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Vocations of Political Theory

Jason A. Frank
John Tambornino
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttt0wz
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  • Book Info
    Vocations of Political Theory
    Book Description:

    Whether challenging the settlement between political theory and political science, whereby theorists stuck to the "old texts" and left the "real world" to their empirical colleagues, or interrogating the relationship between political theory and political action, these essays expand and elaborate the parameters of political discourse-making their timeliness, relevance, and reach powerfully apparent. Contributors: Mark B. Brown, Wendy Brown, William E. Connolly, Thomas L. Dumm, J. Peter Euben, Russell Arben Fox, Samantha Frost, Shane Gunster, Jill Locke, David Paul Mandell, Lon Troyer, Sheldon S. Wolin, Linda M. B. Zerilli._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9136-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Calling in Question
    (pp. ix-xxvi)
    JASON A. FRANK and JOHN TAMBORNINO

    A paradox of postwar political theory is that periodic assessments of its current state, often expressing disappointment, anguish, and lament, are so vigorous and provocative as to belie the assessments.² Moreover, the answers these assessments offer to the question “What should political theory be?” or What is the ‘nature’ of political theory?” are seldom conclusive. This is as it should be. As Sheldon Wolin wrote in the opening pages ofPolitics and Vision(1960), such demands for final definition or resolution cannot be met in the case of political theory or political philosophy. This mode of thinking does not have...

  5. I INVOKING POLITICAL THEORY

    • 1 POLITICAL THEORY: From Vocation to Invocation
      (pp. 3-22)
      SHELDON S. WOLIN

      The occasion for the following essay was a conference devoted to the future—to future political theorists and their future and to the future of political theory. No millennial justifications were needed for those choices. A perennial uncertainty and controversy have accompanied political theory: about its relationship to political and social science, to philosophy, and to history, as well as its relationship, if any, to the “real” political world. In my case any invitation to contribute to a volume concerning the future is no simple matter. If that is not sufficient warning about the temporal divide between us, be prepared...

  6. II THEORIZING LOSS

    • 2 SPECTERS AND ANGELS AT THE END OF HISTORY
      (pp. 25-58)
      WENDY BROWN

      From every corner of contemporary discourse, we know that the pace of contemporary social, cultural, economic, and political change is unprecedented. Technological obsolescence occurs at the inception of production, deracinated human lives are ubiquitous and normal, divorce rates have almost caught up with marriage rates, yesterday’s deal is history, today’s corporate giant is the material of tomorrow’s dissolved or merged identity. If “all that is solid melted into air” in the last century, economic, social, and technological transformations now occur so rapidly that their effects often do not even coalesce as solids before metamorphosing into something else. This much we...

    • 3 THE POLITICS OF N0STALGIA AND THEORIES OF LOSS
      (pp. 59-90)
      J. PETER EUBEN

      On February 17,1970, Michael Eugene Mullen, Sergeant First Class, Sixth Infantry Division, was killed in Vietnam. As the eldest son of Peg and Eugene Mullen, he was expected to inherit the Iowa farm that had been in the family for five generations. For the Mullens, Michael’s death seemed the death of the future, as it did for so many Vietnamese and Americans. It disrupted the continuity of life, uprooting them from the ground that had defined their lives. At least in our civilized times, the young are not supposed to die before the old, and parents are not supposed to...

  7. III THINKING IN TIME

    • 4 CAN THEORISTS MAKE TIME FOR BELIEF ?
      (pp. 93-117)
      RUSSELL ARBEN FOX

      This is an essay on political theory, and an expression of respect for Sheldon Wolin and the work he has done to make the "calling" of theory, as he described it, a worthy one. It shares his assumption that theory should be something more than a method that "avoids fundamental criticism and fundamental commitment."1 However, I begin by making another assumption as well: that Wolin's talk of "fundamental" criticism and commitment shares something a posture, at least, if not a position with those beliefs called fundamental, or "fundamentalist." To be clear, this is not a claim that Wolin is a...

    • 5 THE HISTORY OF POLITICAL THOUGHT AS A “VOCATION”: A Pragmatist Defense]]
      (pp. 118-142)
      DAVID PAUL MANDELL

      Much as it was in the late sixties, when Sheldon Wolin published “Political Theory as a Vocation,” the place of the study of the history of political thought within the wider discipline of political science is uncertain.² In that essay, Wolin defended political theory as one of the last redoubts against positivist social science. Political theory, he argued, provides the social sciences in general and political science in particular with a sense of history and a sense of normativity; the tradition of political theory retains the visionary impulse that the narrowly empirical social sciences have lost and reminds us of...

  8. IV POLITICS AND THEORDINARY

    • 6 POLITICAL THEORY FOR LOSERS
      (pp. 145-165)
      THOMAS L. DUMM

      How might the experience of loss be theorized? This question is posed by Sheldon Wolin as he opens a series of reflections concerning what he sees as the recent shift from vocation to invocation in contemporary political theory. The question is relevant to him because he believes that the incorporation of loss in the modern world until now has been the task of conservatives, and he seeks to break their hold on the subject of loss so as to enable democrats to think of ways to recover from our losses. The recovery of an appropriate way to acknowledge loss might...

