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Contemporary Social Theory


Contemporary Social Theory  2004-2005

Course Convenor: Charles Turner

Room 2.26, ext. 23114, e-mail:


‘Aims and Objectives’[1] 

The aim of this module is twofold.  Firstly, to acquaint you with some ways in which  individuality/selfhood/personal identity has been made the object of social theory; secondly, in term 2, to address recent debates about the nature of large scale historical and social processes and the direction/fate of contemporary societies.  The work in the first term will deal largely with theories of personal identity and in particular what I call its ‘framing’, the devices through which individuals sustain, or which provide those individuals with the resources with which to sustain, a stable biography.  By the same token it looks at approaches which suggest that such efforts are either forlorn or misguided.  It will be of a fairly technical nature and will draw upon work which broadly comes out of the phenomenological tradition.  The advantage of this, on the other hand, is that one can make use of interdisciplinary material, which I have tried to do.  The material in the second term will be more straightforward/familiar/boring – modernity and postmodernity, the fate of politics, risk society, the end of history debate and so on - but hopefully the contemporary relevance of questions it addresses will take us through to the finishing tape.  The fact that the themes of the ‘individual’ and of ‘politics and society’ are divided so neatly into different terms does not imply that I think they are separate topics, as we will see.    

There are no general texts which cover the whole year.  Serendipity is the watchword, as is a certain readiness to let things unfold.  You should however make use of a number of journals in which some of the issues we will deal with crop up frequently.   In fact, you should get into the habit of hanging around the current periodicals section of the library on the ground floor as well as the regular back copies sections on Floors 3 and 5.   So look out for these especially:

Archives Europeens de Sociologie (in English it’s The European Journal of Sociology but always gets shelved under  'A')

New German Critique

London Review of Books

New York Review of Books

European Journal of Social Theory

Telos Theory, Culture and Society

Theory and Society

Body and Society 



Critical Inquiry 

Philsophy of the Social Sciences


You will write two class essays of roughly 2,500 words.  The titles can be discussed with me beforehand. Deadlines:  Term 1, Week 8                    Term 2, Week 7

Examination and Assessment
The final mark for the course will be based upon one of the following assessment methods:

(a) 100% 3 hour exam (b) 100% by two assessed essays of not more than 3,000 words (c) 50% by 2 hour exam and 50% by one assessed essay of not more than 3,000 words.




 Course evaluation will take place at the end of the course but feedback is welcome at all times.   Communication within the group Try to use email as much as possible, especially in order to communicate with me about queries which might have occurred to you in the middle of the night.  One more thing: if you discover a new book and you think I/we should know about it, let me know.  There is always scope for adjusting/finessing the course outline as we go along. 





 Week 1 


Week 2

The Framing of Social Reality



Film: Lars von Trier, The Five Obstructions (2003)


It would help if you read the Goffman before the film.  But in any case we will discuss it, and the film as an (oblique)  illustration of the themes in it, in week 3.   Please arrive on time because the film lasts about 90 minutes.


Week 3

Frame Analysis 

The issues raised by von Trier’s film include the roles of rules in constituting meaningful social life, the relationship between original and copies, and the variety of possible ways we have of representing something.  Here which push these issues a bit further to take in the way in which accomplish these understandings interactinally.  Nobody spent more time that Erving Goffman in trying to develop a formal vocabulary which would capture these processes.   In his later work he turned to the concept of 'frame', in order to bring out the ways in which the 'same' strip of talk or action could be accorded a range of significance and resonance.  The idea o framing and reframing suggests connections with the visual arts.  But what sort?    

-         How useful is the concept of ‘frame’?

-         what does Goffman mean by ‘fabrications’?

-         discuss, with examples, the difficulties involved in 'maintaining frame'.


