The Fictions of Modern Social Theory


Modern Social Theory - Lecture 8

Lecturer: Prof John Holmwood

Dec. 9, 2021


This series of lectures has been dealing with the role of colonialism and Empire in the development of European modernity. It is absent from secondary accounts, but it does represent an aspect of the writings of the thinkers dealt with in previous sessions. In the final session, we consider how taking colonialism and Empire seriously would disrupt the conceptual frameworks used within contemporary sociology and lay the basis of a different approach to current problems. Five ‘fictions’ of contemporary social theory are identified, together with an analysis of how and why they need to be transformed. These are: the fiction of a ‘state of nature’ and stages of societal development; the fiction of ‘modern subjectivity’, the fiction of the ‘nation state’, the fiction of ‘formally free labour’ and the fiction of ‘sociological reason’. Colonialism structures both European modernity and European thought. Recognising its significance is an opportunity, as well as a necessity, to practise sociology differently.

Reading

  • Bhabha, Homi K. 1994. 'Conclusion: 'Race', time and the revision of modernity' in The Location of Culture. London: Routledge.
  • Bhambra, Gurminder K. and John Holmwood 2021. ‘Conclusion: The Fictions of Modern Social Theory’ in Colonialism and Modern Social Theory. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Morrison, Toni 1989. ‘Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature,’ Michigan Quarterly Review Winter: 1-34.
  • Shilliam, Robbie 2020. Decolonizing Politics: An Introduction. Cambridge: Polity.

This series of lectures has been dealing with the role of colonialism and Empire in the development of European modernity. It is absent from secondary accounts, but it does represent an aspect of the writings of the thinkers dealt with in previous sessions.

In the final session, we consider how taking colonialism and Empire seriously would disrupt the conceptual frameworks used within contemporary sociology and lay the basis of a different approach to current problems. Five ‘fictions’ of contemporary social theory are identified, together with an analysis of how and why they need to be transformed.

These are: the fiction of a ‘state of nature’ and stages of societal development; the fiction of ‘modern subjectivity’, the fiction of the ‘nation state’, the fiction of ‘formally free labour’ and the fiction of ‘sociological reason’. Colonialism structures both European modernity and European thought. Recognising its significance is an opportunity, as well as a necessity, to practise sociology differently.

Reading

  • Bhabha, Homi K. 1994. 'Conclusion: 'Race', time and the revision of modernity' in The Location of Culture. London: Routledge.
  • Bhambra, Gurminder K. and John Holmwood 2021. ‘Conclusion: The Fictions of Modern Social Theory’ in Colonialism and Modern Social Theory. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Morrison, Toni 1989. ‘Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature,’ Michigan Quarterly Review Winter: 1-34.
  • Shilliam, Robbie 2020. Decolonizing Politics: An Introduction. Cambridge: Polity.