Saturday, May 05, 2007

Multidimensional Critical Theory

I have been reading Best and Kellner’s Postmodern Theory lately, it gives very clear exposition and critique of a number of important postmodern thinkers in relation to social theory. No doubt an important reason for their clarity is to be found in the development of their own position in the areas dealt with. In their last chapter they begin to outline this view which is described as multidimensional and multiperspectival.

Here’s what they say about its multidimensional character:

A multidimensional critical theory will provide an analysis of the relative autonomy of the various levels or domains of social reality and the ways in which they interact to form a specific mode of social organization. A multidimensional critical theory is dialecti­cal and non-reductive. It conceptualizes the connections between the economic, political, social, and cultural dimensions of society and refuses to reduce social phenomena to any one dimension. A dialectical theory describes the mediations, or interconnections, that relate social phenomena to each other and the dominant mode of social organization. (page 263)

Despite their admirable emphasis on a non-reductive social theory, their notion of a “social organisation” strongly suggests the presence of a whole-part scheme. Throughout the book, Best and Kellner have expressed their appreciation for the development of ‘micro-level’ analyses of society, yet time and again they bemoan the loss of a ‘macro-level’ analysis. One of their constant refrains is the “under theorization” of intersubjectivity/political economy/social hegemony and domination and other macro-level phenomena. This is why they need a notion of ‘social organisation’ to function as the ‘whole’ that substantiates macro-analysis, the “social dimensions” are the elements or parts that are the object of microanalysis, these then get connected dialectically in the macro-analyses to give a view of the ‘social organization’.

Reformational social theory rejects any view of society as a whole; there is no social community that encompass the whole of human life. Instead it insists on the plural structure of society with a differentiation of limited social tasks and responsibilities. The diverse social institutions that take up these tasks, as well as having a limited kind of competence, should be arranged non-hierarchically because they have their meaning within the temporal horizon of creation. An analysis of these diverse social tasks, with the relationships and institutions that respond to them should highlight their qualitative difference wherein is found a diversity of specific norms integral to the carrying out of the specific tasks.

While Best and Kellner recognise an irreducible diversity of social relations their whole-part scheme doesn’t allow them to discern the differentiation of social norms, so while they hold to a normative approach the norms they appeal tend to be quiet general: progressive-regressive, domination-liberation, justice etc.

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