Theory Culture & Society

Published by SAGE

Print ISSN: 0263-2764


Norbert Elias and Franz Borkenau: Intertwined Life-Works
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January 1997


351 Reads

This article argues that the life-works of Norbert Elias and Franz Borkenau can Lest he understood together, as they were developed in close interaction during the 1930s. Deriving inspiration from Freud, they took up the project formulated by Weber at the end of his 'Anticritical Last Word'. However, in two significant respects they went beyond the Weberian problematics. First, overcoming the centrality attributed to economic concerns, they rooted the Western civilizing process in the long-term attempt to harness the violence that was escalated by the emergence and then collapse of the Roman Empire. Second, they emphasized the crucial importance of periods of transition that follow an overall dissolution of order and mark the possible future course of events.

Graduated Sovereignty in South‐East Asia

April 2008


3,180 Reads

What fundamental changes in the state, and in the analysis of the state, have been stimulated by economic globalization? In the course of interactions with global markets and regulatory agencies, so-called Asian tiger countries like Malaysia and Indonesia have created new economic possibilities, social spaces and political constellations, which in turn condition their further actions. The shifting relations between market, state, and society have resulted in the state's flexible experimentations with sovereignty. Graduated sovereignty refers to a) the different modes of governing segments of the population who relate or do not relate to global markets; and b) the different mixes of legal compromises and controls tailored to the requirements of special production zones. The Asian financial crisis further demonstrates the concept of graduation in that the market-oriented agenda can mean different things, strengthening state power and protections in certain areas, but not in others.


May 2006


40 Reads

Although the concept of information is an inherently qualitative entity implying the capacity for meaning creation, in the historical development of this concept there has been a consistent emphasis on quantitative aspects. The generalization of the information concept from a specialized military term to a concept of broad social application occurred during the period when society as a whole became militarized in the 1930s and 1940s. After the Second World War, with the development of systematic information theory and the spread of computers in society, the military associations of the information concept gradually became obscured. But the popularity of information society theory in Japan and the USA indicates a need to review the military associations of its key concept. Today, with the development and spread of numerous global and local media, the information phenomena are experienced in a manner that far outstrips the narrow confines of the concept's history. So the concept of information needs to be understood as a field of struggle in which different definitions confront each other leading to the creation of new practices and alternative concepts.

Information and Knowledge

February 2005


237 Reads

A received criticism of information is that it is an instrumentalization of knowledge. This article questions the conditions for such a critique. Examining developmental systems theory, biology and social sciences, it argues that information is a situated event; that it is intrinsic to the development and (de)structuring of mnemic organization (meaning) at a number of levels; and that such developmental systems are epigenetically constituted. This concept of information leads to: a critique of the statistical-quantitative determination of information that is put forward as its mathematical theorization; a review of characterizations of ‘information societies’; and comprehending instrumentalization as a variant of the event of information at the specific level of the constitution of the human understood as an anthropotechnical complex.


May 2006


37 Reads

This essay traces the increased centrality of technology to social life across the period of modernity. It examines major shifts in thinking about technology which underpin the shift from industrial to post-industrial society, and the emergence of concepts such as ‘technoscience’ and ‘technoculture’. It argues that a critical analysis of technology must probe the way that histories of technological progress have been implicated in colonial hierarchies privileging the West. In examining the extension of technology from machines that make things to ‘machines that think’, including biotechnology and computerized ‘aritificial life’, something implied in every historical iteration of technology is laid bare: defining the technological activates the border between nature and culture, and goes to the heart of what it means to be human.


May 2006


21 Reads

The university is an archaic institution and can claim to have a more or less continuous history over more than two millennia and, at least in the forms that prevail today, could be regarded as a ‘Western’ institution. However, the combination of globalization and cybernation will set the parameters for the next round of the university's development. A trend will be the growth of global universities, both virtual and land-based. At the same time, the growth of professional life outside of and between institutions has lessened dependency on them, and the academic intelligentsia has become interconnected as never before.

