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Tony Ward

Tony Ward

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 22:44

Georg Lukács


Georg Lukács (1885-1971) 


Although his work predates the Critical Theorists,  Lukács is included here because his own work was extremely influential in directing the later members of the Frankfurt School towards their crucial revisionist perspective of Marxism. He was a Hungarian Marxist philosopher and literary critic.  He contributed the ideas of reification and class consciousness to Marxist philosophy and theory. He served briefly as Hungary's Minister of Culture following the 1956 Hungarian Revolution (Wikipedia). He was born in Budapest to a wealthy Jewish banking family. He studied at Universities in Berlin and Budapest and received his PhD in 1906. He spent a great deal of time in Berlin where he befriended a number of critical philosophers including Ernst Bloch, Georg Simmel and Max Weber. He returned to Budapest in 1915 and began a philosophical debating circle that eventually included such luminaries as Karl Mannheim.

Following the First World War and the October Revolution in Russia, he joined the Communist Party of Hungary and became very active before being forced to flee to Vienna where he barely avoided arrest through the intercession of writer friends. His major work History and Class Consciousness was published in 1925 and was soundly attacked by the Communist bureaucracy for its leftist ideology. He criticised centralised Communism and called for a true dictatorship of the proletariat. He lived in Berlin until the rise of Hitler forced him to move to Moscow in 1933. He remained there until the end of the war, returning to Budapest to become an important figure once again in the Hungarian Communist Party. During the Hubngarian Revolution of 1956 he was critical of the Soviet intervention and with the failure of the Revolution was deported to Romania. He survived this exile to return to Hungary in 1957 and thereafter took a much lower profile in politics.

His book of essays, History and Class Consciousness is an investigation into Marxist Orthodoxy. In the first chapter he lays out his position quite clearly:

"Orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx’s investigations. It is not the ‘belief’ in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a ‘sacred’ book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method. It is the scientific conviction that dialectical materialism is the road to truth and that its methods can be developed, expanded and deepened only along the lines laid down by its founders."

In this he was critical of the dogma of Stalinist/Leninist orthodoxy and much more of a mind with such Marxists as Leon Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg (to whom he devoted a chapter in his book). It was this willingness to critique received Marxist ideology that attracted him later to the Frankfurt theorists. He raised issues of ideology, alienation, reification, false consciousness, the place of culture. All of these were grist to the mill for the Frankfurt theorists. He died in Hungary in 1971.


Critics of orthodox marxism have pointed to this distinction between the economic base and the determined superstructure as the core cause of the failure of Soviet communism and the failure of marxism as a formative ideology for social change. Beginning with the anarcho-synicalists like Makhno, through powerful dissidents such as Luxemburg down to the New Left of the 1960s and later postmodernists, these critics have all maintained that the revolution which will emancipate the masses cannot wait until all of the conditions for its existence are in place.

In the face of the Gulag revelations, which emerged from the 1930s onwards, Western marxists searched for an adequate means to explain both this and the ap¬parent refusal of capitalism to collapse. The doctrinaire version of marxism to which the party was attached promised the inevitability of the capitalist collapse. Marxist economics were held to be a natural law, governed by the same kind of forces as determined other natural phenomena (such as gravity). This deterministic version of Marx's historical materialism was first seriously questioned by Lukács and Karl Korsch and has subsequently been taken up by numerous other authors.

Lucáks, particularly, argued against the mistaken orthodox view of marxism which saw the inexorability of change stemming from a defined economic "base", suggesting that this theory contradicted Marx's own phi¬losophy and amounted to what Marx had called a "contemplative materialism" - one which ignored the all-important factor of human subjectivity and action. By ignor¬ing the element of human subjectivity and agency, Lukacs suggested that "orthodox" marxists had also abandoned the very thing which could provide the basis for revolutionary action. This position was supported explicitly by Engels himself in his later writings. He maintained that:

"According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. More than this neither Marx nor I ever asserted....The eco¬nomic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the super¬structure....the class struggle and its results- also exercise their in¬fluence on the course of historical struggles and in many cases pre¬ponderate in determining their form."

Yet the record is not so completely unambiguous. Marx himself seems to have taken a variety of positions and to have "softened" his insistence upon the primacy of the economic sphere in his later years. He suggested that the law, as a superstructural element was falsely characterised as being separate from and subordinated to capitalist production, whereas we have seen how they are mutually implicated.  Most often Marx portrayed the determining element of history as the sum total of the relations of production - which necessarily included the workers themselves, rather than only the machines, plant and raw materials. He noted, for instance, that this totality:

"...constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness."  

Occasionally, he isolated the actual instruments of production, but these instances are relatively few and minor, and as McLellan notes:

"He also makes it clear that the instruments of production can never be isolated from their social context....."It is not 'history'  which uses men as a means of achieving - as if it were an individual person - its own ends. History is nothing but the activity of men in pursuit of their own ends."

This seems to be consistent with one of Marx's most incisive ideas, reiterated innumerable times, that:

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past."

In other words, Marx seems to have seen the relationship between the economic and cultural realms as more reciprocal than later more conservative and Orthodox interpretations would seem to indicate. This was the perspective on marxism to which critics of orthodoxy, such as Luxemburg, Lucáks and Korsch subscribed. Revolution, for all of these critics, became an issue of process, rather than being viewed as an end product, and that process seems to involve an ongoing dialectic within the superstructural elements and the between them and the economic 'base' upon which they are supposed to be dependent. What this meant in simple terms was that it was now realised that elements of culture could and did affect the economic framework itself, and that change to the economic structure can and does take place in more than superficial ways as a result of changes taking place within the social and cultural spheres.