 Required reading:


-         Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis, Penguin 1975, pp. 21-27, 77-82, 111-123, 156-188

-         Michel Foucault, This is Not a Pipe, London: University of California Press, 1982


 Background reading: 


Drew, P. and Wootton, A. (eds), Erving Goffman, Cambridge, Polity, 1988

Jameson, F., 'On Goffman's Frame Analysis', Theory and Society, 13, 119-133

Human Studies  Vol.12, Special issue on Goffman

Lemert, C., and Branaman, A. eds), The Goffman Reader, Oxford: Blackwell, 1996

Berger, Peter and Luckmann, Thomas, The Social Construction of Reality, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1966

P. Duro (ed) The Rhetoric of the Frame, CUP 1996

Hillel Schwartz, The Culture of the Copy, New York: Zone Books 1996

Shakespeare, Hamlet

 Week 4:

Multiple Realities

Goffman's work raises the problem of the 'reality status' of our everyday experiences, but at the same time points us to the ways in which others enable us to solve it.  Within a somewhat different body of literature such problems are left unresolved, and much more frame slippage is allowed for.    Here we look at two examples, Don Quixote and the recent fiction of W.G. Sebald. 


-         What is meant by multiple realities?

-         What sense can be made of the idea that reality consists of fragments of other realities?

-         Compare the claims of sociology and literature to be able to do justice to multiple realities.


 Required reading: 

 -         Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, Penguin 

 -         Alfred Schutz, 'Don Quixote and the Problem of Social Reality', in Collected Papers Volume II, Martinus Nijhoff, 1971 

 -          Sebald, W.G., The Rings of Saturn, London: Harvill, 1997



 Background Reading:


Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities, London: Picador

Berger and Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality, Penguin 1966

Borges, J.-L., 'Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote', in Labyrinths, Harmondsworth: Penguin

Foucault, Michel, 'Don Quixote', in The Order of Things, London: Tavistock 1970

Alfred Schutz, 'Multiple Realities', in Collected Papers Vol. I

Berger, P., 'The Problem of Multiple Realities: Alfred Schutz and Robert Musil', in Thomas Luckmann (ed) Phenomenology and Sociology, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978

W.G. Sebald, Vertigo, London: Harvill, 1999

Franz Kafka, ‘The Truth about Sancho Panza’, in Description of a Struggle and Other Stories,, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979.

E. C. Riley, Don Quixote, London: Allen and Unwin, 1986

Lowry Nelson (ed) Cervantes, Prentice-Hall, 1969


Week 5 Framing selfhood: narrative Inthe work discussed so far the uncertain status of social reality leads individuals into a state of some disorientation.  This week we begin a series of examinations into the ways in which individuals seek to maintain a plausible sense of personal identity, sometimes through, and sometimes in the face of, the reality in which they live.  The first example of this approach is the study of personal narrative and of the unity, or disunity, of a life.  For sociology, a central question is that of how the continuity of individual biography is aided or undermined by social institutions.

- what is the force of the claim that life is lived as a story?

- does the experience of sharp biographical discontinuity reinforce or undermine Ricoeur's claims about narrative identity?

- to what extent do efforts to reconstruct the story of a life require collective institutional supports?


 Required Reading

-         Ricoeur, P., 'Life in Quest of a Narrative', in D. Wood (ed.), On Paul Ricoeur, London: Routledge, 1991

-         MacIntyre, A., 'The Virtues, The Unity of a Life, and the Concept of a Tradition', in After Virtue, Aldershot: Duckworth, 1981


-         Prisoner of Consciousness, BBC, 1987


 Background Reading:

 Arendt, H., The Human Condition, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1958, pp.181-192

 Taylor, C., Sources of the Self, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, chs.1, 4

White, H., The Content of the Form, London: Johns Hopkins University Press

Mauss, ‘The Category of the Person’, in M. Carrithers (ed) The category of the Person, Cambridge: Cambridge University press


 Week 6:

Framing selfhood: testimony and audience

The notion of a narrative conception of selfhood often focuses on the resources available to individuals in their efforts to construe biography as a story.  But it also requires consideration of the kind of audience which might legitimate such stories and render them plausible.  Do stories get told because the events they depict happened, or because an audience demands to hear them?   The issue of plausibility has arisen recently in an area in which it might be expected to be least problematic, holocaust narratives.  The infamous case of Binjamin Wilkomirski is a graphic illustration of the complexities at work here.  

-         Why should Wilkomirski's story have been taken seriously?

-         To what extent does every narrative require an audience?

-         Could it ever be plausible to doubt whether the holocaust 'really happened'?  



