Critique and possibility in cultural sociology

Authored by: Nancy Weiss Hanrahan , Sarah S. Amsler

Routledge Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138288621
eBook ISBN: 9781315267784
Adobe ISBN:


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Critique and judgment were once regarded as the distinguishing features of an emancipatory social science, yet their role in the study of culture has become contested in recent years. Cultural sociologists became disenchanted with critical theory in a period of identity-based politics that also signaled the exhaustion of Marxist conceptions of domination and liberation. But culture remains a critical site of political struggle and agency. In this chapter, we examine three insights that critical theory offers for understanding the complex relationship between culture and politics, and for orienting our action with others in a highly politicized and globally entangled world. We illustrate how understanding the autonomy of culture as problematic, critique as a cultural practice, and critical analysis as a cooperative social activity can create moments in which the emancipatory possibilities of culture can be critically evaluated and enlarged. Finally, we suggest that the success of this project relies on the development of cooperative, reflexive, intimate, and possibility-oriented forms of critique presently marginalized in the Eurocentric critical theoretical tradition and that elements of this tradition must therefore be reinvented again.

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