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Emancipation, Progress, Critique: Debating Amy Allen’s The End of Progress: The End of Progress: Decolonizing the Normative Foundations of Critical Theory Amy Allen, Columbia University Press, New York, 2016, ISBN: 9780231173247

Critical Exchange
Emancipation, Progress, Critique: Debating
Amy Allen’s The End of Progress
Albena Azmanova
University of Kent, 1040 Brussels, Belgium
Martin Saar
Goethe University Frankfurt, 60325 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Guilel Treiber
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO) and K.U. Leuven, 3000 Leuven, Belgium
Azar Dakwar
University of Kent, 1040 Brussels, Belgium
¨lle McAfee
Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA
Andrew Feenberg
Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC V6B 5K3, Canada
Amy Allen
Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA
Contemporary Political Theory (2018) 17, 511–541.
018-0215-6; published online 3 May 2018
The End of Progress:
Decolonizing the Normative Foundations of Critical Theory
Amy Allen,
Columbia University Press,
New York, 2016,
ISBN: 9780231173247
2018 Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature. 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. 17, 4, 511–541
Amy Allen’s Angelus Novus
Amy Allen is cautious of progress. And she is fighting for it. The ammunition,
elaborated in her audacious The End of Progress, is a form of critique that emanates
from a synergy she builds between the discontents of postcolonial theory and the
insights of critical theory. The debates that followed the book’s publication often
presented Allen’s enlightened skepticism as skepticism of the Enlightenment, and
her rejection of the hubris of a Eurocentric historical logic of progress as a
wholesale rejection of the universalism implied in the commitment to emancipa-
tion. The commentaries collected in this exchange (which began at a meeting in
Prague in May 2017) rebalance the pendulum of criticism – while most of Allen’s
critics have found her unpalatably critical of progress, these five interventions urge
her to be more boldly so. Guilel Treiber counsels her to pay due attention to the
insignificant and the infamous, Andrew Feenberg – to acknowledge the way
technical artefacts and systems are appropriated or suffered by ordinary people,
¨lle McAfee – to have stronger trust in the moral intuitions of lived experience,
Azar Dakwar and Martin Saar – to have the courage to think emancipation without
the crutches of a notion of progress.
The End of Progress has broken new ground, inspired discussions, stirred
controversies, and opened up trajectories for new work and further questions. As an
organizer of this exchange, and a silent spectator to many others, I prefer not to take
a stance either on Amy Allen’s views on progress or on the way she derives them.
Instead, I will express a hope that future engagements with this book will elaborate
further and put to work the formula of emancipatory critique Allen has articulated:
her idea of metanormative contextualism – a contextualist but nonrelativistic
account of the moral-political imperative of emancipation, empowered by the
method of genealogical problematization of specific struggles against injustice.
Allen has given us an emboldened version of Walter Benjamin’s timid Angelus
Novus – his face turned toward the past, seeing not progress but suffering,
cognisant of Reason’s fallibility, averse to ambitions for a perfect history, yet
relentlessly driven by a single and singular calling – the fight against injustice. With
an accomplishment of such magnitude, figuring out exactly how skeptical Allen is
of progress might be beside the point.
Albena Azmanova
Saving History from Progress
Amy Allen’s proposal is to rethink and revise the ‘‘normative foundations’’ of
critical theory by problematizing the use that is made of conceptions of progress in
various forms. She finds these uses problematic, even pernicious and dangerous,
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given the many convincing arguments against the parochial, paternalistic,
ethnocentric nature of the visions of progress that have been and still are in
circulation in modern Western thought. Revising these supposed foundations is
therefore needed, but, Allen implies, progress can be recovered as a basis, as a
different, recovered foundation. Critical theory can remain founded on progress, if
understood differently.
My point of departure is an uneasiness with Allen’s first step to achieve this goal,
her elegant but seductive distinction between two kinds of (concepts of) progress.
One is taken to be backward-looking (progress as a ‘‘fact’’), the other forward-
looking (progress as orientation or ‘‘imperative’’), the first is criticized as idealist
and objectivist, the second praised as ethically motivated and action oriented. From
the first perspective, ‘‘progress is a judgment about the developmental or learning
process that has led up to ‘us’, a judgment that views ‘our’ conception of reason,
‘our’ moral-political institutions, ‘our’ social practices, ‘our’ form of life as the
result of a process of sociocultural development or historical learning.’’ From the
second perspective, ‘‘progress is a moral-political imperative, a normative goal that
we are striving to achieve, a goal that can be captured under the idea of the good or
at least of the more just society’’ (pp. 11–12). While this is definitely a distinction
that can be made and that can be reconstructed from several texts in the critical
theory tradition, it might be harder to defend systematically than it seems. One
might suspect (and I do) that the idealist heritage remains operative (even if
implicitly) even in the very attempt to overcome the objectivist side of the concept
of progress and that this attempt, too, remains tied to a framework that ultimately, I
fear, cannot enable us to think real historical contingency today.
Let me just remind you of the conceptual function the notion of progress had in
the emerging philosophies of history from the early Enlightenment to Hegel:
‘progress,’’ the very idea, was meant to weave together into a single narrative the
past, present and future by suggesting their continuity or teleological structure.
Looking back on past achievements within the framework of a fully-developed
philosophy of history in this framework just is the very basis for a projection into
the future; looking back is the attempt for finding confirmation of the path chosen
and an inspiration for staying on it. There would be much to say about the
theological roots of this idea and their persistence even in secularized ideas of
historical teleology (an issue J. Taubes, H. Blumenberg, K. Lo
¨with and others were
struggling with for decades, cf. Lara, 2013). Moreover, there would be a need for
differentiation between weaker concepts of historical progress (like Kant’s and
Diderot’s) and their strongest, idealist version (in Hegel). But the categorical
heritage as such seems rather hard to break: conceptually speaking, talking progress
means talking continuity, and this implies linking past, present and futurity in a
substantial, continuous way. In other words, claiming that the notion of progress
can be broken down into two different things that can be held apart (as Allen does:
either ‘‘fact’’ or ‘‘imperative’’) still commits to a thesis about this continuity, this
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essential link between the three different registers of temporality. Establishing this
link is what a philosophy of history in the strong sense does, i.e., what a philosophy
with a place for the notion of progress implicates.
In the current discussion, there is a version of an argument Allen also might
subscribe to (this is not obvious) that goes like this: any emancipatory intention or
any form of progressive collective action needs to presuppose an idea of progress,
the real possibility of things getting better. For many, this seems to be a knock-
down, quasi-transcendental argument (that might be worthy of the late Karl-Otto
Apel), but I do not see that it is as strong as many authors claim (see the recent
work of Thomas McCarthy on development, Axel Honneth on the inevitable pro-
gress in Kant, or Rahel Jaeggi on progress and regression). Trying not to commit
past errors again, taking up historical responsibility or learning from the past does
not – in my view – amount to a case for ‘‘progress’’ in the philosophy-of-history-
sense, just for learning, for orientation, for politics. But I see that many authors in
the current discussion seem to think so and this might tell us something about
critical theory in critical times, at least that it becomes harder not to lose one’s
nerves. Restoring the philosophy of histories is certainly one way of responding to
this situation. It might not come without cost, though.
Why is this – subscribing to progress or overcoming it – a problem in and for
critical theory? Well, just because the case against progress as a concept as such
seems to be an argument advanced by several prominent points of reference and
interlocutors within critical theory, namely by Benjamin and Foucault in their
attacks on the idealist and progressivist conceptions of history. Both of them
seemed to worry that thinking history under the sign of progress (i.e., idealistically)
amounts to a systematic denial of history or historicity as such. This opposition
(progress vs. history) might not be easily mapped onto Allen’s second pair of
concepts, ‘‘historical progress’’ vs. ‘‘progress in history’’ (p. 228); indeed, both of
the latter might appear to be bound up with rest-idealist assumptions, if one accepts
the post-foundationalist, post-idealist critiques.
In his fragments on the concept of history, Benjamin (2003, p. 393) attacked
what he calls the ‘‘conformism’’ of Social Democratic and Marxist political
theorizing. The idea that the working class might benefit from the gradual
advancement of science, technological, and social reforms has proven fateful:
‘Nothing has so corrupted the German working class as the notion that it was
moving with the current. It regarded technological development as the driving force
of the stream with which it thought it was moving’’ (Benjamin, 2003, p. 393).
Accordingly, a politics accommodated to bourgeois society was determined by a
dogmatic concept of ‘‘progress of humankind itself (and not just advances in human
ability and knowledge),’’ envisioned as ‘‘something boundless (in keeping with an
infinite perfectibility of humanity)’’ and ‘‘inevitable–something that automatically
pursued a straight or spiral course’’ (Benjamin, 2003, p. 394). Calling for a
‘criticism of the concept of progress itself,’’ Benjamin (2003, p. 395) was calling
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attention to the ideological function this notion has played by suggesting an
inherent connection between certain historical events and the eventual liberation
from social demise the working classes have suffered from. It is in this sense that
progress as such, the very notion or idea, in Benjamin’s eyes plays the role of a
legitimating narrative or apologetic ideology, obstructing any real or disenchanted
class struggle.
Foucault’s attack on conventional perspectives in the history of ideas or in
historiography in general might be said to have advanced in a similar way.
Traditional historiography proceeds by creating unities and entities coherence and
continuity of which they can only presuppose. But for Foucault, it is only their
disruption and disassembling that will make visible the agonistic, dynamic
character of identities and historical subjects or objects of knowledge. Philosophies
of history, however, will conceal or even deny this ever shifting, ever contested
realm, bury them under an appearance of unity or continuity and thereby masking
the war-like real nature of history in which mankind ‘‘proceeds from domination to
domination’’ (Foucault, 1998, p. 378).