-         Wilkomirski, B., Fragments, London: Picador 1997


-         Olgiati, C., Child of the Death Camps: Truth and Lies, BBC 2000 

Background reading:  

Lappin, E., 'The Man With Two Heads', Granta, Summer 1999, 7-65

Langer, L., Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995, chapter 5

Sebald, W.G., The Emigrants, London: Harvill, chapter 4 Amis, Martin, Time's Arrow, London: Jonathan Cape, 1991

Barham, P., 'The Next Village: modernity, memory and the holocaust'', History of the Human Sciences, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp.39-56 [critique of Langer] 

Delbo, C., Auschwitz and After

Hartman, G., Holocaust Remembrance, Oxford: Blackwell, 1994 [articles by Langer, Friedlander]

Bauman, J., Winter in the Morning, London: Virago, 1986 [survival in and escape from the Warsaw Ghetto]

History of the Human Sciences, special issue, Nov. 1996

Ian Hacking, Rewriting the Soul, Princeton Univ. Press, 1995. chs.15, 17.

Richmond, T.  Konin, London: Vintage, 1995 [highly recommended] Borowski, T., 'Auschwitz, Our Home', in This Way to the Gas Ladies and Gentlemen, London: Penguin

Levi, P., If This is a Man, London: Abacus [essential reading from any point of view]

Spiegelman, A., Maus I and II, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987 and 1991

Dan Stone, ‘Holocaust Testimony and the Challenge to the Philosophy of History’, in Robert Fine and Charles Turner eds. (2000) Social Theory After the Holocaust, Liverpool University Press

Stephan Maechler, The Wilkomirski Affair, London: Picador 2000 [contains the complete text of Fragments]



 Week 7 Framing selfhood: Photography as Evidence of a Past

Last week we explored the difficulties of making even a simple claim that 'this happened to me'.   The evidence of testimony was shown to be dependent on, and potentially tarnished by, the audience for it.  Photographic evidence for a past, by contrast, appears to be more concrete.  Yet the uses of photography as evidence are themselves dependent on the ways in photography functions as a social institution.  The very act of looking at photographs is framed in certain ways, ranging from the private epiphanies of Roland Barthes, through the family album to Christian Boltanski's archival and museum displays of the 80s and 90s. 

-         What for Barthes is the relationship between photography and death?

-         What significant difference is there between photographs in albums and photographs in museum displays?

-         Is there a politics of photography?



-         Barthes, R., Camera Lucida, London: Vintage, 1993


Chris Marker, La Jetee, 1982


Background reading: 

Benjamin, W. ‘The Small World of Photography, in One-Way Street, London: Verso 1985

Bernhard, Thomas, Extinction, Penguin, 1997

Berger, J., and Mohr, J., Another Way of Telling, Cambridge: Granta, 1982, chapter 2

Boltanski, C. et al, Imagined Communities, London: South Bank Centre 1995

Bourdieu, P., Photography: a Middle Brow Art, Cambridge: Polity, 1990, chapter 1

Chaney, D., Fictions of Collective Life, London: Routledge, 1993

Proust, M., Remembrance of Things Past

Rabate, Jean-Michel, Writing the Image after Roland Barthes, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997 [essays by Perloff and Shawcross]

Samuel, R., Theatres of Memory, London: Verso, 1994

Sontag, S On Photography, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1979

Siegfried Kracauer, The Mass Ornament: The Weimar Essays, London: Harvard University Press, 1995


 Week 8 Framing Selfhood: The Body as a Guarantor of Biographical Continuity


The previous two weeks looked at the way in which personal identity is represented, in word and images.  In both cases we saw the disruptions and uncertainties to which this can give rise.  One response to this is to identify the body as a more reliable guarantor of such continuity.  Here our interest is not in the body as a ‘symbol’ of anything or in what is or is not done to the body, but in the body’s comportment, gesture and so on. 

 Required reading:

 -         Paul Connerton, How Societies Remember, Cambridge University Press, 1989, ch.3

 -         Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice, Cambridge; Polity 1990, chs 3, 4.

-         Marcel Mauss, ‘Body Techniques’, in Sociologie et Anthropologie, London: RKP 1989


 Background Reading


 Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past

----, By Way of Saint Beuve

Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain, Oxford University Press, 1985

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception, London: Routledge, [1945] 1999

Stephern Turner, The Social Theory of Practices, Polity, 1994, ch.4

Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, Zone Books

Norbert Elias, The Germans, Cambridge: Polity, 1996

----, The Civilising Process, Blackwell, 1993

Chris Shilling, The Body and Social Theory, London: Sage, 1993.