Although he was later to relent somewhat in this analysis (due to criticism from the Party) Lucáks’ work did open up a whole new way of looking at the practice of marxist theory. His work had a substantial influence after its publication in 1923, and was most systematically taken up by researchers at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt in the mid to late 1920's. Once liberated from its dependency upon economic change, the cultural component of everyday life could be investigated within its own frame of reference as an instrument of social transformation. As a major element in cultural production this meant that education could now also be investigated as playing an important part in the transformation of society. It is for this reason that we need to look more closely at the social implications of these later theories in regard to the whole issue of cultural production and reproduction and most specifically at the implications this might have for the educational enterprise. 
Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:29

Ronnie Laing


R. D. Laing (1927-1989)

Like Fanon, Fromm and Reich Ronnie Laing was a psychiatrist. He was born, raised and educated in Glasgow and during his most renowned professional carreer was living and practicing in London in the 1960s. His theories of Schizophrenia dramatically challenged conventional models at that time. He wrote extensively on mental illness and particularly the experience of psychosis. He is noted for his existential views on the causes and treatment of mental illness, which went against the psychiatric orthodoxy of the time. By taking the expressions or communications of the individual patient or client as representing valid descriptions of lived experience or reality rather than as symptoms of some separate or underlying disorder, Laing was challenging the normative diagnostic models of "mental illness". He is often associated with the anti-psychiatry movement although, like many of his contemporaries also critical of psychiatry, he himself rejected this label. He made a significant contribution to the ethics of psychology. He believed that the psychotic experience was singularly misunderstood in the Western World and that in other cultures it equated with highly prized and respected visionary experiences from which the "psychotic" could return with deep insights into the nature of (human) reality.

Laing was born and schooled in Glasgow before studying medicine at the University of Glasgow. Following this he spent two years working as a psychiatrist in the British Army and leaving in 1953 to work at Gartnavel Hospital in Glasgow. In 1956 he moved to the Tavistock Institute in London where most of his seminal theories were developed. He left there in 1964.



Beyond or in extension of psychiatry, Laing's fields of interest were in social phenomenology and existentialism. He was very much interested in the realm of experience - of the subject. The publication of The Divided Self (1960) raised the issue of the social and culturwaql context of schizophrenia, suggesting that the schzophrenic's supposedly incompreensible utterings were understandable within the context of his or fhe social-life experience. In The Divided Self Laing explains how we all exist in the world as human beings, circumscribed by others who carry a model of us in their heads, just as we carry models of them in our heads. Our feelings and motivations derive very much from this condition of 'being in the world' in the sense of existing for others, who exist for us. In his studies of the family circumstances of schizophrenics, Laing demonstrated how amnbiguities and misunderstandings of attributed identity and denial of experience can be significantly related to psychotic episodes. Laing went beyond this, however, to suggest that the normative diagnostic and treatment patterns of schizophrenic patients, by extending the denial of the schizophrenic experience, actually contributed to it. This theory brought him into conflict with both the psychiatric profession (who continue to the present to be in the thrall of the pharmeceutical companies making fortunes from dispencing management-medications) and the families of schizophrenics who felt "blamed" by Laing for the psychosis of their family members. Much of this criticism was both ill-founded and unjust. Laing himself acknowledged that the families of schizophrenics were themselves unaware of the dynamics of their perceptions and expectations associated with their psychotic family members. Nevertheless, laing became to a large extent the bete noire of the psychiatric profession in the 1960s.

He began is theoretical journey in 1961 with the publication of Self and Others - in which he begins to interrogate the identity formation of individuals in social and particularly family relationships. In 1964, with Aaron Esterson he then went on to write Sanity Madness and the Family, in which they recorded a series of diadic interviews with several families of schizoprenic patients. Their interviews revealed the small dishonesties that exist in family settings in the interests of maintaining family "peace" and unity. These dishonesties lie at the root of the denials of experience that lead to psychotic episodes. But Laing's theories were extending beyond the limits of the family to suggest culture-wide bases for psychosis. In this he echoed the work and writings of Gregory Bateson who, in 1956 ghad proposed the double-bind theory of Schizophreania. Gregory Bateson and his colleagues Paul Watzlawick, Donald Jackson, and Jay Haley (1956, Bateson, G., Jackson, D. D., Jay Haley & Weakland, J., "Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia", Behavioral Science, vol.1) articulated a related theory of schizophrenia as stemming from double bind situations where a person receives different or contradictory messages.) Madness was therefore an expression of this distress, and should be valued as a cathartic and trans-formative experience.(Wikipedia)

He was clearly extending his analysis of psychosis into sthe socio-political-cultural spheres, much like Fanon and Fromm). In 1964 he also participated with his colleague at the Tavistock, David Cooper in an analysis of the work of Sartre and in an attempt (like Gorz) to reconcile the works of Sartre with those of Marx. The result, Reason and Violence: A Decade of Sartre's Philosophy (1964) was opaque and somewhat impenetrable.

In 1966 he extended his work with Esterson to undertake a Tavistock study of families in detail. The result, Interpersonal Perception (1966) was a remarkable and relatively unacknowledged revelation of family dynamics based upon a series of overlayed interviews. Laing and Esterson interviewed families in differing constellations. They interviewed individuals individually and in diads and then they interviewed the families as a whole. What appeared was a series of differing identities for each family member dependent upon the social (family) setting of the interview. People said dramatically different things about themselves and each other depending upon whether they were alone, with the person they were discussing or grouped with the whole family. What became apparent was a series of spiralling miscommunications or "knots". These would be later extended and dramatised in his 1970 book of that name.

