and that the theory of hegemony therefore no longer accurately
reflects the social order: "ideology critique--the analysis of
discourse in search of distortions produced by ideological
operations--is now superfluous."
Posthegemony also finds that history is not, as Karl
Marx described it, a class struggle, but rather a "struggle to
The theory of posthegemony is influenced by the work of theorists
such as Gilles Deleuze, Pierre Bourdieu, and Antonio
Negri. It is also in synch with post-Foucauldian theorists such as Giorgio Agamben.
Nicholas Thoburn, drawing on Agamben's discussion on the "state of
exception," writes that "it is, perhaps, with the recasting of the
relationship between law and politico-military and economic crises and
interventions that is instituted in the state of exception that the
time of hegemony is most revealed to have passed."
Among the criticisms of the theory of posthegemony is Richard
Johnson's, that it involves "a marked reduction of social complexity."
Johnson concedes that "one considerable achievement of ‘the
post-hegemony project’ is to draw many observable post-9/11 features
into a single imaginative picture, while also synthesizing different
currents in contemporary social theory." But he argues that "it is
strange, however, that the result is viewed as the end of hegemony
rather than as a new hegemonic moment."
He therefore calls for a rejuvenation of the concept of hegemony,
rather than its abandonment.
Beasley-Murray, "On Posthegemony," 119.
Beasley-Murray, "On Posthegemony," 120.
Thoburn, "Patterns of Production," 89.
Johnson, "Post-hegemony?" 102.
Johnson, "Post-hegemony?" 102.
- Jon Beasley-Murray, "On Posthegemony." Bulletin of Latin American
Research 22.1 (January 2003): 117-125. 
- Scott Lash. 2007. "Power after Hegemony:
Cultural Studies in Mutation?" Theory, Culture, and Society.
- Nicholas Thoburn, "Patterns of Production: Cultural Studies after
Hegemony." Theory, Culture, and Society 24.3 (2007): 79-94. 
Johnson, "Post-hegemony? I Don't Think So." Theory, Culture, and
Society 24.3 (2007): 95-110. 
- Posthegemony, a blog on "Hegemony, Posthegemony,
and Related Matters"
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jean-François Lyotard (French
pronunciation: [ʒɑ̃ fʀɑ̃swa ljɔˈtaʀ]; 10
August 1924– 21 April 1998) was a French philosopher
and literary theorist. He is well-known for
his articulation of postmodernism
after the late 1970s and the analysis of the impact of postmodernity
on the human condition.
He was born in 1924 in Versailles,
France to Jean-Pierre Lyotard, a sales representative, and Madeleine
Cavalli. He went to primary school at the Paris Lycées
Buffon and Louis-le-Grand and
later began studying philosophy at the Sorbonne.
After graduation, in 1950, he took up a position teaching philosophy in
Constantine in French East Algeria.
Lyotard earned a Ph.D in literature. He married twice: in 1948 to Andrée May,
with whom he had two daughters, and for a second time in 1993 to the
mother of his son, who was born in 1986.
In 1954 Lyotard became a member of Socialisme ou Barbarie, a French
political organisation formed in 1948 around the inadequacy of the Trotskyist
analysis to explain the new forms of domination in the Soviet Union.
His writings in this period are mostly concerned with ultra-left
politics, with focus on the Algerian situation which he witnessed first
hand while teaching philosophy in Constantine. 
Socialisme ou Barbarie became increasingly anti-Marxist and Lyotard was prominent in the Pouvoir
Ouvrier, a group that rejected the position and split in 1963. 
In the early 1970s Lyotard began teaching at the University of
Vincennes until 1987 when he became Professor Emeritus. During the next
two decades he lectured outside of France, notably as a Professor of
Critical Theory at the University of California,
Irvine and as visiting professor at universities around the world
including Johns Hopkins, Berkeley, Yale and the University of California,
San Diego in the U.S., the Université de Montréal
in Québec (Canada), and the University of São Paulo in
Brazil. He was also a founding director and council member of the Collège
International de Philosophie, Paris. Before his death, he split his
time between Paris and Atlanta, where he taught at Emory University as the Woodruff
Professor of Philosophy and French.
Later life and death
Lyotard repeatedly returned to the notion of the Postmodern in
essays gathered in English as The
Postmodern Explained to Children, Toward
the Postmodern, and Postmodern
In 1998, while preparing for a conference on Postmodernism and Media
Theory, he died unexpectedly from a case of leukemia that had advanced
rapidly. He is buried in Le Père
Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
Lyotard's work is characterised by a persistent opposition to
universals, meta-narratives, and
generality. He is fiercely critical of many of the 'universalist'
claims of the Enlightenment,
and several of his works serve to undermine the fundamental principles
that generate these broad claims.
In his writings of the early 1970s, he rejects what he regards as
theological underpinnings of both Marx and Freud: "In Freud, it is
judaical, critical sombre (forgetful of the political); in Marx it is
catholic. Hegelian, reconciliatory (...) in the one and in the other
the relationship of the economic with meaning is blocked in the
category of representation (...) Here a politics, there a therapeutics,
in both cases a laical theology, on top of the arbitrariness and the
roaming of forces".
Consequently he rejected Adorno's
negative dialectics which he regarded as seeking a "therapeutic
resolution in the framework of a religion, here the religion of
In Lyotard's "libidinal economics" (the title of one of his books of
that time), he aimed at "discovering and describing different social
modes of investment of libidinal intensities".
The collapse of the
Most famously, in La Condition postmoderne: Rapport sur
le savoir (The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge)
(1979), he proposes what he calls an extreme simplification of the
"postmodern" as an 'incredulity towards meta-narratives'.
These meta-narratives - sometimes 'grand narratives' - are grand,
large-scale theories and philosophies of the world, such as the
progress of history, the knowability of everything by science, and the
possibility of absolute freedom. Lyotard argues that we
have ceased to believe that narratives of this kind are adequate to
represent and contain us all. We have become alert to difference,
diversity, the incompatibility of our aspirations, beliefs and desires,
and for that reason postmodernity is characterised by an abundance of
micronarratives. For this concept Lyotard draws from the notion of 'language-games' found
in the work of Wittgenstein.
In Lyotard's works, the term 'language games', sometimes also called
'phrase regimens', denotes the multiplicity of communities of meaning,
the innumerable and incommensurable separate systems in which meanings
are produced and rules for their circulation are created.
This becomes more crucial in Au juste: Conversations (Just Gaming)
(1979) and Le Différend (The Differend)
(1983), which develop a postmodern theory of justice. It might appear
that the atomisation of human beings implied by the notion of the
micronarrative and the language game suggests a collapse of ethics. It
has often been thought that universality is a condition for something
to be a properly ethical statement: 'thou shalt not steal' is an
ethical statement in a way that 'thou shalt not steal from Margaret' is
not. The latter is too particular to be an ethical statement (what's so
special about Margaret?); it is only ethical if it rests on a universal
statement ('thou shalt not steal from anyone'). But universals are
impermissible in a world that has lost faith in metanarratives, and so
it would seem that ethics is impossible. Justice and injustice can only
be terms within language games, and the universality of ethics is out
of the window. Lyotard argues that notions of justice and injustice do
in fact remain in postmodernism. The new definition of injustice is
indeed to use the language rules from one 'phrase regimen' and apply
them to another. Ethical behaviour is about remaining alert precisely
to the threat of this injustice, about paying attention to things in
their particularity and not enclosing them within abstract
conceptuality. One must bear witness to the 'differend.'
"I would like to call a differend the case where the plantiff is
divested of the means to argue and becomes for that reason a victim. If
the addressor, the addressee, and the sense of the testimony are
neutralized, everything takes place as if there were no damages. A case
of differend between two parties takes place when the regulation of the
conflict that opposes them is done in the idiom of one of the parties
while the wrong suffered by the other is not signified in that idiom." 
Lyotard was a frequent writer on aesthetic matters. He was, despite his
reputation as a postmodernist, a great promoter of modernist art.
Lyotard saw 'postmodernism' as a latent tendency within thought
throughout time and not a narrowly-limited historical period. He
favoured the startling and perplexing works of the high modernist
avant-garde. In them he found a demonstration of the limits of our
conceptuality, a valuable lesson for anyone too imbued with
Enlightenment confidence. Lyotard has written extensively also on few
contemporary artists of his choice: Valerio
Adami, Daniel Buren, Marcel Duchamp, Bracha Ettinger and Barnett Newman, as well as on Paul Cézanne and Wassily Kandinsky.
He developed these themes in particular by discussing the sublime.
The "sublime" is a term in aesthetics whose fortunes revived under
postmodernism after a century or more of neglect. It refers to the
experience of pleasurable anxiety that we experience when confronting
wild and threatening sights like, for example, a massive craggy
mountain, black against the sky, looming terrifyingly in our vision.
Lyotard found particularly interesting the explanation of the
sublime offered by Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Judgment (sometimes Critique
of the Power of Judgment).
In this book Kant explains this mixture of anxiety and pleasure in the
following terms: there are two kinds of 'sublime' experience. In the
'mathematically' sublime, an object strikes the mind in such a way that
we find ourselves unable to take it in as a whole. More precisely, we
experience a clash between our reason (which tells us that all objects
are finite) and the imagination (the aspect of the mind that organises
what we see, and which sees an object incalculably larger than
ourselves, and feels infinite). In the 'dynamically' sublime, the mind
recoils at an object so immeasurably more powerful than we, whose
weight, force, scale could crush us without the remotest hope of our
being able to resist it. (Kant stresses that if we are in actual
danger, our feeling of anxiety is very different from that of a sublime
feeling. The sublime is an aesthetic experience, not a practical
feeling of personal danger.) This explains the feeling of anxiety.
The feeling of pleasure comes when human reason asserts itself.
What is deeply unsettling about the mathematically sublime is that the
mental faculties that present visual perceptions to the mind are
inadequate to the concept corresponding to it; in other words, what we
are able to make ourselves see cannot fully match up to what we know is
there. We know it's a mountain but we cannot take the whole thing into
our perception. What this does, ironically, is to compel our awareness
of the supremacy of the human reason.
Our sensibility is incapable of coping with such sights, but our reason
can assert the finitude of the presentation. With the dynamically
sublime, our sense of physical danger should prompt an awareness that
we are not just physical material beings, but moral and (in Kant's
beings as well. The body may be dwarfed by its power but our reason
need not be. This explains, in both cases, why the sublime is an
experience of pleasure as well as pain.
Lyotard is fascinated by this admission, from one of the
philosophical architects of the Enlightenment, that the mind cannot
always organise the world rationally. Some objects are simply incapable
of being brought neatly under concepts. For Lyotard, in Lessons
on the Analytic of the Sublime, but drawing on his argument in The
this is a good thing. Such generalities as 'concepts' fail to pay
proper attention to the particularity of things. What happens in the
sublime is a crisis where we realise the inadequacy of the imagination
and reason to each other. What we are witnessing, says Lyotard, is
actually the differend; the straining of the mind at the edges of
itself and at the edges of its conceptuality.
Some argue that Lyotard's theories may seem self-contradictory
because The Postmodern Condition
seems to offer its own grand narrative in the story of the decline of
the metanarrative. Against this it can be argued that Lyotard's
narrative in The Postmodern Condition declares the decline of
only a few defunct "narratives of legitimation" and not of narrative
knowledge itself. It is not logically contradictory to say that a
statement about narratives is itself a narrative, just as when Lyotard
states that "every utterance [in a language game] should be thought of
as a 'move' in a game"
his statement is itself a 'move' in a language game.
See also the critical analysis of David Harvey
in his book 'The Condition of Postmodernity' (Blackwell, 1989).
Harvey's materialistic perspective finds traits of postmodernity to be
rooted in the large-scale shifts from Fordist to flexible accumulation
through a period of pronounced 'time-space compression'
taking place in conjunction with the technological advances happening
roughly around the 1970s. Far from being liberating, postmodernity
draws us into ever more chaotic and disruptive spirals of accumulation
that are ultimately as damaging as the Enlightenment project.
An international symposium about Jean-François
Lyotard organized by the Collège International de
Philosophie was held in Paris on January, 25-27th 2007.
- “Adorno as the Devil”. Telos 19 (Spring
1974). New York: Telos Press.
Lyotard, Jean-François (1993). "The
Name of Algeria" in Political Writings. UCL Press. pp. 165–170.
Claude (1977). "An Interview". Telos (30): 177.
(1974). "Adorno as the Devil". Telos (19): 134–5.
(1974). "Adorno as the Devil". Telos (19): 126.