When Allen claims ‘‘that a certain vestigial remnant of the traditional philosophy
of history remains in contemporary Frankfurt School critical theory,’’ she means
that there is an unquestioned reliance on ‘‘a certain developmental, unidirectional,
and cumulative moral-political learning process’’ (p. 9). However, we might
suspect, even her own approach remains in the register of a philosophy of history. If
her progress as imperative is to be progress in a meaningful sense, it, too, thinks the
future philosophically in dependence from a common historicity with a meaning, a
direction, a morality.
Against such perspectives, Benjamin and Foucault – rather differently, of course –
and many others were posing the thinking of history proper, the autonomy of
historicity, when we mean by this the radically non-Hegelian view that there is no
overarching frame (not Geist, not morality, but also not the sheer will to give political
meaning to history). In this perspective, overcoming history-as-progress, un-thinking
progress first of all means opening up the space for truly thinking historically. At
least, this is one possible way of reading Benjamin’s and Foucault’s contributions to
critical theory, and it might run counter to some claims of Allen’s concerning the
inevitability of (some notion of) progress for any theory interested in contributing to
political and social struggles. Outlining this possibility might therefore allow for
reflecting on a different, maybe complementary story of how critical theory and other
critical theories today might relate to the problem of progress.
Therefore, I agree, it might help to truly ‘‘move beyond progressive, develop-
mentalist conceptions of history’’ (p. 32). But this might mean indeed to renounce
the very idea of progress as a historical category, as something within history that
could be known, presupposed or guaranteed. This project might sound (and be) less
dialectical in argumentative structure, maybe more destructive than the idea that a
better concept of progress can be achieved via an immanent critique of Left-
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Hegelian philosophies of history or that the idea that progress might be something
‘we cannot not want’’ (Spivak, 1999). However, I think, the concept of progress is
something we do not want, do not need, but only the idea and the practice of
politics, or collective action, or emancipation. But these points of reference do not
have to be not historically grounded, do not have to be normative foundations, they
can be thought without banisters. Freeing history from the burden of progress
means freeing the present for politics, unfounded, ungrounded, and contingent.
It is true: a politics grounded on a strong vision of one world history, its centers
and immanent directions, derived from ideological and philosophical discourses
and clad into armor has led into impasses and abysses from whose consequences
the world still has not recovered. This much is true about the postcolonial attack on
the complicity between progressivist and developmentalist thinking and colonial
politics and domination. Critical theory, as Allen’s book has compellingly shown,
should have and does have the responsibility and the means to respond to and do
justice to this argument, and to join the theoretical and practical struggles for a truly
common world. Defending or claiming the idea of progress, I contend, is no
necessary part of this struggle.
Martin Saar
The Violence of Dust
The fifth chapter of The End of Progress, ‘‘From The Dialectics of Enlightenment to
The History of Madness,’ is a crucial chapter in Allen’s overall argument for
decolonizing the normative foundations of critical theory. In this part of the book,
she builds on the preceding critical chapters a Foucauldian–Adornian alternative
framework for thinking through the relationship between normativity and history
(p. 165). To think this relationship differently is to understand that the self-evident
moral assumptions to which we are committed and which give meaning to our lives
as moral agents must go together, in order for them to be truly moral, with an
awareness of their contingent historical nature (‘‘a fundamental humility’’) and a
critical attitude that is always ready to put them into question (p. 202). Allen offers
a refreshing, highly original, and erudite reading of both The Dialectics of
Enlightenment and The History of Madness. Her reading respects the individual
character of the two works, while highlighting certain similarities between them,
allows her to formulate a Foucauldian–Adornian alternative approach to the
concept of progress. She rejects the common reading of these two masterpieces that
sees them as offering a regressive history of Western Enlightenment as a story of
decline. She instead reads them as ‘‘serving a broader project of immanent
critique’’ (p. 164) aimed at a fuller realization of the heritage of the Enlightenment,
more specifically, the values of ‘‘freedom, inclusion, and respect for the other’’ (p.
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165). Hence Allen does not read Adorno or Foucault as lamenting the end of
Enlightenment or as trying to break completely with its heritage, but as two
thinkers who enable her to propose a forward-looking concept of progress,
emphasizing the open character of a future humanity to come (p. 174).
It is tempting to subscribe fully and without hesitation to Allen’s version of
progress and its ability to sustain a normative position that respects the other without
ever succumbing to relativism. However, I would like to raise a few critical points, all
concerned with the importance Allen attaches to Foucault’s concept of the historical
a priori, and the relation it entails between philosophy and history. Allen does not aim
at an exegetical reading of Foucault’s first important book. Hence even though she
has criticized Lynne Huffer for not being Foucauldian enough in her reading of The
History of Madness, I do not aim to direct that same critique to Allen herself (Allen,
2013, p. 21). My worry is that the use Allen makes of Foucault may bring Foucault
too close to Adorno and reduce the practical value activists have attached to the
former’s work in the last few decades (Halperin, 1997; Huffer, 2010), rendering it
nothing but ‘‘an avoidance of catastrophe’’ (p. 175). The rapprochement Allen sets up
between the two thinkers is possible through a specific understanding of Foucault’s
use of history and his relative status as a philosopher or as a historian. In other words,
Allen reads Foucault’s historical methodology within a specifically philosophical
tradition to such an extent that it glosses over the fact that Foucault can be both more
useful for her argument and more problematic. She reduces the potential of using
Foucault politically for the sake of a specific reading that tries to place him within the
tension between praxis and theory, which is emblematic of the Frankfurt School
tradition but stands at odds with the militant activism of French intellectuals
throughout the twentieth century.
For Allen, ‘‘the aim of Foucault’s philosophical-historical method is neither to
vindicate nor to subvert’’ contemporary ways of life but to open up ‘‘lines of
fragility and fracture’’ within that form of life (pp. 177, 182). The light we shed,
through the work of critique, on the fractures in our historical a priori will enable us
to turn fixed, stratified relations of domination into flexible, reversible power
relations and to open ourselves up to new selves and new collective forms of social
imagination (Allen, 2015a, p. 525). However, Allen repeatedly attaches this process
to thought itself, to the emancipatory potential of philosophy, and never to actual,
lived experience, to practices or institutions, as Foucault repeatedly tried to do
throughout his work. In an often-quoted interview, Foucault distinguishes between
his work and that of the Frankfurt School by referring to Marx’s idea that man
produces man. He emphasizes that representatives of the Frankfurt School
understand the result of this production as already given, for example, by positing
the desired result (freedom, inclusion, and respect for other) at the end of a process
of emancipation. For him, the production of man by man can come only as ‘‘a
destruction of what we are as well as the creation of a completely different thing, a
total innovation.’’ (Foucault, 1997a, p. 275) The destruction of what we are must be
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understood as potentially violent, not just in thought but in its concrete political
For Allen, The History of Madness can be read as a ‘‘distinctly Hegelian attempt
to take up and radically transform Hegelian philosophy from within’’ (p. 177)
History, with a capital H, is so crucial to our modern a priori that we can call it the
‘Historical historical a priori’’ (p. 179). Foucault’s History of Madness, read as a
genealogy of history, aims at opening up an internal fracture within the historical a
priori of our Western societies, enabling us to think beyond the Hegelian dialectic
of historical progress to which, according to Allen, Habermas and Honneth are still
committed. If The History of Madness opens up the fracture, the figure of unreason
used by Foucault throughout the book is what illuminates the ‘lines of fragility’
that can open into real fractures (pp. 177–178). For Allen, the process of
illumination seems to be a condition of any politico-epistemological change in the
possibilities of social and individual imaginations. The process of illumination can
happen only through meticulous ‘‘gentle digging’’; however, in the end, there must
be a moment where ‘‘hammer blows’’ are necessary (p. 182). If that is the case, then
we must ask how one opens the fractures into a space of freedom. Although these
hammer blows may be thought of as theoretical violence done to thought itself (p.
173), there is no reason to assume their theoretical character. Hence, if one wants to
break the cracks illuminated by the figure of unreason (and I think unreason could
be replaced with the figure of the Orient or Queer), one must confront the question
of violence – of real, practical, explosive hammer blows – done not only to the
coherence of our historical a priori but to the coherence of our concrete social ways
of being and even to our lives. Moreover, there is no reason to accept, as Allen
seems to do, the necessary relation between theory and praxis or to understand
theoretical efforts as conditions of praxis. On the contrary, in general after 1968,
similar positions were rejected by post-structuralist intellectuals and specifically by
Foucault himself (Foucault, 1997b, pp. 452–453). To use Allen’s metaphor against
her, the gentle digging usually comes after the hammer blows. If we understand
hammer blows as practices of resistance, we may see in certain cases an interaction
between them and the work of the critical theorist or the archeologist. However,
this work is not their necessary conditions. History usually happens behind the back
of its actors, and the best a critical theorist can do is often just to suggest ways of
interpreting the shifts we sense in our historical a priori without fully understanding
from whence they came about.
All this comes down to the way Allen understands what history is for Foucault.
The ongoing debate between Foucauldians regarding whether Foucault is a
historian or a philosopher has preoccupied Allen in the last 2 years since the
publication of The End of Progress (Allen, 2016b,2017; Allen and Aldea, 2016).
The issue is crucial to her argument in the book. Although Allen presents her
position as a middle ground between the two interpretations, and rightly claims that
history is crucial for Foucault’s methodology (p. 179), she understands Foucault as
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engaging with a very philosophical history. Allen takes history to be, for Foucault,
incomprehensible except in relation to the Hegelian history he rejects (p. 177).
