December 2008
Volume 3, Number 2

Note from the Editor

Andrea Gabler , Work Analysis And Autonomy – Socialisme ou Barbarie's Concept of Revolutionary Work Research

"Socialisme ou Barbarie", Castoriadis' political group from 1949 to 1967, was not only an independent and original project of left-wing activism in post-war France, but also the source of a novel concept of work analysis that still stimulates today’s researchers. Crucial was their attempt to analyse daily work and work experiences and to search for the hidden traces of self-organisation. The core finding at work is that the contradictory bureaucratic organisation requires the subject's participation (inclusion) and his/her exclusion at the same time. Bureaucratisation for Castoriadis was the characteristic and – differing from Weber – pseudo-rational tendency of modern capitalism, expressing itself most clearly in the realm of work. In this sense Castoriadis draws a good deal of his theoretical inspiration from "Socialisme ou Barbarie's" work analysis. The group tried to establish a work research in revolutionary perspective with qualitative, most authentic methods to gain informations: through the collection of testimonials of proletarian experiences and their self-interpretation by their authors themselves ("témoignages"). These témoignages are thick descriptions of daily work life and of work experiences. Its insights from the inside inform us about the double life of the enterprise as a formal and informal organisation. And since inclusion and exclusion tendencies here exist as parallels, autonomy and heteronomy seem to be simultaneous tendencies in bureaucratic organisations. From here derives the group's and Castoriadis' temporary optimism and their hope to find germs of autonomy and of emancipation and to advance work's and society's humanisation.
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Birte Hatlehol , Education, Democracy and Digital Media

Social scientists have often claimed that the reason for the well-known and widespread phenomenon of juvenile political apathy is their thorough exclusion from actual democratic politics. Politics does not speak their language, nor do they speak the language of politicians. Therefore, the youth’s views and interests are not represented to any significant degree within or by the existing institutions. The question arises of how to reconnect the youth to politics. New media technology has this potential. The project "Youth in the Centre", discussed in the paper, shows how new media technology can be adopted in schools for the purpose of bringing up a new generation of active democratic citizens.
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Fotis Theodoridis , Beyond the Reductionist Thinking-Doing

Drawing upon Castoriadis’ work, modernity is conceived to emerge as a conflict and mutual contamination between the two great projects of the West, the project of freedom, which has been pursued by different social movements as individual and social autonomy, and the project of the unlimited expansion of "rational mastery" over the world, which has been pursued by the institutions of capitalism as a ceaseless economic growth, associated to a ceaseless scientific and technological development. Both these projects have been emerged within a reductionist logic-ontology, which presupposes the determinacy and the identity-unity of being, and which thereby posits an imperative upon the Western thinking-doing: to provide a rational foundation of its projects – of freedom and of "rational mastery". As en epoch, postmodernity is defined by the retreat from the project of autonomy and by the increasing domination and globalization of the project of (pseudo-)rational (pseudo-)mastery. As an intellectual current, it has deconstructed the reductionism of modernity and thereby relativezed its political and socioeconomic projects, falling however into a political embarrassment and into the principle of "anything goes".
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Giorgio Baruchello , Capitalism and Freedom: The Core of a Contradiction. An Essay on Cornelius Castoriadis and John McMurtry

"Capitalism and freedom" is not only the title of a 1962 book by Milton Friedman playing a pivotal role in asserting worldwide the neoliberal paradigm, but also a slogan that leading statesmen, politicians and opinion-makers have been heralding in recent years in order to justify, amongst other things, the slashing of welfare states and the invasion of foreign countries. In particular, "capitalism" has been coupled regularly with "democracy", the latter being seen as the political system that better entrenches and promotes "freedom" or "autonomy". Thus, "capitalism" and "democracy" have been described as the two sides of one and the same project for human emancipation, which is said to characterise modernity. However, Castoriadis reminds us of their different historical origin and of their different nature, which is highlighted in further depth by John McMurtry’s attempt to overcome the categories of standard economic rationality. Hence, in this paper, Castoriadis’ hermeneutic of modernity is integrated with the insights provided by McMurtry, whose notions of "civil commons", "life-needs" and "life-value economy" explain how an emancipatory modernity may be still possible.
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Håvard Nilsen , Gestalt and Totality. The Case of Merleau-Ponty and Gestalt Psychology

Connected via Merleau-Ponty’s pupil Claude Lefort, Castoriadis followed many of Merleau-Ponty’s main theoretical themes, phenomenology and psychology. In this paper, a little acknowledged aspect of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy is presented, specifically how he used Gestalt psychology as a crucial part of his theoretical project. Today, Gestalt psychology is usually only mentioned in introductory courses in psychology, in the chapters on perception. At the beginning of the 20th century, however, they were widely debated as an attempt at transforming positivism and scientific epistemology. The aim of this paper is to show a largely forgotten, but significant source of influence in intellectual history and 20th century philosophy.
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Ingerid Straume , Freedom and the Collective

Abstract: Since Isaiah Berlin’s epitomizing Cold War-essay, "Two Concepts of Liberty, " thinkers who emphasize collective concepts of social life have carried the burden of proof against charges of totalitarian tendencies. The background is a ground figure in contemporary political thought that sets notions of collectivity against individual freedom, in a zero sum game: Either one is in favour of the individual, or one is in favour of the collective, and hence, so the bias has it, willing to sacrifice the rights and liberties of individuals. Since it is impossible to favour the latter position and remain liberal, in the wide sense of the term, this dichotomy serves to rob contemporary political thought of both its classical and revolutionary connotations, leaving only individual initiatives like lobbying and voting. Cornelius Castoriadis offers a way around this – arguably false – dichotomy, by regarding individual and collective freedom as two sides of the same coin.
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Jacob Dahl Rendtorff , Castoriadis' Concept of Institution and Democracy