Theodor Adorno, ‘Do Not Knock’, in Minima Moralia, London, Verso, 1974

Ian Hunter and David Saunders, ‘Walks of Life: Mauss on the Human Gymnasium’, Body and Society 1(2) 1995, 65-81


Week 9 Accepting the Contingency of selfhood: Rorty


The last two weeks have looked at efforts to pin down the self or provide it with a firm anchorage in some way.  But an alternative approach, which sometimes has the label ‘postmodern’ attached to it, advocates a rejection of such certainties in the name of a more open future.  The origins of this approach to biography, centering on a ‘poetic self’, can be found in Nietzsche’s (1844-1900) claim that ‘Becoming never flows into Being,’ but it received explicit endorsement in the last three decades in the writings of Michel Foucault and Richard Rorty among others. 


 Required Reading 


-         Bourdieu, Pierre, ‘The Biographical Illusion’, in Paul Du Gay, Jessica Evans and Peter Redman (eds) Identity: A Reader, London: Sage 2000

-         Rorty, Richard, 'The Contingency of Selfhood', in Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991

-         Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, extracts


 Background reading 

Foucault, 'The Subject and Power', in H. Dreyfus and P. Rabinow, Michel Foucault

Bauman, Z., Life in Fragments, Oxford: Blackwell ch.3

Foucault, M., Technologies of the Self, London: Tavistock, 1988

----, The Final Foucault, Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press, 1988

Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity

Hacking, I., 'Making up People' in T. Heller et al (eds) Reconstructing Individualism, Stanford 1986 Nehamas, A., Nietzsche: Life as Literature, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985

Rorty, R, 'The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy', in Political Theory 1985

----, 'Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism', in Journal of Philosophy, 80, Oct. 1983

Richard Sennett, ‘Destructive Gemeinschaft’, in Alan Soble ed, The Philosophy of Sex

----, The Fall of Public Man, part I

 Week 10: the self and history

 'We are haunted not by the past, but by images of the past' - George Steiner. 

As a way into next term's work we will watch Chris Marker's film about the Soviet director Medvedkin, which raises questions concerning the relationship between individual identity and the larger forces of history and politics.  

 Film:  Chris Marker, The Last Bolshevik, 1991 



Week 12: Monday 10th Jan.

Modernity, Rationalisation and the Search for Meaning

 Next a famous statement on the relationship between social change and social structure, Weber’s account of the rationalising tendencies of modernity and the increasing discrepancy between the axial principles which govern different ‘value spheres’.  One of the most troubling problems this throws up is the discrepancy between the human search for meaning and the course of historical development. 

 -         what does Weber mean by ‘the most rational forms which reality can assume’?

-         what do you understand by the term ‘value spheres’?

-         what are the most important tensions and conflicts which emerge in Weber’s diagnosis of modernity?



- Max Weber, ‘Intermediate Reflections: Religious Rejections of the World and their Directions’, in From Max Weber, London: Routledge, 1948


 Secondary Reading:

 Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, London, Heinemann, 1976, introduction.

Guenther Roth and W. Schluchter, Max Weber's Vision of History, University of California Press, 1979

Jurgen Habermas, Theory of Communicative Action, Cambridge Polity, 1994, Vol. I, pp.216-242

Niklas Luhmann, The Differentiation of Society

W.G. Runciman, A Treatise on Social Theory, Vol.II, Cambridge, 1987, University Press, pp.411-433.

Lawrence Scaff, Fleeing the Iron Cage, University of California Press, 1989

Charles Turner, Modernity and Politics in the Work of Max Weber, London: Routledge, 1992.

Harvey Goldman, Max Weber and Thomas Mann, University of California Press, 1990

Peter Lassman and Irving Velody (eds) Max Weber’s Science as a Vocation, London, Unwin Hyman, 1989

Max Weber, Economy and Society (section on ‘religious ethics and the world’)

Wilhelm Hennis, Max Weber: Essays in Reconstruction, London: Unwin Hyman, 1990

----, Max Weber’s Science of Man, Berkshire: Threshold Press, 2000


Week 13: Monday 17th Jan.