Although Allen is partially right, her emphasis on Foucault’s dialog with Hegel,
which she has emphasized for some time (Allen, 1998) has brought her to reduce
Foucault’s history to that of a philosopher. History for Foucault is that of historians,
as he has repeatedly made clear (Foucault, 2005, pp. 171–173, 1980, pp. 43–46), a
history of the dust and silence of the archive and not the abstract archive, but the
real, concrete one, of the Bibliothe
`que Nationale de France or the Bibilothe
`que du
Saulchoir. It is between the crumbling pages of manuscripts in the many archives
that Foucault visited, that he wrote all of his books. The archive constitutes, for
Foucault, a sort of implicit ethical impetus, which Allen could have used in her
argument as well. For the archive is not meant to be dug for no reason, but to
capture the marginal voices that official history has failed to erase. For Foucault,
the beauty of these lives, forever forgotten, of which we have nothing but the
echoes of their momentary meetings with power structures, is what constitutes the
intolerable against which he must react.
In ‘‘The Life of Infamous Men,’’ a text long neglected by American readers of
Foucault, he highlights a theme that many of his previous works (specifically The
History of Madness and Discipline and Punish) brilliantly captured: the signifi-
cance of insignificant lives (Foucault, 1979). Foucault’s historical methodology is
not only preoccupied with repeating Nietzsche’s critique of Hegel as Allen
suggests. It does something Nietzsche never intended to do with history, which is to
give a voice back to those whom official history has forgotten. These lives of
infamous men and women (and queers, perverts, libertines and freethinkers, too)
are to be understood much as history should, not in any abstract manner or as a
philosophical concept, but in their ‘‘constituted materiality through a multiplicity of
describable, positive dimensions’’ (Lorenzini, 2015, pp. 41–42). Hence, for
Foucault, archival work as concrete historical practice carries within it the
fractures of our historical a priori, which is never actually as coherent as one would
assume. The role of the genealogist is indeed to trace their fragile figure, and to
summon them back into the present, although this work can never be in itself
enough to open a space of freedom. Opening spaces for freedom is only possible by
and through the actions of real living people in the radicality of their transgressive
destruction and re-construction, in the violence of political oppositions and in the
existential risk of their lives, subjectivities, and bodies, which are all missing in The
End of Progress.
Guilel Treiber
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The End or the Re-enchantment of Progress?
There is little doubt that Allen’s The End of Progress is extraordinarily timely,
daring and incisive, for it leaps into a paramount zone of vulnerability at the core of
critical theory: the role and function of progress in critical historical and normative
consciousness. My point of departure in this commentary is one of principled
agreement with Allen: both with her pointed critique of the justifications for
historical progress in the works of a quintessential cohort of critical theorists and
with her observations about the pressing need to decolonize critical theory’s
normative foundations. Yet, it is my intention to interrogate the plausibility of
Allen’s suggestive framework for ‘‘thinking about history and the question of its
normative grounding’’ (p. 5). To this end, I revisit Allen’s reading of the Foucault –
Derrida debate that followed the publication of Foucault’s History of Madness as
well as Foucault’s 1960s brand of critical historicity for explicating Derrida’s
criticism in a light contrary to Allen’s view thereof. Subsequently, I shall argue that
Derrida’s critique of Hegel’s and Foucault’s early historicity was not displaced or
transcended by Allen’s critical scheme.
On the one hand, despite how Foucault severs the Hegelian leap between the
‘Process of Knowing’’ and that of ‘‘Absolute Knowledge’’ (and how he historicizes
this break), I concur with Allen that Foucault’s early critical methodology of
historicity cannot be understood but in relation to Hegelian historical reason. On
the other hand, and unlike Allen, I will contend that the critical historicism of the
early Foucault cannot set itself free from the inertia of Hegel’s dialectical
historicity, which endogenously conflates historicism as teleology with historicism
as methodology (Funkenstein, 1986; Moyn, 2003). Following Derrida’s line of
argumentation, I will then highlight the uneasy interrelationship and habitual
Hegelian enjoining of immanent reason, immanent history and immanent critique
(the ‘‘immanentizing’ of reason, history and critique) in the critical methodologies
of the Frankfurt School and the early Foucault. This will eventually lead us to
question Allen’s assertion that critical theory can hold onto a specific conception of
progress and still be ‘‘truly critical’’ (Allen, 2015a).
The notion of progress is Allen’s main object of inquiry. Progress has been a
touchstone of the discursive formation of modernity writ-large and of critical
theory’s conceptions of history and historicity, and of critique and normativity.
While dispensing altogether with the claim to a backward-looking view of progress
as historical fact, Allen’s account ends up reaffirming the operative necessity of
progress – that is, of a moral–political progressivism devoid of commitment to any
particular story of historical progress. Furthermore, Allen claims that progress in
history – which can be judged by normative standards that are themselves
historically and contextually grounded – is both possible and desirable for
decolonizing critical theory (and ‘‘criticalizing’ postcolonial theory) (pp. 33, 226).
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Allen then couches this nuanced position on progress within a specific conception
of normativity – namely metanormative contextualism – that is ‘‘thoroughly
immanent’ (pp. 13, 215). Taken together, if critical theory is to decolonize its
epistemic premises and method, Allen prescribes placing a forward-looking
conception of progress – ‘‘progress as imperative’’ – at the center of critical
theory’s normative core. In short, moral-political progress remains a ‘‘necessary
fiction’’ for a decolonized critical theory.
Through this double move, Allen stretches thin (in the negative, Adornian sense)
the normative foundations of critical theory. Still, she keeps them thin enough to
look to the future and aspire to a form of ‘‘directionality’’ that takes its cues from
certain ways of perceiving history. For if we were to remain true to a minimal yet
‘necessary’’ telos of the Frankfurt tradition, a theoretical apparatus with
emancipatory intent must be maintained. Yet does the aspiration of emancipation
from domination and suffering, whether of Frankfurt descent or otherwise, need to
presuppose or pledge allegiance to any notion of progress? It is precisely this
crucial entwinement of the imperatives of progress and emancipation in critical
theory that Allen’s book overlooks. Stated in the form of a question: Can critical
theory sustain a minimal emancipatory intent – one divorced from a thick
normative or utopian vision, as Allen perceptively requests (Allen, 2015a)–
without a notion of progress prefiguring its working concepts of history,
normativity and critique?
The promise of emancipation from the historical ‘‘principle of domination’’ in
society is what theology, religion, and art managed to uphold until the
consolidation of modernity’s discourse and the universalization of its superses-
sionist claim vis-a
`-vis prior traditions and epochs. The principle of domination was
subsumed in Kant’s critical philosophy, and later in Hegel’s, under the immanence
of the language of reason (Taubes, 2010). For Kant, reason sits in judgment over
the entire sphere of experience. Reason’s self-grounding thus necessitates, even
postulates in principle, an immanent critique of reason by reason. As a
consequence, human emancipation from domination was exclusively delegated to
immanent reason.
The prevalent notion of History (with capital ‘H’ – history as a totality) deployed
in critical theory’s discourse on reason and modernity can be attributed – in the
paradigmatic sense – to Hegel. Hegel’s notion narrates the procession of reason’s
dialectical self-realization as it progresses toward possessing or stabilizing a state
of knowledge – what he calls ‘‘Absolute Knowledge.’’ Foucault’s critical projects –
both early (History of Madness,Birth of the Clinic) and, to a lesser extent, early-
middle (Order of Things,Archeology of Knowledge) – can be read in the shadow,
and as a radical critique of Hegel’s philosophy of history. Allen summarizes the
early Foucault’s sophisticated critical project and its relevance for present-day
critique as follows:
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The most he would say is that there is historicity proper to our modern form
of rationality – a form which, following Hegel, takes reason to be Historical,
and history to be rational – and it is precisely the historicity of History that
Foucault aims to reveal, as part of his critical effort to uncover the
contingency of that form of knowledge, thereby opening the possibility of
moving beyond it (Allen, 2016b, p. 132).
For all that, Foucault’s historicity of history is sustained through the individual’s
subjective experience of nonsubjective, discursively formed historical openings –
that is, of freedom (Oksala, 2005). Such a stance, therefore, could be at odds with
the ‘‘collective partaking’ prerequisite of critical theory’s imperative of
This ambivalent tension between Foucauldian historicity’s condition of possibil-
ity and critical theory’s commitment to human emancipation poses an initial
challenge to Allen, who seeks to secure for critical theory both normativity and
critical immanence. Notwithstanding this problematic, Allen proceeds to ground her
proposed method of immanent critique – problematizing genealogy – in the
understanding of early Foucauldian critical historicity elucidated above (pp.
191–192). Hence she rises to defend it and to dispel Derrida’s critique of Foucault’s
qualified and reworked – yet reaffirmative – account of the Hegelian notion of
history in History of Madness. In fact, Allen suggests that it is Derrida who is
committed to the transcendence of reason, unlike Foucault who is a ‘‘theorist of the
immanence and contingency of specific rationalities’’ (Allen, 2016c, pp. 117–118).
Allen interprets Derrida’s critique as ‘‘a charge of metaphysics,’’ in the sense that
Derrida mistakenly sees Foucault’s methodology referring to the unity of an original
presence that precedes the split between reason and madness (Allen, 2016c, p. 109).
Allen passes this verdict in spite of her awareness that the idea of the transcendent
moment of reason and that of normative transcendence are analytically distinguish-
able (Allen, 2016c, p. 115).
