Keynote 1: Estelle Ferrarese (Picardie-Jules-Verne University, Amiens) - How vulnerable is Critical Theory? On the Experience of Vulnerability

The talk will present how Critical Theory allows us to apprehend vulnerability as living at the mercy of others, and how it can be heuristic to borrow from different theoretical traditions, particularly feminist ones, to think the experience of vulnerability through a (critical) phenomenology of sobbing. What does a sobbing body claim? What does it manifest, and how does it modify one's relationship to the world?

Panel 1: Bernd Belina (Goethe University Frankfurt) - Space in the Frankfurt School: Adorno on »Provinciality«

The spatial was largely absent from theorizations of the early Frankfurt School (with the important exception of Karl Wittfogel). Adorno did use spatial concepts, though. One of them is »provinciality«. As used by him, »provinciality« is a mentality, which is characterised by unreflectiveness that results in an apodictic dichotomy between »one’s own« and the »other«. It is a spatial concept because »provinciality« is more likely in the countryside than in the city due to the nature of rural social formations, or, more precisely, due to ideological memories thereof that still dominate in rural spaces. The concept connects individual mentalities with social formations and their manifestations in space in a non-deterministic manner. While this definition does not equate rural areas with unreflectiveness or authoritarianism in a straightforward manner, it does provide the potential to explain the social and ideological forms on the basis of which such deficits are more likely to be found in the countryside than in the city. Adorno’s use of »provinciality«, fusing, as it does, the social, the psychological and the spatial, is an excellent example of the ways in which a space-sensitive reading of the early Frankfurt School can enriched our understanding of its critical contributions.

Panel 1: Daniel James (Dresden University of Technology), Kristina Lepold (Humboldt University Berlin) & Bastian Ronge (University of Wuppertal) - Critical Theory’s Racial Blindspot

A glance at the table of contents of several handbooks of Critical Theory from the last 30 years reveals that questions of race, racialization, and racism have received surprisingly little attention. This impression is not merely superficial: Consider, for instance, how little, if at all, these questions figure in key texts in the tradition of Critical Theory, such as Adorno and Horkheimers Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944) or Jürgen Habermas A Theory of Communicative Action (1981), or how figures like Angela Davis, a student of both Adorno and Marcuse, are often excluded from that tradition. In our talk, we will examine Critical Theory’s racial blindspot before considering potential resources from within the official canon of Critical Theory and from its margins for a serious engagement with questions of race, racialization, and racism. We will first discuss the early studies of antisemitism as a potential resource from within, and ask what they can contribute to the study of racism today. Then, we will turn to Angela Davis’ and Lucius Outlaw’s attempts to transform key concepts of the tradition of Critical Theory to analyze racial oppression and Black liberation as a potential resource from the margins of Critical Theory.

Panel 1: Peter Wagner (University of Barcelona) – Capitalism: A Critique

In the Frankfurt tradition of Critical Theory, capitalism has rarely been analysed as such. The main features and ways of operation of capitalism were considered known, broadly as conceptualized by Marx, and taken for granted. The main purpose was to analyse the effect capitalism had on society. Over time, this approach has become ritualized, in critical theory in general, not only in the Frankfurt tradition. One came to investigate any problematic feature – colonialism, social inequality, climate change, … – and consider capitalism as its cause. Such procedure is not only conceptually and methodologically but also politically problematic: overcoming capitalism is the inevitable but helpless practical conclusion. In due brevity, it will be suggested that the concept of capitalism has to be disentangled and that critical analysis needs to show which features of contemporary capitalism have which impact on society.

Panel 2: Marina Garcés Mascareñas (Open University of Catalonia, Barcelona) - Collapse and Promise

In a historical time dominated by non-future scenarios, what strength can a promise have? When uncertainty is the only certainty and time is dominated by the imminence of catastrophe, what sense can there be in creating a bond and a commitment that is sustained over time through the word given? This question takes us back to the common time of the West and its foundation: the word of God is the promise of salvation, the pact with the State is based on the promise of security and the legitimization of capitalism is sold as an unlimited promise of prosperity. Can we read the current crisis of civilization as a crisis, too, of this triple dimension of the promise of the West? And what are the consequences for the political imagination and for the relationship of our present with the future?

