It provides a story with which society as a whole can be explained and in which the subject can locate themself. For Gouldner, the phenomenon of the grand theory is historicized. In this cultural context, the grand theory fulfils two needs. First: It aims at a totalizing explanation of the world in order to better assess outcomes and consequences of actions. Utilitarianism is only concerned with outcomes; objects themselves are of little consequence but for the use to which they can be put.
The purpose of a grand theory is therefore to provide a comprehensive assessment of use potentials. This is its scientific task. In another sense, a culture where all value is reduced to usefulness tends to be destructive of traditional forms of morality and raises the question of what will replace them. The dominance of usefulness gives the impression of impersonal objects gaining power over humans.
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This results in a growing anxiety about the perceived inhumanity of industrial civilization. Here, grand theory seeks usefulness in-of-itself as it replaces the salient codes and enchanted stories of tradition with a new, secular and rational, source of meaning. This is its narrative or hermeneutic task.
Overall, what sets grand theory apart from other theorization is that it is itself a response to the perceived crisis of modern civilization as a whole, rather than specific and isolated events. It seeks to provide both a means to comprehensive practical activity and a source of meaning. But how historically specifiable is this hermeneutic demand for a grand narrative? Other accounts, such as those of John Carroll and Daniel Bell , describe a central, meaning constituting story as an almost anthropological or ontological need.
The universal presence of religion and mystery across all societies is often summoned to speak to this. They would agree that modernity has eroded this through its application of reason to all aspects of life. However, they would counter that reason is unsuitable to the task of re-constituting meaning. Rationality may offer practical benefits, but it is not amenable to the task of speaking to the deep existential questions of how to live life and how to approach death. Trying to resolve such questions once and for allas grand theory often does, when the central task of culture should be to finds ways of living with uncertainty, is a flawed program.
Reason promises certainty that it cannot deliver. Another argument, this time coming from Max Horkheimer and Herbert Marcuse , is that reason itself is not the problem. They argue that theory has become totally focussed on its scientific task; the categorization and organization of things within the objective world.
It has lost its ability to ask questions about the entire nature of that objective world itself. After all, a totalizing theory involved only in science is not a totality at all. Prevalent structures of social domination stand unquestioned while they exert total control over modern individuals. The spiritual deficiencies of late capitalist society are simply assuaged through endless consumerist distractions.
This condition is a crisis of critique: A critical theory should provide a narrative through which subjects locate themselves and follow a path to emancipation.
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These thinkers of the Frankfurt School are effectively arguing that theory is no longer grand enough and that this presents a crisis. Critical theory is consciously involved in the reconstitution of grand theories in order to see ourselves out of this crisis. But the same is true for Carroll and Bell. By diagnosing the cultural crisis of modernity and explaining its development and possible transcendence, they too provide a grand narrative upon which the disorientated modern individual can locate the source of their distress.
As Gouldner said, grand theories are always, themselves, answers to that central crisis of a modernity wrought by the loss of salience in our moral and cultural worlds. This is central to understanding the idea of a grand theory itself. However, we can only fully understand the idea of a grand theory once we understand the idea of crisis.
It is this to which I now turn. The imperative is for medical practitioners to act, otherwise survival cannot be guaranteed. Treatment takes place through an understanding of biological processes and medical or surgical intervention; hence the crisis is conceived scientifically. Crises must be experienced to be meaningful.
Normality is conceived both as a subjective existential and objective biological sense of equilibrium. This has been temporarily disturbed, and the moment hinges on the alternatives of recovery or death. Likewise, in the field of classical economics, the idea of a crisis also involves a disruption in rational equilibrium.
The worldwide scope of this crisis moved the focus from spatially contained local crises to the crisis as a universal moment in a unitary capitalist system. Anomalous disturbances and failures to fully understand these laws had broken the equilibrium, leading to economic catastrophes on a world level. In this way, the need to explain a global experience of crisis produces a grand theory of the scientific mode and engenders a prescriptive response.
The crisis itself is a window to a better understanding of the processes in question; hence the construction of the theory itself is seen as a progression; an achievement of reason over contingency and catastrophe. Sociology first emerged as a discipline that attempted to emulate economics by applying the scientific method to the study of social organisation. The scientific grand theory runs another course, however, in the work of Karl Marx. In Capital, Marx sets out to create a comprehensive scientific analysis of the forces and principles behind the functioning of capitalism. His economic analysis concludes that through its own objective tendencies, capitalism is not equilibrious at all, but in fact, inevitably prone to periodic crises of overproduction.
Unlike the economists and positivist sociologists, who saw crises as decisive challenges to be met within the prevailing system, Marx saw them as demonstrative of the very instability of the system itself. His prescription was not restorative, it was revolutionary. However, while at one level, his analysis of economic crisis works in the scientific mode, his theory of revolution is best understood as a narrative.
