The structure of modern cultural theory

The structure of modern cultural theory

Thomas Osborne
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 192
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt155jbh0
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    The structure of modern cultural theory
    Book Description:

    This book is about the claims of Cultural Theory as a particular kind of intellectual ethos or discipline. The book argues that Cultural Theory is best seen, at least in its ‘modern’ form, as an ethical discipline. As such, it should be seen as a form of inquiry governed by the guiding idea of the cultivation of critical autonomy and, as such, is designed as much to change what we are in our relations to ourselves as to describe the world as it is in particular ‘positive’ ways. The content of the book develops this argument through critical readings of three canonical writers, namely Theodor Adorno, Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu. A final chapter contrasts the ethical idea of modern Cultural Theory developed here with its postmodern derivations, which, it is argued, have taken both a more positivist and even more moralistic form.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-184-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Preface and acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    This book is concerned with the scope of cultural theory in its modern – it might even be said in its modernist – form. This introductory chapter considers what this concern might mean, and why it might be of interest.

    The three thinkers under most consideration in the pages that follow – Theodor Adorno, Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu – might hardly be seen as representative of cultural theory per se if that enterprise is taken to be what it is often taken to be. But this book is not about cultural theory in, say, its Spenglerite form, the analysis of the cultural predicament...

  5. 1 Culture – an antinomical view
    (pp. 14-34)

    This chapter seeks to get clear of – if hardly to refute – various understandings of culture so as to make way for the conception of the scope of modern cultural theory which is to animate our treatment here. The first section –Culturalisms– is, then, largely about what modern cultural theory is not. It attempts only to lay the basic elements of some distinctions between modern cultural theory and other types of discourse such as cultural studies, cultural sociology and cultural anthropology; and also, more generally, to distinguish modern cultural theory from other ways of thinking about culture; the metatheoretical, the epochal...

  6. 2 Adorno as educator
    (pp. 35-66)

    It is commonplace to invoke Theodor Adorno as probably the greatest Marxist cultural theorist of the twentieth century. If there is any reason to read him in the twenty-first century, however, this is as much for ethical as for respectable Marxist reasons.

    At one stage of his life he signed his work with the surname Rottweiler. This seems an appropriate indicator of the stringent, even fearsome tone of some of his writings. English-speaking readers can usefully start on Adorno by consulting the essays translated in a volume, edited by J.M. Bernstein, entitledThe Culture Industry.¹ These are for the most...

  7. 3 Foucault and the ethics of subjectivity
    (pp. 67-102)

    Michel Foucault wrote next to nothing specifically about the concept of culture, did not publish too much about art and barely addressed in a direct way the specific issue of creativity. He is sometimes assumed to be a postmodernist, and something of a pessimistic one. This chapter will argue that, to the contrary, Foucault was a modernist and that his work, especially in its late period, was saturated with the question of aesthetics – and, for that matter, with that of creativity – which, for him, was part of a bigger question than the issue of the socalled status of ‘ art’...

  8. 4 Bourdieu, ethics and reflexivity
    (pp. 103-139)

    Pierre Bourdieu was a contrarian and sociologist, perhaps in that order. As with Adorno and Foucault, he can be claimed, also, for a further intellectual lineage – that of ethical reflection as opposed to just negatively critical, denunciatory sociology. This does not just mean that Bourdieu was right-minded and ‘ethical’ in the sense of being moral (whatever one might mean by this). It means that his work is addressed as much to issues of the self, and especially to our reflexivity and autonomy, as to just epistemic issues of positive ‘knowledge’ and denunciatory critique. In fact, the – again, ultimately ethical – issues...

  9. 5 A note on postmodern cultural theory
    (pp. 140-153)

    Much has been made in this book of the idea of modern cultural theory being ultimately ethical in its aims and outlook. Or at least, our principles of reading in relation to Adorno, Bourdieu and Foucault have been, in effect, ethico-critical ones; emphasising that these thinkers are best read not simply in ‘positive’ or epistemic terms but as contributing to a kind of ethically minded reconfiguration of ourselves as critical beings, something that has been shorthanded in terms of the ethics of autonomy.

    Rather than go into all that again, let us turn in this final chapter very briefly to...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 154-164)

    This book has claimed that there is – or was – such a thing as modern cultural theory and argued that there is – or was – something ultimately ethical about it. It would no doubt be an understatement to observe that a great many issues and problems remain. Of the many, perhaps four stand out in particular. There is still, naggingly, the question of the exact status of this entity, modern cultural theory. Related to this, there might be continuing queries about what is ‘modern’ and what is ‘theoretical’ about modern cultural theory. There are questions of politics. And then there is more,...

  11. Index
    (pp. 165-168)