Laing's socio-political theories begin to come clear in a 1967 polemic The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise in which he for the first time writes for a general audience:

"What we call 'normal' is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience. It is radically estranged from the structure of being. The more one sees this, the more senseless it is to continue with generalized descriptions of supposedly specifically schizoid, schizophrenic, hysterical 'mechanisms.' There are forms of alienation that are relatively strange to statistically 'normal' forms of alienation. The 'normally' alienated person, by reason of the fact that he acts more or less like everyone else, is taken to be sane. Other forms of alienation that are out of step with the prevailing state of alienation are those that are labeled by the 'formal' majority as bad or mad."  (The Politics of Experience, 1967)

And again:

"The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one's mind is the condition of the normal man. Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves, and to become absurd, and thus to be normal. Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow normal men in the last fifty years." 

It was a book that was to launch Laing into the forefront of the 1960s Counterculture movement. It burst onto the public sphere at just that time when the quertioning of normative beliefs and values was at its height. A year later would see the assassination of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, the Chicago Democratic Conventiuon, the Seige of the Pentagon and the escalation of the Vietnam War (and the Draft). The book burst like a bombshell on the youth culture of the mid-1960s and led to a much wider interest in Laing's other theoretical and earlier writings. He became a cult figure - a situation he found distasteful. In 1970 he produced Knots -  a simple but powerful analysis of the mysteries and ambiguities of diadic experience:

"They are playing a game.

They are playing at not playing a game.

If I show them I see they are,

I shall break the rules and they will punish me.

I must play their game of not seeing that I see the game."

It was a beautiful and simple testament to the intricasies of human communication. Although he published several more books, this was to be the last of his major influential writings, and he turned increasingly towards "body work". When I met him in 1967, he espoused a deep interest in the work of  Wilhelm Reich , and later, in the early 1970s, he recommended that I study yoga with his own yoga teacher Arthur Balaskas. His involvement with Balaskas kindled in him a deep interest in the birthing experience and together with several colleages he became interested in Rebirthing.

I had met him in 1966 when I was (traumatically) researching British prisons, and later in 1968 when I was involved in studying mental hospitals. His writings left an indelible impression on my spirit. Literally, he helped me to find my voice. We met again in the early 1970s as his interest in Bodywork and  Rebirthing was increasing.

He died in France at the age of 61 of a heart attack while playing tennis with his friend Robert Firestone.

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:29

Joe Kincheloe


Joe Kincheloe (1950-2008) 

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:28

Douglas Kellner

kellner 3

Douglas Kellner (1943-)(19

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:28

Ivan Illich


Ivan Illich (1926-2002)


Illich was born in Vienna to a Croatian father and Jewish mother and had Italian, French and German as native languages. Illich was a student at the Piaristengymnasium in Vienna from 1936 to1941, but was expelled by the occupying Nazis in 1941 because his mother had Jewish ancestry (his father was a Roman Catholic). He learned Serbo-Croatian, the language of his grandfathers, then Ancient Greek and Latin, in addition to Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, and other languages. He went on to study histology and crystallography at the University of Florence. At this point he decided to enter and prepare for the priesthood. and went to study theology and philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in the Vatican (from 1942 to 1946) and medieval history in Salzburg  In 1951 he completed his PhD at the University of Salzburg (an exploration of the nature of historical knowledge). He wrote a dissertation focusing on the historian Toynbee and would return to that subject in his later years. . One of the intellectual interests of this period was a developing understanding of the institutionalization of the church in the 13th century - and this helped to form and inform his later critique.


In 1951, he was assigned as an assistant parish priest in New York Cityafter which he was appointed in 1956, at the age of 30, as the vice rector of the Catholic University of Ponce in Puerto Rico. It was in Puerto Rico that Illich met Everett Reimer and the two began to analyze their own functions as "educational" leaders. He spent only four years there, being forced out of the university in 1960 because of his opposition to the then Bishop of Ponce's forbidding of Catholics to vote for Governor Luis Munoz Marin (because of his advocacy of state-sponsored birth control).  While still committed to the Church, Ivan Illich was deeply opposed to Pope John XXIII's 1960 call for north American missionaries to 'modernize' the Latin American Church. He wanted missionaries to question their activities, learn Spanish, to recognize and appreciate the limitations of their own (cultural) experiences, and 'develop assumptions that would allow them to assume their duties as self-proclaimed adult educators with humility and respect' In 1959, he traveled throughout South America on foot and by bus. Then, in 1961, he founded the Centro Intercultural de Documentación (CIDOC), (or Intercultural Documentation Center) at Cuernavaca in Mexico, ostensibly a research center offering language courses to missionaries from North America and volunteers of the Alliance for Progress program initiated by John F. Kennedy.

