Critique and society have long been closely associated, not only in Adorno and Horkheimer’s critical theory, but also in feminist and queer critiques, post- and decolonial critiques, as well as critiques of media and technology. Nevertheless, an analysis of this association has once again become a matter of urgency today, given that the network of relations underwriting both the concept and experience of society is in the process of being fundamentally transformed. At the beginning of the 21st Century, the social is increasingly mediated through technologized spaces, a phenomenon distributed across the intersecting scales of global and local, public and private, as well as an open-ended series of divergent (media) bubbles. All this has led society to pronounce itself along profoundly conflicting ideological lines, especially in the past decade. The idea of a national consensus, for example, is currently deeply contested in many societies. In all likelihood, Terra Critica VII will take place in a post-Brexit Britain – just one socio-political consequence of a divergence discernible around the globe. Critical intervention – or even mere agreement on the factual – loses its conventional bearing in the face of such significant shifts, and this can only mean that critique is once more challenged to find new vocabularies and methods in response to these “new times”. An understanding of the individual as the dialectical counterpart of society, something that has long been taken for granted by the project of critical theory in its various manifestations, is no longer sufficient when it comes to critically addressing the transversal formations of sociality in evidence today.
In view of the challenges regarding what we call society, the collective, or the public, our meeting on “Critique and Society: Whose Society?” will ask several questions: Whose society does critique engage with today? In what modes does it do so, and under what conditions? Who is speaking to, with and for whom? On what models of participation and exclusion do these exchanges depend? And how, in the frictional mess of today’s social, is speaking truth to power still feasible? These questions will be taken up in relation to a particular period (the late 1970s), significant for having fundamentally re-determined our ideas concerning the social field. Since then, neo-conservative governments of various kinds have actively worked to rearrange the relation of the individual and the social. In an interview given in 1987, Thatcher infamously declared that society does not exist, that there are only “individual men and women and there are families” (https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/106689). If today the public to which critique could address itself is no doubt fragmented and multiplied, it is no less true that this particular characterization of the social is also based on the premise that the individual is the smallest social unit.
In view of these reorientations of the social, is one task of critique, then, to re-examine the relation of the parts to the whole? To think through the possibility of collective agencement and to recollect the fault lines of the recent past in order to make sense of the shifts that today seem to trouble the social as public sphere? From what standpoint can a society subject to these tendencies be critically engaged with? And what are the specific situations and scenarios within the social field at which critique should be taking aim?
As shared reading for everyone:
- Stuart Hall , “The Meaning of New Times” in: Stuart Hall, Selected Political Writings. The Great Moving Right Show and Other Essays (ed. by Sally Davison et al) Durham: Duke University Press 2017, pp. 248-265.
In addition, everyone is asked to choose one or two additional texts from this longer list:
- Hannah Arendt  “Truth and Politics”, in The New Yorker, February 25, 1967. Reprinted with minor changes in Between Past and Future New York: The Viking Press 1968, pp. 227-264.
- Homi Bhabha  “The Commitment to Theory” in: new formations 5 (‘Identities’), pp. 5-23.
- Annie Ernaux , The Years (transl. Alison Strayer), London: Fitzcarraldo Editions (suggested selection: pp. 64-163 [esp. pp. 83-119; 133-163] and 204-227).
- Michel Foucault , “Lecture 21 January 1976” in: Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended. Lectures at the Collège de France 1975-1976 (transl. David Macey), New York: Picador, 2003, pp. 43-64.
- Stuart Hall  , “Racism and reaction” in: Stuart Hall, Selected Political Writings. The Great Moving Right Show and Other Essays (ed. by Sally Davison et al) Durham: Duke University Press 2017, pp. 142-157.
- Alexandre Koyré , “The Political Function of the Modern Lie” in: Contemporary Jewish Record Reprinted in October 160: 2017, pp. 143-151.
- Fred Moten, “The Blur and Breathe Books (esp. sections 43-45)” in: Fred Moten, Black and Blur, Durham: Duke University Press 2017, pp. 245-269.