Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Preparing for Fragmentation

So in February I’ll be presenting to the Hegel Summer School, an event that has been taking place for the past ten years, and that brings together activists and academics to discuss specific themes in contemporary critical theory. The format involves a sort of casual introductory event the evening before the formal presentations, at which presenters and other participants can meet one another in a less structured setting, and then two days of presentations and discussions – only four presenters, with half a day devoted to each presentation (one hour for the presentation, a break for tea, and then something like ninety minutes for discussion). The aim is to allow enough time, and an appropriate format, to make it possible for the presenters to demystify some of the theoretical material often sequestered off in academic spaces, and also to make it possible for all participants to engage in meaningful discussion about the possible connections or disconnects between “academic” theory and other forms of politically engaged practice.

This year’s theme is “Solidarity or Community? Philosophy and Antidotes to Fragmentation”. The title of my presentation is intended to be “Fighting for what we mean: Reflections on the unfinished project of critical theory” – which sounds very interesting, except that I haven’t written the presentation yet, so we’ll see if I can live up to my own title… ;-P My rough intention is to outline the idea of an immanent reflexive critical theory (in the sense I tend to use on the blog) then, given the traditional Hegelian orientation of this event, discuss how understanding a little bit about Hegel, and Marx’s relationship to Hegel, can help us appropriate Marx in a meaningful way to connect a critical theory to potentials for mobilisation. I then want to spend much of my time on the question of why it can be structurally difficult to “fight for what we mean” – using this theme to say a bit about how I understand Marx’s take on potentials for misrecognition “built in” to the reproduction of capital. I’m slightly concerned that this may not hit directly enough on the “solidarity or community” theme, so I may need to find room somehow to explain the ways in which the whole question of social fragmentation and integration is a pivot point on which political economy (and then, later, sociology) turns – such that both Hegel and Marx are trying to provide a different sort of response to this problem than the political economists were intending to do. Given that I’m two months away from presenting, I still have a great deal to work out, in terms of what I want to say, and how I plan to say it…

At any rate: so why am I writing about this now, you might ask? Well, the presenters have been asked to recommend some short, accessible, topical readings that can be recommended to participants who want a bit of specific background prior to attending the event. I need to put some recommendations together soon, and I’m simply drawing a blank on what might be useful. Some selections from the first chapter of Capital probably make some sense, but offhand nothing else is coming to mind. So I thought I would toss the concept out, in case something immediately springs to anyone else’s mind. If I’m understanding correctly, the idea is that the readings should prime participants to engage more actively with the presentations, by giving background, or clarifying terms, or providing an example of the sorts of theory discussed, or similar. I’m open to suggestions 🙂

2 responses to “Preparing for Fragmentation

  1. Adam Leeds December 20, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    The first two chapters of Postone’s Time, Labor, and Social Domination would be my obvious first pick. Also, that Horkheimer essay, Traditional and Critical Theory. But I’m not sure if those count as “accessible”. More accessible might be the little book (or chapters of it) by Raymond Geuss, The Idea of a Critical Theory, that lays out the arguments for different kinds of Marxist theories called ‘critical’ very very clearly.

  2. N Pepperell December 20, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    Hey Adam – I had considered the Postone, but it’s fairly dense text, for the most part. He might have an article that might be more appropriate – it might be worth my hunting around in his other publications to see. I had also considered the Horkheimer but, on a look back, feel that it’s probably also too dense. It’s sort of reassuring, though, to hear similar things come to mind for someone else 🙂

    I’ve considered perhaps some excerpts from more aphoristically structured Frankfurt School material. I’ve also considered using part of Postone’s chapter on the first generation Frankfurt School, as that one is a bit more accessible, I think, than the more theoretical chapters.

    The Geuss is a good idea – I’ll have a flip through and see what could be excerpted.

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