‘India’s 9/11’ Accidents of a Moveable Metaphor

December 2009


33 Reads

This article explores the hermeneutical force and flexibility of the 9/11 idiom, by identifying some ways in which it served as an interpretative framework for the attacks of 26 November 2008 in Mumbai. The idiom’s transposition to Mumbai represented, in part, a contest over American rhetorical capital. Re-territorialized as ‘India’s 9/11’, the idiom has re-signified a range of local interests, aspirations, and contests over urban space and identity in Mumbai. In this context, I examine two symmetrical developments within the civic spaces of the city in the immediate aftermath. The first involves the emergence of an upwardly mobile middle class and elite as it took the form of collective survivor-spectator, appearing as a coherent, highly visible and effective public agent. The second involves an apparent suspension of competing narratives of urban terror, which in the past have been enacted through demotic violence in the form of the communal riot. The article suggests that these developments in Mumbai must be read through the city’s incorporation into an emergent narrative of ‘global’ or so-called ‘9/11-type’ terror. In the case of 26/11, the terrorist attacks were possibly understood as the exercise of ideological indifference to identity, as levelling the value and distinction of moral communities to the abject experience of sheer bodily life.

The Militarization of US Higher Education after 9/11

September 2008


120 Reads

Subject to severe financial constraints while operating within a regime of moral panics driven by the `war on terrorism', higher education in the United States faces both a legitimation crisis and a political crisis. With its increasing reliance on Pentagon and corporate interests, the academy has largely opened its doors to serving private and governmental interests and in doing so has compromised its role as a democratic public sphere. This article situates the development of the university as a militarized knowledge factory within the broader context of what I call the biopolitics of militarization and its increasing influence and power within American society after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Highlighting and critically engaging the specific ways in which the forces of militarization are shaping various aspects of university life, this article focuses on the growth of militarized knowledge and research, the increasing development of academic programs and schools that serve military personnel, and the ongoing production of military values and subject positions on US campuses. It also charts how the alliance between the university and the national security state has undermined the university as a site of criticism, dissent and critical dialogue.

Governance Hotspots: Challenges We Must Confront in the Post-September 11 World

August 2002


39 Reads

Moving on after September 11 will require more than just eliminating organized terrorist networks and providing humanitarian aid, crucial as these two interventions are. There is a much larger landscape of multiple devastations in the global south that the global north cannot escape. While socio-economic devastation may not cause terrorism directly, it does promote extreme responses, such as trafficking in people, and can facilitate recruitment of young people for terrorist activity, both random and organized. These multiple devastations need to be addressed - by world and country leaders, by the supra-national system, by NGOs, by global civil society, by corporate economic actors. The article confines itself to the need for governments' action through new specialized multilateralisms and internationalisms. It argues that we can even make a narrow utilitarian case that it is in the global north's interest to address these issues. The particular cases through which the argument is developed are the growing hyper-indebtedness in the global south and the accumulation of contradictions in the immigration regime prevalent in the global north. Examining these is a way of dissecting the nature of the challenge and identifying specific governance deficits.

Cultural Topology: The Seven Bridges of Königsburg, 1736

October 2012


443 Reads

In an example of Enlightenment ‘engaged research' and public intellectual practice, Euler established the basis of topology and graph theory through his solution to the puzzle of whether a stroll around the seven bridges of 18th-century Königsberg (Kaliningrad) was possible without having to cross any given bridge twice. This ‘Manifesto' argues that, born in a form of cultural studies, topology offers 21st-century researchers a model for mapping the dynamics of time as well as space, allowing the rigorous description of events, situations, changing cultural formations and social spatializations. Law and Mol's network spaces, Serre's folded time, Massey’s ‘power geometries’, Lefebvre's ‘production of space’ and ‘rhythmanalysis’ can be developed through a cultural topological sensitivity that allows time to be understood as not only progressive but cyclical, relationships and the ‘reach’ of power can be understood through ‘knots', and a topology of experience to model the ‘plushness of the Real' via extra- and over-dimensioned time-spaces that capture nuance while drawing on systematic conceptual resources.

