Workshop: After Modernity, into Complexity? Possibilities for Critique

After Modernity, into Complexity? Possibilities for Critique in an Age of Global Cooperation

International workshop at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research, Duisburg, Germany

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The question of spaces, possibilities and positions of critique has been picked up with renewed vigour today. The basis on which the current engagement takes place are fundamental and ongoing transformations in resistance, governing and critique. These include: a transformation of resistant politics form class struggle of socialist movements of the late 19th and early 20th century, to the culture wars of the New Left of the 1960s and 70s through to today’s acephalous bubble-up politics of Occupy etc. Governing rationalities have undergone a transformation from the liberal rule over the public of legal subjects, to the neoliberal responsibilisation of the entrepreneurial subject through to today’s resilience approaches of governing through the learning subject. Critique has shifted from structuralist thought of orthodox Marxism, to its poststructuralist challenge of ethical deconstruction through to today’s nonstructuralist theorisations, such as actor-network theories, new materialism and ‘life politics’. At the same time, Critical Theory in its Habermasian and more Marxist variants, is trying hard to rejuvenate critique under labels such as ‘justification’, ‘the right to justification’, ‘forms of life’ or ‘staging totality’. In essence, the terrain of sociological and philosophical critique is as crowded as ever. Yet, its traction with political struggles seems to be weaker than ever before.

The aim of the workshop, building on the previous event on ‘Culture, Life and Critique’ (23 April 2013), is twofold: First, it seeks to engage further with the question how we can come to a better understanding of the present (and its challenges) through excavating the rationale of current critique and through scrutinising its emancipatory imaginary. If the Enlightenment as critique meant the subject’s ‘exit from’ self-imposed immaturity, what is current critical thought ‘exiting from’ and what is its promise? Is it that complexity leaves us no other option than to immerse ourselves in necessary, i.e. global, cooperation, both hailed as a solution to our problems and conceptualised as grounded in what is biologically or normatively “given”, instead of deliberately engage in emancipatory critique and struggle? Second, what may be the reasons for the lack of traction of contemporary social critique and how can this irrelevance be overcome? We wish to explore these questions with a particular view on the self-referentiality of critical thought. We invite participants to reflect critically upon the question whether the diversification of critical thought resonates with rather than challenges a world that is thought to be complex.

Particular questions we are interested in include (but are not limited to):

  • How has the subject of critique been displaced and/or altered in the shifts from structuralist to poststructuralist to nonstructuralist critique, i.e. does a discourse on complexity resonate more with a focus on cooperation than with one on conflict?
  • Can antagonistic terms such as class and social totality still animate contemporary critique? Is there a place for insolvable conflict in an age where global cooperation seems to be a necessity and not a mere plea?
  • If the excess of life is (over)burdened with both power as well as critical potential against the artificial reductionism and constraint of structure, is external critique bound to be immersed into it or can we bring structure back in?

Confirmed speakers:

Prof David Chandler, University of Westminster

Dr Benjamin Herborth, University of Groningen

Prof Oliver Marchart, Kunstakademie Düsseldorf

Dr Dimitrios Sotiropoulos, Open University


We have limited funding available for travel, accommodation and subsistence. Please send abstracts for consideration of not more than 300 words to the organisers by March 9th at the latest. Pol Bargués Pedreny, Kai Koddenbrock, Mario Schmidt, Jessica Schmidt

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