Panel 2: Tatiana Llaguno Nieves (University of Groningen) - Dependence: A Critical Theory Approach

The contribution puts forward the need of assessing the notion of dependence from the perspective of Critical Theory. By putting freedom and dependence in contradiction, modern societies manufacture the disavowal of our dependencies and produce terrible results, for us as social beings and for the planet. However, rather than a moral condemnation of dependence’s disavowal, critical theory suggests the need of exploring the causes of its denial. Because alternative takes on dependence have remained one-sided, I argue in favor of a Hegelian-Marxist framework, that is both complemented and challenged by feminist and environmental concerns. In particular, I propose the development of a structural-ethical approach to dependence, that takes both its subjective and objective dimensions into account. In addition, I defend the need of a political response to the problem of dependence and freedom, that consists in a double praxis of releasement and reappropriation, capable of keeping the subjective and the objective in a constant and vivid interaction. If releasement gives place to the objective, reappropriation makes room for the subjective. Together, these practices invite us to see that our dependence is neither an always-already given reality, nor a fully constructed one. That is, they enable us to grasp our dependent condition as something that we can collectively transform, while alerting us against the phantasy of full mastery.

Panel 2: Yves Winter (McGill University, Montréal) - Critical Theory and the Imaginary

The founding generation of Critical Theorists and today's political activists do not share much in common, but both routinely invoke the imagination as a central faculty for advancing social change. And both in the case of the history of critical theory and in that of contemporary activism, these invocations are typically disappointingly vague. Among contemporary activists, the often implicit premise for according such significance to the imagination is that social change is predicated on a transformed imagination, or in the contemporary jargon the construction of new imaginaries. Alternative imaginaries are meant to respond to the blockage of our collective imagination. While the diagnosis of such a blockage seems plausible, it is less evident that the repeated exhortations to construct new imaginaries are likely to unblock it. Missing from these calls for new imaginaries is both (1) a coherent account of how a transformed imagination would translate into social change, and (2) a reflection on the history of social critique, which – from its Marxian origins – has typically been framed as a critique of the imaginary. In this talk, I take the Marxian conception of the imaginary as the site of an unresolved contradiction as a starting point for rethinking the relation between critical theory and the imaginary.

Keynote 2: Gurminder K. Bhambra (University of Sussex, Brighton) - Critical Theory in a Reparative Frame

Frankfurt School Critical Theory is grounded in a theory of capitalist modernity which, in common with wider sociological approaches, elides histories of colonialism. The failure to acknowledge the centrality of colonialism to the development of capitalism results in a misdiagnosis of current problems of inequality and the positing of inadequate solutions. Many theorists, for example, focus primarily on issues of redistribution associated with a capital-labour relation organised nationally and seen to be threatened by »globalisation«. This involves a related failure to understand how an apparent decommodification of labour through welfare has been bound to colonial patrimonies. In this talk, I criticise the analytical and substantive separation of colonialism and capitalism. Colonialism, I suggest, put in place the specific forms of global and national inequality that are otherwise understood in terms of developments within capitalism. A proper address of these issues requires a reparative frame that recognizes the ways in which the legacies of the past continue to configure the present and its possibilities. It involves making colonial histories central to understandings of capitalist modernity and to the normative address of inequalities that otherwise risk being legitimated by the standard accounts of Critical Theory.

Panel 3: Brigitte Aulenbacher (Johannes Kepler University Linz) - »There is no Right Life in the Wrong One«. Feminist and Intersectional Reflections on the Marketization and Digitalization of Care and Care Work

Since the 1990s, we are witnessing far reaching changes in the fields of care and care work. Most significant tendencies are their increasing commodification and rationalization. Drawing on Adorno’s and Becker-Schmidt’s reflections on the relations in the social fabric of the modern capitalist society and feminist and intersectional approaches of the sociology of care, the contribution analyzes (1) how care and care work are organized in different sectors and on different levels from the local to the global, and affected by social inequalities in the relations of gender, race, and class. Aiming at analyzing the transformative changes in the fields of care and care work, it investigates their commodification and rationalization with focus on (2) transnational live-in care and labor brokerage and (3) the digitalization of care and care work. Both tendencies can be understood as pathways towards an economic and technological (instrumental) rationality of care and care work extrapolating the andro- and eurocentric logics of the structurally careless capitalism. The concluding remarks (4) show what we can learn from both cases with regard to Adorno’s statement: »There is no right life in the wrong one«.

