Critique as a Modern Social Phenomenon. The Critical Society

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What are the origins and purposes of social critique? Rather than use critique as a mode of investigating social phenomenon, this book analyses critique as a social phenomenon. Critique is both constitutive of modernity and exceedingly diverse, and not only that but widely taken for granted in scholarly communities. Herein, the resources of historical sociology and anthropology are used in order to gain perspective on critique as something culturally specific to modernity. Based on this, I analyze critique as moving force in history, part of the dynamic of capitalism and consumerism, a recurring trope in the media from all any political positions, and finally as a common-place even of popular culture. Finally, I turn to some key literary writers who have explored critique as a social phenomenon within their work, thus providing a reflexive perspective on critique as a lived experience.


“Critique has become a practice that it is almost impossible to escape, as if one comes up with the idea of ‘criticizing’ the practice of critique, it would still only be another form of critique – a critique of critique or meta-critique.”
Prof. Arpad Szakolczai,
University College, Cork

“This is a masterful exposition of a very thorny and difficult topic.”
Bjorn Thomassen,
The American University of Rome

"Tom Boland has written a fascinating and important book that should be read by all concerned with the future of critical thought. ... For we might suggest that the appearance of Tom Boland's excellent book is to be seen in the light of the old Hegelian adage that 'the owl of Minerva flies only at dusk', for it may be that is dawning that critique is not enough!" -Prof. Peter McMylor, University of Manchester

Table of Contents

Foreword by Arpad Szakolczai
1. The Critic’s Paradox
What is Critique?
The Sociology of Critique
The Pragmatic Sociology of Critique
Problematising Critique
2. Towards An Anthropology of Critique
Liminality and Critique.
Imitation and Critique....
The Tricks of Critique
3. The Historicity of Critique
Critique and Crisis
Charisma and Parrhesia
Modern Events and the Genealogy of Critique
A Critical Society?
Critical Discourse
4. Critical Subjectivity: Towards a Gnomonic model of subject constitution
Theorising Critical Subjectivity
Foucault, Butler and Nietzsche
The Gnomonic Model
Characterising Critical Subjectivity
5. The Circus of Critique: On the Public Sphere
Liminality in Ireland’s Celtic Tiger
Critical Discourse in Ireland
Incredulity: Media Critiques
Critical Comedy: Satire and Disaster
Analysing Critical Comedy
Theorising Satire and Critique
Serious Absurdity
6. The Economic Reality and All-Consuming Critiques
Economies of Critique
Critical Transformations of the Economy
Consumerism and Critique
The Critical Brand
7. Political Critiques: The cases of Occupy and Ordo-liberalism
The Critical Foundations of Occupy
Occupational Critique
The Critical Vision of Liberalism
The Proliferation of Liberal Critiques
8. Literature as insight into critique: Experience and Conversion
The Ancient Quarrel
Diagnosing Modernity
Conversion in Literature
9. Romanticism and Subjectification of Critique
Subject formation and Identity Formation
William Blake’s personal mythology
Self Annihilation: The ‘unexampled deed
‘A transition of the soul’?
The ‘true’ and ‘unnatural’ self
Imitation and Illusion
10. Overcoming Critique with Love: The Insights of Jane Austen
Reading Austen Historically
The play of suspicion
Strategy and Love
Excessive Love
Falling in Love
11. Critique as Imitative Rivalry: George Orwell as Political Anthropologist
The making of Orwell
Totalitarianism and Critique
The Critical Subject
From Hating to Loving Big Brother
Critical Dystopia
Outside Totalitarianism
12. Conclusion: The Limits of Critique

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