But he still wished to counteract the involvement of the Vatican in the "modern development" of the "Third World." He was appalled by both the liberal and conservative rhetoric that accompanied the emerging tide of global industrial development and viewed its the Church Missionaries as proponents of industrial hegemony and cultural imperialism - an ongoing neo-Colonialism - and, as such, an act of "war on subsistence." He tried to teach missionaries dispatched by the Church to identify themselves instead as guests of the host country. In this sense, he was a major figure in the imerging Liberation Theology movement of the 1960s and 1970s. His intent was clear: 

"Upon the opening of our centre I stated two of the purposes of our undertaking. The first was to help diminish the damage threatened by the papal order. Through our educational programme for missionaries we intended to challenge them to face reality and themselves, and either refuse their assignments or - if they accepted - to be a little bit less unprepared. Secondly, we wanted to gather sufficient influence among the decision-making bodies of mission sponsoring agencies to dissuade them from implementing." (Celebration of Awareness 1973)

After ten years Illich was called to Rome for questioning about his oppositional work, due in part to a report from the CIA. He resigned his priesthood in 1969 to avoid the conflict between his work his superiors, and having previously resisted the Vatican's insistence that he close the CIDOC or resign from it. His theorising of the de-institutionalisation of society was by now becoming very clear and focused. He wrote a book chronicling the negative effects of schools - Deschooling Society (1971) and anothers: Celebration of Awareness (1973) and Energy and Equity (1974), a critique of energy production and consumption. These were followed in 1976 with Medical Nemesis - a critical study of the medical profession and the medicalisation of culture. In Tools for Conviviality (1975), he extended his concerns about the medical profession to critically analyse the issue of professionalism in toto, providing a more general exploration of his concerns and suggesting some possible standards by which to judge 'development'.  In this latter work, he echoed the concerns of Freire about the role of the expert in indigenous and rural communities. His solutions were also similar to Freire's (an emphasis on mutuality, human-scale technology etc.). His thinking (in 1971) was far-reaching, anticipating or present dilemmas with claritiy and precision. His words resonate down the years, anticipating the current environmental crisis by a good 40 years: 

"I believe that a desirable future depends on our deliberately choosing a life of action over a life of consumption, on our engendering a lifestyle which woill enable us to be spontaneous, independent yet rel;ated to each other, rather than maintaining a lifestyle  which only allows to make and unmake, produce and consume - a style of life which is merely a way station on the road to the depletiona and pollution of the environment. The future depends more on our choice of institutions which support a life of action rather than in developing new ideologies and technologies." (Deschooling Society 1971)

 His opening statement was extraordinarily clear and its intent unmistakable:

"Many students, especially those who are poor, know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is therefore "schooled" to confuse teaching from learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imaginationnis "schooled" to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for natiuonal security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocatinjg more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question." (Deschooling Society)

Yet his critical theories extended beyond a mere analysis of the present education system. He saw attempts to reform State education as pointless:

"Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue's responsibility until it engulfs his pupils' lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. We hope to contribute concepts needed by those who conduct such counterfoil research on education--and also to those who seek alternatives to other established service industries."

Like Freire, he also proposed informal learning networks as a means of liberation and emancipation. As his understanding developed, he began to realise that the institutions themselves were the problem, and his analysis then extended to other institutionalised systems - particularly Medicine (Medical Nemesis) and Institutions in general (Disabling Professions). He realised that the Institutionalisation of learning led inexorably to the institutionalisation of everyday life - to what Fromm would call Alienation - the excision of conviviality from everyday life. For Illich, the institutionalisation of education creates the conditions for the institutionalisation of society, and conversely that the de-institutionalisation of everyday life requires the deinstitutionalisation of education. 

Deschooling Society is much more than just a critique. It proposes alternatives, and its remarkable prescience even anticipates the development of the technologies that will render them possible:

"The operation of a peer-matching network would be simple. The user would identify himself by name and address and describe the activity for which he sought a peer. A computer would send him back the names and addresses of all those who had inserted the same description. It is amazing that such a simple utility has never been used on a broad scale for publicly valued activity."

That he did not really live long enough to witness the extraordinary explosion of networking capabilities unblocked by the Internet that now exist is ironic, though no doubt he was astute enough to realise this potential. 

By the mid 1970s, he (and the Centre) had achieved widespread popularity, largely through the publication of Deschooling Society (1971) and his other books. He was particularly popular in France where André Gorz had published his Tools for Conviviality in Les Tempd Modernes, along with several other of his writings. He travelled widely as his popularity grew, and also befriended Erich Fromm , who wrote the "Introduction" to Celebration of Awareness (1973). (Fromm also lived in Cuernavaca for a while). He reamained popular in France throughout the 1970s. However, his influence declined after the 1981 election of François Mitterrand as he was considered too pessimistic at a time when the French Left took control of the government.

But he was nothing if not reflexive and internally consistent. In 1976, concerned by the success (and subsequent creeping institutionalisation) of the CIDOC he shut the Centre down with consent of its other members. In 1977 he published Disabling Professions with  several co-authors - extending the theories of Medical nemesis to the system of professionalism as a whole

In the 1980s and beyond, Ivan Illich continued to travel extensively, mainly splitting his time between the United States, Mexico, and Germany. He held an appointment as a Visiting Professor of Philosophy, Science, Technology and Society at Penn State. He also taught at the University of Bremen. But his popularity waned. The Right accused him (incorrectly) of covert Marxist leanings, while the Left found his criticisms of the Welfare State and State Education to be elitist. After his death, the Guardian Weekly made the point well:

"Best known for his polemical writings against western institutions from the 1970s, which were easily caricatured by the right and were, equally, disdained by the left for their attacks on the welfare state, in the last 20 years of his life he became an officially forgotten, troublesome figure (like Noam Chomsky today in mainstream America).