Panel 3: Tine Haubner (Friedrich Schiller University Jena) - Rethinking Critical Theories of Work in Times of Informalization

In the context of the globally increasing precarization, informalization and fragmentation of labor and employment, other, also informal forms of production and reproduction are coming into the focus of a critical sociology of labor. In this regard, the advantage of Theories of Social Reproduction lies in the fact that they have always thought of labor in the plural even though a theoretical narrowing to productive wage labor can also be observed here. The contribution explores the question of updating Feminist-Marxist Theories of Social Reproduction as the basis of a critical sociology of work: In view of the growing social inequality and polarization of labor markets, the shortage of skilled workers to the employment policy challenges related to combating climate change in an aging society of declining growth rates, it is time to ask again about the social significance of work and its socializing effects. Critical theory can point the way to a critical sociology of work. Also, a feminist sociology of work is indicated that overcomes dichotomous thinking in favor of a perspective on continuums of work activities and an expanded concept of work.

Panel 3: Esteban Torres (Universidad Nacional de Córdoba) - The World Society, the Intersystems and a New History of Capitalism

In my talk I will present the central components of a new theory of World Society, rooted in a non-Eurocentric history of the planet, which contemplates the social transformations of the last centuries. I will then refer to the different systems that make up the contemporary World Society and that were created from a long historical succession: the natural system, the patriarchal system, the interracial system, the interstate system, the intercapital system, and the intercommunication system. Finally, I will introduce the concept of the intercapital system. Recognizing that the World Economy was formed only in the middle of the twentieth century, and having processed the most important modern views of capitalism, I propose to advance a Critical Theory that allows me to outline a new history of capitalism, more attentive to the structural singularity of peripheral countries.

Panel 4: Henrike Kohpeiß (Freie Universität Berlin) - Dynamics of Unfeeling – Colonial Affect and the Climate Crisis

Affective relationality is one helpful perspective to understand the current mediation of the climate crisis. With regard to affect and emotion, the response towards climate disaster in central Europe is characterized by a lack of consistent reactions, which could be subsumed as Unfeeling. Hereby, I don’t only mean the weakness of crisis responses, but different forms of evasion and repression (Freud 1923), that undermine an adequate understanding of the form and the social consequences of the crisis at hand. Concrete articulations of unfeeling oscillate between eventcentered, quasi-eschatological »collapsologies« (Ferdinand 2021; Scranton 2015) on one hand, and persistent ignorance towards the progressive environmental destruction on the other (Kitcher 2020; Malm und Zetkin Collective 2021; Norgaard 2011). Clearly, the control of nature through instrumental reason (Adorno and Horkheimer 2020) and the colonial division of the world into extractable and protected zones (Mills 2001; Pulido 2016) are the intellectual and affective foundation for the western European relationship to the crisis today. The extractive and destructive racist and colonial affective order which is the result of these histories can be further described with debates around non-relationality (Palmer 2020). This vocabulary is a helpful resource to investigate different instances of unfeeling the climate crisis and to account for the social pathologies which pervade it.

Panel 4: Sangwon Han (Chungbuk National University, Cheongju) - Understanding Fear as (Anti-)Political Affect: Towards a Critical Theory of Authoritarian Capitalism

In today's globalized neoliberal system, endless competition and atomization of the individual, where the relation of market competition penetrates into their daily life, corresponds to the Hobbesian diagnosis of the state of nature. In this context, Hobbes's paradox that individual self-preservation is achieved through submission and self-denial seems to validate Adorno and Horkheimer's diagnosis that modern principle of the self-preservation is one of the main reasons of authoritarian domination. Neoliberal-era subjects who spontaneously request new forms of ethnic homogeneity and authoritarian leadership in isolation, cut off from all social ties, resemble Hobbesian subjects who spontaneously request Leviathan's transcendent authority. The demand for a new form of absolute sovereignty is the inevitable conclusion reached by »Hobbesian subjects« who perceive individual self-preservation as their highest task and goal. As Adorno and Horkheimer argued, neofascist movements and extreme right-wing movements lead the rebellion caused by the fundamentally suppressed inner nature of human beings not in a positive constructive direction, but in a destructive impulse. And if we read the authors of early critical theory together with Hobbes, we can understand why individuals in a liberal society voluntarily desire thoroughly anti-liberal authoritarian rule after its failure.