Against this background, one should ask: what is holding immanence and
contingence together (and still keeps them distinct) in Allen’s account of
Foucauldian historicity? Could it be the case that they are held together by a
blind spot of Hegelian Entzweiung – that is, a fragmentation of a previous unity, of
the unity of unity and difference? (Pires, 2002). Put differently, are not immanence
and contingency sustained together (and apart), as Derrida argued, by a ‘‘cleavage
and torment interior to meaning in general, interior to logos in general, a division
within the very act of sentire [oriented perception]’’? Which is to say, are not
immanence and contingency ‘‘constituted’’ by a blind spot which is not
transcendent to historical reason, as Allen claims, but is rather immanent (Derrida,
2001, pp. 45–46)? In this view, could it be that Derrida was indicating, contra
Hegel, that the universality and immanence of reason does not entail immanent
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critique as the maxim guaranteeing the possibility and immanent operability of
history’s historicity? (Allen, 2016b, p. 130).
To avoid any misunderstanding, Derrida concurs with Foucault that the mode of
relation to actuality that we establish is itself historically determined and cannot be
understood but through problematizing (or ‘‘deconstructing’’) history as well as
historicity’s alleged coherence. However, Derrida qualifies this observation histor-
ically by arguing that the problem lies not only in Hegel’s progressivist concept of
History (historicism as teleology), but also in the tools entailed for modern
historiography and periodization (historicism as methodology), which should not be
considered uncontestable given ‘‘facts.’’ The latter might as well be the ‘‘nonhis-
torical capital of history,’’ or what grants modern historicity its preordained credit
(Derrida, 2001, pp. 37–38, 391). Derrida’s oft-quoted quip ‘‘Hegel again, always’’ is
what haunts his writings on History’s historicity (Derrida, 2001, p. 43).
Foucault’s herculean critical historicization of Kant’s project of critical reason
and of Hegel’s project of historical reason is pre
´cised in his own notion of the
historical a priori, which stands for a set of rules that characterize a discursive
practice and that emanate only from practice itself. As Foucault puts it, it is ‘‘a
condition of reality for statements,’’ or the positive condition of the ‘‘archive’
(defines as a ‘‘complex volume’’ of ‘‘different types of positivity’’) that
‘differentiates discourses in their multiple existence and specifies them in their
own duration’’ (Foucault, 1971, pp. 127–129). The notion of historical a priori is
central to Allen’s comprehension of immanent critique as opening up ‘‘a space of
freedom between ourselves and our historical a priori’’ (p. 177). Actually Allen
sees immanent emancipatory critique as an effort to efface the Historical character
of our historical a priori ‘‘out of which our contingent present is constructed’’ (pp.
185–186). Nevertheless, this understanding of immanent critique hardly discharges
the question of origins and divisions within history. Historicism as methodology
cannot remain immune from itself, from the historical quality of its practice.
Indeed, the historical method itself has a history. But as each new archeology/
problematizing genealogy attempts to critique certain forms of rationality and
divisions within history, blind spots and singularities are inevitably generated, and
thus never ‘‘register’’ in the historical a priori. The implication of this insight is that
yet another iteration of problematizing a ‘‘condition of reality for statements’
cannot account for blind spots that this very work of critical historicity produces.
Conversely, it might well be that historicity’s blind spots are the condition of
possibility of the ‘‘complex volume’’ of ‘‘different types of positivity.’
The ceaseless repetitive drive of Hegelian historicism, which is supposedly only
the hallmark of his historicism as teleology, does not wither away after Foucault
purges it from his early critical method. Rather, Foucault’s critical historicism as
methodology sustains the expectation that the coming-to-true-knowledge signifies
necessarily a repetition of the way of generating ‘‘condition[s] of reality for
statements’’ and a reiterated extension or subversion of what the ‘‘complex
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volume’’ thereof had already been. Hence, repetition is also a structuring form of
Hegelian historicism as methodology. The business of reproblematizing historicity
prompts, therefore, repetition as well as singular blind spots. Derrida’s critique
conveys precisely this ‘‘injunction.’
This provisional reading signals that what is perhaps at stake in the Foucault –
Derrida debate is not ‘a fundamental methodological disagreement about how to
do critical philosophy,’’ as Allen argues, but rather a mere methodological
disagreement in the form of a reservation: Hegel, probably not always (Allen,
2016c, p. 106). Derrida unravels, in a subtle manner, the Gordian knot between
immanent critique and reason’s immanence that both the early Foucault and the
Frankfurt School ‘‘inherited’’ from Hegel’s dialectical scheme of historicity.
Derrida does subscribe to the immanence of reason and does acknowledge the
primacy of historical reason; yet at the same time, contra Hegel and early Foucault,
he casts suspicion on the immanent nature of the critique of historical reason and
calls for heightened awareness to the possibility of historicity-of-history as such
(Derrida, 1998,2001). Dumping historicization as teleology while insisting on the
immanence of historicization as methodology a`laearly Foucault does not warrant
a ‘‘thoroughly immanent’’ method of critique, and thus might produce ‘‘a space
between ourselves and our historical a priori’’ that is oblivious to its condition of
possibility. Hence, alongside possessing the capacity of ‘‘fracturing from within
history,’’ Allen’s critical method does not account for the ‘‘interior historical
rupture’’ it itself is. Ergo, Allen’s aim to ‘‘de-dialectize Hegel’’ by reproblematizing
the Historical historical a priori (through the early Foucault’s methodological
historicism) falters because it cannot secure the immanence of its critical work.
Radical Hegelian historicism as methodology retains a built-in propensity to
amalgamating blind spots due to its ‘‘predisposed’Aufhebung thrust. In a nutshell,
we might call this Allen’s Hegelian ‘‘Catch-22.’
To conclude, Allen’s pathbreaking critique of progress makes sense insofar as it
channels the capacity to perform an immanent critique that is normatively valid in
specific contexts. That is, a form of critique that maintains or even reinvigorates
critical theory’s quest for emancipation. However, while seeking and prescribing
normative progress as a maxim for our emancipatory praxis, we must bear in mind
a caveat underscored in the works of Derrida, Benjamin and the late Foucault: the
association of progress or its critique with either pessimism or optimism in future
emancipation might be misplaced (Brown, 2001). If critical theory wishes to retain
– dare I say – a ‘‘collective’’ emancipatory intent, or to otherwise decolonize its
normative foundations, it must first think how to bracket the intuiting of
historicity’s structure of repetition. Then perhaps it could begin to reflect on
emancipation without the possibility of normative progress and the consequences
this would entail for critical theory’s method of ‘‘immanent critique.’
Azar Dakwar
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On Our Situated Standpoints
Amy Allen’s goal in The End of Progress is twofold: ‘‘to decolonize critical
theory’’ and to criticalize postcolonial theory to see how it ‘‘might respond to long-
standing charges of relativism [and] the normative status of its critique’’ (p. 6).
What prevents current critical theory – namely in the works of Habermas and
Honneth – from being truly critical, she argues in the course of the book, are the
ways in which supposed historical ‘‘facts of progress’ are deployed to provide a
footing for standards of critique, which, though supposedly universal are really, she
argues, particular, namely Eurocentric. Critical theorists locate these standards
immanently and historically in particular forms of life – modern ones – but still
attempt to use them transcendentally to do critical theory. (To Forst’s more Kantian
approach, Allen deploys a criticism of its universality.) In a certain sense,
contemporary critical theory has wanted things both ways: critique founded
immanently yet also critique that can transcend cultures in order to be able to
critically reflect back on those cultures. The worry is that if we lack transcendental
grounds for critique then anything goes. Without transcendence, that is, truths that
are not merely context dependent, we are on a dire path to relativism, shorn of
weapons for criticism.
In the background of the book, there are these dichotomies: On the one side
objectivity, transcendence, and the capacity for critique without metaphysics (about
which Allen is very skeptical), and on the other, the slippery slope of relativism that
can easily slide into skepticism, maybe even nihilism, and an unwillingness to
engage in critical inquiry across cultures. Along with many critical theorists today,
Allen takes to the barricades against relativism, insisting with every mention of it
that she will not go there where surely danger lurks. So she is treading shaky
ground, trying to dispense with a conception of progress (which she sees as a self-
congratulatory Eurocentric claim about how far we western moderns have come,
providing a normative footing for future critique) without losing all capacity for
critique (relativism). But where Allen mans the barricades against relativism, I
have long wondered outright whether critical theory might be able to acknowledge
relativism and still preserve critical theory’s power.
This all reminds me of an interview I conducted twenty years ago with Richard
Rorty for a public affairs television program (McAfee, 1997). With these sorts of
worries in mind, I asked Rorty the same question from many different directions,
How can people from one culture criticize the norms of another culture if there is
potentially nothing that they share?
How does a culture change its own norms if there is nothing transcending the
culture itself?
How can competing claims be adjudicated?
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Do we need some moral certainties in order to improve or critically reflect on
Rorty responded by drawing on John Dewey and Habermas, saying that with
them he believed people arrive at what they call truth, although he does not call it
truth, through their deliberations not about principles but about consequences – and
that there was no way to independently decide whether their views were justified or
not. Rorty was skeptical about people’s ability to adjudicate between values; he
attributed the ability to criticize one’s own culture, to set aside self-interest, and the
like only somewhat jokingly as miracles or lightning bolts. Asked about religious
fundamentalism, such as the Taliban’s in Afghanistan, and how it treats women, he
had nothing to say. Moreover, he could not see how philosophy could help people
find any common ground. ‘‘Human beings are creatures of their cultures,’’ he said,
whether fascists or liberal democrats. And only through luck might they or their
children change. Throughout the interview, Rorty held that we are products of our
cultures, that the only gauge of truth is public opinion but, umm, the public often
seems to get it wrong, and no we do not have standards for adjudicating right from
wrong. Some cultures produce fascists, others liberal democrats, and there’s little
more to say about it than that.
