Issue 146, June 2018

Imagination and the Colonisation of Lifeworlds

Issue 146, June 2018


Élevage de poussière (1920), Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp


Art, violence and memory in Taiwan: Telling the story of the beautiful island

Mark Harrison

Taiwan is a liminal site of modernity in Asia. It is a modern exemplar as a liberal democracy with a developed economy, but is mostly unrecognized as a nation-state in the international system. In its liminality, however, it traces contours of modern power and their epistemological expression. This paper presents an account of Taiwan as an object of knowledge and representation in instances of scholarship and policy, Taiwanese politics, urban development and art, arguing that the narratives through which Taiwan is understood embed a lived experience as Taiwanese under forms of epistemological domination. The paper then explores Taiwanese responses of co-option and resistance in alternative sites of knowledge, and it concludes that the critical unexamined force in Taiwan’s experience of modernity is violence.

Castoriadis versus Michels: A reflection on the iron law of oligarchy

Gerasimos Karavitis

Throughout his life, Cornelius Castoriadis displayed an unwavering commitment to democracy. He militated for it and developed concepts to elucidate its significance for human freedom. Yet are the concepts Castoriadis developed enough to explain the depth of his aforementioned commitment? In this essay, I try to imagine how Castoriadis would have addressed Roberto Michels’s ‘iron law of oligarchy’ thesis. I find that Castoriadis’s concepts can help us question the normative value Michels assigned to oligarchy, but they fail to explain how he could have remained so committed to democracy when oligarchy seems ineluctable. Such a commitment, I argue, ultimately rests on an existential decision, the roots of which cannot be rationally explained.

Suffering and sovereignty: Martyrdom in the late modern West

Clayton Fordahl

This article investigates the recent martyrdom of the French Catholic priest Jacques Hamel in order to assess the possibilities of sacrificial commemoration in a world that is increasingly globalized, increasingly secularized, and also increasingly subject to the capricious violence of religiously-infused terrorism. I argue that under contemporary conditions it has become increasingly difficult to articulate a meaningful form of sacrifice that exists beyond the logic of sovereignty. However, I conclude by identifying rare and fleeting instances of martyrdom which seem to promise the return to the concept’s counter-sovereign heritage.

The theology of the image in television and emblem theories

Axel Fliethmann

The article provides a comparative analysis of the similarities of arguments put forward by discourses on mass imagery in the Renaissance and modernity. In particular, emblem theories are quite striking in the way they advanced similar arguments to theories about television. In both cases we find iconoclast and iconodule arguments, and in both cases we find an implicit, holy or unholy theological connection being made between mass medium, the image, and technology. The article will argue that the condemnation of or fascination with images in mass media is a form of discursive, i.e. textual, self-protection.

The mad animal: On Castoriadis’ radical imagination and the social imaginary

Lachlan Ross

The following article defines Castoriadis’ concepts of the radical imagination and the social imaginary as a platform for a discussion of some motifs important to Castoriadis: the nature of human subjectivity, the nature of ‘reality’, the role and scope of the human imagination, the importance of freedom, the question of whether or not we are free (i.e. how sick/diminished/vulnerable is the second epoch of autonomy that broke open in/as modernity), and the roles of science, politics and philosophy in human social life. The central work on the radical imagination and the social imaginary is of course more than an arbitrary jumping-off point: this paper argues that understanding these concepts is vital if one is to understand the core elements of Castoriadis’ writings and his broader emancipatory project.

Algorithmic culture and the colonization of life-worlds

Andrew Simon Gilbert

This article explores some of the concerns which are being raised about algorithms with recourse to Habermas’s theory of communicative action. The intention is not to undertake an empirical examination of ‘algorithms’ or their consequences but to connect critical theory to some contemporary concerns regarding digital cultures. Habermas’s ‘colonization of life-worlds’ thesis gives theoretical expression to two different trends which underlie many current criticisms of the insidious influence of digital algorithms: the privatization of communication, and the particularization of knowledge and experience. Habermas’s social theory therefore offers a useful framework for exploring some of the normative and political problems that are attributed to ‘algorithmic culture’ and ‘big data’.

Thesis Eleven Centre for Cultural Sociology Annual Report 2016 and 2017

Review essays:  

Remembering communism

Chamsy el-Ojeili

Expressions of a current “Marx renaissance”, the three books under review in this article raise crucial questions about memory, knowledge, and power for a new global Left. Traverso’s reflections on Left future-oriented memory, Favilli’s history of Italian Marxism, and Bourrinet’s work on the Dutch and German communist Left explore a variety of “forms of Marxism”. Most centrally, the three works raise still vital questions around Marxism and religion, science and utopia, knowledge and power, nation and globality.

An Incomplete Dialectics? Rosa on the Good Life

Harry Blatterer   

Book reviews:

Gender Capital at Work: Intersections of Femininity, Masculinity, Class and Occupation

Mark Mallman

Adorno on Politics After Auschwitz

Howard Prosser        

Wittgenstein and the Study of Politics

Brennon Wood   

Freedom and Dissatisfaction in the Works of Agnes Heller: With and Against Marx

Katie Terezakis


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