Terra Critica’s concern for affective modes of critique in the 21st century is at its heart a concern for the relation of theory and practice. Critique is not simply practice. It strives for a doing in view of change, informed by insights into a status quo and a desire not to be governed quite like that (Foucault). But it is also not purely theory. Critique thinks in view of what is important, keeping in mind what “would be necessary, [what] would have to be done” (Derrida 2019, 9). As such – and similar to what Derrida in Theory & Practice notes in view of Feuerbach’s 11th thesis and its Marxist afterlife – the demand of critical thought is not “a truth, a theorem but a certain type of practical imperative” (ibid.). Critique is theorizing practice as much as it is practicing theory.
This year’s Terra Critica meeting at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata, wants to zoom in on this folded relation of theory and practice, thereby also building on and continuing the questions central to our last meeting on “Critique and Society: Whose Society?” at King’s College London in July 2019. In the meeting in 2019, we considered the challenges to critical thought-practice when, at the beginning of the 21st century, the social is increasingly mediated through technologized spaces and distributed across intersecting scales of global and local, and when this has also led many societies to pronounce themselves along profoundly conflicting ideological lines. We see, for example, that the idea of a national consensus is currently deeply contested in many societies; in many contexts, we see a struggle between democratic and neo-fascist models of social organization, often intertwined with a struggle about whose knowledge counts and about the value of intellectual work. Where and for whom would critique intervene here? We also see with greater force than ever that anthropogenic climate change produces stark disagreements on what is to be done, while limiting global heating would quite certainly require internationally shared adjustments to patterns of production and consumption. These are the circumstances under which critique in the 21st century must be theorized and practiced.
In our meeting Theorizing Practice – Practicing Theory we want to think together about “what’s left of theory?” (Spivak) and the nexus of “theory & practice” (Derrida). We also want to ask ourselves how to renegotiate our situated, positional knowledges, most emphatically those written out of the (human) canon (Devi), while also questioning the populist instrumentalization of the “unheard”. What are the critical demands for intellectual work and how can intellectual practice today be organic? Since its foundation in 2012, Terra Critica has studied closely how present-day critical intervention must account for itself in response to the major ecological and socio-political shifts addressed above. The conventional Western conceptions of critique, inherited from the 19th and 20th centuries, have become inept. Critique is challenged to find new vocabularies and methods, and in this meeting we want to put specific emphasis on how rethinking critique challenges us to recalibrate the relation of theory and practice, and how we approach each of them in conceptual and practical terms.