 Habermas on Modernity and Progress

Many of the issues raised by Weber during World War I re-emerged in the 1980s and have continued to hover over intellectual debates ever since.  One such concerns the idea of history as a process of  ‘progressive’ unfolding, governed or organised in some way according to a final, though possibly unattainable, goal.   The most prominent defender of this view is Jurgen Habermas.  A notorious critic of it was Jean-Francois Lyotard, whose expression ‘grand narratives’ has had a career of its own since he first used it.


 - if modernity is an incomplete project, what would its completion be?

- what do you understand by the term ‘colonisation of the lifeworld’?

- how convincing is Habermas’ attempt to connect rationalisation and enlightenment?


Required reading:

 Habermas, J., ‘Weber’s Theory of Modernity’, and ‘The Uncoupling of System and Lifeworld’, in W. Outhwaite (ed.) The Habermas Reader.  Cambridge: Polity, 2000.

 Habermas, J., 'Modernity: An Incomplete Project', in H. Foster (ed.) Postmodern Culture, London: Pluto Press, 1983


 Background reading:

Bury, J., The Idea of Progress

Habermas, J. ‘What Theories an accomplish – and what they can’t’, in The Past as Future, Cambridge: Polity 1994.

---- The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere ch.4, 5, 13, 18.1982 [1962].

----, The Theory of Communicative Action Vol. I, Part II, 1; Vol. II, Part VII, 3; Part VIII, 3.  London: Heinemann, 1984.

Kant, I., The Idea of a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Intent', in Political Writings Cambridge, C.U.P., 1970

Löwith, K., Meaning in History, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1958

Outhwaite, W., Habermas, Cambridge, Polity, 1994.

Wood, E.M. 'Modernity, Postmodernity, or Capitalism?', Monthly Review, New York, July-August 1996.

Voegelin, E. The New Science of Politics.  Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1952. chs. 4, 6.  [hard, like Blumenberg]

Blumenberg, "On a Lineage of the Idea of Progress," trans. E. B. Ashton, Social Research 41, no. 1 (1974): 5-27.  [hard, like Voegelin] Iggers, G., The German Conception of History.  Wesleyan University Press 1968.

Dews, P. (ed.) Autonomy and Solidarity, London: Verso

Bernstein, R. (ed) Habermas and Modernity.  Cambridge: Polity, 1985.

Passerin d'Entrèves, M. and Benhabib, S. Habermas and the unfinished project of modernity: critical essays on The philosophical discourse of modernity.  Cambridge : Polity, 1996.

Kelly, M. (ed.) Critique and Power: recasting the Foucault/Habermas debate London: MIT Press, 1994.  

Koselleck, R. ‘Progress and Decline’, in The Practice of Conceptual History, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002.

Leszek Kołakowski, ‘Modernity on Endless Trial’, in Modernity on Endless Trial. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1990. Troeltsch, E. Protestantism and Progress

Yack, B. The Fetishism of Modernities.  1997.


Week 14: Mon. 24th Jan. Lyotard and Postmodernity

 Effectively Habermas was doing something which his critical theory preedecessors had refused to do: seeing the rationalisation  of society as potentially consistent with enlightenment rather than a betrayal or decay of it.   Postmodernist critics of Habermas draw on a number of sources: Weber’s scepticism towards progress, but also the more robust versions of anti-enlightenment romanticism.  One of the most publicised and notorious alternatives to Habermas is to be found in the work of Jean-Francois Lyotard on ‘the postmodern condition’.   This expression covers far too much for us to do justice to it here, so we concentrate on those aspects of it which link up with Weberian and Habermasian themes already discussed: science, rationalisation, knowledge.  

Required reading: 

- Lyotard, J.F. The Postmodern Condition


Background Reading:

Lyotard, J.-F., 'Universal History and Cultural Differences', in The Lyotard Reader, Oxford: Blackwell, 1989

---- ‘Philosophy And Painting In the Age Of Their Experimentation: Contribution To An Idea Of Postmodernity’, in A. Benjamin (ed.) The Lyotard Reader, Blackwell, Oxford, 1989.

----, The postmodern explained to children : correspondence 1982-1985 edited by Julian Pefanis and Morgan Thomas. Sydney : Power Publications, 1992.

Musil, R. The Man Without Qualities chs. 61, 62, 72.

Schutz, A. ‘The Well-Informed Citizen’, in Collected Papers Vol. II.