On the Genesis of a Collected Edition of Simmel’s Works, 1918–2012

December 2012


7 Reads

The article records the three stages of work undertaken to assemble a single organized corpus of Simmel’s dispersed writings after his death in September 1918. This incudes a first phase of work by Gertrud Simmel and Gertrud Kantorowicz from the years of the Weimar Republic, a second phase from the post-1945 period, overseen by Michael Landmann and Kurt Gassen, and a third phase, inaugurated in the 1980s by a team of scholars at Bielefeld University headed by Otthein Rammstedt and – initially – Niklas Luhmann, which resulted in the 24 volumes in print today with Suhrkamp Verlag.

Torture Unveiled Rereading Fanon and Bourdieu in the Context of May 1958

December 2010


158 Reads

In recent critical studies, according to Gibson, a sustained and profound critique of Fanon has been launched by feminist and postcolonialist theorists over the past decade, focusing on ‘Algeria Unveiled’. By and large, this critique explores what Fanon calls the ‘historical dynamism of the veil’: the ways in which women strategically donned or removed the veil to subvert French colonialism, and the role women played in the Algerian War. Some theorists criticize Fanon for eulogizing the retrograde tradition of the veil and for ‘normalizing gender inequality’. Others reproach him for his Orientalizing views. A number of critics confuse his pronouncements on the impact of the war which revolutionized the Algerian society and gender relation with the reactionary policies implemented in post-independent Algeria. To fathom the political and ethical concerns raised by Fanon, concerns which such criticism eschews, I propose to read Fanon’s ‘Algeria Unveiled’ in tandem with Bourdieu’s Algeria 1960 against the physical and symbolic violence to which Algerian women were subjected as they were coerced to remove their veil.

Pierre Bourdieu, Social Transformation and 1960s British Drama

May 2012


49 Reads

This article makes the controversial argument that Bourdieu’s theory of practice offers both a model of transformation and social reproduction. However, it also claims that his account of cultural production is marred by two blind-spots. First, it contends that Bourdieu has neglected key forms of material support, notably, that offered, post-war, from the ‘left hand of the state’. The subsequent New Wave of 1950s and 1960s British drama had authors who possessed neither economic capital nor certified cultural capital. Secondly, it interrogates Bourdieu’s conclusion that popular culture can never be source of canonized art. Adopting the view that Bourdieu focused too exclusively on legitimate culture, it seeks to contrast his theories on this point with the approach developed by Raymond Williams. The last section sketches a Bourdieusian analysis of Bourdieu. It reads his writings in the light of the different origins of the British and French fields of cultural studies.

Balancing Sex and Love since the 1960s Sexual Revolution

August 1998


3,095 Reads

This introduction will be followed by two larger parts. The first one aims at describing significant changes in the lust balance since the sexual revolution. It is subdivided according to the four phases that are distinguished. The first phase is the sexual revolution itself. The second one, a phase of transition from the end of the 1970s to the mid-1980s, is characterised by the shift from 'sexual liberation' to 'sexual oppression'. In the third phase, there is a lust revival, and in the fourth, from the early 1990s onwards, a lust and love revival continues. The second part of this article consists of an attempt at interpreting and explaining these changes by presenting them as regularities in processes of integration and civilisation.

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Figure 3 Proceso , 9 December 2001: ‘2 October: Images by a government photographer’. ß Proceso 
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Recognizing Historical Injustice through Photography: Mexico 1968

December 2010


388 Reads

This article explores the role of photography in the global work of justice by way of a case study. It focuses on the publication, in December 2001, of a set of photographs by the Mexican newsweekly Proceso, depicting events that occurred in Mexico City on 2 October 1968. Taken at the culmination of a summer of student activism, when the military opened fire on student demonstrators and bystanders, the published photographs showed previously hidden scenes of detention and torture. Locating the publication of these photographs in relation to the historical processes of democratic reform in Mexico, the article aims to contribute to debates regarding the agency of photographic images in the visual politics of humanitarianism, shifting the emphasis away from questions of whether photographs work, to explore instead how they work. In particular, it focuses on the circumstances that authorized the simultaneous entry of the photographs of 1968 into the Mexican and international media spheres, and seeks to illuminate broader questions regarding their specifically photographic mode of address and the intersection between the national settings in which human rights abuses take place and testimonial appeals addressed to a global imagined community.

