Issue 137, December 2016

Unease with Civilization: Elias, Koselleck, Alexander


The unease with civilization

Nicole Pepperell

Abstract: Norbert Elias’s concept of the civilizing process is perhaps the most controversial aspect of his work, attracting frequent criticism for its perceived Eurocentrism, as well as impassioned defences that critics have misunderstood the concept. In this piece, I explore how The Civilizing Process channels unacknowledged Eurocentric stereotypes in ways that infuse the theory at a depth level. I then examine the downstream ramifications of these stereotypes by contrasting Elias’s analysis of the Holocaust, as presented in The Germans, with his analysis of colonialism as presented in The Civilizing Process. I argue that Elias’s failure to integrate forms of state violence directed at the colonial periphery undermines his ability to analyse state violence in the core. A more adequate approach would theorize ‘civilization’ as an ambivalent and contradictory process whose violent character is often – though not always – more exposed and visible on the periphery.

Mimesis as mediation: A dialectical conception of the videogame interface

Benjamin Nicoll

Abstract: Phenomenological accounts of technology, mediation, and embodiment are beginning to problematize traditional distinctions between subject (human) and object (machine). This shift is often attributed to a material or post-human turn since it is usually associated with an interest in the non-human actors and objects that make media interfaces possible. This article contends that these tendencies should also be considered part of a deeper lineage of dialectical thought in critical theory. Using videogames as an example, I argue that academic debates related to the player/game relationship can be read through the lens of Adorno’s aesthetic theory. Developing Adorno’s concept of mimesis, I argue that the interface is often treated as a dialectical question of how the space between subject and object should be traversed. I reflect on the possible advantages of focusing on this contested space through a discussion of game controllers and the Aristotelian concept of techne.

Pillars in the works of Loïc Wacquant: Against a fragmented reception

Kristian Nagel Delica & Christian Sandbjerg Hansen

Abstract: The critical and polemic receptions of the work of Loïc Wacquant has been extensive, but to a large extent focused on specific works and colored by professional specialty, that is, in a word: fragmented. In counteracting that fragmented response, the article sheds light on the undercurrents in Wacquant’s works by stressing four prominent and consistent features: his heritage from (and updating of) Bourdieu; his emphasis on and constant practice of theory (implicit as well as explicit); the distinct ethos with which he addresses political sociology (in the dual form of a sociology analyzing the effects of the political productions of populations categories and a so-called ‘civic sociology’); and finally, the persistent and ubiquitous critique of everything in existence – a thematic indicator permeating each and every one of his works. Thus the article proposes a unifying reading of Wacquant as an interpretation advocating revitalization of a critical social science.

The temporalization of critique and the open riddle of history: On Reinhart Koselleck’s contributions to critical theory

Rodrigo Cordero

Abstract: The main goal of this paper is to offer a reading of Reinhart Koselleck’s work as an ally of critical theory. My contention is that, despite customary accusations of Koselleck being an anti-Enlightenment historian detrimental to social criticism and emancipatory politics, his investigations on the semantic fabric of modern society may actually expand our resources for the critique of domination. In order to make this argument plausible, I reconstruct some antinomies that are at the basis of Koselleck’s work (state/society, language/reality, experience/expectation) and discuss their critical potential. This analysis shows that, rather than a rejection of the spirit of critique, Koselleck contributes to the temporalization of the practice of critique as such: namely, a clarification of the contradictions and potentials of a reflexive practice imbued in the struggle between the need to comprehend the world as it is and the right to experiment with other forms of life.

Progress and disillusion: Civil repair and its discontents

Jeffrey C. Alexander

Abstract: Civil Sphere Theory (CST) provides a more dynamic, cultural, and democratically oriented model of contemporary society than either conflict or modernization theory. Civil spheres expand and contract in contradictory ways. Utopian periods of utopian repair trigger defensive efforts that primordialize and exclude. Late 20th century civil repair generated new relations of economic production and more multicultural modes of integration. Early 21rst century reactions have highlighted dangers, demanding more cultural homogeneity amidst rising concerns about inequality. There is increasing disillusionment about the possibility for democratic progress.

Perth Cultural Studies: A brief and partial intellectual history

Jon Stratton

Abstract: In the early 1980s Perth was probably the most important city in Australia for Cultural Studies. Through that decade many intellectuals who became leaders in Australian Cultural Studies and important players in Cultural Studies outside of Australia worked in Perth. Among them were John Fiske, John Frow, John Hartley, Tom O’Regan, Lesley Stern, Graeme Turner and, a decade later, Ien Ang. This essay discusses the presence of these academics in Perth and advances some reasons why Perth became so important to Cultural Studies in Australia. It also discusses the kind of Cultural Studies that became privileged in Perth and considers some of the reasons for this. Perth Cultural Studies in the 1980s was primarily text-based and focused on screen-related popular culture, especially television programs and popular film. Cultural Studies in Perth developed in a city thought of as marginal to Australia, in institutions that were either not universities or, in the case of Murdoch University, was a very new university, by cosmopolitan academics who mostly came from either elsewhere in Australia or from the United Kingdom.

Review essay

From Frankfurt to Cologne: On Wolfgang Streeck and the crises of democratic capitalism
Tim Holst Celik

Book reviews

Simon Marginson reviews A History of the Modern Australian University, and Australia’s Boldest Experiment: War and Reconstruction in the 1940s

Andrew Milner reviews An Ecology of World Literature: From Antiquity to the Present Day

Norbert Ebert reviews The Critical Theory of Axel Honneth


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