Hurley, Robert (1974). "Introduction
to Lyotard". Telos (19): 124.
Lyotard, Jean-François (1979). La
Condition Postmoderne: Rapport sur le Savoir. Les Editions de
Minuit. pp. 7.
Lyotard, Jean-François (1988). The
Differend: Phrases in Dispute. University of Minnesota Press.
Lyotard, Jean-François (1979). La
Condition Postmoderne: Rapport sur le Savoir. Les Editions de
Minuit. pp. 23. , English version at 
Lewis, Jeff Cultural Studies, (London: Sage, 2008).
Lyotard, J-F, Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime, trans.
Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994).
Paul de Man
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Paul de Man (December 6, 1919 – December 21, 1983) was a Belgian-born
deconstructionist literary critic and theorist.
He began teaching at Bard
College. Later, he completed his Ph.D. at Harvard University in the late 1950s.
He then taught at Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University, and the
University of Zurich, before ending
up on the faculty in French and Comparative Literature at Yale University, where he was considered
part of the Yale School of
deconstruction. At the time of his death from cancer, he was Sterling Professor of the Humanities at
Yale. After his death, the discovery of some two hundred articles he
wrote during World War II for collaborationist newspapers, including
one explicitly anti-Semitic, caused a
scandal and provoked a reconsideration of his life and work. De Man
oversaw the dissertations of both Gayatri Spivak and Barbara Johnson.
In 1966, de Man met Jacques Derrida at a conference at Johns
Hopkins University on structuralism
during which Derrida first delivered his essay "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the
Human Sciences". The two became close friends and colleagues. De
Man elaborated a distinct deconstruction in his philosophically-oriented
literary criticism of Romanticism,
both English Romanticism and German Romanticism, with particular
attention to William Wordsworth, John
Keats, Maurice Blanchot, Marcel
Proust, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche, Immanuel
Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, Walter Benjamin, William Butler Yeats, Friedrich Hoelderlin
and Rainer Maria Rilke.
While de Man's work in the 1960s is normally distinguished from his
deconstructive work in the 1970s, there is considerable continuity. His
1967 essay "Criticism and Crisis" argues that because literary works
are understood to be fictions rather than factual accounts, they
exemplify the break between a sign
and its meaning:
literature "means" nothing, but critics resist this insight because it
lays bare "the nothingness of human matters" (de Man quoting Rousseau,
one of his favorite authors). De Man would later observe that, due to
this resistance to acknowledging that literature does not "mean",
English departments had become "large organizations in the service of
everything except their own subject matter" ("The Return to
Philology"), as the study of literature became the art of applying psychology,
or other disciplines to the literary text, in an effort to make the
text "mean" something.
Among the central threads running through de Man's work is his
attempt to tease out the tension between rhetoric (which in de Man's
usage tends to mean figural
language and trope)
and meaning, seeking out moments in the text where linguistic forces
"tie themselves into a knot which arrests the process of understanding."
De Man's earlier essays from the 1960s, collected in Blindness and
represent an attempt to seek out these paradoxes
in the texts of New Criticism and move beyond formalism. One of De Man's central topoi
is of the blindness on which these critical readings are predicated,
that the "insight seems instead to have been gained from a negative
movement that animates the critic's thought, an unstated principle that
leads his language away from its asserted stand...as if the very
possibility of assertion had been put into question."
Here de Man attempts to undercut the notion of the poetic work as a
unified, atemporal icon, a self-possessed repository of meaning freed
from the intentionalist
and affective fallacies. In de Man's argument, formalist and New
Critical valorization of the "organic" nature of poetry is ultimately
self-defeating: the notion of the verbal icon is undermined by the
irony and ambiguity inherit within it. Form ultimately acts as "both a
creator and undoer of organic totalities," and "the final
insight...annihilated the premises which led up to it."
In Allegories of Reading,
Man further explores the tensions arising in figural language in
Nietzsche, Rousseau, Rilke, and Proust. In these essays, he
concentrates on crucial passages which have a metalinguistic function or metacritical
implications, particularly those where figural language has a
dependency on classical philosophical oppositions (essence/accident,
synchronic/diachronic, appearance/reality) which are
so central to Western discourse. Many of the essays in this volume
attempt to undercut figural
totalization, the notion that one can control or dominate a
discourse or phenomenon through metaphor.
In de Man's discussion of Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy, for
instance, he claims that genetic conceptions of history appearing in
the text are undercut by the rhetorical
strategies Nietzsche employs: "the deconstruction does not occur
between statements, as in a logical refutation or a dialectic, but
happens instead between, on the one hand, metalinguistic statements
about the rhetorical nature of language and, on the other hand, a
rhetorical praxis that puts these statements into
For de Man, an "Allegory of Reading" emerges when texts are subjected
to such scrutiny and reveal this tension; a reading wherein the text
reveals its own assumptions about language, and in so doing dictates a
statement about undecidability, the difficulties inherent in
totalization, their own readability, or the "limitations of textual
De Man is also known for subtle readings of English and German romantic
and post-romantic poetry and philosophy (The Rhetoric of Romanticism)
and concise and deeply ironic essays of a quasi-programmatic
theoretical orientation. Specifically noteworthy is his critical
dismantling of the Romantic ideology and the linguistic assumptions
which underlie it. His arguments follow roughly as follows. First, de
Man seeks to deconstruct the privileged claims in Romanticism of symbol
In his reading, because of the implication of self-identity
and wholeness which is inherent in the Romantics' conception of
metaphor, when this self-identity decomposes, so also does the means of
overcoming the dualism between subject and object,
which Romantic metaphor sought to transcend. In de Man's reading, to
compensate for this inability, Romanticism constantly relies on
allegory to attain the wholeness established by the totality of the
In addition, in his essay "The Resistance to Theory", which
explores the task and philosophical bases of literary theory, de Man uses the example
of the classical trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and
logic to argue that the use of linguistic sciences in literary theory
and criticism (i.e. a structuralist
approach) was able to harmonize the logical and grammatical dimension
of literature, but only at the expense of effacing the rhetorical
elements of texts which presented the greatest interpretive demands. He
posits that the resistance to theory is the resistance to reading, thus
the resistance to theory is theory itself. Or the resistance to theory
is what constitutes the possibility and existence of theory. Taking up
the example of the title of Keats' poem The Fall of Hyperion,
de Man draws out an irreducible interpretive undecidability which bears
strong affinities to the same term in Derrida's work and some
similarity to the notion of incommensurability as developed by Jean-François Lyotard in The Postmodern Condition and The
De Man argues forcefully that the recurring motive of theoretical
readings is to subsume these decisions under theoretical, futile
generalizations, which are displaced in turn into harsh polemics
Influence and legacy
De Man followed developments in contemporary French
literature, criticism, and theory. De Man's influence on literary
criticism was considerable for many years, in no small part through his
many influential students. He was a very charismatic teacher and
influenced both students and fellow faculty members profoundly.
Much of de Man's work was collected or published posthumously. The
Resistance to Theory was virtually complete at the time of his
previously a colleague at Yale, edited the works already published
which were to appear in a planned volume with the tentative title Aesthetic
and anti-Semitic writing
After de Man's death, some two hundred articles he wrote during
World War II for a collaborationist Belgian newspaper Le Soir
were discovered by Ortwin de Graef, a Belgian student researching de
Man's early life and work.
de Graef contacted Samuel Weber who, in turn, consulted Derrida.
Derrida would later arrange for the collection and publication of de
Man's war time journalism.
In one piece, titled “Jews in Contemporary Literature,” de Man examined
the way "[v]ulgar anti-semitism willingly takes pleasure in considering
post-war cultural phenomenon (after the war of 14-18) as degenerate and
decadent because they are [enjewished]."
He notes that "Literature does not escape this lapidary judgement: it
is sufficient to discover a few Jewish writers under Latinized
pseudonyms for all contemporary production to be considered polluted
and evil. This conception entails rather dangerous consequences... it
would be a rather unflattering appreciation of western writers to
reduce them to being mere imitators of a Jewish culture which is
foreign to them."
The article continued to claim that contemporary literature had not
broken from tradition as a result of the First World War and that "the
Jews cannot claim to have been its creators, nor even to have exercised
a preponderant influence over its development. On any closer
examination, this influence appears to have extraordinarily little
importance since one might have expected that, given the specific
characteristics of the Jewish Spirit, the later would have played a
more brilliant role in this artistic production."
The article concluded that “our civilization... [b]y keeping, in spite
of semitic interference in all aspects of European life, an intact
originality and character... has shown that its basic character is
healthy." It concluded that "the creation of a Jewish colony isolated
from Europe" as “a solution to the Jewish problem”
(probably referring to a suggested Jewish colony in Madagascar,
but not to Hitler's Final Solution, which was not widely known
at this early period) would lack any "deplorable consequences" for "the
literary life of the west."
This is the only known article in which de Man pronounced such
views. At the time de Man published the article, March 1941, Belgium
had passed anti-Jewish legislation that expelled Jews from the
professions of law, teaching, government service, and journalism. On
August 4, 1942, the first trainload of Belgian Jews left Brussels
for Auschwitz. De Man continued
to write for the (during the war) Nazi-controlled
newspaper Le Soir until November 1942, although it is
unlikely he was aware of what was happening to the Jews in Auschwitz.
Subsequently, several facts that have come to light rendered any
sweeping Anti-semitic allegations questionable: "...in 1942 or 1943,
about a year after the journalistic publication of his compromising
statement, he and his wife sheltered for several days in their
apartment the Jewish pianist Esther Sluszny and her husband, who were
then illegal citizens in hiding from the Nazis. During this same
period, de Man was meeting regularly with Georges Goriely, a member of
the Belgian Resistance. According to Goriely's own testimony, he never
for one minute feared denunciation of his underground activities by
Paul de Man."
It is intriguing as well that De Man's example in "Jews and
Contemporary Literature" of a solidly "European" contemporary author is
Kafka, though there is no way to determine whether he was privately
aware of Kafka's Jewish ancestry.
The discovery of de Man's wartime writing made the front page of the
New York Times,
and angry debate followed. Jeffrey Mehlman, a professor of French at Boston University,
declared there were “grounds for viewing the whole of deconstruction as
a vast amnesty project for the politics of collaboration during World
while Derrida published a long piece responding to critics, declaring
that “To judge, to condemn the work or the man on the basis of what was
a brief episode, to call for closing, that is to say, at least
figuratively, for censuring or burning his books is to reproduce the
exterminating gesture which one accuses de Man of not having armed
himself against sooner with the necessary vigilance. It is not even to
draw a lesson that he, de Man, learned to draw from the war.”
That seemed to some readers to draw an objectionable connection between
criticism of de Man and extermination of the Jews.
Derrida, a Jew himself, however, does not refrain from condemning de
Man's wartime writings.
In addition to the debate over the significance of de Man’s wartime
writings, there was also a debate over the fact that he had not
publicly declared his wartime writings throughout the thirty-five years
of his life in America. However, it has since come to light that in
1955, while de Man was at Harvard, there was an anonymous denunciation
concerning his activity in Belgium during the war. de Man explained
himself in a letter to the Head of the Society of Fellows: "In 1940 and
1941 I wrote some literary articles in the newspaper "Le Soir" and I,
like most of the other contributors, stopped doing so when Nazi
thought-control did no longer allow freedom of statement. During the
rest of the occupation I did what was the duty of any decent person.
After the war, everyone was subjected to a very severe examination of
his political behaviour, and my name was not a favourable
recommendation. In order to obtain a passport one had not merely to
produce a certificate of good conduct but also a so-called "certificat
de civisime" which stated one was cleared of any collaboration. I could
not possibly have come to this country two times, with proper passport
and visa, if there had been the slightest reproach against me. To
accuse me now, behind my back... is a slanderous attack which leaves me
de Man's colleagues, students and contemporaries attempted to come
to grips with both his early writings and his subsequent silence about
them in the volume Responses: On Paul de Man's Wartime Journalism
(edited by Werner Hamacher, Neil Hertz, and Thomas Keenan; Nebraska,
After the war de Man's career took him to the United States. His
wife, Anaïde Baraghian, was denied a visa because she had no work
waiting for her in America. Instead she and the children sailed to
Argentina where her parents had recently emigrated. de Man would
remarry in America.
A 1992 newspaper article reports, on the basis of interviews with
people who knew de Man and documents which are not publicly available,
that de Man married his second wife prior to obtaining a divorce from
his first, that this second wife was a student at Bard College (where
de Man worked from 1949-1951) and that he was fired from that
institution upon accusations of petty thievery and chicanery.
- Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau,
Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust, (ISBN 0-300-02845-8) 1979
- Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary
Criticism (2nd ed.), (ISBN 0-8166-1135-1) 1983
- The Rhetoric of Romanticism, (ISBN 0-231-05527-7) 1984
- The Resistance to Theory, (ISBN 0-8166-1294-3) 1986
- Wartime Journalism, 1934-1943, (ISBN 0-8032-1684-X) eds. Werner
Hamacher, Neil Heertz, Thomas Keenan, 1988
- Critical Writings: 1953-1978, (ISBN 0-8166-1695-7) Lindsay
Waters (ed.), 1989
- Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism: The Gauss Seminar and
Other Papers, (ISBN 0-8166-1695-7) eds. E. S.
Burt, Kevin Newmark, and Andrzej Warminski, 1993
- Aesthetic Ideology, (ISBN 0-8166-2204-3) ed. Andrzej
Selected secondary works
- Cathy Caruth and Deborah Esch (eds.), Critical Encounters:
Reference and Responsibility in Deconstructive Writing
- Tom Cohen, Barbara Cohen, J. Hillis Miller, Andrzej Warminski
(eds.), Material Events: Paul de Man and the Afterlife of Theory
(essays pertaining to de Man's posthumously published work in Aesthetic
- Ortwin De Graef. Serenity in Crisis: A Preface to Paul de Man,
1939-1960. University of Nebraska Press, 1993.
- Ortwin De Graef. Titanic Light: Paul de Man's Post-Romanticism.
University of Nebraska Press, 1995.
- Jacques Derrida, Memoires for Paul de
- Rodolphe Gasché, The Wild Card of Reading
- Neil Hertz, Werner Hamacher, and Thomas Keenan (eds.), Responses
to Paul de Man's Wartime Journalism
- Jon Wiener, "The Responsibilities of
Friendship: Jacques Derrida on Paul de Man's Collaboration." Critical
Inquiry 14 (1989), 797-803.
- Christopher Norris, Paul de Man: Deconstruction and the
Critique of Aesthetic Ideology
- David Lehman, Signs of the times: Deconstruction and the Fall
of Paul de Man.
- Lindsay Waters & Wlad
Godzich, Reading de Man. University of Minnesota Press,
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Gayatri Spivak
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (born February 24, 1942) is an Indian literary critic and theorist. She is best known for the
article "Can the Subaltern Speak?", considered
a founding text of postcolonialism, and for her translation
of Jacques Derrida's Of Grammatology. Spivak teaches at Columbia University, where she was
tenured as University Professor
in March 2007. A prolific scholar, she travels widely and gives
lectures around the world. She is also a visiting faculty member at the
Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta.
Life and Work
Spivak was born Gayatri Chakravorty, in Calcutta, India, 24
February 1942. After completing her school education from the St. John's
Diocesan Girls' Higher Secondary School, she received an
undergraduate degree in English at the University of Calcutta (1959),
graduating with first class honours. After this, she completed her
Master's in English from Cornell University, and then pursued
her Ph.D. while teaching at the University of Iowa. Her dissertation
was on W.B. Yeats, directed by Paul
de Man, titled Myself Must I Remake: The Life and Poetry of
W.B. Yeats. At Cornell, she was the second woman elected to
membership in the Telluride Association. She was
briefly married to Talbot Spivak
in the 1960s. The Bride Wore the Traditional Gold by Talbot
Spivak is an autobiographical novel that deals with the early years of
It was her subsequent translation of Derrida's Of Grammatology
that brought her to prominence. She included a translator's
introduction which has since been described as "setting a new standard
for self-reflexivity in prefaces." After this, she carried out a series
of historical studies (as a member of the "Subaltern
and literary critiques of imperialism and international feminism. She
has often referred to herself as a "Practical
Marxist-feminist-deconstructionist,". Her overriding ethico-political
concern has been the tendency of institutional and cultural
discourses/practices to exclude and marginalize the subaltern, especially
subaltern women. Edward Said
has noted that "She pioneered the study in literary theory of
non-Western women and produced one of the earliest and most coherent
accounts of that role available to us."
Her recent work, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason,
published in 1999, explores how major works of
(e.g., Kant, Hegel) not only tend to exclude the subaltern from their
discussions, but actively prevent non-Europeans from occupying
positions as fully human subjects.
Spivak coined the term "strategic essentialism,"
which refers to a sort of temporary solidarity for the purpose of
social action. For example, the attitude that women's groups have many
different agendas makes it difficult for feminists to work for common
causes. "Strategic essentialism" is about the need to accept
temporarily an "essentialist" position in order to be able to act.
Spivak had taught at several universities before arriving at
Columbia in 1991. She has been a Guggenheim fellow,
received numerous academic honors including an honorary doctorate
from Oberlin College,
and has been on the editorial board of academic journals such as boundary
2. On March 9, 2007, Columbia University President Lee
Bollinger appointed Spivak University Professor, the institution's
highest faculty rank. In a letter to the faculty, he wrote,
||Not only does her
world-renowned scholarship--grounded in deconstructivist [sic]
literary theory--range widely from critiques of post-colonial discourse
to feminism, Marxism, and globalization; her lifelong search for fresh
insights and understanding has transcended the traditional boundaries
of discipline while retaining the fire for new knowledge that is the
hallmark of a great intellect.
Spivak's writing has been described by some as opaque.
It has also been suggested that her work puts style ahead of substance.
In her defense, it has been argued that this sort of criticism
reveals an unwillingness to substantively engage with her texts.
has noted that Spivak's supposedly inaccessible language has, in fact,
resonated with, and profoundly changed the thinking of, "tens of
thousands of activists and scholars." ,
And Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton,
who has called her writing "inaccessible," noted nevertheless that
"there can thus be few more important critics of our age than the likes
of Spivak.... She has probably done more long-term political good, in
pioneering feminist and post-colonial studies within global academia
than almost any of her theoretical colleagues."
In speeches given and published since 2002, Spivak has addressed the
issue of terrorism. Clearly stating that her intention is to bring an
end to suicide bombing, she has explored and, "tried to imagine what
message [such acts] might contain." .
ruminations have included descriptions such as: "suicide bombing
is an act inscribed on the body when no other means will get through."
One critic has suggested that this sort of stylized language may
serve to blur important moral issues relating to terrorism. 
However, she stated in the text of the speech that "Single coerced yet
willed suicidal 'terror' is in excess of the destruction of dynastic
temples and the violation of women, tenacious and powerfully residual.
It has not the banality of evil. It is informed by the stupidity of
belief taken to extreme."
Spivak founded The Pares Chandra and Sivani Chakravorty Memorial
Education Project, a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization, in 1997, to
provide a primary education of quality for children in some of the
poorest regions of the globe, continuing work that Spivak had started
doing in 1986. The Project currently operates schools in rural areas of
West Bengal, India. By setting up schools and giving sustained training
to local teachers who operate them with the help of local supervisors,
the Project seeks to offer children in these areas the resources to
enter the mainstream education system for high school and beyond. The
Project is committed to using the existing state curriculum and
textbooks to train teachers, in the belief that by using these
materials they can better enable their students to enter the national
education system on equal terms with others. "Since India constantly
brags about being the world's largest democracy, and this is a large
sector of the electorate, what I'm trying to do is develop rituals of
democratic habits," she said of the Project.
- Myself, I Must Remake: The Life and Poetry of W.B. Yeats (1974).
- Of Grammatology (translation, with critical introduction,
of Derrida's text) (1976)
- In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics (1987).
- Selected Subaltern Studies (edited with Ranajit Guha) (1988)
- The Post-Colonial Critic (1990)
- Outside in the Teaching Machine (1993).
- The Spivak Reader (1995).
- A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Towards a History of the
Vanishing Present (1999).
- Death of a Discipline (2003).
- Other Asias (2005).
- Imaginary Maps (translation with critical introduction of
three stories by Mahasweta Devi) (1994)
- Breast Stories (translation with critical introduction of
three stories by Mahasweta Devi) (1997)
- Old Women (translation with critical introduction of two
stories by Mahasweta Devi) (1999)
- Song for Kali: A Cycle (translation with introduction of
story by Ramproshad Sen) (2000)
- Chotti Munda and His Arrow (translation with critical
introduction of the novel by Mahasweta Devi) (2002)
- Red Thread (forthcoming)
Dinitia Smith, "Creating a Stir Wherever She Goes," New York Times
(9 February 2002) B7.
 Commencement Address
 New Statesman
 London Review of
Terry Eagleton, "In the Gaudy Supermarket," London
Review of Books (13 May 1999).
 See p. 93
Gayatri Spivak, "Terror: A Speech After 9-11," boundary 2 31.2
Quoted in Liz McMillen, "The Education of Gayatri Spivak," Chronicle
of Higher Education (14 September 2007) B16.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Barbara Johnson (1947-2009) was an American literary critic and
translator. She was a Professor of English and Comparative Literature
and the Fredric Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry
in Society at Harvard University. Her scholarship
incorporated a variety of structuralist and poststructuralist
perspectives—including deconstruction, Lacanian psychoanalysis, and feminist theory—into a critical, interdisciplinary
study of literature. As a scholar, teacher, and
translator, Johnson helped make the theories of French philosopher Jacques Derrida accessible to
English-speaking audiences in the United
States at a time when they had just begun to gain recognition in France.
Accordingly, she is often associated with the "Yale School" of academic literary criticism.
Barbara Johnson attended Oberlin College from 1965 to 1969, and
completed a Ph.D. in French at Yale University in 1977. Her graduate
studies occurred during the emergence of the "Yale School," a group of literary critics that
included Johnson's thesis director, Paul
de Man. The Yale School's
characteristic integration of structuralist and poststructuralist theory
into the study of literature became an essential feature of
Johnson's approach to criticism.
Overview of major works
In her 1990 essay, "Writing" (in Critical Terms for Literary
Study), Johnson outlines the importance of theory
to analyses of literature. She argues that the history
of writing (l'écriture) is an important philosophical, political, and psychoanalytical
concept in twentieth-century French thought. She posits French theorist
Roland Barthes’ appropriation of Ferdinand de Saussure’s concept of
both a "signifier" and a "signified"—as
the foundation of his theory that language is a “structure,” a system
of relations governed by a set of rules. Johnson then goes on to
describe the central roles played by Derrida and psychoanalyst Jacques
Lacan in destabilizing Barthes' account of the relation between signifier
and signified and the “structure” of language.
Following Derrida, Johnson argues that reading is not the task of
grasping the true single meaning of a text,
but of grasping its multiple meanings, which are often unstable and
contradictory. This polysemy has allowed feminist
and marginalized readers to enter texts at the locations where the
author tries to "dominate, erase, or distort" the various "other"
claims that are made through language and reassert their identities.
The Critical Difference
In The Critical Difference (1980), Johnson argues that any
model of difference as a polarized difference “between entities (prose and poetry,
man and woman, literature and theory,
guilt and innocence)” is necessarily founded upon “a repression
of differences within entities” (pp. x-xi). In this book, Johnson
explores how the unknown and the unknowable function in a text. The
“unknown” to which she refers is not something concealed or distant,
but a fundamental unknowability that constitutes and underlies our
In one of the articles in The Critical Difference,
“Melville’s Fist: The Execution of Billy
Budd,” Johnson reads Herman Melville’s novel as a performance
of the irreconcilability between the “signifier”
and the “signified.” She argues that
if a description could perfectly describe its referent and actually “hit” its intended
object (just as Billy Budd hits and kills John Claggart),
result would be the annihilation of that object. Language, thus,
can only function upon imperfection, instability, and unknowability.
A World of
Difference and The Feminist Difference
Johnson’s next book, A World of Difference (1987), reflects
a move away from the strictly canonical
context of her analyses in The Critical Difference.
Johnson wants to take her investigation beyond “the white male
Euro-American literary, philosophical, psychoanalytical, and critical
canon” that dominates the academy
as a whole and her work in particular (p. 2). But she also calls
“sameness” of that white Euro-American literary and critical tradition
into question, undertaking a thorough interrogation of its boundaries.