Turner, C., 'Postmodern Rules and Neo-Kantian Values: Lyotard and Weber',

in B. Turner (ed) Theories of Modernity and Postmodernity, London: Sage, 1990. Rorty, R., 'Habermas and Lyotard on Postmodernity', in R. Bernstein (ed) Habermas and Modernity Cambridge: Polity, 1985


 Week 15: reading week


Week 16: Mon. 7th Feb. Reflexive Modernisation and Risk Society

 The Habermas-Lyotard debate can be described as one between those who believe and those who do not believe in 'progress'.  One feature of the 18th and 19th century version of this belief was a particular view of time, according to which human beings could imagine a future of endless (Kant) or finite (Marx) improvement.  One assumption here was that the consequences of our actions in the present, though unintended (cf. Robert Merton!), would be benign and could be left to themselves.  Recently however doubts about progress have been accompanied by a stronger thesis about the link between present action and its possible negative future consequences.  The most well-known account is contained in Beck’s theory of the risk society. 



 -         how plausible is the distinction between industrial and risk society?

 -         What difference does risk make to the politics of knowledge?

-         What are the implications for our understanding of politics of the idea of ‘communities of danger’?


 Required Reading:

 Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, London: Sage, 1992, chs 1 and 2.


Background Reading:

Beck et al, Reflexive Modernisation, Cambridge: Polity, 1993

----, Democracy without Enemies.  Oxford: Polity 1998

----, World Risk Society.  Cambridge: Polity 1999

Niklas Luhmann, Risk: A Sociological Theory, Berlin, de Gruyter, 1993

Mary Douglas, Risk and Blame, London: Routledge, 1982

Paul Heelas (ed) Detraditionalilisation, Oxford: Blackwell, 1996

Scott Lash, Bronislaw Szerszynski and Brian Wynne, Risk, Environment and  Modernity, London: Sage, 1996

Franklin, J., The Politics of Risk Society, Cambridge: Polity, 1998

Pocock, J.G.A., 'Time, Institutions and Action', in Politics, Language and Time, Chicago Univ. Press, 1971

Hans Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility, University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Boyne, R. Risk.  London: Sage 2003.

Elliott, A., ‘Beck's Sociology of Risk: A Critical Assessment’, Sociology, Volume 36 (2), 2002: 293-315.


  Week 17:

risk and time

Regardless of whether Beck is right to distinguish so neatly between industrial and risk society, or whether he is right to insist that risk is a problem of modernity rather than postmodernity, the presence of risk on the contemporary social theoretical agenda can hardly be denied.  This week we look at the ways in which our understanding of politics may be shaped by our awareness of time.

 -         what do you understand by the concept of an ‘extended present’?

-         why is lack of time a problem for modern individuals?

-         what is the difference between technological and utopian temporality?


Required reading:


Helga Novotny, Time, Polity 1994  

Niklas Luhmann, ‘The Future Cannot Begin’, Social Research, Vol. 43, 1976, pp.130-152


Background reading

Adam, B., Time and Social Theory, Cambridge: Polity, 1990

Arendt, H. Between Past and Future.  Penguin: 1977.

Beck, Ulrich, Risk Society, London: Sage, 1992

Benjamin, W., ‘The Image of Proust', ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’,

in Illuminations London, Cape, 1970

Anthony Giddens, ‘Fate, Risk and Security’, in Modernity and Self-Identity,

Cambridge: Polity, 1990

Reinhard Koselleck, ‘The Temporalisation of Utopia’, in The Practice of Conceptual History, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002.

Peter Osborne, The Politics of Time, London: Verso, 1996

Sztompka, P. The Sociology of Social Change. Oxford: Blackwell, 1993.

Sorokin, P. A. and Merton, R. ‘Social-Time: A Methodological and Functional Analysis’, in J. Hassard (ed.) The Sociology of Time. London: Macmillan .  1990 [1943].


Week 18: Mon. 21st Feb. The End of History - Posthistory

 As a contrast to the risk society argument, this week we look at Fukuyama's famous claim concerning the 'end of history'.  This week we will look into how such a thing as the end of history might be conceptualised – e.g. worldwide adoption of the principles democracy -  touch upon some older versions of  this claim, and  try to make sense of what  is distinctive about it today.  Interestingly, the end of history thesis is comparable both with a belief in progress (end of history = the fulfilment of a goal) and with a rejection of it (and of hope)  In the latter version it suggests that the future which faces us is not one of risk but, on the contrary, one of perpetual security and contentment which leaves us unable or unwilling to pursue 'loftier' ambitions than utilitarian satisfaction.     

