Critical Theory in Hard Times Research Cluster, 27th Feb 2019

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Arts & Humanities Research Cluster Event: Critical Theory in Hard Times
International Anthony Burgess Foundation
Wednesday 27th February 2019, 12:00 – 17:00

What does it mean to be critical in our current situation? What are the basic tasks of critical theory in the twenty-first century? To what extent have past critical theories diminished in their capacity to articulate visions of emancipation via the transformation of existing social orders?

In the twentieth century, successive generations of critical theorists advanced visions of emancipation that sought to explain and overcome the obstacles to the realization of freedom. According to Adorno and Horkheimer, instrumental rationality and the ‘culture industry’ were barriers to emancipation; for Habermas, it was the colonization of communicative and deliberative space by formal mechanisms of money and power; more recently, Honneth has diagnosed moral grammars prohibiting processes of genuine intersubjective recognition. For all of these thinkers, social reality remained in a state of pathology.

As a new generation of engaged scholars, we view it as an urgent task to reconsider the role of critical theory in our own times, examining the distortion of life processes expressed in terms of reification, alienation, misrecognition, anomie, ressentiment, subalternity, and beyond. How can we engage the traditions that produced these concepts to address the contemporary socio-political malaise? We are seeking to broaden the lines of communication between different currents of oppositional and emancipatory investigation: from postcolonial and critical race theory, feminist and queer theory to critical disabilities studies and critical ecology, from deconstruction and genealogy to the theories of praxis inspired by critical streams of Marxism. How do these traditions intersect and (mis)communicate with each other?

 There is a real and urgent need for intense cooperative and impactful research on the varieties of intersecting social pathologies and misdevelopments endemic in current neoliberal capitalist society. We are interested in papers that address, but are not limited to, the following areas: 

         Democratic crises: the rise of populism on the Left and Right; the decomposition of contemporary public spheres; electoral fraud; demonization of expertise; breakdown of trust; reification of national identity.

        Reactionary politics: significant threat to legal and social achievements of feminist activism since the 1960s; explicit and unabashed forms of racism and xenophobia, particularly immigrant-baiting; nationalist, colonialist, fascist, imperialist imaginaries contra globalized political narratives; transphobia both in some feminist movements and from social conservative attitudes; push-back to gender neutrality and non-binary gender categories; multi-level resistance to #MeToo; multi-level resistance to #BlackLivesMatter.

        Ecological crises: rapid escalation of global warming due to human practices; non-willful environmental ignorance; willful environmental ignorance.

        Social crises: ever-increasing homelessness; unfettered rental markets; ever-increasing mental health problems; ever-increasing levels of wealth and income inequality.

 Like previous events of its kind, this research cluster event is designed to encourage and stimulate interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary collaboration between researchers based in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities who are currently considering the cultural, historical, material, environmental, political, and philosophical dimensions of contemporary social crises. Contemporary social reality necessitates that critics produce and promote new theoretical models, new conceptual schemes, new discursive vocabularies, new ways of making sense of crisis situations that both accurately describe currently deficient social reality and provoke ways of meaningfully transforming social reality out of a state of pathology. The event hopes to attract colleagues working in these areas to start an important and needed series of conversations.

The convenors are:

–        Dr. Sadiya Akram [s.akram@mmu.ac.uk] (Politics – Department of History, Politics and Philosophy)

–        Dr. Paul Giladi [p.giladi@mmu.ac.uk] (Philosophy – Department of History, Politics and Philosophy)

–        Dr. Robert Jackson [r.jackson@mmu.ac.uk] (Politics – Department of History, Politics and Philosophy]

The event will take the shape of a half day, starting with lunch. The event will follow a format similar to ‘speed-dating’, with each participant invited to deliver a (short/pithy/memorable) 5-minute presentation on their work. (This means definitely no more than 2-3 powerpoint slides!). There will then follow 5 minutes for Q&A. The aim is to create an inspirational ‘buzz’ from listening to what everyone is currently working on and what they are hoping to achieve in the not-so-distant future. In addition, there will opportunities for productive mingling during refreshment breaks. Each event will conclude with a plenary discussion of next steps (chaired by the three lead researchers).

 To sign up, please email Linsay Horsfall L.Horsfall@mmu.ac.uk by no later than 16thJanuary 2019. Please provide:

·        Name

·        Department

·        Whether you are a member of staff or a PhD student

·        Your research specialism

·        Title of your presentation

·        Any special access or dietary requirements

 Ideally, we would want everyone to deliver a short presentation but, always provided there is a plausible reason, attendance-only is also perfectly acceptable.

For further information please contact the event convenors directly.

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