If this kind of relativism is what Amy Allen’s project of decolonizing critical
theory needs to guard against, then I see her point. In fact, she quotes Habermas’s
disparagement of the skeptic (p. 65) for terminating his ‘‘membership in the
community of beings who argue.’’ Habermas may well have had Rorty in mind. But
Rorty, despite his protestations against philosophy, was being a relativist as only a
philosopher would: insisting practically on principle that, almost objectively,
nothing can be true or justified. This is why relativism seems to pose such a danger,
for it seems to lead straight toward quietism and a refusal to make any judgments at
all. With Habermas, I would agree that Rorty was opting out of the community of
people who argue. (To be fair, in his later work he did opt back into the
But as William James points out, this kind of radical skepticism is not an
alternative to certainty and absolutism but the flip side of the same coin where
everything rises or falls on the need for certainty. The philosopher committed to
one side of the coin sees the only alternative as the opposite side. He, and it is often
a he, cannot admit to any other alternative. In the actual world, cultural and moral
relativism does not play out this way at all. From within their world views,
‘relativists’’ are believers, not nihilists at all. Consider Protagoras’s claim that ‘‘of
all things the measure is man, of the things that are, that they are, and of the things
that are not, that they are not.’’ Man the measurer has firm beliefs, justified by lived
experience, not willy-nilly arbitrary ones. From this kind of relativist picture, the
liberal democrat who encounters the fascist has plenty to say, and vice versa. Each
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has convictions, and each may well engage in heated conversation about why their
own view is right and the other’s is wrong.
Allen draws on Adorno to go in this very direction, to show that relativism and
absolutism are actually correlates. She quotes Adorno, ‘‘For the positive nature of
beliefs, of ideologies, that prevail here and now is not relative at all. They confront
us at every moment as binding and absolute’’ (p. 216). Allen’s own view points in
the same direction: toward a metanormative contextualism that is also beyond the
absolutism–relativism dichotomy. Metanormatively, the person engaged in debates
across cultures can be fully aware that her standards and methods are derived from
within her culture. By seeing this new kind of relationship between our
‘metanormative and normative commitments,’’ Allen writes, ‘‘we could understand
ourselves, at a first-order, substantive normative level, to be committed to the
values of freedom, equality, and solidarity with the suffering of others, but
understand these commitments, at the metanormative level, to be justified
immanently and contextually’’ (p. 211).
Unlike Rorty’s liberal who cannot even engage with a fundamentalist, Allen’s
liberal can do so fully aware that her own presuppositions have emerged from a
particular, say western, position. She will not presume that her ways of knowing
and deciding are universally true, although she might firmly believe that they are
better than other ways of knowing. Something like this is what I was trying to get
from Rorty: an acknowledgment that even though we may not meet eye-to-eye with
others, while there might indeed be a plurality of views and differences of opinion
about their relative validity, there still might be a way to talk with and woo others
to see merits in our own convictions.
Many critical theorists are prone to hear in the word ‘‘relativism’’ the other of
certainty and rationality; that is, relativism seems to mean an inability to
adjudicate. I suggest we hear in it instead ideas such as pluralism and
perspectivalism, situated standpoints from which we come to see the world richly
and deeply. Pluralism captures the fact that there are many perspectives and
hence accounts of what is and is not. Pluralism is the condition that gives rise to
the need for politics, that is, for the practice of deciding what ought to be done in
the face of disagreement. Perspectivalism captures the fact that people see things
a certain way, not an arbitrary way, from where they happen to sit. Everyone in
this room has a very definite and distinct vantage on the room by virtue of where
one is. Moreover, perspectivalism provides ongoing challenges and tests of
universalist claims, just as Habermas’s D tests any U, and also just as any
postcolonial criticism can test and challenge universalist claims that emanate
from a Eurocentric view. In my view, we critical theorists do not need to purge
ourselves of particularism, even any residual Eurocentrism, but recognize and use
our multiple perspectives.
Neither perspectivalism nor pluralism denies the capacity for people to, as
Arendt put it, ‘‘go visiting’’ other points of view, to reflect on their own points of
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view, or to make moral and political judgments along the lines that Forst and
Honneth might support. Maybe human beings are wired to make judgments, or at
least as those we have encountered in our philosophical–anthropological investi-
gations of those forms of life we know about contextually. Some might want to
postpone such a political understanding until we can ground it non-tautologically,
but then they would be waiting indefinitely for Godot.
I close with these observations: First, perhaps metanormative contextualism does
not require adherents of a philosophical view to state up front that their view is
contextual, that is, emerging from some particular and not normative position. For
example, since Habermas already concedes that his theory emerges from what
modernity has accomplished, it does not seem necessary, even according to Allen’s
criteria, that he also note that his view is contextual. If that is so, Allen need not
find fault his view, but instead use it as a case for her own position. Second,
contrary to Allen’s worry that a plurality of forms of critique may stop other forms
of discourse in their track, critics from the underside of history, such as Enrique
Dussel, find multiple lines of critique and discourse to be tremendously helpful for
social struggle. Likewise, Iris Young famously warned in her early essay on
communicative democracy that critical theory needs more than one form of
deliberation. Where deliberators in suits often sidelined alternative practices such
as greeting, rhetoric, and storytelling, her call for communicative democracy
includes valuing these other forms of discourse. So finally, I wonder if Allen could
simply read Habermas, Honneth, and Forst as already in fact engaging in a
contextualist project that is not terribly different from her own. The project then
could be to offer a new, contextualist understanding of what critical theory is
actually doing, Eurocentric and all.
¨lle McAfee
Local Progress and Technical Rationality
While I agree with Amy Allen’s skeptical but not entirely negative view of progress
in her book on the subject, I was surprised on reading in the first chapter that she
intended to ignore the role of science and technology. A brief mention of Bruno
Latour’s claim that ‘‘We Have Never Been Modern’’ justifies this elision. But how
does one discuss progress without mentioning science and technology? The very
idea of normative progress rests on an analogy to scientific-technical progress. Only
if the latter can be explained in the local, future oriented terms Allen approves can
the former be effectively reformulated on those terms. Mainstream political theory
is formulated as though its technical basis were an exogenous variable. This is what
makes it possible to discuss norms without reference to technical rationality. This
makes no sense in modern societies structured by technology and other rational
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systems such as markets and administrations, what I call for short the ‘‘technosys-
tem’’ (Feenberg, 2017). Overlooked is the fact that progress is often realized
essentially through technosystem change rather than the legal and policy changes
that are the focus of political theory. Treating the technical conditions of progress
as external accidents, happily present when needed, obscures the role of democratic
struggles in changing the technical base itself.
Consider, for example, the Black Lives Matter protests. Few doubt that there are
racist police officers in the United States, and that this is one of the sources of the
problem. Nor is there any dispute about the rights of black victims of extra-judicial
killings by police. But given the difficulty of changing attitudes toward race, racism
cannot be the primary focus of reform. At issue are technical and administrative
measures such as body cameras, training in the use of lethal force, and effective
disciplinary procedures. The system must be redesigned under public pressure
regardless of the attitudes of individual officers. That would be an instance of the
local progress Allen invokes as a substitute for global progress. It is inextricably
entangled with the technosystem.
There is another problem with Allen’s argument. An effective critique of
Eurocentrism must deal with the evident fact that the whole world has accepted
Europe’s scientific-technical superiority in the last two centuries. To be sure this is
a contingent fact and neither epistemologically nor normatively decisive, but what
a fact! It has created a world in which global corporations apply modern scientific-
technical methods only to be contested by critics and popular movements that
demand alternative applications of the same modern scientific-technical methods.
This is not to say that premodern sciences and techniques contain no useful
knowledge, but for the most part that knowledge becomes effective today where it
is combined with modern scientific-technical knowledge in hybrid forms.
Eurocentrism intrudes on the lifeworld of non-European societies primarily
through capitalism and technology rather than normative claims. These are the
forces transforming life throughout the world, often with little regard for the needs
and rights of peoples. It is true that normative ideals such as democracy are also
imposed on non-Western societies, but this is not a wholly independent aspect of
the process of Westernization. In fact, more often than not, democratic norms are
‘metabolized’’ effectively by non-Western nations and become channels for the
expression of traditional power relations while legitimating capitalist development.
Allen agrees in advance that consideration of sociotechnical issues may be
required to complete her argument. This is a challenging task that will require much
further work. Here are two examples. Allen criticizes Axel Honneth’s claim that
normative advance has an irreversible character because it remains in the collective
social memory. For both Habermas and Honneth it is specifically the disentan-
glement of reason from power that cannot be forgotten. The ‘‘learning process’’ is
unidirectional even if regression may occur at other levels. Is this really the way
things work? Is the normative force of the abolition of slavery primarily
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perpetuated in social memory? I do not think so. Is it simply an effect of what
Foucault calls ‘‘sovereign power?’’ Again, this cannot be right. This is a normative
advance that has been realized in social, educational, legal, economic and
technological arrangements so thoroughly and deeply that regression is inconceiv-
able. Put another way, neither memory nor power has the power to make a
normative advance irreversible. For that it must be embedded in what Foucault
called the ‘‘capillaries’’ of society. This takes place, he argues, through a
specifically modern form of power that is dispersed and impersonal.
