Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Not Even a Footnote to History…

I’ve mentioned previously that I have a tendency to… overannotate academic texts. This results from the tendency to want to address far more than one article can conceivably bear, so the footnotes hold non-core content, and act as placeholders for articles or portions of articles I may eventually write. The plus side is that my actual texts tend to be fairly “clean”, since anything that doesn’t contribute to the core argument tends to get pruned or moved into a note.

I’m currently working on a draft, though, that seems to have taken this tendency to some sort of new level – I’ve just realised that I have a sort of… orphaned footnote at the end of my text – something that used to be associated with some point that has long been discarded from the actual text. It no longer fits anywhere in the draft, even by my generous standards for annotation. So I thought I might as well post it here: for anyone tempted to be confused about the meaning of “historical materialism”, here is the footnote for you…

I have used the term “secular” above, in place of the more contextually common term “historical materialist”. Unfortunately, the vernacular meaning of the term “materialism”, combined with the long historical association of the term with Marxist theories that privilege the economic dimensions of social life, has obscured the original meaning of the term, causing even many academic readers to assume that “historical materialism” has something to do with the claim that greed or economic activity is a driving force of historical change. The original intention behind the term “historical materialism”, however, was simply to assert that the forces driving human history were “material”, rather than spiritual or idealist. Or, to translate the same concepts into more modern terms: that any patterns or “structures” we might find in human history are ultimately the result of human practices, even if humans are not fully conscious of the ways their actions create such patterns, and that, if we wish to understand the historical dynamics of human society, we should look first to our own collective practices, rather than to teleological or theological explanations.


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