Fin de Siecle Social Theory: Relativism, Reduction and the Problem of Reason (Hardback)Jeffrey Alexander (author)
Hardback Published: 27/06/1995
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In four interwoven studies, the book identifies the central dilemma that provokes contemporary social theory, and proposes a new way to resolve it. The dream of reason that marked the previous "fin de siecle" foundered in the face of the cataclysms of the 20th century, when war, revolution and totalitarianism came to be seen as themselves products of reason. In response, there emerged the profound scepticism about rationality that has so starkly defined the present fin de siecle. From Wittgenstein through Rorty and postmodernism, relativism rejects the very possibility of universal standards, while with both positivism and new-marxists like Bourdieu, reductionism claims that ideas simply reflect their social base. This book presents an argument which develops the alternative of a "neo-modernist" position which defends reason from within a culturally-centred perspective, while remaining committed to the goal of explaining, not merely interpreting, contemporary social life. On the basis of a sweeping reinterpretation of post-war society and its intellectuals, the author suggests that both antimodernism radicalism and postmodernist resignation are now in decline; a more democratic, less ethnocentric and more historically-contingent universalizing social theory may thus emerge. Developing in his first two studies a historical approach to the problem of "absent reason", Alexander moves, via a critique of Richard Rorty, to construct his case for "present reason". Finally, focusing on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, he provides a sustained critical reflection on this influential thinker. The book is a tonic intervention in contemporary debates, showing how social and cultural theory can properly take the measure of the extraordinary times in which we live.
Publisher: Verso Books
Weight: 427 g
Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm
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