Panel 4: Hannah Peaceman (Friedrich Schiller University Jena) - Mind the Gap. Mediating Postcolonial and Continental Critical Theory

Although Postcolonial and continental critical theory have a lot in common, there remains a gap. One systematic difference lies in their modes of critique of philosophical terms like universalism. Postcolonial theories challenge these fundamentally in the mode of external critique. Continental critical theory refers to them as a basis for immanent critique. This creates a disconnect between two perspectives of critique that have a common denominator: theory is politically embedded and potentially emancipatory. My question is: How can these two modes of critique be dialectically mediated to unfold critical potential? I argue that postcolonial critique irritates premises of philosophical thinking »from the outside«. Outside means beyond claims of validity that are operative in continental critical theory. Postcolonial theory makes historical circumstances visible in which terms like universalism developed. The genesis of fundamental terms can create a contradiction to their claim of validity. Immanent critique can unfold how these contradictions affect their validity claim. Therefore, it depends on external critique postcolonial theories provide. Thus, such an approach demands an ongoing reflection between the genesis of terms and their validity claims. Fundamental terms like universalism must be further unfolded in a way that keeps them open for genetic critique.


Keynote 3: Éric Pineault (Université du Québec à Montréal) - Ecologizing Critical Theory. From the Materiality of Social Relations to the Ecological Contradictions of Advanced Capitalism

The contemporary renewal of critical theory is confronted with a conjuncture shaped by an ecological crisis which has now existential implications for humanity and is intimately tied to the historical trajectory of capitalist society. This crisis is occurring at a time when the very notion of societal relations to nature is being called into question by critical theories and approaches based on post-Cartesian ontologies and hybridist conceptions of reality. In this new epistemic context, is it still possible to propose a critical theory that recognizes the mediation of social relations and the societal totality by natural structures with their own biophysical and ecological causalities? Or is this language which recognizes the objectivity of a natural world to be condemned because of its entanglements with modernity's project and practices of domination and exploitation through othering, dualism and abstraction? While acknowledging the situated nature of modern ecological thought and Earth sciences, we will argue that a critical ecological materialism is urgently needed to confront and think beyond the aporetic societal relations of capitalism to the planet, understood as a biophysical world. Social ecology, with its key concepts of social metabolism and colonization, has developed an epistemic approach that captures these relations within a framework based on the intermediation of social and biophysical causalities, a framework that recognizes the autonomy of each of these spheres as well as their articulations. This dialectic of intermediation provides a solid foundation for the ecologization of the theory of advanced capitalism and for a renewed non-reductionist, non-idealist, critical materialism.

Panel 5: Anna Clot-Garrell (University of Barcelona) - How do Materialities Matter? Empirical Insights into the Cross-Fertilization between Critical Theory and New Materialisms

The talk explores the intersections of Critical Theory and New Materialisms in studying contemporary ecological issues. While ecological pathologies represent a continuation of the Frankfurt School's mission, as the climate crisis is one of the most current manifestations of the problems attributed to capitalist modernity, their analysis also requires moving beyond human-centred approaches. Recent scholarship highlights the need for critical theory to be more sensitive to the non-human forms and relations that make our social existence. This talk aims to reflect upon the fruitful dialogue between Critical Theory and New Materialisms by looking at infrastructures. Infrastructures are promising sites for exploring the interrelations between these two intellectual currents, as they challenge the easy separation between the human and the material. The material and political lives of infrastructures also exemplify the contradictions of industrial-capitalist societies in their paradoxically constructive and destructive nature. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in a post-industrial area of the Catalan Pyrenees, I analyse industrial infrastructures' decay processes and aim to illustrate how this empirical examination provides fertile ground for addressing existing rifts in critical theory.

Panel 5: Philip Hogh (University of Kassel) - Materialism’s Historicity

Critical Theory’s materialism of the 1930s is again a stronger point of reference today when it comes to the critique of the capitalist form of domination of nature and Critical Theory's relation to social movements and their struggles. However, the historical time that has passed between then and now is mostly not taken into account today, neither are the reasons that led Horkheimer, Adorno, and others to later give their materialisms a different form. But this historicity of materialism is crucial for any attempt at updating it today. In my talk, I will first examine how Horkheimer conceptualizes the relationship of capitalist society to nature in his texts on materialism from the 1930s, and then, in a further step, make visible the changes that occurred in Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944) and in Eclipse of Reason (1947), written after the Holocaust. The final step will then discuss what is to be learned from Horkheimer's theoretical treatment of social catastrophe for a materialist theory of the present, in full awareness of the historical distance and the changed social conditions we live in today.

