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Jane Bennett on Postmodernism - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 46
Postmodernism/Bennett: The term postmodernism has currency in political theory, but also in literary studies, philosophy, anthropology, the arts, and popular discourse, in each case functioning somewhat differently. Its usages can be summarized under three headings:
(1) as a sociological designation for an epochal shift in the way collective life is organized (from centralized and hierarchical control towards a network structure);
(2) as an aesthetic genre (literature that experiments with non-linear narration, a playful architecture of mixed styles, an appreciation of popular culture that complicates the distinction between high and low);
(3) as a set of philosophical critiques of teleological and/or rationalist conceptions of nature, history, power, freedom, and subjectivity. Postmodernism in political theory participates in all three, but perhaps most intensively in the third (...). >Postmodernism/Butler.
Postmodernism/political theory/Bennett: Within political theory, critics from both the right and the left have tended to see postmodernism as a rejection of the quest for an objective truth behind subjective experiences (Cheney, 1996(1); Dumm and Norton, 1998(2)). Because this quest is thought to set the condition of possibility for any affirmative claim, postmodern political theory is charged with being anti-political and unable to take an ethical stand, except that of resistance, disobedience, refusal, or deconstruction for deconstruction’s sake.
WhiteVsPostmodernism: Stephen White offers a subtle version of this criticism: while ‘poststructuralist and postmodern thought … carries a persistent utopian hope of a “not yet”’, it too often ‘remains blithely unspecific about normative orientation in the here and now’ (White 2000(3): 90).
PostmodernismVsVs: In response, some postmodernists contend that a positive ethic need not require a universal
Gaus I 47
God, Reason or some such surrogate, but can be grounded on the cultivation of existential attachment to life rather than on an internal or external authority (Bennett, 2001(4); Coles, 1997(5); Foucault, 1988(6); Kateb, 2000(7)). The complex of epistemological and ontological claims that constitute the distinctive style of thinking called postmodern cannot with justice be reduced to negativism.
Postmodernism/Bennett: Postmodernism in political theory emerged, and continues to develop, in close relation to other theoretical approaches, including feminism, liberalism, psychoanalytic theory, critical theory, and utopianism. Postmodern theory often takes the form of genealogical studies which reveal how discursive practices and conceptual schemata are embedded with power relations, and how these cultural forms constitute what is experienced as natural or real (Butler, 1993(8); Brown, 1995(9); Ferguson, 1991(10)). One of the political insights of postmodern theory is that ‘the stakes of a democratic politics … are as much about the modern crisis of representation as they are about the distribution of other goods’ (Dumm, 1999(11): 60). Deconstructions of madness and criminality, feminist and queer studies of gender and sexuality, postcolonial studies of race and nation – these all seek to uncover the human-madeness of entities formerly considered either natural, universal, or innevitable. >Political Theory/Postmodernism, >Identity/Postmodernism.


1. Cheney, Lynne (1996) Telling the Truth: Why Our Culture and Our Country Have Stopped Making Sense and What We Can Do About It. New York: Touchstone.
2. Dumm, Thomas and Anne Norton, eds (1998) ‘On left conservatism I’ and ‘On left conservatism II’. Theory & Event, 2 (2) and 2 (3).
3. White, Stephen K. (2000) Affirmation in Political Theory: The Strengths of Weak Ontology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
4. Bennett, Jane (2001) The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
5. Coles, Romand (1997) Rethinking Generosity: Critical Theory and the Politics of Caritas. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
6. Foucault, Michel (1988) Care of the Self: The History of Sexuality, Volume III. New York: Random House.
7. Kateb, George (2000) ‘Aestheticism and morality: their cooperation and hostility’. Political Theory, 28 (1): 5–37.
8. Butler, Judith (1993) Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’. New York: Routledge.
9. Brown, Wendy (1995) States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
10. Ferguson, Kathy E. (1991) The Man Question: Visions of Subjectivity in Feminist Theory. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
11. Dumm, Thomas (1999) ‘The problem of the We’. boundary 2, 26 (3): 55–61.


Jane Bennett, 2004. „Postmodern Approaches to Political Theory“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Concept/Author], [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] resp. "problem:"/"solution:", "old:"/"new:" and "thesis:" is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Bennett I
Jonathan Bennett
"The Meaning-Nominalist Strategy" in: Foundations of Language, 10, 1973, pp. 141-168
In
Handlung, Kommunikation, Bedeutung, Georg Meggle, Frankfurt/M. 1979

Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-11-28
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