Context and social criticism : the problem of context in the history of political thought and political theory
Context' presents a challenge to political theory per se. In the history of political thought contextualism has severed historical from political and theoretical questions. In Marxism contextualism is thought of as a means to criticise ideas and institutions, but also as providing grounds for rejecting political theory itself as ideological. Communitarians have argued that contextual considerations are compatible with those of morality, but that they count against the sort of abstraction from our concrete, culturally constituted, selves which liberal impartiality requires. This thesis will, firstly, determine in what sense we may be said to be 'situated' in particular contexts, i.e. cultures and traditions, and then work out what implications 'situation' might have for politics and political theory. Secondly, what role might socio-historical contextualisation play as social criticism. I argue that existing conceptions of situation and of contextual social criticism are prey to socio-historical reductionism and/or a social solipsism, and are incompatible with impartiality and deliberative politics. A more appropriate conception of situation is one based on a conceptual pluralism that maintains the idea of an irreducible plurality of standpoints which we may adopt with respect to the world and our place in it. We need not choose once and for all between a socio-historical view of ourselves and the more abstract view required by impartialist morality. I argue that this novel view of situation and context can deepen our understanding of deliberative politics by showing how public reason must be conceived in terms of providing justifications acceptable to citizens who are differently situated with respect to one another. Socio-historical contextualisation can then play a role in deliberative politics without the risk of communitarian parochialism.