Title

Introduction: Social, Political, and Cultural Theory since the Sixties: The Demise of Classical Marxism and Liberalism, the New Reality of the Welfare State, and the Loss of Epistemic Innocence

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date

2011

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203875575

Abstract

The publication of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice in 1971 coincided with a complex set of changes in the political situation of the west, the role of intellectuals, the state of the social sciences and humanities, and in the development of the welfare state itself. These changes provided the conditions for the creation of a body of thought quite different from the one the sixties had produced, and a significant change from the discipline-dominated thinking of the period after the Second World War. The immediately relevant events included the effective demise of Parsons’ systems theory, the waning of the passions of 1968, and an enrollment crisis in universities’ humanities and social science departments as economic fear drove students into professional programs, creating a sharp downturn in demand for faculty. The optimism that had characterized disciplines in these fields during the 1960s quickly faded. The idea that sociology was soon to become a “science,” the source of the positivism dispute of the sixties, faded along with it. Logical Positivism as a coherent movement collapsed under the weight of the problems of the theory-observation distinction (Suppe 1977 [1974]: 45-50). At the same time Political Theory, which had been taught largely as an historical study – a history of error, as Leo Strauss described the standard textbook of the time, George Sabine’s A History of Political Theory (1961), or as a continuation of the mood of Kulturpessimismus, as in the writings of Sabine’s critic, Leo Strauss – revived, partly in response to the stimulus from the success of Rawls, partly in response to new ideas about participatory democracy rooted in the experience of the sixties. Social theory also changed: the role that Parsons had played as a focus of theoretical discussion was replaced; the work of Ju˝rgen Habermas, particularly his Theory of Communicative Action (1984-87 [1981]), reassessed and re-appropriated the classical theoretical tradition in social theory to replace Parsons’ synthetic account, and this work coincided with a systematic reconsideration of the classic social theorists, especially Weber. An additional source of new thinking came from

the “dependent” periphery, as thinkers such as Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe (Laclau 1997; LaClau and Mouffe 1985), which emancipated Socialist theory from received dogmas about class struggle and recognized the centrality of other antagonisms and the need for open democracy.

Was this content written or created while at USF?

Yes

Citation / Publisher Attribution

Introduction: Social, Political, and Cultural Theory since the Sixties: The Demise of Classical Marxism and Liberalism, the New Reality of the Welfare State, and the Loss of Epistemic Innocence, in G. Delanty & S. P. Turner (Eds.), Routledge International Handbook of Contemporary Social and Political Theory, Routledge, p. 1-30

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