Crises are moments of imperative choice, and the choice that is made — or the failure to choose — is indicative of the nature and fate of the individual as a whole. In the case of Marxism, this narrative aspect of crisis comes through in his theory of revolution. Marx borrows his methodology from Hegelian dialectics, but instead of the drama taking place as struggles between conflicting ideas, Marx grounds his theory in historical forces — as class struggle. Unlike the theories of positivist sociology, the story of capitalism is a tragic one; its ultimate crisis revealing its deficiency as an economic order.
However, like the positivists, the overall narrative remains a comic one with a sense of inevitable progression White The destruction of capitalism signals revolutionary transcendence into a classless future where the forms of alienation that pervade class society can be finally overcome. A less optimistic narrative of crisis can be found in Frederick Nietzsche. He reads western history as a dramatic struggle between two distinct forces, personified in the identities of two Greek gods: Apollo and Dionysus.
The Apollonian represents the structured, symbolic and the formal. It signifies the containment of impulse and ambiguity for the purposes of clarity and representation. The Dionysian stands as its opposite: An intoxicating forgetting of the self and the symbolic, and a primordial unity of humanity with nature. Its most exemplary expressions come through music.
The historical narrative Nietzsche offers describes the estrangement of these two forces, which were once fused in the form of classical Greek tragedy. They explain that financialization signifies a further mechanization of the world in which democracy and Bildung are dominated by finance. The post-Keynesian reforms of the s were legitimized through technological optimism surrounding the prospects of the new derivative-based technologies, rather than through democratic debate or legislation. Among other things, radical scholars witness this crisis of democracy in the impoverishment of everyday language and the loss of imagination of political alternatives.
That is, the language of finance has become hegemonic; the corresponding mechanical ways of thinking, theorizing, and judging are enacted through a growing dependence of major sociotechnical systems on financialization cf. Haiven a ; Chiapello In the third discourse, liberal scholars apply this radical argument to the men in power within the post-Keynesian arrangements of things. Not only liberal and radical scholars but also critical theorists have responded to the financialization of the world.
They, instead, look to new technologies for their liberating potentials and possible new reconciliations between technology and democracy. Yet they emphasize that new technologies are destined to facilitate oppression when technological development is governed through dependence on financialization. In contrast to Horkheimer, Adorno, and Marcuse and like Marx, Feenberg does not believe that, in the current context of financialization, intellectual and aesthetic genius, cultural elitism, or Bildung can trigger transformations and cultural revitalization. In a more Marxian way, Feenberg argues that transformations develop from unsustainable contradictions within the economic sphere.
He explains that the conflicts, crises, and problems caused by the financialized technological environment give rise to new technological controversies, lawsuits, moral dilemmas, and contestations. And these alternative structures may come to embody democratic values rather than financial interests.
Since the financial crises of the s and the enactment of the post-Keynesian power structure, more than a hundred financial crises have emerged Castree ; Berend The biggest of these is the global financial crisis. This is because scholars have discussed the global financial crisis and the rise of new financial technologies in terms of the insights delivered by the third discourse.
The post-Keynesian complex is criticized for being devoid of democratic and cultural aspirations, and no post-neoliberal arrangement has come into place to overcome financial crises Sim ; de Benoist ; Coyle : ; Tassone : The global financial crisis, however, was the biggest crisis since the Great Depression. This is the reason why scholars like Harrington and Roberts : 4 argue that the Weimar experience can be seen as the model for the present condition of post-democracy:. The collapse of Western financial markets in and the ensuing recession has indeed been only another reminder of commonalities with the past as the myopia of governments addicted to neoliberal economic policies resembles ever more closely the perilous state of affairs of degraded social solidarity in Europe after In other words, despite the fact that mechanization has become far more complex than a few decades ago, the causes of the different financial crises can be partly be traced back to the crisis of democracy and the decline of the elitist Bildungsideal.
Today, scholars widely observe that the post-Keynesian arrangement of things and its financialization of the world has lost its legitimacy Jessop : 43; Calhoun and Derluguian : 8; Charnock et al. Scholars assess the meaning of such protests in different ways. Tocquevillian and Weberian scholars witness such protests with a certain scepticism, that is, they are conceived of as revolts of the furious crowds Ossewaarde The possibility of shaping democratic culture and realizing Bildung, it is argued, depends on educated political, corporate, and cultural elites informed by philosophy, not on crowds.
Marxian scholars, by contrast, identify the protests as a revolutionary movement of the working classes against financial capitalism and its rulers from Wall Street Kalb ; Haiven and Khasnabish : Liberal scholars argue that the protests are a struggle for rights and against austerity measures.