In addition, Johnson expands the scope of her literary subjects to
include black and/or women writers, such as Zora Neale Hurston, Dorothy Dinnerstein, James Weldon Johnson, and Adrienne
Rich. Her subsequent collection, The Feminist Difference
(1998), offers a continued critique of the terms in play throughout feminism’s
history and an examination of the differences within and between
The Wake of Deconstruction
The Wake of Deconstruction (1994) approaches the general
state of deconstruction in light of the backlash it
faced over the course of the 1980s and early '90s. Through the double
lenses of Paul de Man’s posthumous Nazi collaboration
scandal and the academic community’s reaction to the murder of feminist legal theorist Mary
Joe Frug, Johnson discusses allegory,
and the misinterpretation of deconstruction.
The Problematics of Language
The Question of Translation
In "Taking Fidelity Philosophically" (in Difference in
Translation), Johnson describes translation
as an ultimately impossible endeavor because the "mother" or original
language is already, intrinsically untranslatable from signifier
The more one attempts to translate a work into comprehensibility, the
more likely one is to stray from its original ambiguity. Jacques Derrida, with his thoughts on différance,
the complicating but necessary fact of language: that it is
foreign to itself. Every attempt to translate sets the language against
itself, creating new tensions as it progresses. Translation,
though impossible, is also necessary, as it is precisely these tensions
that constitute language.
Indeterminacy, and Politics
Throughout her work, Johnson emphasizes both the difficulty of
applying deconstruction to political action and of
separating linguistic contradictions, complexities, and polysemy
from political questions. In A World of Difference,
she makes a turn to a “real world,” but one which is always left in
quotation marks—"real," but nonetheless inseparable from its textual,
written aspect. In a chapter of the book entitled, “Is Writerliness
Conservative?” Johnson examines the political implications of undecidablility
in writing, as well as the consequences of labeling the poetic
and the undecidable as politically inert. She writes that, if “poetry
makes nothing happen,” poetry also “makes nothing happen”—the
limits of the political are themselves fraught with political
implications (p. 30). Harold
Schweizer writes in his introduction to The Wake of
that “[i]f interpretive closure always violates textual indeterminacy,
if authority is perhaps fundamentally non-textual, reducing to identity
what should remain different, Johnson’s work could best be summarized
as an attempt to delay the inevitable reductionist desire for meaning”
and suggestions for further reading
and Multiculturalism (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2010)
- Persons and Things (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
- Mother Tongues: Sexuality, Trials, Motherhood, Translation
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003)
- "Using People: Kant with Winnicott," in The Turn to Ethics, ed.
Marjorie Garber, Beatrice
Hanssen, and Rebecca
L. Walkowitz (New York: Routledge, 2000)
- "Anthropomorphism in Lyric and Law," in
the Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities, 10 Yale J.L. &
Human. 549 (Summer 1998)
and Intertextuality: Sigmund
Freud, Zora Neale Hurston, and the Bible," in
Poetics of the Americas, ed. Bainard Cowan
Humphries (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997)
- The Feminist Difference: Literature, Psychoanalysis, Race and Gender
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998)
- The Wake of Deconstruction (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994)
- "Writing," in Critical Terms for Literary Study, ed. Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1990)
- A World of Difference (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
- "Taking Fidelity Philosophically," in Difference in
Translation, ed. Joseph F. Graham (Ithaca: Cornell University
- The Critical Difference: Essays in the Contemporary Rhetoric
of Reading (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980)
- Défigurations du langage poétique: La seconde
révolution baudelairienne (Paris: Flammarion, 1979)
Edited volumes and projects
- The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, Principal
ed., Vincent B.
Leitch, with William E.
Cain, Laurie A.
Finke, John McGowan,
J. Williams (New York: Norton, 2001)
- Freedom and Interpretation: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures, 1992
(New York: Basic Books, 1993)
- Consequences of Theory: Selected Papers from the English
Institute, 1987-1988, ed. with Jonathan Arac
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990)
- A New History of French Literature, Principal ed., Dennis Hollier
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989)
- Yale French Studies, No. 63, "The Pedalogical Imperative:
Teaching as a Literary Genre" (1982)
- Stéphane Mallarmé, Divagations
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007)
- Jacques Derrida, Dissemination
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981)
- Philippe Sollers, "Freud's Hand," in Yale
French Studies, No. 55-56 (1979)
- Jacques Derrida, "Fors: The Anglish Words
of Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok," in the Georgia Review, No.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Ecosophy, and ecophilosophy, are neologisms
formed by contracting the phrase ecological philosophy.
Confusion as to the meaning (suggesting that such a meaning should
be singular and exact) of ecosophy is primarily the consequence of it
being used to designate different and often contradictory (though
conceptually related) concepts by the Norwegian father of Deep Ecology, Arne
Næss, and French post-Marxist philosopher and psychoanalyst Félix Guattari.
Naess's definition of ecosophy
While a professor at University of Oslo in 1972, Arne Naess,
introduced the terms "deep
ecology movement" and "ecosophy" into environmental literature.
Naess based his article on a talk he gave in Bucharest
in 1972 at the Third World Future Research Conference. As Drengson
notes in Ecophilosophy, Ecosophy and the Deep Ecology Movement: An
"In his talk Naess discussed the longer-range background of the ecology
movement and its connection with respect for Nature and the inherent
worth of other beings." Naess's construction of a Nature which sits
outside the human sphere of culture, and furthermore his preference for
'natural' values over cultural (particularly Western) values demarcates
him as a dualist - which sharply contrasts with the alternative
construction of ecosophy outlined by Guattari.
Naess defined ecosophy in the following way:
By an ecosophy I mean a philosophy of ecological harmony or
equilibrium. A philosophy as a kind of sofia (or) wisdom, is openly
normative, it contains both norms, rules, postulates, value priority
announcements and hypotheses concerning the state of affairs
in our universe. Wisdom is policy wisdom, prescription, not only
scientific description and prediction. The details of an ecosophy will
show many variations due to significant differences concerning not only
the ‘facts’ of pollution, resources, population, etc. but also value
—A. Drengson and Y. Inoue, 1995, page 8
Ecosophy also refers to a field of practice introduced by psychoanalyst, poststructuralist
philosopher and political activist Félix Guattari.
In part Guattari's use of the term demarcates what he observes as the
necessity for the proponents of social liberation whose struggles in
the 20th century were dominated by the paradigm of social revolution
to embed their arguments within an ecological framework which
understands the interconnections of social and environmental spheres.
Guattari holds that traditional environmentalist perspectives
obscure the complexity of the relationship between humans and their
natural environment through its maintenance of the dualistic separation
of human (cultural) and nonhuman (natural) systems; he envisions
ecosophy as a new field with a monistic
and pluralistic approach to such study. Ecology in the Guattarian sense
then, is a study of complex phenomena, including human subjectivity,
the environment, and social relations, all of which are intimately
interconnected. Despite this emphasis on interconnection, throughout
his individual writings and more famous collaborations with Gilles Deleuze Guattari has resisted calls
for holism, preferring to emphasise heterogeneity and difference,
synthesising assemblages and multiplicities in order
to trace rhizomatic structures rather than
creating unified and, holisitic structures.
Without modifications to the social and material environment,
there can be no change in mentalities. Here, we are in the presence of
a circle that leads me to postulate the necessity of founding an
"ecosophy" that would link environmental ecology to social ecology and
to mental ecology.
Guattari's concept of the three interacting and interdependent
ecologies of mind, society, and environment stems from the outline of
the three ecologies presented in Steps to an Ecology of Mind,
a collection of writings by cyberneticist Gregory Bateson.
- Drengson, A. and Y. Inoue, eds. 1995. The Deep Ecology
Movement: An Introductory Anthology. Berkeley: North Atlantic
- Guattari, F. 2000. The Three Ecologies. Trans. Ian Pindar
& Paul Sutton, London & New Brunwick, NJ: The Athlone Press.
- Maybury-Lewis, David. 1992. "On the Importance of Being Tribal:
Tribal Wisdom." Millennium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World. Binimun
and the Deep Ecology Movement: An Overview
An earlier version of this article
in The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy, Vol 14, No. 3, Summer
pages 110-111, entitled “An Ecophilosophy Approach, the Deep Ecology
and Diverse Ecosophies” Thanks to Arne Naess and Ted Mosquin for their
During the last thirty years philosophers in the West have critiqued
the underlying assumptions of Modern philosophy in relation to the
world. This development has been part of an ongoing expansion of
work involving cross cultural studies of world views or ultimate
Since philosophical studies in the West have often ignored the natural
world, and since most studies in ethics have focused on human values,
approaches which emphasize ecocentric values have been referred to as
Just as the aim of traditional philosophy is sophia or wisdom, so the
of ecophilosophy is ecosophy or ecological wisdom. The Practice of
is an ongoing, comprehensive, deep inquiry into values, the nature of
world and the self.
The mission of ecophilosophy is to explore a diversity of
on human-Nature contexts and interrelationships. It fosters deeper and
more harmonious relationships between place, self, community and the
world. This aim is furthered by comparing the diversity of ecosophies
which people support the platform principles of the global, long range,
deep ecology movement.
Here is Arne Naess’s original definition of ecosophy: “By
ecosophy I mean a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium. A
philosophy as a kind of sofia (or) wisdom, is openly normative, it
both norms, rules, postulates, value priority announcements and
concerning the state of affairs in our universe. Wisdom is policy
prescription, not only scientific description and prediction. The
of an ecosophy will show many variations due to significant differences
concerning not only the ‘facts’ of pollution, resources, population,
but also value priorities.” (See A. Drengson and Y. Inoue, 1995, page
In 1973 (Inquiry 16, pp. 95-100) the name "deep ecology movement"
introduced into environmental literature by Norwegian philosopher and
Professor Arne Naess. (For a reprint of the article see Drengson and
1995.) Environmentalism emerged as a popular grass roots political
in the 1960's with the publication of Rachel Carson's book Silent
Those already involved in conservation/preservation efforts were joined
by many others concerned about the detrimental environmental impacts of
modern industrial technology. The longer range, older elements of the
included writers and activists like Thoreau and Muir, whereas the newer
mainstream awareness was closer to the wise conservation philosophy of
people like Gifford Pinchot.
Naess's article was based on a talk he gave in Bucharest in 1972 at
the Third World Future Research Conference. In his talk Naess discussed
the longer-range background of the ecology movement and its connection
with respect for Nature and the inherent worth of other beings. As a
who had climbed all over the world, Naess enjoyed the opportunity to
political and social action in diverse cultures. Both historically and
in the contemporary movement Naess saw two different forms of
not necessarily incompatible with one another. One he called the
deep ecology movement" and the other, the "shallow ecology movement."
word "deep" in part referred to the level of questioning of our
and values, when arguing in environmental conflicts. The "deep"
involves deep questioning, right down to fundamentals. The shallow
before the ultimate level.
In his ecophilosophy framework for cross cultural analysis of grass
roots social-political movements, Naess distinguishes between four
of discourse (see the chart below). In forming cross cultural global
some general consensus develops that focuses the movement through
principles (as is the case for many movements--literary, philosophical,
social, political, etc.), such as the principles of social justice, or
the principles of peace and nonviolence, or the principles for the deep
ecology movement (DEM). Movements so described have their principles
from the bottom up and are thus called grass roots movements (as in the
Gandhian tradition), not top down power over hierarchies .
The aim of ecophilosophy is a total or comprehensive view of our
and individual situation. Comprehensive includes the whole global
with us in it, sharing a world with diverse cultures and beings. We
toward a total view via deep questioning--always asking why--to
norms and premises, and via articulation (or application) to
and practices. Much cross cultural work is done at the level of
principles, and we can have a high level of agreement at this level
Naess calls Level II. From Level II we can engage in deep questioning
pursue articulating our own ecosophy, which might be grounded in some
worldview or religion, such as Pantheism or Christianity. This level of
ultimate philosophies is called Level I. There is considerable
at this level. From Level II principles we can develop specific policy
recommendations and formulations, or Level III. From Level III
leads us to practical actions, Level IV. There is considerable
at the level of policies, but even more at the level of practical
Table Showing Levels of Questioning and Articulation
[The above chart is a simplification of Naess's
Diagram. See Drengson and Inoue, 1995, pp. 10-12.]
||Taoism, Christianity, Ecosophy T, etc.
||Platform Principles Movement
||Peace Movement, Deep Ecology Movement, Social Justice
||A, B, C, etc.
||W, X, Y, etc.
In deep questioning we move toward ultimate premises and norms. In
process of derivation and application we move toward platform support
developing policies and practical actions. This is a continuous back
forth process which keeps our understanding and practices in harmony
a changing world. The deep approach, then, becomes evolutionary,
with natural conditions. (For example, the “new corporation” [or
has to engage in this back and forth movement and so requires full
participation, diverse leaders and initiative takers.) In the three
movements mentioned above the principles are individual and
It is important to note that there is great diversity at the level of
philosophies. We do not all have to subscribe to the same ultimate
philosophy in order to work cooperatively for the benefit of the planet
and its communities of beings. The front is very long and we each have
values to contribute to realizing higher qualities in life as a whole.
