Symmetry and composition: on the pragmatic sociology of critique


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Bruno Latour has argued that “critique has run out of steam”, and proposes a new mode of critique as “compositionism:” bringing different practices, worlds and values to bear on each other. This paper argues that the research programme that Luc Boltanski calls the “pragmatic sociology of critique” answers both the specific problem posed by Latour and more general concerns about the relationship between practices of critique and the institutions they encounter. The paper is based upon an analysis of On Justification (Boltanski and Thévenot, 2006) and The New Spirit of Capitalism (Boltanski and Chiapello, 2005), as well as the field of inquiry that informs them. In these works, the authors present both a study of critique and a methodology for further study in that mode: both a pluralistic description of the “economies of justification” in everyday life, and a guide for effecting change. In particular, their research programme modifies critique in three ways: it acknowledges that everyday life is filled with critical moments; it draws analytical categories from the field itself; and it poses critique in a way that can be understood by those it addresses. This paper charts important methodological considerations for any study of culture that might desire to be “critical”.

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Symmetry and composition: on the pragmatic sociology of critique

  1. 1. symmetry and composition: on the pragmatic sociology of critique luke van ryn university of melbourne @myspaceghost
  2. 2. outline what’s wrong with critique? what is the pragmatic sociology of critique? what is to be done?
  3. 3. what’s wrong with critique?
  4. 4. “the capitalist system … has discovered routes to its survival in critiques to it” boltanski and chiapello (2005) the new spirit of capitalism
  5. 5. what is the pragmatic sociology of critique?
  6. 6. “a situation that holds together … demonstrates its own justness” boltanski and thévenot (2006) on justification
  7. 7. economies of worth inspiration domestic fame civic market industrial network artists, children traditions, families opinions, esteem collectives prices, competition experts, efficiency projects
  8. 8. modes of critique corrective situation is polluted nepotism radical situation is framed wrong networking
  9. 9. dimensions of critique artistic social freedom, authenticity société du spectacle equality, justice #occupy
  10. 10. “semantic work and police work go together” boltanski (2011) on critique
  11. 11. what is to be done?
  12. 12. “the critic is not the one who debunks, but the one who assembles” latour (2005) why has critique run out of steam?
  13. 13. “each time [sociologists] interpret their surveys they inform the leviathan, transforming and performing it” callon and latour (1981) unscrewing the big leviathan
  14. 14. “the process of composition always takes place in a terrain informed by power relations” mouffe (2013) agonistics
  15. 15. “my point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous” foucault (1997) on the genealogy of ethics
  16. 16. applied pragmatic sociology of critique thévenot, moody & lafaye (2000) in search of a ‘green’ polity morgan, marsden & murdoch (2006) logics of food ecologies fordyce & van ryn (forthcoming) critique and ethical branding
  17. 17. symmetry and composition: on the pragmatic sociology of critique luke van ryn @myspaceghost