- is the end of history the end of the state as the primary locus of politics? - is the end of history the end of the idea that human beings make their own history?

- in what sense can the West be said to have won the cold war?



Fukuyama, F., The End of History and the Last Man, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992

 Pocock, J.G.A., 'Deconstructing Europe', London Review of Books, Vol.13, No.24 (1991) pp.6-10, or in P. Gowan and P. Anderson (eds.), The Question of Europe, London: Verso, 1996

 Background Reading:

 Anderson, P., 'The Ends of History', in A Zone of Engagement, London: Verso, 1992

Bauman, Z., Life in Fragments, Oxford: Blackwell, pp.243-256

Bell, D., The End of Ideology, Illinois: Free Press of Glencoe, 1960

Berlin, I., 'Historical Inevitability', in Four Essays on Liberty, Oxford: O.U.P., 1969

Callinicos, A., The Revenge of History, Oxford: Polity, 1991

Fukuyama, F., 'The End of History?', in The National Interest, Summer 1989, 3-18

Gehlen, A., 'The Crystallisation of Culture’ [1958] in V. Meja et al Modern German Sociology.   New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.

Habermas, J., The Past as Future, Cambridge: Polity, 1993

Hirst, P., 'Endism', London Review of Books, 23rd November, 1989

Kermode, F., The Sense of an Ending, New York: O.U.P., 1967

Kojeve, A., Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, New York, 1969, p.158-162, footnote 6. 

Lowith, K., Meaning in History

Niethammer, L., Posthistoire, London: Verso, 1992

Riley, P., 'Introduction to the Reading of Alexander Kojeve', Political Theory 9, no.1, 1981, 5-48.

M.S. Roth, 'A Problem of Recognition: Alexander Kojeve and the End of History', History and Theory, 24, no.3, 1985, 293-306

----, Knowing and History, Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1988

Strauss, L. On Tyranny, New York: Cornell Univ. Press, 1968, pp.220-226


Week 19: Mon. 28th Feb.

Postmodern Politics

 The debates surrounding risk society and the end of history raise serious questions about the limits of politics – what traditional political action can still achieve, where the boundaries should be drawn – if at all  - between ‘political’ and non-political’ questions.  For some – such as cultural conservatives like Gehlen - the end of history was a thesis about a kind of collective exhaustion, the absence of any new, world historical ideas; for others, the destructiveness of a politics based upon the idea that history had an ultimate meaning was clear in the politics of the Third Reich and the Soviet Union; for a third group of thinkers, the current doubts about a politics centred on the nation state are an opportunity to rediscover a more authentic, activist meaning for politics.   This week we look at a classic and controversial thesis about the relationship between political and non-political questions, a thesis which, though it first appeared in 1928, hangs over more recent discussions.  

 -         what does Schmitt mean by the age of depoliticisation and neutralisation’?

 -         can any organisation whatsoever become political?

-         what are the consequences of a ‘sublimation of politics’?



Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, 1928

Sheldon Wolin, 'The Sublimation of Politics', in Politics and Vision, 1960


Background reading

Sheldon Wolin, 'Postmodern Politics and the Absence of Myth', Social Research, 1985

Chantale Mouffe, The Return of The Political, London: Verso, 1993

Heller, Agnes and Feher, F., The Postmodern Political Condition, Cambridge: Polity 1988

Martins, Herminio, 'Politics, Technology, History', in I. Velody and J. Good (eds) The Politics of Postmodernity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998

Meier, Heinrich, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1995.

Charles Turner, ‘The Strange Anti-Liberalism of Carl Schmitt, Economy and Society, 1998

Karl Lowith, ‘The Occasional Decisionism of Carl Schmitt’, in Martin Heidegger and European Nihilism, New York: Columbia University Press, 1995

Carl Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, MIT Press, 1985.

MacKormick, J. Carl Schmitt’s Critique of Liberalism, CUP 1997.

Müller, Jan-Werner, A Dangerous Mind.  London : Yale University Press, 2003.





[1] sorry for this management-speak language but it’s compulsory these days.