We must work on many different levels.
Naess has much first-hand experience in the world peace and social
movements, and he is a committed practitioner of the way of nonviolence
taught by Gandhi (Naess 1974). He also is a philosopher of science and
logic who has done innovative work on language and communication.
His studies and travels have given him deep cross-cultural knowledge
perspectives. (For more details on his philosophy of communication see
Naess (1953). This work will be reissued in the Selected Works of Arne
Naess to be published in English by Klewer in 2000.) Naess is well
to identify the main features of the emerging grass-roots environmental
movement, which is supported by social activists from all parts of the
political spectrum. The shallow-deep spectrum he describes is not the
as the old right-left split. It cuts across many conventional
In his talk and paper Naess explained the difference between the
shallow and the long-range deep ecology movements in broad terms. He
that the distinctive aspects of the deep ecology movement is its
of the inherent value of all other living beings, and of the inherent
of diversity of all kinds. This awareness is used to shape
policies and actions. Those who work for social changes based on this
are motivated by love of Nature as well as for humans. They try to be
in all their dealings. They recognize that we cannot go on with
culture’s business as usual. We must make fundamental changes in basic
values and practices or we will destroy the diversity and beauty of the
world, and its ability to support diverse human cultures.
In 1972, not many people appreciated that Naess was characterizing a
grass-roots social movement, not stating his personal ultimate
Since then, he has articulated a set of platform principles to clarify
matters. Grass-roots political movements often join people with diverse
ultimate beliefs and backgrounds. In order to state the shared
of the movement a platform is usually put forth. The platform presents
the more general principles that unite the group in terms of shared
aims and values.
Naess and others have proposed a set of eight principles to
the deep ecology movement as part of the general ecology movement.
principles are endorsed by people from a diversity of backgrounds who
common concerns for the planet, its many beings and ecological
In many Western nations supporters of the platform principles stated
come from different religious and philosophical backgrounds. Their
affiliations differ considerably. What unites them is a long-range
of what is necessary to protect the integrity of the Earth's ecological
communities and values. Supporters of the principles have a diversity
ultimate beliefs. "Ultimate beliefs" here refers to their own basic
personal and religious grounds for their values, actions and support
the deep ecology movement. Different people and cultures have different
mythologies and stories. Nonetheless, they can support the platform and
work for solutions to our shared environmental crisis. A diversity of
is emerging, but there is considerable overlap, as can be seen in
of environmental conflicts all over the world.
Supporters of the platform principles stated below come from all
of life, and a wide variety of cultures and places. Because they live
different places, the courses of practical action that follow from
to the platform are also diverse. Each person has something unique to
by living their own ecosophies. Here are the proposed platform
of the deep ecology movement as originally formulated by Arne Naess and
George Sessions in 1984 while on a hiking trip in Death Valley
The Platform Principles of the Deep Ecology Movement
1. The well-being and flourishing of human and
Life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value,
value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman
world for human purposes.
2. Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the
of these values and are also values in themselves.
3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity
except to satisfy vital human needs.
4. The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible
with a substantial decrease of human population. The flourishing of
life requires such a decrease.
5. Present human interference with the nonhuman world is
and the situation is rapidly worsening.
6. Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect
basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The
state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life
quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering
to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound
awareness of the difference between big and great.
8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an
to directly or indirectly try to implement the necessary changes.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions, 1985, p. 70. Note that this platform
is discussed in an exchange of papers between Stan Rowe and Arne Naess,
published originally in The Trumpeter 1996,13, 1, and now online at
Anyone who endorses these eight principles, is called by Naess and
a supporter of the deep
ecology movement, not a deep ecologist. Naess feels that “deep
is too immodest, and “shallow ecologist” is unkind language. The word
is more Ghandian and rich for interpretation. As mentioned, Naess
that those who support these principles can do so from a wide range of
different ultimate views. Just as birds build different kinds of nests
in different habitats, so human cultures which grow out of ecological
with respect for their inherent values develop diverse forms of
technology and social order.
Naess calls his own ultimate philosophy Ecosophy T. It is deeply
by Norwegian friluftsliv (a movement to experience living in
outdoors, see Henderson, 1997), Gandhian nonviolence, Mahayana Buddhism
and Spinozan pantheism. T refers to Tvergastein, Naess's mountain hut
Norway, where much of Ecosophy T was worked out. The T also refers to
Norwegian word for interpretation (tolkning) which is central to his
of language and communication. A basic norm in Naess's Ecosophy T is
realization!--for all beings. The Self to be realized for humans is not
the ego self (small s), but the larger ecological Self (cap S). This
distinction has affinities with Mahayana Buddhism. Naess says we can
our ecological Selves in a number of ways. The way he talks most about
is extension of identification. He prefaces this by saying that he
one is well integrated and has a healthy ego so as to avoid projection
of the small self and its shadow.
Sometimes people confuse the "deep ecology movement" as described
with Naess' own ultimate ecocentric philosophy, Ecosophy T. Naess calls
his own ultimate philosophy Ecosophy T, not deep ecology. It is on the
basis of Ecosophy T that he personally supports the platform principles
of the deep ecology movement.
Naess tries to make his whole view surveyable by starting with only
the one norm, Self-Realization! Self-realization! is taken to imply:
for all beings!" The exclamation point is used to mark that this is not
a mere description, but that it says something that ought to be. Naess
feels the norm as a basis of his own lived ecosophy. He urges others to
develop their own ecosophies based on their ultimate views.
for humans he says, can be achieved in a variety of ways. His own
is to extend his sense of identification to a larger sense of Self.
naturally have this capacity as Naess and others have observed
We have the capacity to connect with a much larger sense of self,
ego, by extending our sense of identification beyond the usual narrow
on ego to a wider sphere of relationships. It is not difficult for us
identify with other living beings. We can actually practice or
this capacity. One way is to practice extending our care and affection.
We can also explore this larger Self in a variety of other ways.
Many other authors have developed ecosophies very similar to Naess's
based on the idea of extending awareness and care to a larger
Self. However, other supporters of the deep
ecology movement have ecosophies which do not start with the
norm. Warwick Fox (1990) and I have both observed that the extension of
self and the idea of the ecological Self overlaps in many ways with
in transpersonal psychology. Fox calls these Self-realization types of
ecosophies transpersonal ecologies. (Today we call them transpersonal
and their psychological study is transpersonal ecology.) Matthew Fox's
(1988) Creation Theology (which has a long history as a minority
in Christianity) is a transpersonal ecology in the form of a Christian
philosophy and practice that finds the Christ principle and power of
revealed in the ongoing creation of the world. It is this that we
reverence. This opens us to the expansive sense of Self. A Mahyana
concerned for the deliverance of all sentient beings, can easily
the deep ecology movement principles.
Other writers who support the platform principles of the deep
movement have criticized the extension of self identification. Some
to find their ultimate premises and ecosophies grounded in a different
conception of self, emphasizing the social self--in some cases, or
the difference between the way self identity develops for women in
to men in our traditions. In this way, some supporters of the deep
movement are ecofeminists, some are social ecologists, some
No supporters of the deep ecology movement as characterized above
be anti-human, as is sometimes alleged. Some vociferous
who claim to be supporters of the movement have said and written things
that are misanthropic in tone. They have not explained how such
are consistent with commitment to platform principle number one, which
recognizes the inherent worth of all beings, including humans.
of the deep ecology movement deplore antihuman statements and actions.
They support Gandhian nonviolence in word and deed. Arne Naess says
he is a supporter of the ecofeminist, social ecology, social justice,
and peace movements. He believes that the platform principles of the
ecology movement are broad enough to be this inclusive.
Another dispute has centered on the critique of anthropocentrism
by some supporters of the deep ecology movement. "Anthropocentrism" has
a number of different meanings. We must not let verbal
be divisive. When we defend our loved ones or are moved more by human
than the suffering of other beings, we are acting as descendants,
friends, lovers, etc. One can support the deep ecology movement
with such feelings. What is inconsistent is refusing to recognize the
worth of other beings to the extent that one is willing to allow
exploitation and destruction of life forms purely for human convenience
and profit. Anthropocentrism as a bias against other life forms fails
recognize that we are part of these lives and they are part of ours.
human self in the deepest sense cannot be separated from the earth from
which we have grown. Anthropocentrism is objectionable when it
"humans first!" regardless of the consequences to other beings.
When we explore our own embodied, in place, ecological Self we
our affinities with other beings as part of our humanity. This once
emphasizes that the platform principles refer to the intrinsic worth of
all beings, including humans. Supporters of the deep ecology movement
are committed to recognizing and respecting in word and deed the
worth of humans and other beings. This leads to actions that try to
our own impacts on ecological communities and other human cultures. In
order to start the process of lessening our impacts diverse transition
strategies are vital. In the area of business, for example, The Natural
Step (Nattrass and Altomore 1999) is a process of lessening negative
and encouraging positive ones. It uses bottom up initiatives, diverse
and back and forth play between workers and leaders. For more on
ecology and new values and directions in work and business see Hawken
& 1999) and on higher value leadership see Secretan (1996.)
If one accepts the platform principles of the deep ecology movement,
this involves commitment to respect the intrinsic values of richness
diversity. This in turn leads to a critique of industrial society. This
critique cuts across cultural boundaries. It is presented from both
and outside of industrial societies. It is partly from such a critique
that support for indigenous cultures arises within Modern societies.
gist of the critique goes like this:
Industrial culture represents itself as the only acceptable model
progress and development. However, application of this model and its
and technological systems to all areas of the planet results in
of habitat, extinction of species, and destruction of indigenous
The biodiversity crisis is about loss of critical species, populations
and processes that perform necessary biological functions, and it is
about loss of multitudes of other values which are good in themselves
depend on preservation of natural diversity and wild evolutionary
Industrial society is a monoculture in agriculture and forestry, and in
every other way. Its development models construe the Earth as only raw
material to be used to satisfy consumption and production to meet not
vital needs, but inflated desires whose satisfaction requires more and
more consumption. Its monocultures destroy cultural and biological
both of which are good in themselves and critical to our survival and
The older industrial development models are now superseded by the
approaches referred to in this paper. (See websites listed below.)
If we do not accept the Industrial development model, what then?
the deep ecology platform principles might lead us to study the
of aboriginal and indigenous people so as to learn from them values and
practices that can help us to dwell wisely in neighboring places. We
can learn from the wisdom of our places and the many beings who inhabit
them. At the same time, the ecocentric values implied by the platform
us to recognize that all human cultures have a mutual interest in
Earth and its diversity continue for our sake, for its own sake and
we love it. Most want to flourish and realize themselves in harmony
other beings and cultures. How can we better develop common
that enable us to work with civility toward harmony with other
creatures and beings? The deep ecology movement platform principles are
guides in this direction. Respect for diversity leads us to recognize
forms of ecological wisdom that grow out of specific places and
Supporters of the deep ecology movement embrace place-specific,
wisdom, and vernacular technology practices. No one philosophy and
is applicable to the whole planet. Diversity on every level is
In the West there is a renewal of Christian practices that support
based on a reverential spirit for Creation. The ferment of this with
new ecocentric paradigms--influenced by field ecology and leading edge
science--has led writers like Thomas Berry (1988) to begin fashioning a
"new story" as a basis for Western initiatives in creating an
wise and harmonious society. All of these efforts can be seen as
with support for the platform principles of the deep ecology movement,
with perhaps some slight modifications.
Bioregionalism (see The Planet Drum, and also Sale 1985) is an
form of support for the deep ecology movement. The Wildlands Project,
Arne Naess Selected Works Project, the Ecoagriculture Movement, the
Institute and Institute for Deep Ecology education programs, and the
Foundation are a few examples of applications of deep ecology movement
principles to work in support of biodiversity, preservation of wildness
and ecological restoration. Other deep efforts include Ecopsychology
et al 1995), The Natural Step, the Turning Point Project, the project
measure our ecological footprint (Rees and Wackernagel 1996), and
Progress and its measures by means of a General Progress Index or GPI.