But he was steadfast in his critical reasoning, and was not about to surrender to those whom he saw as the problem. As  his friend Peter Berger noted:

"It is easy to see why Illich’s ideas resonated well in the cultural climate of the time. But he disappointed, one by one, most of the groups who first believed him to be one of them. Catholics were irritated when he criticized missionaries in Latin America as cultural imperialists. The counterculture discovered that he found repugnant many if not most of their proclivities, from drugs to promiscuous sex. He upset the left when, after a visit to Cuba, he described the Castro regime as an odious tyranny. And feminists were deeply offended when he argued, some years after “Shadow-Work,” that women had been better off in traditional societies in which they devoted themselves to the life of the family. Illich was a genie who could not be kept in any bottle. Like Goethe’s Mephistopheles, he was a “spirit who ever negates.”(Remembering Ivan Illich

During his later years, he suffered from a cancerous growth on his face that, in accordance with his critique of professionalized medicine, was treated with traditional methods. He regularly smoked opium to deal with the pain caused by this tumor. At an early stage, he consulted a doctor about having the tumor removed, but was told that there was too great a chance of losing his ability to speak, and so he lived with the tumor as best he could. He called it "my mortality". (Wikipedia). He died suddenly in Bremen in December 2002. 

Illich has left an indelible stamp upon our understanding of Institutionalisation, Alienation and the need for community praxis. As Peter Berger saw it:

"There are, I think, two threads that run through Illich’s opus from the beginning. There is a radical critique of all aspects of modernity, grounded in a profoundly conservative view of the human condition. And there is a deep respect for what Illich called the “vernacular”-the wisdom of ordinary people and their ways of coping with life".

These dual concerns led him to steadfastly unpack and reveal the contradictions in some of the most popular beliefs, ideologies and mythologies of our times.  After his initial surge of post-1968 popularity waned, and the conservative ideoalogues of both Left and Right turned their backs on him, he continued to write prolifically and couurageously - trying to bring home the message that we are in deep planetary trouble and that only we - not our institutions - can save us. As his friend Fromm wrote in the "Introduction" to Celebration of Awareness:

"(He) a man of rare courage, great aliveness, extraordinary erudition and brilliance, and fertile imaginativeness, whose whole thinking is based on his concern for man's unfolding - physically, spiritually and intellectually. The importance of his thoughts... lies in the fact that they have a liberating effect on the mind by showing new possibilities; they make the reader more alive because they open the door that leads out of the prison of routinized, sterile, preconceived notions."

 As the Guardian Weekly noted in his Obituary, 

"This position (of faded popularity after 1980) obscures the true importance of his contribution. His critique of modernity was founded on a deep understanding of the birth of institutions in the 13th century, a critical period in church history which enlightened all of his work, whether about gender, reading or materiality. He was far more significant as an archaeologist of ideas, someone who helped us to see the present in a truer and richer perspective, than as an ideologue." (Guardian Weekly Obituary)

I only met him once, when he came to deliver a seminar to the Faculty at the School of Architecture at Berkeley in (I think) 1972. My colleagues and I numbered about fifteen, and were seated around a large conference table while Illich stood at the blackboard, talking and drawing diagrams to illustrate his words. We all listened respectfully, but after about fifteen minutes I began to realise that I didn't understand the highly abstract monologue that he was delivering. So I raised my hand and said:

"Dr Illich", I said, "I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I have the feeling that you are not really here! Where are you?"

An eternity of silence and  disapproval filled the room as my colleagues glared at me. Ivan Illich looked at me quizzically, broke into a smile and responded:

"You're quite right! I'm not here at all! I'm preparing a lecture to present at the University of San Francisco tomorrow." He put down the chalk, sat at the table and asked, "What shall we discuss?".

The seminar turned out the be an extraordinary exchange of ideas.

For a truly excellent synopsis of Illich's life and work together with access to the eTexts of Deschooling Society, Energy and Equity, Tools for Conviviality and other writings click here.

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:27

Max Horkheimer


Max Horkheimer (1895-1973)


A Jewish intellectual, born in Stuttgart to a wealthy family, Horkheimer's early years were not particularly academic. He left school at 16 to work in his father's factory. It was not until after the First world War that he entered University, to study philosophy and psychology and earned his doctorate with a study of German philosopher Immanuel Kant 's Critique of Judgement. Following this he moved to Frankfurt in 1930 to become Director of the Institute for Social Research, where he met his long-time friend and associate Theodor Adorno . In that same year he also took up the Chair in social philosopy at the University. Together with Adorno and Herbert Marcuse, Horkheimer was the foremost representative of the 'Critical Theory' associated with the Institute of Social Research (or 'Frankfurt School'). He organised the Institute's move into exile from Nazi Germany in 1933, when it was closed by the Nazis, and he supervised the return of the Institute to Frankfurt in 1949.

The Institute for Social Research did not really achieve prominence until 1930, when Horkheimer (its second director) laid the groundwork for what was to become a comprehensive critical analysis of society, culture, economic theory and social development. In his inaugural address, Horkheimer set out three policy themes:

  1. To restate all of the great philosophical questions
  2. To reject orthodox marxism and to re-study Marx in the light of marxism's apparent failure
  3. To develop a theory which would explain the connections between the factors affecting social development, so as to facilitate the project of universal social emancipation.