The example of slavery shows that norms are not separate from the ‘‘facts’
because they must be confirmed by the existing sociotechnical arrangements to be
effective. Nor are the facts separate from norms since they have been constructed in
accordance with them. Hegel would call this realized ‘‘rationality,’’ the specifically
modern form of Sittlichkeit. This concept was essential to Hegel’s strategy for
overcoming Kantian ethical formalism. It seems that Allen and other critical
theorists dissatisfied with Habermas are attempting to overcome his ethical
formalism without a similar concrete basis in the social world. But the example of
slavery shows why these attempts are unconvincing. Ethical ‘‘substance’’ today is
technically inflected. Not only are we as subjects products of a world in which
slavery was abolished, the world as object has been transformed in response to this
normative achievement. The achievement is verifiable from both first and third
person standpoints, both in our psyches and in our technical arrangements. The
entanglement of norm and fact is ineradicable.
This argument reinforces Allen’s critique of Honneth, and it also helps to explain
an aspect of her argument with Forst. Forst believes that social life takes place in a
‘space of reasons’’ in which justifications are offered and received. The exercise of
power on this account would involve limiting the reasons to which agents can
respond to those favoring obedience. Allen objects that Forst overlooks the problem
of the constitution of subjectivity which she elucidates in terms of a Foucauldian
theory of social practices. Foucault holds that subjects become the subjects they are
through the practices determined by the power relations in which they participate.
If the subjects who enter the space of reasons are pre-constituted in some sense to
respond to power, reason and power cannot be separated. One might even say that
reason is simply a supplement of power that power gives itself.
This argument does not take account of the ambiguous effect of the practices on
the constitution of the subject. As Albena Azmanova (2012) shows, practices do
not determine the subject in some simple sense, but set up a common ground of
expectations, concepts and rankings. The normative implications of the practices
are internalized and frame the context of public debate. This frame establishes the
categories that are relevant in the space of reasons and makes communication about
them possible. The framing opens a field of possibilities. If the practices cause
enough suffering, they can be challenged by contesting the rules in terms of the
very categories they have made relevant. This can trigger further changes in the
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orientation underpinning the space of reasons, altering the boundaries of validity.
New constellations of valid reasons arise from and alter social practices. Thus,
Allen’s reference to the constitution of the subject needs to be completed by a
consideration of the constitution of the space of reasons subjects are called to enter.
The contextuality of rationality manifests itself in what can be taken as a reason in
the space of reasons. In modern societies, the boundaries of that space are laid out
by the practices embedded in the rational order of society. Finding the fissures and
cracks through which alternatives can enter into the relation of subjects to these
systems is not a simple matter. We must follow the tracks of discontents,
pathologies, and social movements.
The Foucauldian theory of power introduces a tension in Allen’s argument she
does not acknowledge. His concept of power is quite different from the sovereign
power from which the Enlightenment attempted to disentangle truth. It corresponds
to the impersonal power of the market Marx identified in the capitalist system, as
contrasted with the personal power of feudal society. Colonialism involved a
confusing mix of both types of power. Conflating the two types risks reducing
reason to power. Romantic irrationalism would then challenge technocratic
rationalism, a conclusion of some postcolonial arguments. As a critical theorist,
Allen must reject that conclusion. She defends the idea that progress can occur
locally through reforms that respond to rational norms. Although gender issues are
the only ones she mentions prominently, I take it that she would include among
worthy reforms the achievements of many progressive movements, such as
environmentalism, movements for workers’ rights, disabled rights, criminal justice
reform, protection of privacy and free speech, protests against economic and racial
inequality, and so on.
But many of these struggles take place primarily on the terrain of technical
rationality. This suggests the importance of a critique of Habermas’s system theory
which is clearly inadequate to explain such struggles. Let me sketch an alternative
view. The apotheosis of instrumental rationality has the effect of elevating
functionality from a specialized attribute of certain artifacts into an ontological
principle. But this is not a pure functionality such as Heidegger might conceive, nor
is it Habermasian ‘‘system rationality,’’ cleansed of normative bias. The function-
ality that prevails in actual social life reflects the dominant culture, the perspective
on experience that guides the selection of useful properties. The functional
transformation of society imposes ends privileged by the means that organize social
life and those means bear the mark of capitalism. Thus, the technosystem is not
neutral, available to serve any conception of the good life whatsoever, but always
already embodies a particular conception in its design.
As ever more efficient means are developed and extend to more and more
domains of social life, the ends they are designed to serve are called into question
by those who do not share the presuppositions that presided over their selection.
Conflicts subvert the consensus around instrumental rationality in practice if not in
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theory. And since the realities revealed in the conflict of functional form and living
human content cannot be represented by an effective worldview of the traditional
sort, some other solution to the problem of social order must be found. That
alternative is emerging today; it is democratic struggle and dialog in the domain of
the technosystem (Feenberg, 1999, pt. ii).
Technical artefacts and systems are situated in the lifeworld where they are
appropriated or suffered by ordinary people. They become objects of explicit
normative judgment when they cause problems. Those judgments do not respect
the separation of facts and norms, system and lifeworld assumed by Habermasian
critical theory. In technosystem struggles rational concepts that have been refined
and clarified in the technical disciplines are deployed in their original lifeworldly
form. The design process is reactivated through interventions based on the concepts
as they appear in the lifeworld. These vernacular versions of the rational concepts
differ from the refined expert versions in being charged with explicit normative
content. ‘‘Purity’’ has a technical meaning for those who manage water systems, but
the same concept deployed by the citizens of Flint, Michigan, has normative
implications as well. Such concepts support what Foucault calls ‘‘subjugated
knowledges,’’ and can be invoked critically to realize such potentialities as health
and justice. Thus, rationality is ambivalent and can provide a basis not only for
technical work but also for normative critique.
This approach builds a bridge between early critical theory and contemporary
theory and practice. It situates struggles over the technosystem in a larger historical
context in which the imperatives of capitalism have determined criteria of technical
advance contested by democratic interventions. Subjugated knowledges arise from
the technosystem and motivate struggles over oppression and injustice. Experience
within the technosystem assumes a rational form capable of interacting with
technical expertise. In many domains, this is the meaning of progress today.
Andrew Feenberg
The Ends of Progress: Reply to Critics
The contributions to this critical exchange challenge me from a variety of different
theoretical directions and orientations and focus on a dizzying array of issues, from
politics to historical methodology to the possibility of cross-cultural moral and
political judgments to the role of science and technology in my discussion of
progress. In what follows, I fear I will not be able to do justice to all of the issues
that they raise. Instead, I will focus on what I take to be main lines of critique,
clarifying and defending my position where I can, but in some cases I will not be
able to do much more than to acknowledge my own limitations.
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Martin Saar expresses deep skepticism about what he takes to be the primary
reconstructive aim of my book, which is to show that ‘‘progress can be recovered as
a basis, as a different, recovered foundation. Critical theory can remain founded on
progress, if understood differently.’’ Related to this, Saar wonders whether my
distinction between backward- and forward-looking conceptions of progress can
really be sustained and systematically defended, and suggests that there is a
problem with my attempt to retain a forward-looking notion of progress, one that
results in a lingering idealism that renders my framework unable to think historical
contingency. As he puts it, ‘‘talking progress means talking continuity, and this
implies linking past, present and futurity in a substantial, continuous way.’’ Thus,
Saar maintains that by hanging on to the idea of the possibility of progress in the
future, I am necessarily committing myself to a substantial philosophy of history
and thus to a strong continuity thesis – in other words, the notion of progress just
cannot be broken apart in the way that I suggest. He also insists that critical
theorists simply do not need the concept of progress to do the kind of work that I
claim the forward-looking notion of progress does – alternatives like ‘‘learning,’
‘orientation,’’ or ‘‘politics’’ might do just as well. My inability to let go of even a
vestigial notion of progress represents, in his eyes, a failure of nerve on my part.
Saar’s skepticism is grounded in his reading of Benjamin and Foucault, both of
whom argue that we should be skeptical about thinking history as progress even in
a forward-looking sense. If we follow this lineage of critical theory, then, Saar
maintains, the true challenge becomes how ‘‘to renounce the very idea of progress
as a historical category, as something within history that could be known,
presupposed, or guaranteed.’’ Furthermore, Foucault especially helps us to see that
we do not need the concept of progress for contemporary political struggles, all we
need is ‘‘the idea and the practice of politics, or collective action, or emancipation,’’
thought without banisters, which is to say, understood in a truly contingent and
ungrounded sense. It is interesting to me that Saar leaves Adorno out of this
alternative genealogy, since Adorno’s work is crucial for my attempt to break up
the concept of progress, to pry apart its backward- and forward-looking aspects. As
I understand it, Adorno’s motivation for this is his awareness that although the
claim that history has progressed up to now is utterly indefensible in light of the
barbarity of the Holocaust, to give up on the possibility of progress in the future
would be to wallow in conservative despair. I agree wholeheartedly with Saar that
whatever understanding of progress might be recovered in the wake of its ongoing
and persistent critique will have to jettison claims to continuity and unity within
history, and furthermore that it will have to be measured and assessed according to
criteria that are themselves understood as contingent foundations, which means that
whatever we might take to count as an instance of progress will always stand in
need of further ongoing genealogical problematization. But I am not convinced – at
least not yet – that such a recovery is impossible.
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Insofar as we disagree, some of our disagreement seems to me to stem from what I
take to be Saar’s mis-characterization of the aim of my project. By saying that my aim
is to recover progress as a foundation for critical theory, perhaps Saar is just trying to
capture my endorsement of the idea that critical theory in some way requires a
forward-looking understanding of progress in order to be critical – that is, it requires
some conception of if not the good society then at least the less oppressive or less
unjust society. But does saying this mean that forward-looking progress becomes the
foundation for critical theory, in my view? I do not see why. I would say rather that
my aim is to rethink the conception of normativity in critical theory in a contextualist
and genealogical mode, which means that whatever ‘‘foundation’’ is articulated here
is not progress but rather the method of genealogical problematization. To be sure, I
maintain that this conception of normativity preserves the possibility of making
normative claims – including claims about what we might take, here and now, to
count as progress in the future – and I do see this as important for critical theory. (As
an aside, I suspect that Saar does as well, or else I am not sure how to read his
references to things like learning and emancipation.) But this is a contingent
foundation, and on this I think that Saar and I agree.