They emphasize that the dismantling of the liberal welfare state makes that particularly younger generations are saddled with the unresolved issues of excessive debt, diminished prospects, and downward social mobility Castree : ; Robinson Radical scholars, by contrast, point at the ongoing decline of, and the need to rebuild, the radical mind-set of great transformers. In the second discourse, liberal scholars had been technological optimists who legitimized the mechanization schemes of the Keynesian welfare state.
State-sponsored technology secured new employment and would contribute to generating higher levels of social justice. In the third discourse, liberal scholars appear sceptical about new financial technologies, as these may not be helpful for fulfilling the Keynesian aspirations but, instead, tend to contribute to further financialization. Scholars observe that the response of the global financial crisis has been one in which the delegitimized and oppressive arrangement of things has been further enforced Streeck ; Walby : ; Tassone : Technological pessimists emphasize that given the current cultural crisis without much prospect of a new humanist renaissance and the established status quo, the use of financial technologies in the financialized world is potentially catastrophic.
And such technological pessimists argue that the current cultural crisis, characterized by a deep anti-intellectualism, is brought about by a transformation of the mechanization process. With the rise of the new financial technologies, the practice of making and using machine codes is divorced from the rules of mechanical science. Louise Amoore and Mackenzie and Vurdubakis explain that in algorithmic trading, like high frequency trading HFT , Newtonian thought processes are replaced by data integration, data mining, and data analytics—all designed to extract patterns of relations from gathered data.
Strategic priority of the current algorithmic technologies used to more and more financialize the world is speed, not knowledge or philosophy, let alone democratic culture or Bildung Arnoldi Moreover, Mackenzie and Vurdubakis , Amoore , and Marc Lenglet stress, in a technological pessimist fashion, that algorithmic codes are by definition ambiguous. In other words, the financialization that is further promoted by new algorithmic technologies is presented as unambiguous engineering but is in fact a political act that is performed within the boundaries of the post-Keynesian constellation.
Hence, it is possible to speak of the neoliberal politics of the algorithmic technologies. Liberal scholars in particular are technological optimists and tend to argue that the algorithmic financial technologies may provide the tools for negating the post-Keynesian power complex. Liberal scholars like MacKenzie and Bjerg argue that although it may be true that, given the crisis of the mind, no new alternative world can be imagined beyond the financialized world, new financial technologies—including cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology and high frequency trading—have emerged from the global financial crisis that may well disrupt the post-Keynesian order.
Algorithmic financial technologies, the argument goes, radicalize the mechanization of the financial world from below , often via start-up companies Mackenzie and Vurdubakis ; Arnoldi The hundreds of cryptocurrencies that exist today make it possible to bypass the established power complex: these are types of money that are produced and validated in global networks without banks or government MacKenzie ; Bjerg Blockchain technology, originally developed to register bitcoin transactions, technological optimists believe, is another technology that is a potentially disruptive force from below.
Blockchain is an electronic ledger that uses software algorithms to record transactions with machine-based reliability and anonymity and believed to be immune to financial crime or political control Bjerg In sum, technological optimists welcome the rise of the algorithmic technologies for two reasons: first, because such technologies make it possible to disrupt the post-Keynesian order and, second, because computer algorithms are more reliable than governments and banks MacKenzie They seek to renew democratic commitments, in the context of the global financial crisis and the worldwide protests it has ignited.
In other words, Malleson emphasizes that political behaviour is a core feature of shaping technology. He believes that the responsibility for sorting out desirable technologies from undesirable ones may no longer be left to innovators, governments, businesses, and markets Dotson Carlo Vercellone believes that new technologies could make it possible to re-establish Keynesian mechanisms that subject monetary policy to a power complex that is expressive of a democratic community—for instance, through a communalization of the banking system, facilitated by new financial technologies that require no banks and no governments.
The imagined alternatives, it is argued, will make it more difficult for the neoliberal status quo to pretend that algorithmic mechanization is a blind, a political, and a cultural process. In sum, such scholars are technological optimists in the sense that they emphasize that the new financial technologies may be employed to negate financialization and pave the way for political and cultural renewal.
In the context of these three discourses, scholars have generated competing arguments of technology and modernity, and they have theorized the technological change process and its impacts on democracy and high intellectual or academic and aesthetic culture. The first discourse emerged in the context of Industrial Revolution and the aftermath of the French Revolution—it arose in the post-aristocratic society that was in the making. The discourse of this period is crucial for later centuries, till now, because the conflicting foundations of theorizing modernity were then laid.
The Comtean legacy is very much ingrained in contemporary modern consciousness and the making of a financialized and algorithmic world defined by ongoing mechanization. But the Tocquevillian and Weberian legacies, characterized by a profound technological pessimism and distaste for mechanization, have not gone lost.