For specific applications to Forestry see Drengson and Taylor
For examples of how Buddhist thought and practice have influenced some
Western ecosophies see the works of Joanna Macy (1991) and Gary Snyder
(1990). For applications and critiques from Third World perspectives
the writings of Vandana Shiva (1993) and Helena Norberg-Hodge (1991).
trade, the global economy and relocalization see Jerry Mander and
Goldsmith (1996). For more on natural capitalism and industrial ecology
see Paul Hawken, Amory and Hunter Lovins (1999). To learn more about
and the movement to deep and diverse values check out the illustrative
(not exhaustive) sample of references and websites listed below.
Abrams, David. 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Language and
in a More-than-Human World. New York, Pantheon Books.
Berry, Thomas. 1988. Dream of the Earth. San Francisco,
Bowers, C.A. 1993. Education, Cultural Myths and the Ecological
Toward Deep Changes. Albany, SUNY Press.
Devall, Bill. Editor. 1994. Clearcut: The Tragedy of Industrial
San Francisco, Earth Island Press.
Devall, Bill. 1988. Simple in Means, Rich in Ends: Practicing
Ecology. Salt Lake City,
Devall, Bill & George Sessions. 1985. Deep Ecology: Living
if Nature Mattered. Salt Lake City, Peregrine Smith.
Drengson, Alan and Yuichi Inoue, Editors. 1995. The Deep Ecology
Movement: An Introductory Anthology. Berkeley, North Atlantic
(This book has been revised and translated for
publication in Japanese.)
Drengson, Alan. 1995. The Practice of Technology: Exploring
Ecophilosophy, and Spiritual Disciplines for Vital Links. Albany,
Drengson, Alan & Duncan Taylor, Editors. 1997. Ecoforestry:
Art and Science of Sustainable Forest Use. Gabriola Island, New
Fox, Matthew. 1988. The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. San
Harper and Row.
Fox, Warwick. 1990. Toward a Transpersonal Ecology. Boston,
Hawken, Paul. 1993. The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of
New York, Haper Collins.
Hawken, Paul, and Amory and L. Hunter Lovins. 1999. Natural
Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. Boston, Little, Brown.
Henderson, Bob. 1997. “Friluftsliv”. The Trumpeter: Journal
Ecosophy, Vol 14, No. 2, Spring 97, p. 93-94.
Jackson, Wes. 1994. Becoming Native to this Place.
University of Kentucky.
Lauck, Joanne Elizabeth. 1998. The Voice of the Infinite in the
Revisioning the Insect-Human Connection. Mill Spring, NC, Swan and
LaChapell, Dolores. 1988. Sacred Sex, Sacred Land: Concerning
Ecology and Celebrating Life. Silverton, CO. Finn Hill Arts.
Macy, Joanna. 1991. World as Lover, World as Self. Berkeley,
Mander, Jerry & E. Goldsmith. 1996. The Case Against the
Economy: And a Turn Toward the Local. San Francisco, Sierra Books.
McLaughlin, Andrew. 1993. Regarding Nature: Industrialism and
Ecology. Albany, SUNY Press.
Naess, Arne. 1953. Interpretation and Preciseness. Oslo,
Naess, Arne. 1974. Gandhi and Group Conflict. Oslo,
Naess, Arne. 1991. Ecology, Community and Lifestyle. London,
Naess, Arne. 2000. Selected Works of Arne Naess. In English,
edited by Harold Glasser. Amsterdam, Klewer. Forthcoming in
Nattrass, B. & M. Altomare. 1999. The Natural Step for
and the Evolutionary Corporation. Gabriola Island, New Society
Norberg-Hodge, Helena. 1991. Ancient Futures: Learning from
San Francisco, Sierra Books.
Orr, David. 1992. Ecological Literacy: Education and the
to a Post Modern World. Albany, SUNY Press.
Rees, Bill & Mathis Wackernagel. 1996. Our Ecological
Reducing Human Impact on the Earth. Gabriola Island, New Society
Roszak, T., Gomes, M.E. & Kanner, A.D. 1995. Ecopsychology:
the Earth, Healing the Mind. San Francisco, Sierra Books.
Sale, Kirkpatrick. 1985. Dwellers on the Land: The Bioregional
Francisco, Sierra Club Books.
Secretan, Lance. 1996. Reclaiming Higher Ground: Creating
that Inspire the Soul. Toronto, Macmillan.
Sessions, George, Editor. 1995. Deep Ecology for the 21st
Shiva, Vandana. 1993. Monocultures of the Mind: Biodiversity,
and the Third World. Penong, Third World Publishing.
Snyder, Gary. 1990. The Practice of the Wild. Berkeley,
Spretnak, Charlene. 1997. The Resurgence of the Real: Body,
and Place in a Hypermodern World. Reading MA, Addison-Wesley.
Some Websites relevant to the deep ecology movement
From cross-cultural, ultimate philosophies to specific practical
1. The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy is at: http://trumpeter.athabascau.ca
2. Ecoforestry information is at: http://ecoforestry.ca
3. For The Turning Point Project see: http://www.Turningpoint.org
Note: Their ad campaign on changing to ecologically responsible
is at: http://www.turnpoint.org
4. For more on international trade and globalization see the
Forum on Globalization at: http://www.ifg.org
5. The Natural Step approach to changing business practices started
in Sweden. Read more at: http://www.naturalstep.org
6. For more on redefining and measuring progress, see: http://www.rprogress.org
7. In Atlantic Canada local redefining of progress is described at:
8. Bill Devall’s website of deep ecology movement material is at: http://www.deep-ecology.net
9. Ted Mosquin’s ecocentrically oriented website is at: http://www.ecospherics.net
10. For the Wildlands Project see: http://www.twp.org
11. The Institute for Deep Ecology is at: http://www.deep-ecology.org
12. The Earth Institute is at: http://www.nwei.org
13. The Land Institute is at: http://www.landinst_development.midkan.net
14. Ecopsychology is located at: http://www.isis.csuhayward.edu
15. For more on natural capitalism see: http://www.naturalcapitalism.org
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Critical theory is the examination and critique of society
drawing from knowledge across the social sciences and humanities.
The term has two different meanings with different origins and
histories: one originating in sociology
and the other in literary criticism. This has led to the
very literal use of 'critical theory' as an umbrella
term to describe theoretical critique.
Critical theory, in the sociological context, refers to a style of Marxist theory with a tendency to engage with
non-Marxist influences (for instance the work of Nietzsche and Freud).
This tendency has been referred to pejoratively by stricter Marxists as
'revisionism'. Modern critical
theory arose from a trajectory extending from the nonpositivist sociology of Weber
and Simmel, the neo-Marxist theory of Lukács and Gramsci, toward the milieu associated with Frankfurt Institute of Social
Research. It is with the so-called 'Frankfurt School' of theorists that the
term is most commonly associated: Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, and Jürgen Habermas. With the latter,
critical theory shed further its roots in German Idealism and
moved closer to American Pragmatism.
The theoretical concern for a cultural 'superstructure' derived from a
material 'base' often remains as the only central Marxist tenet in
contemporary critical theory.
Two primary definitions
The two meanings of critical theory—from different intellectual
traditions associated with the meaning of criticism and critique—derive
ultimately from the Greek word kritikos meaning judgment or
discernment, and in their present forms go back to the 18th century.
While they can be considered completely independent intellectual
pursuits, increasingly scholars are interested in the areas of critique
where the two overlap.
To use an epistemological
distinction introduced by Jürgen Habermas in Erkenntnis und
Interesse  (Knowledge and Human Interests), critical
theory in literary studies is ultimately a form of hermeneutics,
knowledge via interpretation to understand the meaning of human
texts and symbolic expressions -- including the interpretation of texts
which are themselves implicitly or explicitly the interpretation of
other texts. Critical social theory is, in contrast, a form of
self-reflective knowledge involving both understanding and theoretical
explanation to reduce entrapment in systems of domination or
dependence, obeying the emancipatory interest in expanding the scope of
autonomy and reducing the scope of domination.
From this perspective, much literary critical theory, since it is
focused on interpretation and explanation rather than on social
transformation, would be regarded as positivistic or traditional rather
than critical theory in the Kantian or Marxian sense. Critical theory in literature
and the humanities in general does not necessarily involve a normative dimension, whereas critical
social theory does, either through criticizing society from some
general theory of values, norms, or "oughts,"
or through criticizing it in terms of its own espoused values.
Critical theory was first defined by Max Horkheimer of the Frankfurt School of sociology in his 1937
essay Traditional and Critical Theory: Critical theory is a
social theory oriented toward critiquing and changing society
as a whole, in contrast to traditional theory oriented only to
understanding or explaining it. Horkheimer wanted to distinguish
critical theory as a radical, emancipatory form of Marxian theory, critiquing both the model of
science put forward by logical positivism and what he and his
colleagues saw as the covert positivism and authoritarianism of
concepts are: (1) That critical social theory should be directed
at the totality of society in its historical specificity (i.e. how it
came to be configured at a specific point in time), and (2) That
critical theory should improve understanding of society by integrating
all the major social sciences, including geography, economics,
sociology, history, political science, anthropology, and psychology.
This version of "critical" theory derives from Kant's (18th-century) and Marx's (19th Century) use of the term "critique",
as in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and
Marx's concept that his work Das
Kapital (Capital) forms a "critique of political
economy". For Kant's transcendental idealism,
"critique" means examining and establishing the limits of the validity
of a faculty, type, or body of knowledge, especially through accounting
for the limitations imposed by the fundamental, irreducible concepts in
use in that knowledge system. Early on, Kant's notion associated
critique with the disestablishment of false, unprovable, or dogmatic
philosophical, social, and political beliefs, because Kant's critique
of reason involved the critique of dogmatic theological and metaphysical
ideas and was intertwined with the enhancement of ethical autonomy and
critique of superstition and irrational authority. Marx explicitly
developed this notion into the critique of ideology and linked it with
the practice of social revolution, as in the famous 11th of his "Theses on Feuerbach," "Philosophers
have only interpreted the world in certain ways; the point is to change
One of the distinguishing characteristics of critical theory, as
Adorno and Horkheimer elaborated in their Dialectic of Enlightenment
(1947), is a certain ambivalence concerning the ultimate source or
foundation of social domination, an ambivalence which gave rise to the
“pessimism” of the new critical theory over the possibility of human
emancipation and freedom.
This ambivalence was rooted, of course, in the historical circumstances
in which the work was originally produced, in particular, the rise of National Socialism,
state capitalism, and mass culture
as entirely new forms of social domination that could not be adequately
explained within the terms of traditional Marxist sociology.
For Adorno and Horkheimer state intervention
in the economy had effectively abolished the tension in capitalism
between the "relations of production" and
"material productive forces of society," a tension
which, according to traditional critical theory, constituted the
primary contradiction within capitalism. The market
(as an "unconscious" mechanism for the distribution of goods) and private property had been replaced by centralized planning
and socialized ownership of the means of production.
Yet, contrary to Marx’s famous prediction in the Preface
to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, this shift
did not lead to "an era of social revolution," but rather to fascism
and totalitarianism. As such, critical theory
was left, in Jürgen Habermas’
words, without "anything in reserve to which it might appeal; and when
the forces of production enter into a baneful symbiosis with the
relations of production that they were supposed to blow wide open,
there is no longer any dynamism upon which critique could base its
For Adorno and Horkheimer, this posed the problem of how to account for
the apparent persistence of domination in the absence of the very
contradiction that, according to traditional critical theory, was the
source of domination itself.
In the 1960s, Jürgen Habermas raised the
epistemological discussion to a new level in his Knowledge and
Human Interests, by identifying critical knowledge
as based on principles that differentiated it either from the natural sciences or
through its orientation to self-reflection and emancipation. Though
unsatisfied with Adorno and Horkeimer's thought presented in Dialectic
of Enlightenment, Habermas shares the view that, in the form of instrumental rationality, the era
marks a move away from the liberation of enlightenment and toward a new
form of enslavement.
His ideas regarding the relationship between modernity and rationalization are in this
sense strongly influenced by Max
Weber. Habermas dissolved further the elements of critical theory
derived from Hegelian German Idealism,
though his thought remains broadly Marxist in its epistemological
approach. Perhaps his two most influential ideas are the concepts of
the public sphere and communicative action; the latter
arriving partly as a reaction to new post-structural or
so-called 'post-modern' challenges to the discourse of modernity.
Habermas engaged in regular correspondence with Richard
Rorty and a strong sense of philosophical pragmatism
may be felt in his theory; thought which frequently traverses the
boundaries between sociology and philosophy.