As I see it, once we have this conception of normativity in place, it can
underwrite the reading of history in terms of progress, but only in a very local and
contextual way. In other words, on the genealogical-contextualist account of
normativity, progress cannot serve as a means of justifying our normative criteria,
but it is possible that judgments about progress or regress may be entailed once we
have adopted certain (contextually grounded) normative principles; this is what I
try to capture with my distinction between ‘‘historical progress’’ and ‘‘progress in
history’ (see pp. 225–229). Does this commit me to an idealist, substantial, and
continuous philosophy of history? Although I would admit that I probably do not
do enough work in the book to elaborate and defend this distinction, I do not see
why this would be the case. Perhaps I give too much credence to a certain kind of
transcendental argument, advanced by Rainer Forst, which holds that one cannot be
against progress without also being for it. In other words, even the critique of
progress as an ideological and implicitly imperialist concept itself relies on some
notion of progress, insofar as this critique holds that it would be better if we could
expunge critical theory of this ideological notion. Still, I do not think that my
response to this argument commits me to a claim about the ‘‘real possibility of
things getting better,’’ that is, to a substantial claim about continuity within history.
For better or for worse, what I have in mind with the notion of ‘‘progress in
history’’ is a much thinner, less substantial view about what is entailed conceptually
and normatively by certain types of critical claims. In the end, though, I think that
‘progress in history’’ means more or less what Saar calls politics: it refers to local
and specific instances of emancipation, where this is understood as the minimiza-
tion of domination, carried out in light of normative criteria that are contingently
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and contextually grounded and that, as such, always stand in need of ongoing
genealogical problematization.
Echoing some similar themes, Guilel Treiber worries about my lack of attention
to the specifically political and suggests that my approach ultimately fails to heed
important Foucaultian insights. Treiber contends that my reading of Foucault brings
him too close to Adorno, with the effect losing sight of the specifically political and
activist dimensions of Foucault’s work. On Treiber’s reading, I attach the
illumination of lines of fragility and fracture to ‘‘thought itself, to the emancipatory
potential of philosophy, and never to actual, lived experience, to practices or
institutions, as Foucault repeatedly tried to do throughout his work.’ Moreover, and
relatedly, Treiber worries that I ascribe to Foucault a Frankfurt School critical
theoretical view about the relation between theory and practice that he himself
would not (maybe even did not) accept.
Treiber’s radical, deeply political reading of my book calls attention to one of its
obvious limitations. There is no doubt that he is correct to point out that my book
does not pay sustained attention to questions of political praxis. The primary aim
and energy of the book lies elsewhere, in developing a conception of normativity
that can be gleaned, at least in part, in Foucault’s work. But I am not sure that it is
fair to say that I am therefore committed to the claim that critique is a necessary
precondition for transformative or revolutionary praxis. As far as I can tell, I do not
take a position one way or the other on this question in the book. In fact, I am
somewhat skeptical of the idea that critical theory has a privileged relationship to
praxis – I have explored in great detail in my earlier work the ways in which
critique is far from sufficient for practical political transformation (Allen, 2008);
more recently, I have wondered whether it is even necessary (see Allen, 2016a). In
any case, I am inclined to agree with Treiber that there are many cases in which
theory lags behind radical political transformations, struggling to catch up and
make sense of them after the fact, and I do not see how that view is incompatible
with the argument of my book.
However, none of that skepticism requires rejection of the claim that theory is
itself a kind of practice. For what it is worth, I do not think that there is any doubt
that Foucault accepted some version of this claim. Why else would he have claimed
that all of his books are experiences, that is, designed and composed to have a
transformative effect on both their author and their readers (Foucault, 1997a,
p. 239ff)? This at least suggests that there is, for Foucault, a meaningful sense in
which critique can open up a space of freedom, not solely in theory but also in
practice, even if one admits that theory cannot by itself do all of the work required
to achieve political transformation and that such transformations sometimes outrun
our best critical theories, forcing us to play catch-up. Moreover, it seems to me that
Treiber himself implicitly acknowledges this point when he insists on character-
izing Foucault’s work as a historian – which is, after all, a type of critical-
intellectual work, not a directly political praxis. Treiber is no doubt correct that the
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point of Foucault’s work as a historian is not only to challenge Hegelian
philosophies of history but also to ‘‘capture the marginal voices that official History
has failed to erase’’ and ‘‘to give back a voice to those whom official history has
forgotten.’’ Moreover, I think Treiber is quite right to point out that I could have
done more to reflect on this aspect of Foucault’s critical historical practice in light
of postcolonial concerns. But notice that in making this argument Treiber is
implicitly assuming that Foucault critical-historical work has a political point and
impact. I agree, and something like this is what I had in mind in talking about
critique as opening up a space of freedom.
Unlike Saar and Treiber, both of whom seem to worry that I am not Foucauldian
enough, Azar Dakwar aims to develop a Derridean critique of both the early
Foucault and the use that I make of him in my book. Like Saar, Dakwar presses this
reading in order to pose the broader question of whether the aspiration of
emancipation from domination must presuppose or entail any notion of progress
and to worry that my view has not fully expunged the residues of Hegelian
philosophy of history. His sophisticated and nuanced critique turns around two
specific points: first, his claim that the early Foucault and I both fail to distinguish
between historicism as teleology and historicism as methodology, rejecting the first
while implicitly accepting the second, thus remaining stuck within a Hegelian
historical framework; second, his contention that the early Foucault and I both
endorse a problematic strategy for the immanentizing of reason, history, and
critique, one that fails to take seriously the ways in which immanence and
contingency may be held together by a blind spot immanent to (historical) reason
itself. Dakwar’s comments turn in part on the question of how best to read Derrida
on the notion of historicity and whether it is fair to charge that his is an ahistorical
conception of history (as Adorno might have said) that is incapable of
comprehending the sheer contingency and radically discontinuous and transfor-
mative character of the historical event (as Foucault did say).
Since I do not think that here is the place to debate the fine points of Derrida
interpretation – nor do I feel particularly well qualified to do so, since I would not
describe myself as an expert on Derrida’s work – I will instead focus on what
Dakwar takes to be the payoff of his Derridean critique of my book. As far as I can
tell, the payoff is the claim that the immanent critique of Hegelian historicism
found in the early Foucault and in Frankfurt School critical theory remains too
immanent, too internal to a Hegelian conception of history, and thus that this
conception is condemned merely to repeat the underlying logic and structure of that
conception. Insofar as this conception of critique hangs on to historicism as a core
component of its methodology, it is ultimately incapable of breaking out of the
teleological Hegelianism that it criticizes.
A great deal of the argument thus hangs on the characterization of Foucault as a
methodological historicist in the relevant sense. Dakwar does not say much about
what he means by this, but the core point seems to be the presumption of the ‘‘tools
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of modern historiography and periodization.’’ Although Foucault’s work is very
closely associated with the emergence of new historicism in literary and cultural
studies, and although the Annales School that was deeply formative for his
intellectual development bears a complex relationship to historicism, it is important
to keep in mind that Foucault is first and foremost a historian of the present. Thus, I
am not sure it makes sense to characterize him as a historicist in any
straightforward sense of the term. Rather, as I argue in the book, his deployment
of a specifically historical methodology seems to me to be contingently motivated.
It is because of the grip that historical self-consciousness has on the modern
historical a priori that Foucault feels compelled to work with historical tools, but
the aim of this critical work is to open that historical a priori up to radical
transformation – which may entail a transformation to a point of view from which
the very notion of historical a priori will cease to be compelling.
But perhaps Dakwar’s argument aims to cut deeper than this, to impugn the very
validity of immanent critique as such? Such an argument would call into question the
assumption that gaining critical distance on our historical a priori requires using
historical methods, even if the ultimate aim of doing so is the overcoming or undoing
of that notion and those methods. I am not sure if this is what he intends, but if it is, it
is difficult to see how this argument could be advanced from a Derridean perspective,
given Derrida’s notion of inheritance, understood as taking up an intellectual
tradition by radically transforming it from within. Insofar as both Foucault and
Derrida position themselves as inheritors of the Enlightenment in this sense, as far as
I can see this represents a significant convergence between their views.
Unlike Saar, Treiber, and Dakwar, Noelle McAfee focuses on my response to the
challenge of relativism, a challenge that emerges from my contextualism about
normativity. She begins by juxtaposing my position with that of Richard Rorty, as
articulated in her 1997 interview with him (McAfee, 1997). Rorty’s position,
according to McAfee, amounts to a problematic kind of relativism that critical
theory would do well to avoid. As an aside, although I confess that I am not
knowledgeable enough about Rorty’s work to judge her interpretation of him, I
would at least note that Rorty’s primary concern in the interview seems to be with
claims about objective truth or right or wrong, and his problem with such claims is
that no one has sufficiently explained what they are supposed to mean. This at least
suggests that his position would be better characterized as a radical contextualism
as opposed to a simplistic relativism. Be that as it may, McAfee helpfully
distinguishes my metanormative contextualism from the brand of relativism that
she attributes to Rorty. Indeed, McAfee is quite right to point out that one of the
core animating ideas of my own reconstructive proposal is that the opposite of
foundationalism is not relativism but contextualism. Thus, I think that McAfee
captures my view well when she refers to it as ‘‘a metanormative contextualism that
is also beyond the absolutism-relativism dichotomy.’’