These themes were to be pursued through a systematic empirical and theoretical study. Although there was no "plan" or unitary "critical theory" which co-ordinated all the work of the Institute's staff, there was a great deal of overlap as its members followed their own (wide) disciplinary methodologies in pursuit of the themes. Indeed, if there were any common principles upon which they worked, chief among these was the imperative of what Douglas Kellner has termed "intradisciplinary study".  The other abiding principle of the Frankfurt School was a passionate commitment to human emancipation, animated by an empathy with the suffering of the powerless. From 1930 until 1969 (when Adorno died) the Institute produced an impressive body of work, covering a wide range of social investigations. Large parts of this work became very popular in the 1960's and formed the theoretical basis for the social revolution of that time. The scope of the work carried out at the Institute was very broad and in some in¬stances anticipated much of the later work of the Postmodernists like Lyotard and  Derrida. Hiis influence on the field of critical theorising remains paramount. In the opening chapter to the Institute's first publication Horkheimer made it very clear that:

"The term "human nature" here does not refer to an original or an external or a uniform essence. Every philosophical doctrine which sees the movement of society or the life of the individual as emerging out of a fundamental, ahistorical unity is open to justified criticism. Such theories with their undialectical method have special difficulty in coming to grips with the fact that new individual and social qualities arise in the historical process. Their reaction to this fact either takes the form of mechanical evolution: all human characteristics which arise at a later point were originally present in germ; or it takes the form of some variety of philosophical anthropology: these characteristics emerge from a metaphysical 'ground' of being. These mutually opposed theories fail to do justice to the methodolog¬ical principle that vital processes are marked by structural change no less than by continual development."

In other words, he recognised that theories of what it means to be a human being cannot be separated from the ideological position of those who promulgate these theories, that theories of “human nature” are always in the end ideological. This recognition proved to be extremely influential in the social theories which developed in the 1960s. During that time numerous social theorists and psychiatrists all questioned accepted definitions (and legitimations) of what constituted social and cultural normativity itself - what fundamentally constitutes the social categories of “sanity” and “madness”.  They theorised that these categories were themselves shaped by the cultural struggle of competing groups as well as from the social conditions deriving from the social organisation of Capitalist production.

Horkheimer's essay on 'Traditional and Critical Theory' (1937) enshrined the ambitions of the Institute. In this essay, Horkheimer argued that "traditional theory," understood as heretofore existing social science theorising, has focussed exclusively on  the accumulation of facts in specialised and isolated fields of study. This had tended to serve rather than challenge the existing social order. In contrast, he proposed a "critical theory" which would break traditional theory's separation of theory from practice, and values from research. Like Marx, he believed that theory and knowledge should be used to achieve greater social equity and justice fopr the masses. Critical Theory described the necessity of integrating philosophy and social science, and of developing a relationship of reciprocity between critical theory and political practice. In this sense, Horkheimer is seen by many as "the father" of Critical Theory. 

His vision brought together a remarkably diverse group of thinkers, and created a very original new school of thought. The Institute founded its initia; works on the analysis of the writings and theories of Hegel, Marx, Freud, Max Weber, and  Georg Lukács. The research methodologies they used included philosophy, social psychology, political economics, and literary and cultural criticism to uncover previously uncharted dimensions of the social world. Horkheimer and his colleagues did not simply advocate a revolutionary labour movement, or even political activism per se. Although the goal of their critical inquiries was the transformation of society, this was approached by way of the transformation of consciousness. Probably Horkheimer's greatest achievement was in confronting the dogma of orthodox Marxism and revealing both its inherent contradictions and its failures. He recognised that Marxism was not unique in these contradictions and that the application of the dialectic to Marxism itself suggested the need fo an ongoing process of revision and transformation if it was to remain relevant to the changes taking place in the 20th Century. It was this philosophy embodied in his work with Adorno The Dialectic of Enlightenment that so animated the New Left movement and the student uprising of the 1960s. 

Unlike Adorno, he was not a prolific writer, although his essay Authority and the Family analysed the role of the family in capitalist production (as had Marx) andlaid the groundwork for much that was to come later on the relationship between the cultural forms that relate to and are influenced by the economic base of society. He shared with Adorno the distinction of co-authoring one of the most significant books to come out of the Institute - The Dialectic of Enlightenment. This book, together with  Horkheimer's own The Eclipse of Reason (1947) became the foundation stones of the Critical Theory that was to have such a profound influence throughout the 1960 and the later Postmodern movement. 

In The Dialectic of Enlightenment and subsequent work (e.g., Eclipse of Reason [1947] and Critique of Instrumental Reason [1967]), Horkheimer demonstrated how "instrumental reason"- the principle and methods by which means, such as factories or consumer goods, are calculatingly designed to efficiently meet certain ends, usually greater profit or control (what Giroux will later call Instrumental Rationality) has come to dominate everyday life through the mass consumption of commodities. Horkheimer and Adorno interrogated the relationship of man and nature (as also did Marcuse) - suggesting that such relations were based upon a model of domination which would ultimately lead to environmental degradation and collapse. In this they prefigured the Green movement by 30 years. In the same work they also devoted considerable attention to the reproduction of culture through commodification, coining the now famous term "culture industry" to explain the role of Marx's commodity fetishism to the reproduction of culture.

The significance of this work hads been extensive although its limitations (including the author's own inability to move beyond their own critique has been previously explained in the section on Adorno above. Nevertheless, Horkheimer's reputation as the Father of Critical Theory stands unchallenged.

He returned to America from 1954 and 1959 to lecture at the University of Chicago. He retired in 1955. He died in Nuremberg in 1973.

