Monday, 15 October 2012

Contemporary Social Theory 2010

Contemporary Social Theory

Sociology III
Department of Sociology
Rhodes University
Fourth Term 2012

This year there is a special Contemporary Social Theory course to mark the visit to the Department of Sociology of Professor John Holloway during the fourth term.

The course focuses on specific theorists, as follows:
Week 1: Partha Chatterjee (by K Helliker)
Weeks 2 & 3: John Holloway
Week 4: Alain Badiou (by Michael Neocosmos, UNISA)
Week 5: Samir Amin (by T Alexander)
Week 6: Jacques Ranciere (by R Pithouse, Politics Department).

Week 1: Partha Chatterjee

Partha Chatterjee argues that the state-civil society couplet, which emerged in the past to make sense of European nations, is in itself dubious in terms of its relevance to India. He argues that while this dualist understanding may have applicability to European nations, there is a realm of social life in India (and by extension other nations ‘in the rest of the world’) that does not fit into this schema. This ‘uncivil’ realm is called ‘political society’, in which property and market relations are often challenged by subaltern classes – the state interacts with political society but in a manner different to its relation to civil society.

Chatterjee, P. 1993. The nation and its fragments. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Chatterjee, P. 1998. “Beyond the nation? Or within?”, Social Text. No. 56.
Chatterjee, P. n.d. “Gramsci in the twenty-first century”.
Chatterjee, P. 2001. “Democracy and the violence of the state: a political negotiation of death”, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies. Vol. 2(1).
Chatterjee, P. 2004. The Politics of the Governed. New York: Columbia University Press.
Chatterjee P. 2001. “On civil and political society in post-colonial democracies” in Kaviraj S and Khilnani S (eds.). 2001. Civil Society – history and possibilities. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.
Chatterjee P. 2002. “The rights of the governed” in Identity, Culture and Politics. Vol 3. No 2.

Akman, A. 2011. “Beyond the objectivist conception of civil society: Social actors, civility and self-limitation”, Political Studies.
Chen, K-H. 2003. “Civil society and Min-Jian: on political society and popular democracy”, Cultural Studies. Vol. 17(6) pp. 876-896.
Chabal, P. & Daloz, J-P. 1998. Africa works: disorder as political instrument. Oxford: James Curry.
Fernandes, S. 2010. Who can stop the drums? Urban social movements in Chavez’s Venezuela. Durham: Duke University Press.
Gudavarthy A. & Vijay, G. 2007.“Antinomies of political society: Implications of uncivil development”, Economic and Political Weekly (17th July 2007)
Hann, C & Dunn, E. (eds.). 1996. Civil society: challenging Western models. London: Routledge.
Hardt, M. 1995. “The withering of civil society”, Social Text. No. 45 pp. 27-44.
Kapoor, D. 2011. “Adult learning in political (un-civil) society: Anti-colonial subaltern social movement (SSM) pedagogies of place”, Studies in the Education of Adults. Vol 43(2). pp. 128-146.
Lemarchand, R. 1992. “Uncivil states and civil societies: how illusion became reality”, The Journal of Modern African Studies. Vol. 30(2) pp. 177-191.
Mamdani, M. 1996. Citizen and subject. Cape Town: David Philip.
Mannathukkaren, N. 2010. “The ‘poverty’ of political society: Partha Chatterjee and the People’s Plan Campaign in Kerala, India”, Third World Quarterly. Vol. 31(2) pp. 295-314.
Moulin, C. & Nyers, P. “’We live in a country of UNHCR’ – Refugee protests and global political society”, International Political Society. No. 1 pp.356-372.
Roy, A. 2010. “Walking with the comrades”, India March 29, 2010.
Shindo, R. 2009. “Struggle for citizenship: interaction between political society and civil society at a Kurd refugee protest in Tokyo”, Citizenship Studies. Vol. 13(3) pp. 219-237.
Wickramasinghe, N. 2005. “The idea of civil society in the South: Imaginings, transplants, designs”, Science & Society. Vol 69(3). pp. 458-486.

Weeks 2 & 3: John Holloway

These two weeks consist of the following eight lectures:

I Scream
1.         Where do we start? What does science mean after Marikana? Or Hiroshima, or Auschwitz? 
2.         No. The importance of negative thinking. Of thinking that negates and pushes beyond. Of despair and hope. Adorno and Bloch. Negative dialectic.
3.         We start not with a They but with a We who are angry, a We who do not know the answers. Asking we walk. Zapatistas.
4.         We start not from domination but from struggle. Tronti, autonomism and the “Copernican revolution” in Marxism. Not just external relation of reaction, but an internal relation of dependence. The master depends on the servant. La Boétie, Hegel.

