Michael E Smith provides a link in a comment to a paper of his, on the uses of urban theory in archaeological research on ancient cities – his argument is that this work serves as middle-range theory in contrast to grand theory of the sort developed by Latour, or Giddens, or Bourdieu. I like the idea that theories are always best when they are marked by a certain sort of empirical modesty – although it’s interesting that the sorts of social theory that Smith thinks of as ‘grand’ in his field would in geography these days appear to be much more ‘middling’ than the grandly philosophical styles associated with current work on spatial ontologies, affect, events, the post-political, and related themes.
Todd Gitlin has a blog post on ‘the perils of public intellectualizing‘, taking as his case Anthony Giddens and his foray into Libyan affairs in the mid-2000s. Gitlin includes a link to two pieces from 2006 and 2007, which provide further context to the gobbet posted on Progressive Geographies the other day. Robert Putnam also has a piece, not quite a mea culpa, on his encounter with Gaddafi, which echoes Barber‘s sobering evaluation of the prospects for democracy in Libya.
Is the more or less grudging involvement of social theorists with the Libyan regime in the 2000s now shown to be an index of naivety, or stupidity, or venality? The involvement of David Held and the LSE has been much discussed this week, via Saif Gaddafi’s PhD, and an optimistic commentary by Anthony Giddens in 2007 unearthed. Rather more interesting perhaps is the democratic theorist Benjamin Barber, whose involvement with the Qadaffi Foundation is long-standing. Here is a comment by Barber in 2007 on the ‘normalisation’ of relations with Libya, around nuclear weapons and the ‘war on terror’ in particular. Barber has now resigned from this organisation, and this involvement is the basis of his rather sobering analysis of the prospects for democratization in Libya whatever the outcome of current events.