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:26

bell hooks

bell hooks2005interculturalctr

bell hooks (1952-) 


Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:25

Jürgen Habermas


habermas-pJürgen Habermas  (1929- )


Jurgen Habermas was a member of the so-called second generation of Critical Theorists. He was a member of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt when it returned there from New York after the Second World War. He was born in Dusseldorf in 1929. He came from a wealthy family. His father was the Director of the Cologne Chamber of Industry. When the War ended in 1945, Habermas was 16 years old and his conceptions of social and moral philosophy were dramatically shaped by the Nuremburg War crimes Trials. He realised early that German philosophy had failed to stem the gross excesses of the Nazi regime and that the instrumental rationality of the Third Reich besides being morally abhorrent, also signalled the failure of rationalism itself within the German tradition. He studied at the universities of Göttingen (1949-50), Zürich (1950-51), and Bonn (1951-54) and earned a doctorate in philosophy from Bonn in 1954 with a dissertation entitled, The absolute and history: on ambivalence in Schelling's thought. During this period, in 1953, he had become interested in Heidegger's existentialism, and queried an earlier publication of Heidegger 's that supported National Socialism. He never received a reply, and this convinced him that German philosophy had, at its very moment of truth, failed to articulate the dangers and evils of fascism. It was at this point, that he turned his attentions instead, to that branch of Western philosophy emanating from the Anglo-American cultuure.


Following this, in 1956, he studied philosophy and sociology under Horkheimer and Adorno at the Frankfurt Institute for Social Studies, now repatriated from New York His dissertation caused a rift between his two supervisors, and Habermas (who also felt that the Institute's disdain for modern and popular culture had rendered it ineffective) left to complete his habilitation in Political Science at the University of Marburg. It was his habilitation that first brought him to public awareness. habilitation,  Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (English ed., 1989), a detailed social history of the development of the bourgeois public sphere from its origins in the 18th century salons up to its transformation through the influence of capital-driven mass media. In 1964, at the suggestion of Adorno, he returned to Frankfurt to accept Horkheimer' s chair in philosophy and sociology.

His attention turned increasingly to the media in its role a cultural and social instrument and to different forms of rationality embodied therein. His primary focus was becoming clear - the nature and formation of the public sphere and its capacity for social transformation through a structural analysis of its effects. Two of his earliest books Toward a Rational Society (1970) and Theory and Practice (1973) begin to reveal this focus. In the former, he attempts to link his emerging conceptions of rationality with the student protest movements of the 1960s and their confrontation with the Establishment knowledge systems of advanced capitalism. We can witness his conceptions begin to crystalise in Knowledge and Human Interests (1971) where his understanding of the different forms of rationality becomes clear. These theories were later to influence Giroux and others in the field of Critical Education Theory as a means of unpacking the repressive potential of institutionalised and repressive knowledge systems. In this work he articulates for the first time the nature of scientific rationality as ideological. In Knowledge and Human Interests we can see the beginnings of a methodologically pluralistic approach to critical social theory. This would be articulated further in his later writings. In particular, it was becoming clear to Habermas that the creation of a space for unrestrained public dialogue held out the greatest hope for future peace and equity. The rest of his life's work is devoted to explicating this goal. This explanation finds its clearest voice in his Communication and the Evolution of Society (1976) and his later Theory of Communicative Action (1981)

Here he describes the nature of the necessary public sphere where democratic communitive action might thrive. He noted that as routinised political parties and interest groups substitute for participatory democracy, society is increasingly administered at a level remote from input of citizens. As a result, boundaries between public and private, the individual and society, the system and the lifeworld are deteriorating. Democratic public life only thrives where institutions enable citizens to debate matters of public importance.

What lies behind all of this, is a serious questioning of the issue of truth. Habermas holds that the truth of a proposition does not necessarily depend upon its objective validity in scientific terms, but upon the agreed or consensual experience of the truth speakers. This is not to suggest that truth has no basis in fact, but that facts themselves are part of the discursive field of the public sphere and are dependent upon issues of cultural and personal experience. What is crucial for Habermas is not the factualness of a given statement in objective terms, but the ability of the truth sayers to recognise the collective validities of the differing realities of particvipants in the disrursive space.

"This discursive theory of democracy requires a political community which can collectively define its political will and implement it as policy at the level of the legislative system. This political system requires an activist public sphere, where matters of common interest and political issues can be discussed, and the force of public opinion can influence the decision-making process." (Wikipedia )

For an extensive analysis of Habermas' theories click here.

For a terrific, fully comprehensive and clear overview of Habermas' entire corpus of work click here 

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:23

Antonio Gramsci


Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937)


Antonio Gramsci was born in Sardinia as the fourth of seven sons to a clerk in the local Registrar's office. His family were Arbëreshë (descendants from 15th Century Albanian immigrants who live in their own ethnic communities throughout Southern Italy. They have largely retained their own language and culture). When Antonio was seven his father was imprisoned for six years for embezzlement and the family became destitute. The young Gramsci was forced to leave school and do work at small jobs to help sustain the family. With his fathe's release, Gramsci attanded secondary school in Caligari and lived there with his older brother who was a socialist. He was a brilliant scholar, and at the age of 20 won a scholarship that allowed him to study at the University of Turin. He studied literature and linguistics. Turin at that time was in the process of rapid industrial development and the huge Fiat and Lancia factories were recruiting low paid workers from the provinces. Gramsci became involved in the formation of the Unions and attended many socialist meetings while at the same time attending to the small groups of Arbëreshë who lived there. In this was, his interest in the dual issues of cultural identity and hegemony, Marxism and social justice began to take shape. In 1913 he joined the Italian Socialist Party.