    • 7 FEMINISM’S FLIGHT FROM THE ORDINARY
      (pp. 166-186)
      LINDA M. G. ZERILLI

      A celebrity feminist of the postmodern variety goes to a conference on “identity” in New York City. After presenting a paper charting the demise of the category “women,” she is confronted by a hostile member of the audience who accuses her of betraying feminism. Feminism, the practice, needs a subject called women, declares the irate spectator; a subject that feminism, the theory, has dissolved in its skeptical flight from the ordinary. In a voice pitched well above the ordinary, this spectator emphatically asserts her confidence in the existence of “real women” (like herself), and concludes by asking the speaker: “How...

  9. V POLITICAL KNOWLEDGE

    • 8 CONCEPTIONS OF SCIENCE IN POLITICAL THEORY: A Tale of Cloaks and Daggers
      (pp. 189-211)
      MARK B. BROWN

      The increasing prominence of interdisciplinary research has challenged many of the familiar boundaries between political theory and other academic fields. Scholars calling themselves political theorists publish in outlets with little or no explicit connection to academic political theory, and authors from a wide variety of disciplines produce works of central importance for the field. One boundary has remained remarkably stable, however, and has played a central role in shaping the professional identity of political theory—the boundary between science and politics. This ancient conceptual boundary has been used since the nineteenth century to justify a disciplinary boundary between the humanities...

    • 9 POLITICAL THEORY AS A PROVOCATION: An Ethos of Political Theory
      (pp. 212-237)
      LON TROYER

      This essay seeks to disrupt what Mark Reinhardt aptly describes as “the tacit settlement established with the ebbing of the theory/science wars in the early 1970s that maintained a place for political theory in political science departments by consolidating a division of labor in which political theorists served as custodians of old texts while otherwise leaving the ‘real world’ to their ‘empirical’ colleagues.”¹ As part of this effort, I turn to Sheldon Wolin and Michel Foucault to rethink the inheritance of Wolin’s “Political Theory as a Vocation” and to examine the disciplinary tendencies that have emerged in its wake.² I...

    • 10 GRAMSCI, ORGANIC INTELLECTUALS, AND CULTURAL STUDIES: Lessons for Political Theorists
      (pp. 238-260)
      SHANE GUNSTER

      In considering the vocation of political theory amid an academy whose critical faculties are both isolated and increasingly rationalized, Gramsci’s organic intellectual remains a seductive analytic category for those drawn to the possibility of a more active and engaged politics than one currently finds in most universities. It recognizes the value of theory—the organized, reflective, and conceptual mediation of the real—at the same time as it promises relevance and effectivity insofar as these ideas might be “organically” connected with social groups united by the desire for progressive social change. An ideal type perhaps, it nevertheless constantly serves to...

  10. VI PRACTICING POLITICAL THEORY

    • 11 READING THE BODY: Hobbes, Body Politics, and the Vocation of Political Theory
      (pp. 263-283)
      SAMANTHA FROST

      In his remonstrances against those methods-oriented scholars who would “impoverish the past by making it appear like the present,” Sheldon Wolin declares that “one reads past theories, not because they are familiar and therefore confirmative, but because they are strange and therefore provocative.”¹ In the course of his eloquent and pointed portrayal of the call to political theory in “Political Theory as a Vocation,” Wolin charges political theorists with the task of working against the conformism that attends the confinement of the political world within the boundaries of the familiar. He bids them to reject and position themselves against the...

    • 12 WORK, SHAME, AND THE CHAIN GANG: The New Civic Education
      (pp. 284-304)
      JILL LOCKE

      During his gubernatorial campaign, Fob James Jr., suggested on a public talk show that Alabama should bring back chain gangs. Instead of “lifting weights or watching cable t.v.,” Alabama prisoners would be “out working,” wher passersby could see them toil.² What the talk-show host dubbed “Operation Humiliation” would become public policy in 1995, shortly after James’s inauguration.³

      Florida Senator Charlie Crist introduced chain-gang legislation as well. Recalling chain gangs alongside highways as a young man, Crist was impressed Florida’s commitment to hard work and respect for the law. Now, he insists,“That’s the image Florida needs today—instead of one of...

    • 13 THE NOBILITY OF DEMOCRACY
      (pp. 305-326)
      WILLIAM E. CONNOLLY

      This is one of the rare times Nietzsche, the author of these words, speaks favorably about democracy. Here Nietzsche speaks of democracy not as something that is but as something to come. This formulation fits a persistent theme in Nietzsche: that life is most vibrant when critical tension is maintained between, on the one hand, being, the herd, language as equalization, and the weight of tradition, and, on the other, becoming, genius, the unequal, and creativity. If democracy maintained that tension, it would make a powerful claim on Nietzsche. But he eventually decides that it never does. Nietzsche concludes that...

  11. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 327-330)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 331-336)