Liberal scholars like Keynes, Titmuss, and Marshall identified technological development as a way of creating new employment, for instance, via infrastructural projects, in an organized world of regulated capitalism. Radical scholars, by contrast, criticized the Keynesian arrangement of things as an administrative apparatus complex established to mechanize the world—and thereby make worlds administrable at the expense of creative powers of the mind. In this second discourse, Horkheimer and Adorno argued that the scholarly challenge was to demythologize the liberal world of industrial capitalism and its deceptive, mechanizing and standardizing culture industries that were governed by the vested interests of ruling powers at the expense of the mind.
The Keynesian constellation had given way to the post-Keynesian welfare state. In this third discourse, liberal and radical scholars alike point at cultural regress, de-democratization, and the spreading of political and cultural nihilism under the rule of finance. Industrial mechanization now comes to assume the form of post-industrial financialization.
In this third discourse, it is typically stressed, in a highly critical way, that new technologies, particularly, new derivative-based financial technologies, are mainly produced within a neoliberal order which distributes such technologies to push for further financialization. Contemporary thinkers have noted the loss of legitimacy of the post-Keynesian constellation, which has failed to prevent and solve the many financial crises of the financialized world Castree The lack of creativity to imagine and create alternative, legitimate, and democratic arrangements of things has also been noted Haiven b.
The anti-intellectualism that determines the direction of financialization is mainly reinforced by further mechanization that is governed by the financial interests of the ruling political and corporate elites of the financialized world. The rise of the algorithmic technologies must be understood in the context of this reinforcement.
These are technologies that bracket out the politically constructed nature of markets within the post-Keynesian arrangement of things Dotson : In other words, inasmuch as the technological projects of the welfare state had depended on a Keynesian power complex, the rise of the new financial technologies is less dependent on their algorithmic nature than upon a post-Keynesian constellation cf.
Dawson and Buchanan It is within this pathological condition that the new algorithmic technologies have emerged. Technological pessimists stress that such new financial technologies are not informed by democratic commitments and the Bildungsideal. Technological optimists argue that algorithmic technologies may disrupt the post-Keynesian order and shape something new from below—a new world shaped from outside the academy. The governmental response to the global financial crisis has not been one in which the post-Keynesian order has been negated; quite the contrary, as Abolafia and Crouch explain, it has been reinforced.
Making democracy work or realizing the Bildungsideal in the contemporary, technological environment of financial capitalism inevitably implies a de-financialization of the world. Scholars like Tocqueville and Weber and the radicals of the second discourse teach that the possibility of de-financialization depends less on algorithmic technologies which continue or radicalize the mechanization process than on a reconfiguration of post-industrial financial and technological powers on a global scale.
This reconfiguration de facto means the negation and transcendence of the dependence on financialization. It means cultural renewal—a renaissance, to break out of the crisis of the mind Walby But such radical reforms, which demand a high dose of political courage and cultural commitment, will not take place in the near future, unless hopeful scholars like Marcuse, Feenberg, Malleson, and Dotson are right in their argument that the cultural crisis of the mind is not so extreme yet and that, accordingly, technology, in the right hands, may well become the tools for negating mechanization and for stimulating humanization and liberation from illegitimate power relationships.
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First Online: 11 March But not all social philosophers believed that the mechanization of the world would be the way to overcome the turmoil of the nineteenth century. Taken a more sceptic view, like the ancient philosophers, he argued that industrial technology could potentially become an enslaving force.
In a mechanized world ruled by calculating and measuring engineers and technocrats who come to replace the wise philosophers and statesmen, the line between desires and needs was blurred, artificial needs were multiplied, and the spiritedness that had always characterized the citizen was thereby sapped. Technological innovation and the engineering mind-set somehow went hand in hand with increasing mediocrity and the loss of the longing for practical wisdom, which expressed itself in poorer qualities of thought, feeling, and action. Tocqueville argued: If the brilliant talkers and writers of that time [eighteenth century] were to return to life, I do not believe that gas, or steam, or chloroform, or the electric telegraph, would so much astonish them as the dullness of modern society, and the mediocrity of modern books cited in Ossewaarde : Strange : 52 notes that Cloaked as policy often is in the fine-sounding rhetoric of liberal ideology, it was actually driven in the latter case by the very strong material interests of some of the biggest and most successful American corporations and their banks, supported by their lobbyists in Washington and promulgated by influential writers, journals and newspapers.
This is the reason why scholars like Harrington and Roberts : 4 argue that the Weimar experience can be seen as the model for the present condition of post-democracy: The collapse of Western financial markets in and the ensuing recession has indeed been only another reminder of commonalities with the past as the myopia of governments addicted to neoliberal economic policies resembles ever more closely the perilous state of affairs of degraded social solidarity in Europe after Abolafia, M.
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