II Capital
1.         We scream because we are attacked. What attacks us?
2          Imperialism, colonialism? Yes, but …
3.         Capital as an inherently aggressive form of organising human activity. Abstract and concrete labour. Exploitation, accumulation.

III Fetishism and fetishisation
1.         Fetishism: The aggression that is capital penetrates us and mutilates us.
2.         Fetishisation as process: Capital does not kill us. We can still scream. Concrete labour (doing) rebels against abstract labour. The Not Yet rebels against the present, non-identity against identity.
3.         If fetishisation is a process, then all categories of thought are fields of struggle, all categories must be opened to reveal self-antagonistic processes. Open Marxism.

IV State
1.         The state as a fetish, a process of fetishising struggle. The state as a particular form of capital. The state derivation debate.
2.         The state as a form of organisation. State and anti-state forms of struggle. In-against-and-beyond the state.
3.         Changing the world without taking state power, and its problems.

V Crisis
1.         Marxism is a theory of crisis. It is a theory not of domination but of the fragility of domination.
2.         Traditional Marxist theories see crisis as an expression of the objective laws of capitalist development. The problem with this is that it constitutes us as victims.
3.         We are the insuperable malfunctioning of capital. It is we who block the unending aggression that is capital. We are the crisis of capital, and proud of it.
4.         Why crisis takes the form of a monetary crisis.

1.         The working class is the revolutionary subject. But what does working mean? And what does class mean?
2.         Are we the working class? Or the anti-working anti-class? Or the hidden woman?
3.         We are self-antagonistic, volcanic.

VII Time
1.         Revolution used to be in the future. Not any more.
2.         Clock-time and capitalism.
3.         Shooting at clocks. How can we break clock time and think of revolution here and now?

VIII Crack capitalism
1.         Doing against labour. Where, how?
2.         Revolution is interstitial. Necessarily.
3.         Revolution is urgently necessary. Is it still possible?

Bloch, Ernst (1959/1986) Introduction to The Principle of Hope (3 vols) (Oxford: Basil Blackwell)
Marx, Karl Capital, Vol, 1, ch. 1
Tronti, Mario “Lenin in England”, in Red Notes, Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis (London: Red Notes), pp. 1-6.
Horkheimer, Max (1937/1972) “Traditional and Critical Theory”, in Horkheimer M., Critical Theory: Selected Essays (New York, Seabury Press) pp. 188-243.
Holloway, John (2002/ 2010) Change the World without taking Power (London: Pluto)
Holloway, John (2010) Crack Capitalism (London: Pluto)
Holloway John (2012) “The World after Capitalism” 

Week 4 Alain Badiou: Michael Neocosmos

Beyond representation: an introduction to Badiou’s thought of politics

Alain Badiou has provided one of the most original and rigorous philosophies so far in the 21st century.  His work in fact is only partly concerned with politics and is much broader, dealing with questions of ontology (being), phenomenology (being there), and truth which he sees as produced through 4 distinct procedures (science, love, politics and art).  There are therefore political truths for Badiou, the most important of which is perhaps that ‘people think’; i.e. the idea that, at particular times, people are capable of thinking ‘beyond their station in life’ so to speak.  We will only be looking at politics here but those of you who are interested are encouraged to read Badiou’s philosophical works where he talks of science, love and art also.  Badiou is concerned primarily with thinking emancipatory politics and with the development of concepts and categories for so doing.  He is in a sense a philosopher of militancy. In order to do so he develops a sophisticated theory of change (NB not ‘social change’ but change in general).  For him change results from purely subjective thought, but his theory is not idealist because that thought is linked to the (social) objective not in a relation of ‘representation’ but in one of ‘excess’ over the given divisions, locations and hierarchies of society.  Like Ranciere, Badiou thinks politics as a subjective excess, particularly with regard to those he refers to as the ‘inexistent’ in the ‘world’ or the ‘situation’, but for him unlike for Ranciere, that excess is related to a material occurrence which he calls an (aleatory) ‘event’.  In this course we will discuss Badiou’s work and also examine the extent to which it illuminates our own situation in South Africa today.

1.      The problem
-          The failure / limits of emancipatory politics in the 19th and 20th centuries
-          South Africa in the 1980s and the promise of emancipation
-          The limits of state politics and identity politics: the state is ‘apolitical’ it enforces the idea of what is possible and impossible
-          Critique of politics as a subjective representation of the objective

2.      Emancipatory politics
-          It is thought beyond knowledge (it names the possibility of the impossible)
-          State history is continuous, the history of politics is discontinuous
-          Lazarus and Historical Modes of Politics: e.g. Marx, Lenin, Fanon
-          Thinking politics at a distance from both the state and civil society
-          Knowledges and truths

3.      The event and political subjectivisation
-          The event as objective occurrence: e.g. the case of Tahrir square Feb 2011
-          The production of the subject of politics: fidelity, reactive, obscure and ‘resurrection’.
-          An event in South Africa in the 1980s

4.       People Think: the problem of representation overcome?
-          Politics as a wager, as prescriptive, as anti-identitarian
-          Politics without a party, is it possible?
-          Abahlali baseMjondolo and the thought of politics in SA today.