Panel 5: Andreas Folkers (Justus-Liebig-University Gießen) - Residual Reification: Material Powers after the Commodity

The talk provides a reappraisal of reification theory by bringing together historical and new materialisms for an analysis of the materiality of fossil fuel residuals and the ecological damages they incite. The focus on the commodity form in reification theories misses the specific materiality associated with ecological problems: emissions, runoff, spills, waste, dissipation, toxic particles. In accordance with theories of reification, I will argue these residuals become, just like the 2nd nature of the commodity, a material force in their own right. However, in contrast to reification approaches I will show that the problems of residuals begin where the specific »value form« as well as the »object form« (Georg Lukács) of the commodity ends. Residuals have escaped the world of available objects to dissipate into noisy molecular flows. The problem, it seems, is not Verdinglichung but Entdinglichung, not reification but de-ification. This analysis complicates the critical horizon associated with theories of reification. Unlike in commodity fetishism, the power of residuals does not resolve once we become aware of their social character. Even the material reappropriation of alienated commodity-things by their producers would not break the spell of residual reifications. A utopian ecosocialism would still have to deal with the capitalist past remaining present as residuals. Reappropriation has to go along with repair. Rather than wishing away the power that residuals exert over society, an eco-critical attitude demands to stay with the rubble.

Panel 6: Kellan Anfinson (University of South Florida) - The Critical Composition of Class amid Ecological Collapse

The unfolding ecological crisis raises the question of whether a materialism rooted in political economy is sufficient to this historical moment, both in terms of analysis and political action. Thinkers such as Jason W. Moore and The Salvage Collective have tried to reconcile historical materialism to this new reality. In doing so, they recognize the need for a deeper materialism and can incorporate ecological dimensions into their analyses of the crisis but seem less able to do so when dealing with the question of what to do about it. At the same time, new materialism seems to enable thinkers like Bruno Latour to propose a myriad of ecologically informed actions. Though the two approaches are often opposed, this talk explores how historical materialism can draw on new materialism to rework itself. In particular, it develops a notion of class to build political connections beyond the human for responding to the intertwined economic and ecologic crises.

Panel 6: Katharina Hoppe (Goethe University Frankfurt) - Materialisms Old and New: Dependency as a Key Concept for Contemporary Critical Theory

In critical and feminist theory, the state of dependence has often been understood above all as a negative state. Independence from patriarchal structures, from the constraints of heteronormative and bourgeoise lifestyles, as well as from exploitative labor conditions remain at least one normative horizon of critical theory and practice to this day. This horizon is strongly linked with one of modernity’s key values: autonomy. Contemporary crises, however, challenge these normative certainties. It is becoming increasingly clear that the denial of dependencies on human and more-than-human others contributes significantly to the intensification of crisis dynamics. Critical theories are therefore called upon to take a closer look at the tension between dependence and independence and to re-evaluate it. The talk explores this from the perspective of different feminist materialisms and focuses on their respective critiques of dualisms. I argue that the denial of dependency is strongly linked with dualistic views which prioritize one side and set it as independent over the other. A proposal for the partial affirmation of relations of dependency challenges dualistic views as well as the concept of autonomy. Against this background, the talk pursues two goals: First, to bring diverse feminist materialisms into conversation and second, to suggest an analytics of dependence as a central tool for contemporary critical theory.

Panel 6: Barbara Muraca (University of Oregon) - Making Kin in the Anthropocene? The Colonial and Neoliberal Afterlives of Relational Ontologies

According to Haraway (2015), the Anthropocene intended as »boundary event« can not only spell the end of »cheap nature«, but also operate as a call to build new alliances among »critters« to join forces and constitute refuges in the face of extinction. Accordingly, via critical Anthropocene narratives, life-centered relational ontologies can pave the way to new forms of planetary cohabitation and challenge the colonial separation between society and nature that grounds Western modernity and its capitalist functionalization. In this talk I intend to critically engage with the promise embedded in life-centered relational ontologies, such as those proposed by New Materialism scholars, by discussing (1) their potential colonial shadow rooted in a homogeneous and idealized relationality that lacks what Swyngedouw and Ernstson (2018) call »a critical ontology of the political« – which focuses instead on the socio-geographical situativity of social conflicts and actors; and (2) their naive blindness towards their neoliberal appropriation aimed at the biopolitical (and, ultimately, necropolitical) valorization of life. Finally, the decolonial project of a pluriversal political ecology from below is presented as an alternative discourse of resistance and transformation in which the socio-material conditions for an ever-open negotiation about the composition of the oikos are fought over.

