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Phenomenology, Ideology and the Everyday
168, February 2022
Feminist activist, novelist, literary critic, bio-ethnographer, legal autodidact, and political writer: Rebecca West (1892–1983) was a 20th-century phenomenon. She was also a lifelong critic of communism’s appeal to the intelligentsia. Communism, West claimed, was attractive to three groups of intellectuals outside the Soviet bloc: a minority of scientists who viewed politics as merely a sum of technical problems to solve; the emotionally devastated for whom communism was a means of mental reorientation; and a déclassé segment of the middle class who envisaged communism as a means of material and status advancement. I examine West’s three explanations for communism’s allure, and then proceed to evaluate her account. My assessment is both empirical, using sociological data on American and European communist parties, and methodological, examining the techniques of West’s style, a mix of novelistic empathy and unmasking political partisanship. This mixture I consider fatal because while the novel, like historical interpretation, allows a generous understanding of human agents, unmasking tends towards caricature and denunciation.
Vere Gordon Childe’s theory of craft specialisation was an important influence on Arnold Hauser’s book The Social History of Art, published in 1951. Childe’s Marxist interpretation of prehistory enabled Hauser to establish a material foundation for the occupation of the artist in Western art history. However, Hauser’s effort to construct a progressive basis for artistic labour was complicated by art’s ancient connections to religion and superstition. While the artist’s social position and class loyalties were ambiguous in Childe’s accounts of early civilisations, Hauser consigned artists to the lower echelons of society. This relegation did not imply that Hauser had a low regard for artistic skills. Quite the opposite, the artist’s inferior social status enabled Hauser to distance artists from the ruling class, and consequently, to separate artistic handiwork from the dominant ideology that works of art manifested.
Pierre Bourdieu famously dismissed phenomenology as offering anything useful to a critical science of society – even as he drew heavily upon its themes in his own work. This paper makes a case for why Bourdieu’s judgement should not be the last word on phenomenology. To do so it first reanimates phenomenology’s evocative language and concepts to illustrate their continuing centrality to social scientists’ ambitions to apprehend human engagement with the world. Part II shows how two crucial insights of phenomenology, its discovery of both the natural attitude and of the phenomenological epoche, allow an account of perception properly responsive to its intertwined personal and collective aspects. Contra Bourdieu, the paper’s third section asserts that phenomenology’s substantive socio-cultural analysis simultaneously entails methodological consequences for the social scientist, reversing their suspension of disbelief vis-à-vis the life-worlds of interlocutors and inaugurating the suspension of belief vis-à-vis their own natural attitudes.
Consumer culture, precarious incomes and mass indebtedness: Borrowing from uncertain futures, consuming in precarious times [Open Access]
Anthony Lloyd and Mark Horsley
In recent years, labour markets have been characterised by stagnant wages, reduced incomes and growing insecurity supplemented by the ongoing proliferation of outstanding payment obligations at almost all levels of economy and society. We draw upon current debates in social and economic theory to explore the disconnect between the deterioration of late capitalism’s distributive measures and the relative vitality of consumer cultures, suggesting that the latter relies substantially on immaterial, credit-based payment means to bridge the gap between the fundamental fantasy of ‘more and better’ and the decline of material productivity denoted by base rate of profit. We then use this disconnect as a breach-point for an in-depth interdisciplinary discussion of the substantive and ideological function of credit.
The survival of neoliberal forms of governance after their apparent repudiation during the Global Financial Crisis is a problem that continues to generate significant scholarly controversy. One of the most influential accounts of the survival of neoliberalism in the crisis draws on Michel Foucault’s The Birth of Biopolitics to claim that states intervening to support financial markets during the crisis was simply the neoliberal system working as expected. Returning to Foucault’s original text, I argue this account constitutes a systematic misreading because it treats Foucault as having developed an instrumentalist theory of the neoliberal state, a possibility Foucault explicitly rejected. I suggest that the reasons that led Foucault to reject an instrumentalist theory of the state remain just as relevant today, and accordingly argue for a return to Foucault’s methodological decision to treat neoliberalism not as a theory of state but as a discourse which constructs a novel bio-political governmentality.
This contribution explores a case study of a marginalized suburb in Italy called ‘Hotel House’ from three angles. First, I look at the historical and physical features of this particular building, which functions as a vertical multicultural neighbourhood. Second, I examine the paradoxical nature of this building type, which is exceedingly rare in Italy and Europe, in relation to (in)visibility and the lack of social and public relationships. Third, the focus shifts to the social relationships that have emerged within the building over the years, together with their ethical and normative import and implications. The discussion in this final section is facilitated by two concepts: ‘forms of life’ and immanent critique.
The impact of the Holocaust on the descendants of survivors and the ways in which they embrace, embody and memorialise their family histories is the subject of this paper. The paper explores intergenerational storytelling and silences about the Holocaust through the lens of the number that was tattooed on the bodies of inmates in the Auschwitz complex and has been replicated on the bodies of some survivor descendants. The number has become a symbol of the crimes of the Holocaust though its meaning has changed during different periods of Holocaust remembrance. Using the genealogy of the tattoo, this paper explores its meaning in relation to private and public memorialisation for the descendants of survivors living in Israel who have replicated the number on their own body. An earlier version of this paper was presented in December 2020 at La Trobe University’s Agnes Heller Annual Sociology Lecture.