InHouse&Guests Workshop

After Modernity, into Complexity? Possibilities for Critique in an Age of Global Cooperation

7–8 May 2014

Building on the previous event on 'Culture, Life and Critique' (23 April 2013), the workshop “After Modernity, into Complexity? Possibilities for Critique in an Age of Global Cooperation” was an invitation to reflect upon two intriguing questions: First, how can we come to a better understanding of the present (and its challenges) through excavating the rationale of current critique and through scrutinising its emancipatory imaginary? Second, what may be the reasons for the lack of traction of contemporary social critique and how can this irrelevance be overcome?

Jonathan Joseph (University of Sheffield) addressed the first question with a presentation that interrogated the rise of resilience. Rather than being a resource for emancipation, he argued, resilience is a neoliberal tool for global governance, which closes down our capacities to change the powers that be. Dimitris Sotiropoulos (The Open University Business School) also contributed to an understanding of the present neoliberal condition. He explained and criticised the logic of finance as a technology of power that organises the workings of social power relations and guarantees their reproduction.

With the intention of assessing the rationale of current critique, the presentation of Nikolai Rossman (Technische Universität Berlin) introduced urban studies as a laboratory for critique to break existing unquestioned systems of knowledge. Following these lines at the empirical level, Nadia Ferrer (University of Bradford) presented her field research on Can Batlló, an industrial compound self-managed by the neighbours of the district of Sants-Monjuic in the city of Barcelona. She analysed urban resistance movements to show that a better form of social organisation is possible in the margins, but she also made clear that the possibility of emancipating the entire city remains a pendent challenge. Finally, Carsten Wergin (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle Wittenberg) brought forth the story of a struggle between an indigenous community and the development of the $45 Billion AUD Liquefied Natural Gas Facility in the North-west of Australia. He narrated how the extraordinary collaboration between different worlds (indigenous people, non-indigenous inhabitants and environmental activists) was successful in undermining the neoliberal logic of industrialising the region proposed by governmental representatives and international business executives.

Yet, a successful story that challenged the status quo in a remote village in Australia did not stop other participants to ponder the second question relevant for the workshop: What are the reasons for the lack of traction of contemporary social critique? David Chandler (University of Westminster) introduced the concept of ‘hope’ to indicate that we live in a hopeless world in which narratives of progress or structural change have become obsolete. Reading the critical scholars of today, Chandler concluded that critique has been defeated. Conversely Benjamin Herborth (University of Groningen) had hope. After reviewing and criticising recent attempts of constructing critique with the means of appreciating local particularisms, he argued that critique could only be formulated once we are able to see and explain the ‘big picture’. Oliver Marchart (Kunstakademie Düsseldorf) similarly argued that critique had to rely on the concept of ‘totality’, even if this were a non-foundationalist totality. That is, because we cannot attain a firm epistemological ground, he contended, the way out is to aspire to a post-foundational version of ideology critique.

The organisers of the workshop also contributed to the debate with short but stimulating presentations. While Pol Bargués defended that critique could not be conceived without formulating ‘traditional utopias’, Jessica Schmidt opted for explaining that ‘judgment’ was the crucial and missing element. Based on his face-to-face encounters with human others Mario Schmidt suggested that ‘alterity’ was the possibility of critique. Finally, Kai Koddenbrock argued that critique could not be articulated without understanding and explaining ‘the whole’.

Furthermore, the workshop counted with Gideon Baker, Frank Gadinger, Elena Pulcini and Christian Scheper who, as discussants of the papers, elevated the level of the debates. They pinpointed the weaknesses of the presentations and asked further questions in exercises of great value: It goes without saying that without their critical scrutiny, discussions about critique would have lost their vigour.

Venue: Centre for Global Cooperation Research, Schifferstr. 44, Duisburg