Keynote 4: Verónica Gago (University of Buenos Aires) - How to change Everything. A Feminist Critical Reading of the Present

I intend to analyse the growth of the feminist movement in recent years and how it has transformed the perspectives and strategies developing in the struggles through the problematization of those elements in terms of a process of really broad social change. The discussion will address the following questions: In what sense does our movement confront capitalism and how is doing anti-capitalist politics, or is it undoing capitalism? What is the impact of our critical reading of capitalism threatening social reproduction and intensifying extractivism, and how does it affect the ways we confront it? What is the role of academic theorizing for the recent feminist movement in particular - and for the emancipatory social movements of our times in general? The feminist movement, that emerged in the latest cycle from the South, has taken on some of the most fundamental issues against capitalist enclosures of life in new forms of financial exploitation and extractivism. In the discussion of these matters, I seek to find the pattern that connects the different struggles as a concrete form of political transversality that would enable us to raise awareness and think in terms of a multilevel scale of articulation.

Panel 7: Bruna Della Torre (University of Campinas, São Paulo) - The New Organization: Digital Culture Industry, Social Networks, and Right-Wing Propaganda

In Aspekte des neuen Rechtsradikalismus (1967), Theodor W. Adorno suggests that cultural industry is the new organization: it can replace a mass party in building fascism. Even though the concept of culture industry was part of collaborative research conducted by the Institut für Sozialforschung not only on culture but also on authoritarian propaganda and monopolistic and racket capitalism, it is mostly still read as a theory concerned with commodification of art. Currently, the right-wing ascension in the whole world has revived interest in the Frankfurt School’s studies on authoritarianism. Still, intriguingly culture industry has not been taken as an essential concept to understand the phenomenon. The debate on technofeudalism (Cédric Duran, Jodi Dean, Yanis Varoufakis), surplus behavior (Shoshana Zuboff), or behavioral extractivism (Evgeny Morozov) usually completely disregards the Frankfurt School tradition. In my current project, I draw from this political aspect of the concept proposed by Adorno and from Adorno and Horkheimer’s idea that culture industry could also be addressed as a research agenda to investigate the right-wing ascension through social media. The talk aims to explore this political aspect of culture industry drawing from my research on right-wing propaganda under Jair Bolsonaro’s government in Brazil.

Panel 7: Agustín Lucas Prestifilippo (University of Buenos Aires, CONICET) - Political Limits and Explanatory Potentials of the Critical Theory of Authoritarian Subjectivity. Perspectives from Latin America

As has been recently recognized by several scholars in the field of social sciences and humanities, one of the main contributions of the first generation of Critical Theory to the study of capitalist society is to be found in the studies on authoritarian personality led in the 1950s by Theodor W. Adorno. With the conviction that the theory of the authoritarian personality represents an exemplary model for the development of social-scientific research on the new social authoritarianism, as well as for the visibility in the public sphere of the problem of neo-fascism as a political challenge to democratic forms of life, in this presentation I will address, from a perspective situated in the current contradictions of Latin American societies, the limits of the theoretical-political assumptions on which was based that canonical research. More specifically, I will inquire into the question of how the liberal paradigm that underpins its definition of authoritarian subjectivity might be an epistemological and political obstacle. On the one hand, by limiting the explanatory potential of critical theory for the study of how political and cultural identifications are determined on the periphery of neoliberal capitalism. On the other hand, by hindering the possibility of conceiving paths of social emancipation based on the political potential of other non-liberal legacies, such as those of solidarity, equality, and the willingness to participate in anti-capitalist political and social struggles.