Looking Back with Gadamer Over his Writings and their Effective History A Dialogue with Jean Grondin (1996)

January 2006


42 Reads

In this interview with Jean Grondin, Gadamer discusses the meaning ‘linguisticality’ and acknowledges his intellectual debt to Heidegger, Augustine, Vico and classical Greek philosophy. Heidegger’s influence on Gadamer can be seen in Gadamer’s awareness of pernicious ontological effects of the Latinization of European language, his awareness of the centrality of technology to the understanding of contemporary philosophical problems and the idea that ‘language speaks’. From Augustine, Gadamer derived his theory of the word as that which cannot be known and brought under control; from Vico the idea that language is rhetorical; and from classical philosophy the Aristotelian idea of phronesis and the Platonic idea that the idea of beauty is inseparable from the idea of the good. Gadamer concludes the interview with a discussion of the need for humanity to overcome its present fascination with technology.

Violence: Religious, Theological, Ontological The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict by William T. Cavanaugh Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009

September 2011


32 Reads

Violence may be productively understood as a secularized theological concept. Doing so challenges claims that secularism is necessary to prevent religious violence, and it also challenges claims for a Christian triumphalist alternative. William Cavanaugh’s embrace of such a triumphalism is called into question when his genealogical method is interrogated in light of the Foucaultian genealogical project.

Many Renaissances, Many Modernities? Jack Goody, Renaissances:The One or the Many? (Cambridge University Press, 2010); The Eurasian Miracle (Polity Press, 2010)

May 2011


1,479 Reads

This article discusses Eurocentric history, its focus on the Renaissance and modernity, which continues also in recent global history perspectives. Goody’s argument regarding renaissances in the plural situates Europe in the wider field of Eurasia and deeper in time, going back to the Bronze Age, characterized by plough agriculture, the use of animal traction and urban cultures. Goody’s perspective includes viewing renascences as accelerations and leaps in the circulation of information. Since it is always the trope of the modern that marks Eurocentric claims, unpacking modernity is central to scrutinizing this construction. Goody shows that Europe is a late-comer rather than a forerunner to major strands of modernity. A wider question this account poses is: if Renaissance in the singular produces modernity in the singular, do renaissances in the plural produce modernities in the plural?

Residues of a Dream World The High Line, 2011

December 2011


94 Reads






Jeannine Tang
The High Line – a public park on a repurposed railway track in New York City – first opened to the public in 2009, and has been increasingly celebrated as a model public space, and as a democratic project directed by community. Artistic and amateur photographic practices have significantly informed the High Line’s design, landscaping, publicity, urban policy, use and constellations of community. This photo-conceptual essay critically considers the constitutive function of the photographic image, as photography produces, interpellates and defines the public and public sphere of the High Line. However, these imaging practices have also taken increasingly regulated form, and endorse conservative forms of community, personhood and publicness. The new park’s imaging practices may be understood as supplementary to neoliberal forms of property accumulation, in fact diminishing public space even as they purport to represent it. Drawing from the historical avant-garde, feminist critiques of representation and anti-capitalist urban theory, the following photographic series critiques the High Line’s photographic apparatus, from within a practice of photography, and from a position within the field of contemporary art.

Speaking Over and Above the Plot: Aural Fixation, Scopophilia, Opera and the Gay Sensibility

April 2005


25 Reads

The relationship between opera and gay subcultures (especially male), lifestyle practices and consumerism has been noted by cultural critics and musicologists - the former in affirmative terms, the latter largely hostile. This article explores this relationship initially through a review of the existing literature before concentrating on the striking affinities in the discursive construction of both cultural forms. In the modem era, both opera and homo- sexuality have been stigmatized and marginalized in their respective rationalizing `scientific' domains: musicology and sexology. Both have been authoritatively declared unhealthy, both reconstructed out of the distinctive repressions of Victorianism, both subsequently searching for inclusion and legitimacy.