In this article I discuss the relation between institution and democracy in Castoriadis’ philosophy. The paper proposes an outline of the development of Castoriadis’ political philosophy with focus on institutionalization, imagination and self-limitation of democratic institutions as central elements in Castoridis’ thought. We begin with a short introduction to the concept of institution and institutionalization. Then we discuss the elements of Castoridis’ critique of bureaucracy as a way to distinguish between totalitarian society and democracy. This is the basis for understanding the relation between the imaginary, freedom and autonomy as basic elements of democracy. Finally the paper discusses Castoridis’ new notion of democracy as a kind of self-limitation and creation of collective meaning as the basis for social legitimacy.
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J. F. Humphrey , Democracy and the Moral Imperative to Philosophize

An important part of Cornelius Castoriadis’ exploration into the adventure of modernity involves his reflections on democracy. Indeed, in no less than three works [Figures of the Thinkable, Rising Tide of Insignificancy (The Big Sleep), and World in Fragments], Castoriadis devotes a part, entitled Polis, in which he discusses democracy and its relation to modernity by beginning with the Greeks. In World in Fragments, the section, "The Greek and the Modern Political Imaginary" clearly indicates the relation existing between the ancient Greeks and democracy in his mind. In my paper, I have considered Castoriadis’ reflections on democracy and the way in which he employs the Greeks in his attempt to rethink modern democracies. I shall argue that if we are to follow Castoriadis in embracing an authentic emancipation promised by but not delivered by modernity, we will have to look to his understanding of democracy as providing the way beyond both the cynicism of post-modernism and false hopes of neo-modernism.
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Stephen Hastings-King , Abstract: Spurious Landscape no. 11

This paper is an extended argument for the migration of partial-determinist assumptions into the register of the form of analysis. It develops one sequence of possibilities which follow from this, which are linked to the thematic motif built around the play of the instituted and the instituting. From this follows a second-order problem: how to think the pivot term, the noun institution. Cutting across this are traces of a central preoccupation of mine, which centers on the relation of location to sound, which in a way doubles the relation of the instituted to the instituting, the past to the present, object to time.
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Stuart Winchester , The Great Resistance

Sublimation, in Castoriadis' scheme, is where our relation to what is known exists. This "frontier concept" in which 'reality' and ‘unreality’ flux is a two-way affair. On one hand the psyche replaces private objects of cathexis with "objects which exist and which have worth in and through their social institution". On the other it facilitates "the positing, in and through the institution [of society], of forms and significations.
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Wendy C. Hamblet , Reversing Plato’s Anti-Democratism: Castoriadis' Quirky Plato

This paper considers the conflicting "loves" of Cornelius Castoriadis--his love for the ancients, and especially Plato, and for the common person of the demos. A detailed study of Castoriadis' analysis of Plato's Statesman exposes that Castoriadis attempts to resolve the paradox by rereading Plato as a radical democrat. I argue that this unorthodox reading is at best "quirky, " (a charge Castoriadis levels at Plato) at worst a groundless sophism. However, I conjecture that Castoriadis' reading may not constitute a serious attempt to describe a Platonic politics, so much as a prescriptive reading of what otherwise might have been, given certain strands of political generosity evident elsewhere in Plato's corpus.
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Birte Hatlehol , Education, democracy and digital media

Social imaginations and digital representations A pedagogical method for education in democracy Presentation of a high school project in Norway, where students create and articulate their views about social issues, using digital media.
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Harald Wolf , Renouvellement ou crise de l’imaginaire capitaliste?

Cette contribution met en question l’imaginaire capitaliste : son noyau chez Castoriadis – maîtrise (pseudo-) rationnelle, organisation bureaucratique – et ses métamorphoses contemporaines. On a parlé d’un "nouvel esprit du capitalisme" (Boltanski/Chiapello): organisation en réseau, des projets, autonomie relative du travail. Ces mutations de l’idéologie managériale et le développement correspondant de l’institution de l’organisation et du travail signifient-ils un véritable renouvellement de l’imaginaire capitaliste? Ou bien ces changements, avec leurs contradictions et leurs limites, sont-ils, au contraire, l’indice d’une crise profonde de la capacité d’innovation et de mobilisation des significations imaginaires sociales centrales du capitalisme?
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J. McMurtry , The Human Vocation: An Autobiography of Higher Education

To be honest, I backed into the academic profession after trying almost everything else. Until then, I perceived the academic’s work as a disconnection in symbolic spheres, "merely academic". Only as I came to recognise that concepts are the governors of action did I realize that the real action was thinking through the life-blind programs I saw all around me. Since thinking through is the vocation of the university, that is where I ended up. But I am getting ahead of myself.
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Stephen Hastings-King , Castoriadis and Cognitive Linguistics: A Research Trajectory in the Form of 12 Busy Fragments

If there is a problem with Castoriadis' work, it is that few know about it. In the United States, any number of factors may explain the superficiality of reception, from the way in which Castoriadis’ work moves across genres to the institutional configuration that has monopolized "French Theory" to the radical consequences entailed by his work for existing modes of information definition and organization.
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Survey of Websites on Cornelius Castoriadis, By Anders Ramsey, Andrea Gabler, Harald Wolf and Ingerid Straume

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Conference Schedule