Panel 7: Frieder Vogelmann (University of Freiburg) - The Form of Critical Theories, or Why Political Epistemology Matters

However we define them, critical theories must fulfill the three conditions Max Horkheimer formulates in his seminal essay Traditional and Critical Theory (1937). Critical Theories must understand their own situation within contemporary society as constitutive of their theoretical practice and its results. Therefore, they must diagnose their social conditions, and do so not in a purely philosophical manner: they are necessitated to integrate empirical results of social research. Yet they also must spell out the philosophical implications of their own situatedness. Hence, just as they cannot be ›pure‹ philosophy, they cannot be »pure« social research. Finally, critical theories must not aim only at an accurate understanding of their social conditions but also at overcoming them. In one way or another, they must aim at emancipation. If critical theories are impure by their very nature, they are forced to break with sovereign conceptions of epistemology. The necessity to intertwine epistemology and analysis of actually existing social conditions is built into critical theory’s conceptual foundations. Non-sovereign political epistemology is thus a requirement for and the promise of critical theories — a promise not often redeemed by critical theories and thus an important task for critical theories to come.

Panel 8: Mareike Gebhardt (University of Münster) - Deconstructing Solidarity: Towards a Renewed Critical Theory of the Common

The presentation problematizes traditional solidarity theories’ assumption that solidarity rests upon similarities. From Léon Bourgeois and Émile Durkheim to Theodor W. Adorno, solidarity is thought of as commonality, loyalty, and, most often, brotherhood. Concerning fraternity, the motto of the French Revolution echoes through solidarity – with it, the exclusion of othered populations. The historical and theoretical focus on white male-dominated class struggles camouflages the gendered and racialized tropes, narratives, and politics oozing through solidarity. The presentation exposes those gendered and racialized imaginations of solidarity. First, it shows how traditional – even though critical – theories of solidarity pave the way for a hermeticism of solidarity. Reiterating the thesis of similarity and commonality, far-right and authoritarian politics hijack the semantics of solidarity to render plausible their racist and heterosexist agendas. From the analysis of hermetic solidarity, I unfold, second, a three-tiered deconstruction of solidarity to broaden the (theoretical) horizon of a critical theory of solidarity towards an intersectional reading. In this reading, the common we share is our difference. I confront traditional solidarity theories thus with contemporary theorizations of difference: post-structuralism, queer-feminism, and Black theory.

Panel 8: Marina Martinez Mateo (Academy of Fine Arts Munich) - Critical Theory and Family Abolition: On the Relation of Family and Emancipation

The view of the family in Critical Theory is fundamentally ambivalent. On the one hand, for Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse (among others), the bourgeois family – while promising warmth and protection – is a place of domination and discipline. On the other hand, there seems to be a formative longing for an emancipated family that would fulfill this promise. Since what we call family today is hardly comparable to the authoritarian family structures of that time: What can this double view of the family still tell us? In my talk, I aim to address this question by bringing Critical Theory into dialogue with current claims for »family abolition« in feminist theory. As I suggest, here too we can find this ambivalence in the assumption that we need to abolish the bourgeois family in order to liberate its very own promise of care and love. In my talk, I aim to bring these two approaches to the family in a critical dialogue in order to further elaborate on the relationship between family and emancipation.

Panel 8: Jörg Schaub (University of Essex) - Towards a Critical Theory of Aesthetics (and a Critique of Aesthetic Injustices)

I outline a novel critical theory of aesthetics that is inspired by Axel Honneth’s theory of recognition. To underpin this critical theory of aesthetics, I develop a recognition-theoretical account of aesthetic freedom that expands the familiar range of (moral, legal, personal, economic, and political) recognition relationships. Aesthetic recognition is linked with the status of equal aesthetic subject and tracks three capacities or valuable dimensions of personality that are at the heart of modern approaches to aesthetics: sense perception, emotions, and imagination. My claim is that a wide range of conflicts and emancipatory struggles in democratic life (from feminist consciousness-raising in the 1960s to contemporary demands for safe spaces on university campuses) have an aesthetic dimension, because they are (also) about the consideration we owe each other as sensing, feeling, and imaginative beings (or as equal aesthetic subjects). In my talk, I invoke several case studies (such as Immanuel Kant’s aesthetic racism and Simone Weil’s account of the aesthetic oppression of factory workers) to illustrate how a critical theory of aesthetics can go about conceptualising, identifying, and criticising aesthetic pathologies and injustices that have so far been widely overlooked and little understood.

Keynote 5: Didier Fassin (Collège de France, Paris) - The Political Violence of Borders