Volatile Worlds, Vulnerable Bodies Confronting Abrupt Climate Change

May 2010


256 Reads

The abrupt climate change thesis suggests that climate passes through threshold transitions after which change is sudden, runaway and unstoppable. This concurs with recent themes in complexity studies. Data from ice cores indicates that major shifts in global climate regimes have occurred in as little as a decade, and that for most of the span of human existence climate has oscillated much more violently than it has over the last 10,000 years. This evidence presents enormous challenges for international climate change negotiation and regulation, which has thus far focussed on gradual change. It is argued that existing social theoretic engagements with physical agency are insufficiently geared towards dissonant or disastrous physical events. Wagering on the past and future importance of abrupt climate change, the paper explores a way of engaging with catastrophic climatic change that stresses the inherent volatility and unpredictability of earth process, and the no-less inherent vulnerability of the human body. Drawing on Bataille and Derrida, it proposes a way of nestling the issue of environmental justice within a broader sense of immeasurable indebtedness to those humans who endured previous episodes of abrupt climate, and considers the idea of experimentation and generosity without reserve.

The Absence of Ottoman, Islamic Europe in Edward W. Said’s Orientalism

January 2013


1,250 Reads

Edward W. Said’s Orientalism has attained canonical status as the key study of the cultural politics of western representation of the East, specifically the imaginative geographies underwriting constructions such as the Middle East and the Islamic world. The Ottoman Empire overlapped both European and exteriorized Oriental space during much of the period that Said dealt with, yet while the existence of the empire is referred to in Said’s study, the theoretical implications of that presence for his critique of Orientalist discourse are not. The material presence of the Ottoman state, in the Arabic-speaking lands, but also crucially, and for a longer period, much of south-east Europe and Anatolia, highlights long-standing Oriental geopolitical and cultural agency in the face of unidirectional narratives of western encroachment. Attention to the specific discursive manoeuvres undertaken by the West to handle that disruptive, intrinsic Ottoman presence in Europe itself may add traction to the notion that the Orient was imagined as a radically exterior point of comparison. It is argued that the history of western representation of the Ottoman Empire constitutes a pre-Orientalist discourse, whose dual, perennial purpose is to make pragmatic accommodation for an Ottoman Oriental material presence in Europe yet never to fully acknowledge its discursive presence as being of Europe. I argue that by supplementing Said’s critique with a full consideration of the Ottoman legacy, a reformulation is possible that integrates the Islamic Orient as an intrinsic component of historically informed notions of European space, while dissolving notions of the absolute distinction of that latter construct from the wider milieus in which it is embedded.

Ethnic Absolutism and the Authoritarian Spirit

April 1999


17 Reads

This article explores the ideological and historical basis of new authoritarian South Asian and Hindu movements, and considers the links between their ideologies and the history of racial and ethnic formations in the west during the Enlightenment period. Using Paul Gilroy's work on radical black conservatism as a starting point, the author explores some of the metaphysical ideas behind the late modern recovery of primordial ethnic belonging. The author considers the possibilities of a volkish anti-racism in contemporary movements by highlighting the similarities between contemporary right-wing Hindu revival and older German romantic strands that cultivated `primordial' nationalisms based on an appropriation of archaic Vedic scriptures. The background to the concept `Aryan' is explored. The author considers how many far-right ideas about ethnicity and nationalism have found a deep resonance in `New Age' writings. The conclusion links these themes to a broader discussion of metaphysical ideas.

Abstract Experience

July 2008


148 Reads

The speculative philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead offers critical social and cultural theory an unusual way of rethinking the place and value of experience in its concerns. This article explores the challenges that Whitehead's approach to experience, deliberately contrasted with the subject-object thinking of modernity, creates. The article seeks to provide an account of the importance of Whitehead's appeal to naïve experience and of how this appeal counters some of the problems of more recent and more familiar accounts of the fate of experience which draw on some of the same historical points of reference — especially Romantic poetry. In particular, the article suggests that Whitehead's broadly impersonal conception of the open structure of experience as constructive process mitigates the `pathos of finitude' attendant upon critical accounts which presume the unity of experience and then ask how this unity is shattered under modernity. Whitehead's work is situated transversally to analysis and phenomenology and is argued to accord a value to and role for abstraction which calls for a more experimental approach to the topic. While `naïve experience' clearly differs from the understanding of experience evident in other accounts, the article also suggests that it is not incompatible with a more Foucauldian kind of singular history.

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