Badiou, A. (2012) The Rebirth of History, London: Verso

Badiou A. (2010) The Communist Hypothesis (book), London: Verso (pp. 43-67, ch2, pp. 168-199)

Badiou, A. (2008) ‘“We need a Popular Discipline”: contemporary politics and the crisis of the negative’ (interview with Filippo Del Lucchese and Jason Smith)  Critical Inquiry 35, August.

Badiou, A. (2008) ‘The Communist Hypothesis’ (article), New Left Review 49, Jan-Feb.

Badiou, A. (2005) ‘An essential philosophical Thesis: “It is Right to Rebel against Reactionaries”’ Project Muse Positions 13:3 (Duke University Press)

Badiou, A. (2003) ‘Beyond Formalisation’(an interview with Peter Hallward), Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 8:2 August.

Badiou, A. (1998) ‘Politics and Philosophy: an interview with Alain Badiou’ (Peter Hallward), Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 3:3

Badiou, A (nd) ‘Democracy, Politics, Philosophy: an obscure knot’ a lecture.

Bosteels, B. (2012) Badiou and Politics (Conclusion: The Speculative left) Durham: Duke University Press.

Hallward, P. (2005) ‘The Politics of Prescription’ The South Atlantic Quarterly 104:4 (Fall).

Hallward, P. (2002) ‘Badiou’s politics: Equality and Justice’ Culture Machine 4.

Neocosmos, M. (2012a) ‘Editorial Introduction - Political Subjectivity and the Subject of Politics: thinking beyond identity from the south of Africa’, Journal of Asian and African Studies Volume 57 No 5, October.

Neocosmos, M. (2012b) ‘Are Those-who-do-not-count Capable of Reason? Thinking political subjectivity in the (neo-)colonial world and the limits of history’ Journal of Asian and African Studies Volume 57 No 5 October.

Neocosmos, M. (2009) ‘The Political Conditions of Social Thought and the Politics of Emancipation: an introduction to the work of Sylvain Lazarus’ in H. Jacklin and P. Vale (eds.) Re-imagining the social in South Africa: critique and post-apartheid knowledge, Durban: UKZN Press, Pp. 111-138.

WEEK 4 Jacques Rancière: Richard Pithouse

Jacques Rancière starts, as Peter Hallward notes in the essay that we will read for the first lecture, from the assumption that everybody thinks and everybody speaks but that not everyone is authorised to think and to speak. Rancière’s work is in fundamental and sustained rebellion against the attempt to place limits on the right to think and to speak. While his work certainly has its limits and has been subject to some cogent criticisms it remains a profound challenge to the elitism that characterises many approaches to social theory and, also, to achieving emancipatory social change.

Readings for each lecture:

Lecture one: Jacques Ranciere and the Subversion of Mastery, Interview with Peter Hallward, 2005
Lecture two: Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man?, Jacques Ranciere, 2004
Lecture three: Communists Without Communism, Jacques Ranciere, 2010
Lecture four: Abahlali’s Vocal Politics of Proximity: Speaking, Suffering and Political Subjectivization, Anna Selmeczi, 2012

Other useful readings & resources:


The Jacques Rancière blog:

Essays, Interviews etc

Anthony Iles and Tom Roberts, ‘From the Cult of the People to the Cult of Rancière’, Mute Magazine 2012

Jacques Rancière, Democracy, Republic, Representation, 2006
Jacques Rancière, ‘Racism: A Passion from Above’, Monthly Review, 2010
Jacques Rancière, ‘Politics & Aesthetics’, An interview with Peter Hallward, 2003
Jacques Rancière, ‘Ten Thesis on Politics’, Theory & Event, 2011
Jacques Rancière, Preface to ‘Proletarian Nights’, 1981
Anna Selmeczi, “We are the people who don’t count” – Contesting biopolitical abandonment, 2010


1. Jacques Rancière, Althusser's Lesson, 1974 (2012)
2. Jacques Rancière, The Nights of Labour, 1981
3. Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant School Master, 1981
4. Jacques Rancière, Disagreement: Politics & Philosophy, 1998
5. Jacques Rancière, The Philosopher and his Poor, 2004
6. Jacques Rancière, Staging the People, 2011
7. Jacques Rancière, The Intellectual and His People, 2012