9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN29 Social Theory

2009-09-04 13:30:00 2009-09-04 15:00:00 Friday, 4 September 13:30 - 15:00 Critical Theory: Its Past and its Future Building AA, AA.326

On dialectical materialism and critical theory: between social philosophy (Sozialphilosophie) and social research (Sozialforschung)

This paper leans on the present research for my ongoing doctoral dissertation, and addresses itself to the theoretical project outlined in the works of the so called "Frankfurt School". Bearing in mind the necessary relationship that, according to Max Horkheimer's views expressed in the inaugural lecture (1931) of his appointment as director of the Institut für Sozialforschung, should be established between the dialectical philosophical approach and the research methods offered through empirical social research, the presentation aims at focusing on his writings and essays of the decade of 1930, especially the first half, to further examine the characteristics of the kind of materialism he developed.

In this sense, if the evident proximity to the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels will be object of the study - although Horkheimer during this period never nominated his own theoretical work as being "Marxist", but always some kind of materialism, be it historical, dialectical or historical-dialectical - I understand it as significant also to shed more light on the less explicit but nevertheless existing proximity to sociological works. Hereby the attempt and the task lay on pointing out - in a few words - the relevance of, notoriously, the contributions brought forward by Georg Simmel and Max Weber, some traits of which can be acknowledged in this period. This endeavour is seen as relevant because of a second point: the fact that the most frequent dialogue with the "social sciences" - back then still near to the Diltheyan concept of "Geisteswissenschaften" - happened in the critical exchange with sociology, at that time a recently established and still developing scientific discipline.

Simultaneously it emerges as mandatory to point out some limits of this theoretic conception brought forward by Horkheimer, for which I shall dedicate myself to investigate some aspects of the tension present in one of his theory's milestones, concerning the concept of "domination of nature", that alters itself between a repressive and an emancipatory stance. This aspect is seen to be fundamental in contributing to the contemporaneous maintenance of a critical viewpoint.