Postmodern critical theory
critical theory (as described above) concerns itself with “forms of
authority and injustice that accompanied the evolution of industrial
and corporate capitalism as a political-economic system,” postmodern
critical theory politicizes social problems “by situating them in
historical and cultural contexts, to implicate themselves in the
process of collecting and analyzing data, and to relativize their
findings” (Lindlof & Taylor, 2002, p. 52). Meaning itself is seen
as unstable due to the rapid transformation in social structures and as
a result the focus of research is centered on local manifestations
rather than broad generalizations.
Postmodern critical research is also characterized by what is
called, the crisis of representation,
which rejects the idea that a researcher’s work is considered an
“objective depiction of a stable other” (Lindlof & Taylor, 2002, p.
53). Instead, in their research and writing, many postmodern scholars
have adopted “alternatives that encourage reflection about the
‘politics and poetics’ of their work. In these accounts, the embodied,
collaborative, dialogic, and improvisational aspects of qualitative
research are clarified” (Lindlof & Taylor, 2002, p. 53). For an
example of postmodern critical work, see Rolling’s piece, entitled Secular
Blasphemy: Utter(ed) Transgressions Against Names and Fathers in the
Postmodern Era (2008).
Often, the term 'critical theory' is appropriated when an author
(perhaps most notably Michel Foucault)
works within sociological terms yet attacks the social or human
sciences (thus attempting to remain 'outside' those frames of enquiry).
has also been described as a critical theorist to the extent that he
was an unconventional and critical sociologist; this appropriation is
similarly casual, holding little or no relation to the Frankfurt School.
is "a type of reflection that examines culture, knowledge, and
action...Critical ethnographers describe, analyze, and open to scrutiny
otherwise hidden agendas, power centers, and assumptions that inhibit,
repress, and constrain" (Thomas, 1993, pp. 2–3). While "conventional
ethnography" "describes what is", critical ethnography "asks what could
be"….Conventional ethnographers study culture for the purposes of
describing it; critical ethnographers do so to change it" (Thomas,
1993, p. 4).
In literary criticism
The second meaning of critical theory is that of theory used
in literary criticism ("critical theory") and in the analysis and
understanding of literature. This is discussed in greater detail under literary theory.
This form of critical theory is not necessarily oriented toward radical
social change or even toward the analysis of society, but instead
specializes on the analysis of texts. It originated among literary
scholars and in the discipline of literature in the 1960s and 1970s,
and has really only come into broad use since the 1980s, especially as
theory used in literary studies has increasingly been influenced by
European philosophy and social theory.
This version of "critical" theory derives from the notion of
literary criticism as establishing and enhancing the understanding and
evaluation of literature in the search for truth.
Some consider literary theory merely an aesthetic concern, as
articulated, for example, in Joseph Addison's
notion of a critic as one who helps understand and interpret literary
works: "A true critic ought to dwell rather upon excellencies than
imperfections, to discover the concealed beauties of a writer, and
communicate to the world such things as are worth their observation."
This notion of criticism ultimately goes back to Aristotle's Poetics
as a theory of literature.
From the literary side, starting in the 1960s literary scholars,
reacting especially against the New
of the previous decades, which tried to analyze literary texts purely
internally, began to incorporate into their analyses and
interpretations of literary works initially semiotic, linguistic,
and interpretive theory, then structuralism,
Lacanian psychoanalysis, post-structuralism, and deconstruction as well as Continental
philosophy, especially phenomenology and hermeneutics,
and critical social theory and various other forms of neo-Marxian
Thus literary criticism became highly theoretical and some of those
practicing it began referring to the theoretical dimension of their
work as "critical theory", i.e. philosophically inspired theory of
literary criticism. And thus incidentally critical theory in the
sociological sense also became, especially among literary scholars of
left-wing sympathies, one of a number of influences upon and streams
within critical theory in the literary sense.
Furthermore, along with the expansion of the mass media and
mass/popular culture in the 1960s and 1970s and the blending of social
and cultural criticism and literary criticism, the methods of both
kinds of critical theory sometimes intertwined in the analysis of
phenomena of popular culture, as in the emerging field of cultural studies, in which concepts
deriving from Marxian theory,
post-structuralism, semiology, psychoanalysis and feminist theory would be found in the same
interpretive work. Both strands were often present in the various
modalities of postmodern theory.
Language and construction
The two points at which there is the greatest overlap or mutual
impingement of the two versions of critical theory are in their
interrelated foci on language, symbolism, and communication and in
their focus on construction.
Language and communication
From the 1960s and 1970s onward, language, symbolism, text, and
meaning became foundational to theory in the humanities and social
sciences, through the short-term and long-term influences of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ferdinand de Saussure, George Herbert Mead, Noam
Chomsky, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida
and other thinkers in the traditions of linguistic and analytic
philosophy, structural linguistics, symbolic interactionism,
hermeneutics, semiology, linguistically oriented psychoanalysis (Jacques
Lacan, Alfred Lorenzer), and deconstruction.
When, in the 1970s and 1980s, Jürgen Habermas
also redefined critical social theory as a theory of communication,
i.e. communicative competence and communicative rationality on the one
hand, distorted communication on the other, the two versions of
critical theory began to overlap or intertwine to a much greater degree
Both versions of critical theory have focused on the processes of
synthesis, production, or construction by which the phenomena and
objects of human communication, culture, and political consciousness
come about. Whether it is through the universal pragmatic principles
through which mutual understanding is generated (Habermas), the
semiotic rules by which objects of daily usage or of fashion obtain
their meanings (Barthes), the psychological processes by which the
phenomena of everyday consciousness are generated (psychoanalytic
thinkers), the episteme
that underlies our cognitive formations (Foucault), and so on, there is
a common interest in the processes (often of a linguistic or symbolic
kind) that give rise to observable phenomena. Here there is significant
mutual influence among aspects of the different versions of critical
theory. Ultimately this emphasis on production and construction goes
back to the revolution wrought by Kant in philosophy, namely his focus in the Critique of Pure Reason on
synthesis according to rules as the fundamental activity of the mind
that creates the order of our experience.
Outhwaite, William. 1988. Habermas: Key Contemporary Thinkers
2nd Edition (2009). p5. ISBN: 9780745643281
Outhwaite, William. 1988. Habermas: Key Contemporary Thinkers
2nd Edition (2009), p.5-8 (ISBN: 9780745643281)
"Theses on Feuerbach". Marxists Internet Archive. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm. Retrieved 2008-08-22.
Adorno, T. W., with Max Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment.
Trans. Edmund Jephcott. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2002. 242.
"Critical Theory was initially developed in Horkheimer’s circle to
think through political disappointments at the absence of revolution in
the West, the development of Stalinism in Soviet Russia, and the
victory of fascism in Germany. It was supposed to explain mistaken
Marxist prognoses, but without breaking Marxist intentions." "The
Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment: Horkheimer and Adorno." in
Habermas, Jürgen. The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity:
Twelve Lectures. trans. Frederick Lawrence. Cambridge, MA: MIT
Press, 1987. 116. Also, see Helmut Dubiel, Theory and Politics:
Studies in the Development of Critical Theory, trans. Benjamin
Gregg (Cambridge, Mass. and London, 1985).
"[G]one are the objective laws of the market which ruled in the actions
of the entrepreneurs and tended toward catastrophe. Instead the
conscious decision of the managing directors executes as results (which
are more obligatory than the blindest price-mechanisms) the old law of
value and hence the destiny of capitalism." Dialectic of
Enlightenment. p. 38.
"The Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment," p. 118.
Outhwaite, William. 1988. Habermas: Key Contemporary Thinkers
2nd Edition (2009). p6. ISBN: 9780745643281
Addison, Joseph (1712-02-02). "Literary Criticism". Spectator
291. http://www.ourcivilisation.com/smartboard/shop/fowlerjh/chap20.htm. Retrieved 2008-08-22.
- An accessible primer for the literary aspect of critical theory
is Jonathan Culler's Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction
- Another short introductory volume with illustrations:
"Introducing Critical Theory" Stuart Sim & Borin Van Loon, 2001. ISBN 1-84046-264-7
- A survey of and introduction to the current state of critical
social theory is Craig Calhoun's Critical Social Theory: Culture,
History, and the Challenge of Difference (Blackwell, 1995) ISBN 1-55786-288-5
- Problematizing Global Knowledge. Theory, Culture &
Society. Vol. 23 (2–3). (Sage, 2006) ISSN 0263-2764
- Raymond GeussThe Idea of a Critical
Theory. Habermas and the Frankfurt School. (Cambridge University
Press,1981) ISBN 0-521-28422-8
- Charles Arthur Willard Liberalism and the Problem of
Knowledge: A New Rhetoric for Modern Democracy. University of
Chicago Press. 1996.
- Charles Arthur Willard, A Theory of Argumentation.
University of Alabama Press. 1989.
- Charles Arthur Willard, Argumentation and the Social Grounds
of Knowledge. University of Alabama Press. 1982.
- Harry Dahms (ed.) No Social Science
Without Critical Theory. Volume 25 of Current Perspectives in
Social Theory (Emerald/JAI, 2008).
- Charmaz, K. (1995). Between positivism and postmodernism:
Implications for methods. Studies in Symbolic Interaction, 17, 43–72.
- Conquergood, D. (1991). Rethinking ethnography: Towards a
critical cultural politics. Communication Monographs, 58,
- Lindlof, T. R., & Taylor, B. C. (2002). Qualitative
Communication Research Methods, 2nd Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA:
- An example of critical postmodern work is Rolling, Jr., J. H.
(2008). Secular blasphemy: Utter(ed) transgressions against names and
fathers in the postmodern era. Qualitative Inquiry, 14, 926–948.
- Thomas, Jim (1993). Doing Critical Ethnography. London,
New York (NY): Sage 1993, pp. 1–5 & 17–25
- An example of critical qualitative research is Tracy, S. J.
Becoming a character for commerce: Emotion labor, self subordination
and discursive construction of identity in a total institution. Management
Communication Quarterly, 14, 90–128.
- Luca Corchia, La logica dei processi
culturali. Jürgen Habermas tra filosofia e sociologia,
Genova, Edizioni ECIG, 2010, ISBN 978-88-7544-195-1.
: Critical theory
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Cultural studies is an academic field grounded in critical theory, which combines political economy, communication,
social theory, literary theory, media theory, film/video
studies, cultural anthropology, philosophy,
museum studies and art
history/criticism to study cultural
phenomena in various societies. Cultural studies researchers often
concentrate on how a particular phenomenon relates to matters of ideology,
class, sexuality, and/or gender.
The term was coined by Richard Hoggart in 1964 when he founded
the Birmingham Centre for
Contemporary Cultural Studies or CCCS. It has since become strongly
associated with Stuart Hall,
who succeeded Hoggart as Director. George Mason University offered the
first stand-alone interdisciplinary Ph.D. in cultural studies in the
United States. 
From the 1970s onward, Stuart Hall's pioneering work, along with his
colleagues Paul Willis, Dick
Hebdige, Tony Jefferson, and Angela McRobbie, created an international
intellectual movement. Many cultural studies scholars employed Marxist methods of analysis, exploring the
relationships between cultural forms (the
superstructure) and that of the political economy (the base).
the 1970s, however, the politically formidable British working
classes were in decline. Britain's manufacturing industries were fading
and union rolls were shrinking. Yet, millions of working class Britons
backed the rise of Margaret Thatcher. For Stuart Hall and
other Marxist theorists, this shift in loyalty from the Labour Party to the Conservative Party was
antithetical to the interests of the working class and had to be
explained in terms of cultural politics.
In order to understand the changing political circumstances of
class, politics, and culture in the United Kingdom, scholars at the
CCCS turned to the work of Antonio Gramsci.
Gramsci had been concerned with similar issues: why would Italian
laborers and peasants vote for fascists? Why, in other words, would
working people vote to give more control to corporations, and see their
own rights and freedoms abrogated? Gramsci modified classical Marxism
in seeing culture as a key instrument of political and social control.
In this view, capitalists use not only brute force (police, prisons,
repression, military) to maintain control, but also penetrate the
everyday culture of working people. Thus, the key rubric for Gramsci
and for cultural studies is that of cultural hegemony.
||In the work of Hall,
Hebdige and McRobbie, popular culture came to the fore... What Gramsci
gave to this was the importance of consent and culture. If the
fundamental Marxists saw power in terms of class versus class, then
Gramsci gave to us a question of class alliance. The rise of
cultural studies itself was based on the decline of the prominence of
fundamental class-versus-class politics.
