6.30pm, 6 December 2011

This paper first explores why contemporary critical theory might be considered less engaged than formerly, and revisits older traditions of critical thinking – notably, the early Frankfurt School and existential phenomenology. These authors associated social criticism with a dialectical, materialist approach and a `permanent interrogation’ of the present. I consider the kind of materialism that is at stake here and its relationship to `new materialisms’, in order to explain how the critical theorist can `plunge’ into everyday experience. In particular I invoke Foucault and Althusser to suggest a multi-modal materialism connecting everyday practices to broader structures of power. Second, I discuss my own recent work on the ‘population question’ as an example of applied criticism. Here I emphasise a material focus on proliferating bodies and their environmental effects. I show how analysing dominant discourses reveals the way topical issues are problematised, disavowed and framed serving an ideological function with significant existential consequences.

Diana Coole, Birkbeck 

Professor Diana Coole is the author of a number of books  including the ground breaking Women Political Theory: From Ancient Misogyny to Contemporary Feminism, and Negativity and Politics. As one of the leading critical theorist working in the UK today she has consistently maintained the space of critique in the academy, and is currently completing a Leverhulme sponsored project about the politics and ethics of the  world population question.

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