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Thus, I agree with McAfee that, on my view, her imagined dialogue between a
liberal and a fundamentalist would be one in which each has a lot to say to the other
– which is not to deny that this would be a difficult, perhaps even heated, and more
than likely inconclusive exchange. Both the liberal and the fundamentalist would,
on my conception of normativity, be able to defend their views, and defend them
robustly. What the liberal would not be able to do, however, is to justify her
normative perspective either by an appeal to its grounding in context-transcen-
dent moral foundations or by a claim about its historical-developmental cognitive
or moral superiority. This imaginary scenario helps to underline the fact that the
main focus of my argument is not so much the content of specific normative views
but rather the stance that we adopt in dialogue across normative disagreements.
One of the core intuitions that my book attempts to work out is that there is a big
difference (politically) between saying that you think that someone is wrong and
saying that you think they are backward – particularly when the claim of
backwardness is entangled with ongoing histories of colonialism and imperialism.
The latter is a way of denying or closing down what McAfee calls the conditions of
pluralism and perspectivalism – by asserting that a certain way of seeing the world
is superior to others, and thus can serve as the standard by means of which other
ways of seeing the world are adjudicated – while the former is motivated precisely
by the aim of preserving pluralism and thus holding open the condition for politics.
Perhaps this helps to provide an answer to one of McAfee’s closing questions,
namely, can one read Habermas, Honneth, and Forst as engaged in a contextualist
project, and if one were to do so, what if anything would I find problematic about
their views? In answer to the second part of this question, I would repeat that the
argument of the book is focused on the metanormative level – that is, on the status
claimed for various normative commitments and the strategies used to defend that
status – rather than on the first-order normative level, that is, on the specific
understandings of discourse, or recognition, or justification advanced by these
thinkers. Although I may well have other sorts of worries about the details of their
normative projects, in the book these issues are not what is primarily at stake,
which means that were these normative projects to be advanced in a more
contextualist way, the position I lay out in the book would not cut as deeply against
them. From this metanormative perspective, Honneth’s position is probably the one
that is closest to mine, despite my deep disagreements with his understanding of
progress as central to critical theory, while Forst’s is probably furthest away, so
much so that it is difficult for me to imagine it in a contextualist form. The status of
Habermas’s work is more complicated insofar as it can be and has been articulated
in a more pragmatist and contextualist way, although Habermas himself
consistently resists such a reading.
Finally, Andrew Feenberg presses an entirely different set of concerns, stemming
from my attempt in the first chapter of the book to set aside the question of
technological or scientific progress in order to focus on progress in a normative
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sense. In a direct challenge to this move, Feenberg writes: ‘‘the very idea of
normative progress rests on an analogy to scientific-technical progress. Only if the
latter can be explained in the local, future oriented terms Allen approves can the
former be effectively reformulated on those terms.’’ Feenberg goes on to argue that
modern societies are structured by rational systems such as technology, markets,
and administrations – what he calls the technosystem for short (see Feenberg,
2017). According to Feenberg, changes in the technosystem – such as the (in my
view dubious and inadvisable) example of the adoption of body cameras as a
means for curbing racialized police violence – can be understood as instances of
contextual, local progress in the sense that I invoke. Moreover, Feenberg insists
that ‘‘an effective critique of Eurocentrism must deal with the evident fact that the
whole world has accepted Europe’s scientific-technical superiority in the last two
centuries.’’ This may be a contingent fact but it is, nonetheless, a remarkable one.
But what if anything follows from it normatively? This is much less clear, as
Feenberg himself admits.
Feenberg contends that I implicitly accept that a consideration of scientific and
technological issues is necessary to complete my argument about progress, an issue
that emerges for him both in my discussion of Honneth’s account of ethical life and
in my analysis of Forst’s conception of the space of reasons. For Feenberg, ethical
life and the space of reasons are technically inflected, entangled with a set of
technical and scientific practices that are embedded in the rational order of society.
As a result, many contemporary progressive political struggles take place on the
terrain of technical rationality – a terrain that remains wholly unexplored in my
There can be no doubt that Feenberg is correct that my discussion of progress
deliberately and explicitly leaves aside discussion of scientific and technological
issues. There is a kind of irony here, in that to a certain extent this move is justified
by a bifurcation of scientific-technical and normative conceptions of validity that is
itself a function of the Weberian-Habermasian conception of modernity that I aim
to critique. While acknowledging this irony, I nevertheless thought it important to
attempt to set aside such issues given my own lack of expertise in the history and
philosophy of science and technology. Although I realize that such a move may be
unsatisfying to some, I am not convinced that it is unjustifiable, particularly insofar
as my aim in the book is not to produce a theory of progress or an overall
assessment of modernity’s relationship to this concept. Rather, the aim was to
expose the ways in which certain strategies for grounding the normativity of critical
theory rely on a particular story about normative progress – one that is articulated
largely (although perhaps not entirely) independently of claims about technical-
scientific progress. In that sense, my focus is much more on the question of
normativity than it is on the question of progress per se. Thus, I am inclined to read
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Feenberg’s not as an alternative to my approach to progress but rather as a rich and
provocative extension of it.
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Critical Exchange
2018 Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature. 1470-8914 Contemporary Political Theory Vol. 17, 4, 511–541 541
... Doubting and dismantling ultimate foundations does, however, not forcibly mean that there are no normative reference points at all. What the loss of ultimate grounds does commonly imply is that any normative horizon of a given quest for emancipation is (also) regarded as a historically contingent or embedded horizon (Allen, 2017;Azmanova et al., 2018). ...
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Emancipatory politics and the very idea of emancipation have come under pressure. Feminist and post-colonial critiques, the appropriation of emancipatory ideals by right-wing populists and the crises triggered by the transgression of planetary boundaries all expose emancipatory paradoxes and raise questions about the further suitability of emancipation as a regulative ideal guiding any socio-ecological transformation of contemporary consumer societies. With this article, which introduces a Special Issue entitled The Dialectic of Emancipation-Transgressing Boundaries and Boundaries of Transgression , we are working toward a research agenda that acknowledges the current impasse of emancipatory politics and explores its ambivalences and further potentials. Following an outline of the emancipatory paradox and a review of how emancipatory movements have continuously contested-and redrawn-restrictive boundaries, we scan sedimented understandings of the two key terms, emancipation and dialectic, feeding into the concept that we are suggesting as an analytical lens for investigating the current impasse and future prospects of emancipatory politics: the dialectic of emancipation. We preview how the contributors to this Special Issue make use of these terms as they are
In this paper, I will try to address the question of how to conceptualise a form of life that is better than others, by putting Rahel Jaeggi’s pragmatism inspired critical theory and Giorgio Agamben’s genealogical perspective in conversation. I argue that for both authors the critique of forms of life is intertwined with “the critique of how”. Not restricting itself to ethical abstinence, and without imposing certain norms upon forms of life, “the critique of how” focuses on the reflexive capacity of forms of life, or their ability to question how they become what they are, which gives rise to an increased perception of the connections and continuities of activities in which they are engaged. In this sense, it may become possible to free the present in order to open it to contingency, and to see the glimpses of a better form of life.
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Em seu livro, The End of Progress, Amy Allen parte da crítica ao eurocentrismo formulada pela teoria pós-colonial e busca demonstrar como os principais pensadores da terceira geração da Escola de Frankfurt contam com noções substantivas de progresso histórico. O presente trabalho exibe um breve escorço acerca da hipótese de Amy Allen, seguido de críticas e questionamentos suscitados pela Professora Claudia Leeb, Professora Associada de Teoria Política da Washington State University, sempre na perspectiva do refinamento argumentativo.
Postmodern political critiques speak of the death of ideology, the end of history, and the postsecular return of religious attitudes, yet radical conservative theorists such as Mark Lilla argue religion and politics are inextricably intertwined. Returning much-needed uncertainty to debates over the political while revitalizing the very terms in which they are defined, the book explores the ambiguity of secularization and the theoretical potential of a structural break between politics and religion. Secularization means three things: the translation of religious semantics into politics; a transformation of religious notions into political ideas; and the reoccupation of a space left void by changing political actors that gives rise to new conceptions of political interaction. Conceptual innovation redefines politics as a horizontal relationship between governments and the governed and better enables societies (and individual political actors) to articulate meaning through action—that is, through the emergence of new concepts. The book shows that these actions radically transform our understanding of politics and the role of political agents and are further enhanced by challenging the structural dependence of politics on religious phenomena.
Richard Powers gives an exclusive interview about his creative process in novel-writing, drawn from the experience of writing twelve novels to date. Powers brings neuroscience and technology into his fiction writing for the twenty-first century. This is especially seen in his novel The Echo Maker , which shows how fiction can represent different aspects of human consciousness. Power’s artistic process is capsulated in a metaphor of “lock and key.” The “triggering stimulus” is the key to the endless possibility of insight. That trigger is less important than the techniques to keep the creative process unfolding—in the case of the novel, chapter by chapter, sentence by sentence, word to word. Along with the initial idea of inspiration, there is the repeated course of corrections along the way, which are “micro” inspirations. A flow state is needed that retains looseness in the progress of creativity. Thoughts and emotions are woven together, as Antonio Damasio has explained, in creativity, and this applies, says Powers, to creative writing. Memory is used in a creative way, reactivated, as shown in novels like Three Farmers, Plowing the Dark, and Galatea 2.2. This interview shows how the overlap between science and art can be demonstrated in the creative process.