Write Edgar and Sedgwick:
The theory of hegemony
was of central importance to the development of British cultural
studies [particularly the CCCS]. It facilitated analysis of the ways in
which subordinate groups actively resist and respond to political and
economic domination. The subordinate groups need not be seen merely as
the passive dupes of the dominant class and its ideology.
This line of thinking opened up fruitful work exploring agency;
a theoretical outlook which reinserted the active, critical capacities
of all people. Notions of agency have supplanted much scholarly
emphasis on groups of people (e.g. the working class, primitives,
colonized peoples, women) whose political consciousness
and scope of action was generally limited to their position within
certain economic and political structures. In other words, many
economists, sociologists, political scientists, and historians have
traditionally deprived everyday people of a role in shaping their world
or outlook, although anthropologists since the 1960s have foregrounded
the power of agents to contest structure, first in the work of
transactionalists like Fredrik
Barth, and then in works inspired by resistance theory and
At times, cultural studies' romance with agency nearly excluded the
possibility of oppression, overlooks the fact that the subaltern have
their own politics, and romanticizes agency, overblowing its
potentiality and pervasiveness. In work of this kind, popular in the
1990s, many cultural studies scholars discovered in consumers ways of
creatively using and subverting commodities and dominant ideologies.
This orientation has come under fire for a variety of reasons.
Cultural studies concerns itself with the meaning
and practices of everyday life. Cultural practices comprise the ways
people do particular things (such as watching television, or eating
out) in a given culture. In any given practice, people use various
objects (such as iPods or crucifixes). Hence, this field studies the
meanings and uses people attribute to various objects and practices.
Recently, as capitalism has spread throughout the world (a
process associated with globalization),
cultural studies has begun to analyse local and global forms of
resistance to Western hegemony.
In his book Introducing Cultural Studies, Ziauddin Sardar lists the following five
main characteristics of cultural studies:
- Cultural studies aims to examine its subject matter in terms of
cultural practices and their relation to power. For example,
a study of a subculture
(such as white working class youth in London) would consider the social
practices of the youth as they relate to the dominant classes.
- It has the objective of understanding culture in all its complex
forms and of analyzing the social and political context in which
culture manifests itself.
- It is both the object of study and the location of political
criticism and action. For example, not only would a cultural studies
scholar study an object, but she/he would connect this study to a
larger, progressive political project.
- It attempts to expose and reconcile the division of knowledge,
to overcome the split between tacit cultural knowledge and objective
(universal) forms of knowledge.
- It has a commitment to an ethical evaluation of modern society
and to a radical line of political action.
Since cultural studies is an interdisciplinary field, its
practitioners draw a diverse array of theories and practices.
Scholars in the United Kingdom and the United
developed somewhat different versions of cultural studies after the
field's inception in the late 1970s. The British version of cultural
studies was developed in the 1950s and 1960s mainly under the influence
first of Richard Hoggart, E. P. Thompson, and Raymond Williams, and later Stuart Hall and others at
Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham. This
included overtly political, left-wing views, and criticisms of popular culture as 'capitalist' mass culture; it absorbed some of the ideas of
the Frankfurt School critique of the "culture industry"
(i.e. mass culture). This emerges in the writings of early British
cultural-studies scholars and their influences: see the work of (for
example) Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, Paul Willis, and Paul
In contrast, "cultural studies was grounded in a pragmatic,
liberal-pluralist tradition" in the United States (Lindlof &
Taylor, 2002,p. 60).The American version of cultural studies
concerned itself more with understanding the subjective and
appropriative side of audience reactions to, and uses of, mass culture; for example, American
cultural-studies advocates wrote about the liberatory aspects of fandom.
The distinction between American and British strands, however, has
cultural studies has sometimes focused on issues of technology and society, continuing
the emphasis in the work of Marshall McLuhan and others. In Australia,
there has sometimes been a special emphasis on cultural policy. In South Africa, human
rights and Third World issues are among the topics
treated. There were a number of exchanges between Birmingham and Italy,
resulting in work on Italian leftism, and theories of postmodernism. On the other hand, there
is a debate in Latin America about the relevance of
cultural studies, with some researchers calling for more
action-oriented research. Cultural Studies is
relatively undeveloped in France, where there is a stronger tradition of semiotics,
as in the writings of Roland Barthes. Also in Germany
it is undeveloped, probably due to the continued influence of the Frankfurt School, which has developed a
body of writing on such topics as mass culture, modern art and music.
Some researchers, especially in early British cultural studies,
apply a Marxist model to the field. This strain of
thinking has some influence from the Frankfurt School, but especially from the
structuralist Marxism of Louis Althusser and others. The main focus
of an orthodox Marxist approach concentrates on the production
of meaning. This model assumes
a mass production of culture and identifies power as residing with
those producing cultural artifacts. In a Marxist view,
those who control the means of production (the economic base)
essentially control a culture.
Other approaches to cultural studies, such as feminist
cultural studies and later American developments of the field, distance
themselves from this view. They criticize the Marxist assumption of a
single, dominant meaning, shared by all, for any cultural product. The
non-Marxist approaches suggest that different ways of consuming
cultural artifacts affect the meaning of the product. This view is best
exemplified by the book Doing Cultural Studies: The Case of the
Sony Walkman (by Paul du Gay
et al.), which seeks to challenge the notion that those who produce
commodities control the meanings that people attribute to them.
Feminist cultural analyst, theorist and art historian Griselda Pollock contributed to cultural
studies from viewpoints of art
history and psychoanalysis. The writer Julia Kristeva
is was an influential voice in the turn of the century, contributing to
cultural studies from the field of art and psychoanalytical French feminism.
Ultimately, this perspective criticizes the traditional view
assuming a passive consumer, particularly by underlining the different
ways people read, receive, and interpret cultural texts. On
this view, a consumer can appropriate, actively reject, or challenge
the meaning of a product. These different approaches have shifted the
focus away from the production of items. Instead, they argue
plays an equally important role, since the way consumers consume a
product gives meaning to an item. Some closely link the act of
consuming with cultural identity. Stuart Hall and John Fiske
have become influential in these developments.
In the context of cultural studies, the idea of a text not only includes written language, but
texts of cultural studies comprise all the meaningful artifacts of
culture. Similarly, the discipline widens the concept of "culture".
"Culture" for a cultural studies researcher not only includes
traditional high culture (the culture of ruling
and popular culture,
but also everyday meanings and practices. The last two, in fact, have
become the main focus of cultural studies. A further and recent
approach is comparative cultural studies,
based on the discipline of comparative literature and cultural
Cultural studies is not a unified theory but a diverse field of
study encompassing many different approaches, methods, and academic
perspectives; as in any academic discipline, cultural studies academics
frequently debate among themselves. However, some academics from other
fields have criticised the discipline as a whole. It has been popular
to dismiss cultural studies as an academic fad. Yale literature
professor Harold Bloom
has been an outspoken critic of the cultural studies model of literary
studies. Critics such as Bloom see cultural studies as it applies to
literary scholarship as a vehicle of careerism by academics, instead
promoting essentialist theories of culture, mobilising arguments that
scholars should promote the public interest by studying what makes
beautiful literary works beautiful.
Bloom stated his position during the 3 September 2000 episode of
||[T]here are two
reading now in the world, not just in the English-speaking world. One
[is] the lunatic destruction of literary studies...and its replacement
by what is called cultural studies in all of the universities and
colleges in the English-speaking world, and everyone knows what that
phenomenon is. I mean, the...now-weary phrase 'political correctness'
remains a perfectly good descriptive phrase for what has gone on and
is, alas, still going on almost everywhere and which dominates, I would
say, rather more than three-fifths of the tenured faculties in the
English-speaking world, who really do represent a treason of the
intellectuals, I think, a 'betrayal of the clerks'."
Literary critic Terry Eagleton
is not wholly opposed to cultural studies theory like Bloom, but has
criticised certain aspects of it, highlighting what he sees as its
strengths and weaknesses in books such as After Theory (2003).
For Eagleton, literary and cultural theory
have the potential to say important things about the "fundamental
questions" in life, but theorists have rarely realized this potential.
One of the most prominent critiques of cultural studies came from
physicist Alan Sokal, who submitted
an article to a cultural-studies journal, Social
Text. This article was what Sokal thought would be a parody of
what he perceived to be the "fashionable nonsense" of postmodernists
working in cultural studies. As the paper was coming out, Sokal
published an article in a self-described "academic gossip" magazine Lingua Franca, revealing the
hoax. His explanation for doing this was:
because most (though not all) of this silliness is emanating from the
self-proclaimed Left. We're witnessing here a profound historical volte-face.
most of the past two centuries, the Left has been identified with
science and against obscurantism; we have believed that rational
thought and the fearless analysis of objective reality (both natural
and social) are incisive tools for combating the mystifications
promoted by the powerful -- not to mention being desirable human ends
in their own right. The recent turn of many "progressive" or "leftist"
academic humanists and social scientists toward one or another form of
epistemic relativism betrays this worthy heritage and undermines the
already fragile prospects for progressive social critique. Theorizing
about "the social construction of reality" won't help us find an
effective treatment for AIDS or devise strategies for preventing global
warming. Nor can we combat false ideas in history, sociology, economics
and politics if we reject the notions of truth and falsity.
Another criticism comes from the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu,
who has also written on topics such as photography, art museums, and
modern literature. Bourdieu's point is that cultural studies lacks
His own work makes innovative use of statistics and in-depth
interviews. Cultural studies is relatively unstructured as an academic
field. It is difficult to hold researchers accountable for their claims
because there is no agreement on method and validity.
Conversely, cultural studies scholars have criticized more
traditional academic disciplines such as literary criticism, science,
and art history.
Cultural Studies in the 21st
Though a young discipline, cultural studies has established a firm
footing in many universities around the globe. With steadily rising
enrollments, expanding numbers of departments, and a robust publishing
field, cultural studies steps into the 21st century as a young yet
successful discipline. The
discipline is filled with discussions about its future directions,
methods, and purposes.
Sociologist Scott Lash
has recently put forth the idea that cultural studies is entering a new
phase. Arguing that the political and economic milieu has fundamentally
altered from that of the 1970s, he writes, "I want to suggest that
power now... is largely post-hegemonic... Hegemony was the
concept that de facto crystallized cultural studies as a discipline.
Hegemony means domination through consent as much as coercion. It has
meant domination through ideology or discourse..." 
He writes that the flow of power is becoming more internalized, that
there has been "a shift in power from the hegemonic mode of 'power
over' to an intensive notion of power from within
(including domination from within) and power as a generative force."
Resistance to power, in other words, becomes complicated when power and
domination are increasingly (re)produced within oneself, within subaltern groups, within
In response, however, Richard Johnson argues that Lash appears
to have misunderstood the most basic concept of the discipline.
even in the writings of Antonio Gramsci,
is not understood as a mode of domination at all, but as a form of
political leadership which involves a complex set of relationships
between various groups and individuals and which always proceeds from
the immanence of power to all social relations. This complex
understanding has been taken much further in the work of Stuart Hall
and that of political theorist Ernesto Laclau,
who has had some influence on Cultural Studies. It is therefore unclear
as to why Lash claims that Cultural Studies has understood hegemony as
a form of domination, or where the originality of his theory of power
is actually thought to lie.
This illustrates the extent to which Cultural Studies remains a
highly contested field of intellectual debate and self-revision.
Institutionally, the discipline has undergone major shifts. The
Department of Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham, which
was descended from the Centre for
Contemporary Cultural Studies,
closed in 2002, although by this time the intellectual centre of
gravity of the discipline had long since shifted to other universities
throughout the world. Strong cultural studies programs can be found in
the United Kingdom, North and South America, Europe, Australia, and
Asia, and there are a host of journals and conferences where cultural
studies research is published and presented.
Hall identifies some originating texts, or the original
'curriculum', of the field of cultural studies:
In a loosely related but separate usage, the phrase cultural studies
sometimes serves as a rough synonym
for area studies, as a general term referring
to the academic study of particular cultures in departments and
programs such as Islamic studies, Asian
studies, African American studies, et
However, strictly speaking, cultural studies programs are not concerned
with specific areas of the world so much as specific cultural practices.
Lash, pp 68-9
Edgar & Sedgewick, 165.
Bakhtin, Mikhail 1981. The Dialogic Imagination. Austin, TX: UT
A Physicist Experiments With
Cultural Studies, Alan Sokal
see An Introduction to the Work of Pierre Bourdieu: The Theory of
Practice, (Eds) Richard Harker,
Houndmills : Macmillan, 1990 pg68-71
Lash, p. 55
Johnson, pp. 95-110
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