Although he acquired an extensive knowledge of philosophy and history, Gramsci was forced to abandon his studies in 1915 because of poor health and financial problems. He was increasingly drawn towards Marxist thinkers and had, while at University, met and befriended the leading Italian Marxist philosophers of the day. He took to journalism, and from 1914 to 1917 wrote mainly for the Socialist Newspaper Avanti on a wide variety of topics. He began to take a more prominent role in the Socialist Party. Gramsci became one of Turin's leading socialists when he was both elected to the party's Provisional Committee and made editor of Il Grido del Popolo.(a leading Socialist newspaper). Turin at tyhat time was a hotbed of Revolutionary thought. Italy then was, like today, socially and economically divided between the North and the South. The former waqs largely industrialised, the latter mostly made up of poor peasant communities who remained largely illiterate. The city was seen as thecentre of Marxist thought. In 1919, there was a concerted effort to take over the factories and to establish Workers Councils. This led to the arrest bofall of the leaders of the Socialist Party.

In April 1919 with Togliatti, Angelo Tasca and Umberto Terracini, Gramsci set up the weekly newspaper L'Ordine Nuovo. In October of the same year, despite being divided into various hostile factions, the Socialist Party moved by a large majority to join the Third International. The L'Ordine Nuovo group was seen by Lenin as closest in orientation to the Bolsheviks, and it received his backing against the anti-parliamentary programme of the extreme left. (Wikipedia) Following the strikes of 1919 and 1920, Gramsci supported the Workers Councils as a means of establishing social change, but there were bitter arguments among Socialists between the Centrists (who wanted centralised control of the movement) and people like Gramsci who supported the workers' groups. With the failure of the workers' councils to develop into a national movement he moved towards a more Centrist philosophy and in 1921 became one of the fouder members of the Italian Communist Party in which he remained a prominent leader throughout the rest of his life.

In 1922 he traqvelled to Russia where he met and married Julia Schucht, a young violinist with whom he had two sons. While he was there, Mussolini came to power in Italy and embarked upon a Fascist purge of Communists and Socialists. Gramsci returned from Moscow with instructions to form a working relationship between the CPI and the Soviets, but this caused major disagreement in the Italian wing, which feared losing its identity and independence under a centralised system directed from Moscow.

In late 1923, the head of the CPI, Amadeo Bordiga was arrested by Mussolini, and by 1924, Gramsci has assumed to the head of the Italian Communist Party and was elected as representative of the Regional Council (Veneto) where he tried to reconcile factional differences. He launched of the official newspaper of the party, called L'Unità (Unity), living in Rome while his family stayed in Moscow. At its Lyons Congress in January 1926, Gramsci's theses calling for a united front to restore democracy to Italy were adopted by the party. (Wikipedia)

Despite the fact that he possessed diplomatic immunity, Gramsci was arrested in another Mussolini purge. At his trial, Gramsci's prosecutor famously stated, "For twenty years we must stop this brain from functioning". He received an immediate sentence of 5 years in confinement (on the remote island of Ustica); the following year he received a sentence of 20 years of prison (in Turi, near Bari). He remained in prison in continuing ill health until 1934, when he was granted his conditional freedom. He died soon afterwards in Rome at the age of 46.


Imprisonment failed to stem Gramsci's influence. While incarcerated he wrote morre than 30 notebooks and 3000 pages outlining theoretical issues that hve been hugely influential since they were fiirst translated into English in the 1970s. Published as The Prison Notebooks, they contain many insightful analyses of Italian history, Marxism, Critical Theory, Education and transformative practice. In particular, his critical analysis of the notion of Hegemony has been enormously influential and has been instrumental in major developments in Cultural Studies and Education. In The Prison Notebooks, he advocates worker education and critiques the orthodox Marxist ideology of economic determinism, proposing instead the impiortance of culture in the maintenance of dominant culture hegemony. In this alone, he has been profoundly influential in Western Marxist theorising. He recognised that secular Marxism lacked the capacity to fulfill the spiritual needs of the community and advocated changes to Marxist ideology that would close this gap.

In Education, he critiqued the normative notion of the intellectual (as someone predominantly involved in mental activity, and argued instead (in advance of Freire) that such interpretations are elitist and help to cement the power structres of the ruling class. Instead, he argued that intelectual activity was an inherent human activity, andf that the false distinction made between intellectual activity and labour actually pointed to an important relationship between theory and practice. He proposed the concept of the Organic Intellectual as a necessary component of social transformation. The organic Intellectual is groubnded in the culture of the oppressed and reatains its values and imperatives while being able to move and operate within the dominant culture.

In addition , Gramsci also made clear the difference between The State and Civil Society, demonstrating how the blurring between the two allowed the dominant culture to continue to promulgate its hegemony. The former (police, army judiciary etc) is used as an element of force, while the latter (media, the Church(es), Education etc.) is used as an element of persuasion. In reality, the two often overlap.

Gramsci's advocacy of Historicism was also very important. He maintained (against the mainstream Marxist thinking) that truth was shaped by historical experience. Consequently,

"The concepts by which we organise our knowledge of the world do not derive primarily from our relation to things, but rather from the social relations between the users of those concepts. Resultantly, there is no such thing as an unchanging "human nature", but only an idea of such which varies historically. Furthermore, philosophy and science do not "reflect" a reality independent of man, but rather are only "true" in that they express the real developmental trend of a given historical situation. (Wikipedia)

Despite his short life and imprisonment, gramsci has had a profound impact upon cuiltural theorising in the late 20th Century and early 21st Century. His influence has been felt in a wide range of areas and his insights have given new impetus to the Critical Theories of his better-known contemporaries.

To see an excellent site on Gramsci, Schooling and Education click here.

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