Bite Size Theory: The Visual World of French Theory

Photo Yann Revol“I argue both directly and implicitly that it was the confrontation with the explosion of the art world and its discourses – as well as events on the street and the barricades – that released a generation of philosophers from the ivory tower of the École Normale Supérieure and that their engagement with contemporary art played a crucial role in formulating the new postmodern mindset”.

Sarah Wilson, 2010, The Visual World of French Theory: Figurations, Yale University Press.

Bite Size Theory: Derrida/Searle

“It is no small statement to affirm that the richness of this controversy makes ostensible not the insurmountable divergence of the continental and analytic traditions, but rather the wealth and diversity of the discussions of intentionality in the twentieth century”.

Raoul Moati, 2014, Derrida/Searle: Deconstruction and Ordinary Language, Columbia University Press.

Theorising emergent public spheres

ActaI have previously mentioned attending a recent conference on publics and problems at Westminster, where I talked to a forthcoming paper titled Theorising emergent public spheres – well, it is now published, which is nice. The paper works through some ideas about how to think about the values of publicness, in relation to various issues arising from South African politics and public culture. I try to use the South African examples as occasions to think about how the values associated with  publicness always arise in contexts of ‘extension’, and therefore of transformation and translation, and not just of ‘application’ (the paper doesn’t actually put in like that though).

This paper sits alongside another one, more explicitly framed around how best to think about the value of public space, which together seek to spell out an analytical framework of sorts, or a set of questions at least, for investigating the formation of public life. These pieces are products of 5 years worth of workshopping around ‘public’ topics, including various ongoing invitations to listen or talk. I’m not sure if sitting around listening to what other people think about publicness, and specifically why they think it matters or not, counts as fieldwork but I have ended up thinking that this has been the ‘methodology’ I have been using to ‘theorise’ about these issues.

My paper is part of a theme issue of a South African journal, based at the University of Free State, called Acta AcademicaThe special issue on publics arises out of a workshop held in Bloemfontein back in 2012. It is also the first edition of the re-launched journal, which under the editorship of Lis Lange is now framed very clearly as a venue for “Critical views on society, culture and politics”:

“Acta Academica is an academic journal dedicated to scholarship in the humanities. The journal publishes scholarly articles that examine society, culture and politics past and present from a critical social theory perspective. The journal is also interested in scholarly work that examines how the humanities in the 21st Century are responding to the double imperative of theorising the world and changing it.”

The journal is available via the Sabinet platform, and it does also have an page (here). I have copies of the papers in this special issue should you be interested.

Bite Size Theory: Fear Itself

“Overall, the New Deal had to travel uncharted territory, often without maps in hand. To comprehend its achievements and their price, we must incorporate uncertainty’s state of doubt, and identify the objects of fear and the effects of being frightened”.

Ira Katznelson, 2013, Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time, Liveright Publishing.

Bite Size Theory: The Big Screen

“In the early 1960s, there was confusion over what to call this transaction – was it film, the movies, or cinema? You could tell a person’s taste and agenda by the word he used most often. “Cinema” meant the history, and the suggestion that it has been superior then; “film” was the essential function and might be covering an urge to make the stuff: while “movie” usually meant America and fun”.

David Thomson, 2012, The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies and What They Did to Us, Allen Lane.

Bite Size Theory: Rethinking the South African Crisis

“Ironically, attempts to render technical that which is inherently political are feeding into and amplifying the proliferation of populist politics”.

Gill Hart, 2013, Rethinking the South African Crisis: Nationalism, Populism, Hegemony, University of Kwa-Zulu Natal Press.

Bite Size Theory: The Faces of Injustice

“If we look more carefully at injustice, we will not find it any easier to answer the question: Is this a misfortune or an injustice? on any given occasion, but we may be less passively unjust than if we simply match complaints against the rules and come to a quick conclusion. To investigate the victim’s claims in the ways that I have suggested is only a tentative test to guide us, but it is both in keeping with the best impulses of democracy and our only alternative to a complacency that is bound to favor the unjust”.

Judith Shklar, 1990, The Faces of Injustice, Yale University Press.

Bite Size Theory: Sincerity and Authenticity

“If sincerity has lost its former status, if the word itself has for us a hollow sound and seems almost to negate its meaning, that is because it does not propose being true to one’s own self as an end but only a means. If one is true to oneself for the purpose of avoiding falsehood to others, is one being truly true to one’s own self? The moral end in view implies a public end in view, with all that this suggests of the esteem and fair repute that follows upon the correct fulfilment of a public role”.

Lionel Trilling, 1972, Sincerity and Authenticity, Oxford University Press.

On the underdetermination of ‘neoliberalism’ by evidence

stopDialogues in Human Geography has a debate forum discussing the relevance of the concept of neoliberalism, revolving around a piece by Sally Weller and Phil O’Neill titled ‘An argument with neoliberalism: Australia’s place in a global imaginary‘. They call into question attempts to refine the concept of neoliberalism/ization in terms of ‘variegation’ and related notions, suggesting that it might just be better to think with different concepts entirely. In the course of the debate, I discovered that I have apparently invented a new genre, called ‘neoliberalism in denial‘. Who knew! Does this make me the Bob Dylan of neoliberal studies? (and if so, does it mean that Noel Castree, who apparently followed my lead, is the Donovan of neoliberal studies?). I wonder if social science theories are the sorts of knowledge-formations that you can actually properly be ‘in denial‘ about – they aren’t quite of the same order as explanations of climate change or the etiology of AIDS, are they?

Anyway, the Weller and O’Neill piece is well worth the read, here is the abstract:

“This article argues that the uncritical application of the lens of neoliberalism closes off opportunities for more rigorous analysis of actually existing socio-economic change. We ask whether Australia’s developmental trajectory over the last three decades can be described as neoliberalization and whether the outcome is a variety of neoliberalism. Instead of stitching together a story about variegated neoliberalism, we find an alternative narrative based around the notion of a developmental project more compelling. We document the spatial and political realities that have inhibited the roll-out of neoliberal ideas and practices in the Australian context. We think that instead of expanding the varieties of variegated neoliberalism to accommodate all manner of events and processes in all sorts of places, our task should be to recognize those instances where social, political, cultural or economic changes settle capitalism’s contradictions in ways that diverge from neoliberal frameworks and expectations. Our central point is that the role of academic research is to explain the lived world and to develop abstractions to aid that explanation, rather than to design an abstraction (neoliberalism) and then fit the lived world to its contours.”