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Title: Adorno, Foucault, and the history of the present
Author: Mascaretti, Giovanni M.
ISNI:       0000 0004 6352 1321
Awarding Body: University of Essex
Current Institution: University of Essex
Date of Award: 2017
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What is the nature of our society? What kinds of power regimes shape our existence? What forms of emancipatory resistance might chart the way towards a better future that responds to the dangers, injustices, and pathologies marking the present? These are just some of the questions my dissertation aims to answer through the help of the conceptual resources that Theodor Adorno and Michel Foucault provide us with. Accordingly, whereas the few attempts that have been made been to compare their works remain inadequate, partial, or simply out-dated, my thesis offers a detailed and comprehensive appraisal of both the explanatory and reconstructive potential of Adorno’s and Foucault’s common project of developing a critico-theoretical account of modern Western society, with a view also to showing the often-neglected compatibility of their respective approaches. At issue, is not only the scholarly reconstruction of a possible dialogue beyond their differences, but also, and more importantly, the analysis of the continued relevance of their works for our understanding of the world we inhabit. To this end, Chapters 1 and 2 start with an examination of the historical conditions Adorno and Foucault see at the root of the dangers and pathologies ailing our age. More specifically, Chapter 1 starts with a review of Adorno’s conception of late modern society as a reified totality ruled by the logic of capitalist exchange. I then confront Adorno’s account of social domination with Foucault’s early analytics of power and illustrate the similarities between their pictures of the disciplinary mechanisms at the basis of the constitution of modern individuals. The chapter concludes by presenting their critique of the scientific discourses and ideological procedures that have supported these power mechanisms. After examining the connection they establish between the development of capitalism and modern biopower, Chapter 2 compares Foucault’s and Adorno’s portraits of the political culture of liberalism. Whereas the relevance of Adorno’s insights is manly confined to the processes of socialization characterizing the welfare states in the first half of the 20th century, I argue that Foucault’s later inquiries shed an instructive light on the reconfiguration determined by the rise of neoliberalism in the contemporary technologies of government, whereby the latter are no longer based on the rigid mechanisms of disciplinary power, but rather on the fabrication of the subject as a free and responsible entrepreneur through more indirect and flexible forms of control operating on the social environment. Chapters 3 to 5 explore the anticipatory-utopian dimension of Adorno’s and Foucault’s enterprises. Chapter 3 engages in a largely unprecedented comparison of their critical approaches. Despite their different targets and narratives, I contend that they converge in the project of a critical problematization of the present, which seeks to modify their addressees’ sensibility and experience not only to show the historical contingency of the present, but also to encourage its radical transformation. Contrary to the popular view that they lack normative theorizing, Chapter 4 reviews Adorno’s and Foucault’s accounts of the normativity of critique, while pointing to their common attempt at giving new impetus to the emancipatory thrust of Enlightenment modernity. Chapter 5 elaborates a much overdue evaluation of their responses to the ethico-political challenges of the present through a juxtaposition of Adorno’s minimal ethics of resistance with Foucault’s late ethical reflections on the ancient practices of care of the self, which lie at the source of his more ambitious politics of the governed. The chapter closes by proposing a possible way of integrating Foucault’s call for creative resistance with Adorno’s politics of suffering. In conclusion, my dissertation assesses Adorno’s and Foucault’s merits in the construction of a critical “ontology of the present” that stands opposed to the neo-Idealist turn of much of contemporary critical theory with its separation of normative and empirical claims from the material forms of power shaping individuals’ subjectivity, cultural patterns, and institutional structures, while eventually arguing that Foucault gives us a more effective toolbox not only to comprehend who we are, but also to imagine ourselves otherwise.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: B Philosophy (General) ; BJ Ethics ; JC Political theory