SO427: Modern Social Thought

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These are my notes for SO427 at the London School of Economics for the 2017-2018 school year. I took this module as part of the one-year Inequalities and Social Science MSc program.

The usual disclaimer: all notes are my personal impressions and do not necessarily reflect the view of the lecturer.

This the critical theory class to take at LSE, covering Adorno, Benjamin, Foucault, and Baudrillard. As of writing, I've only been to one seminar so far, but it's absolutely amazing and you gotta take if you have the chance (there's no auditing—you'll have to actually take it, and make sure to submit a good statement to maximise chances of getting in). It's definitely a lot of work, but it's a very autonomous and creative type of work, with great readings and a free-form essay on a topic of your choice—no group projects or anything similarly contrived.

Essays

I wrote two essays for this class: one formative (not assessed), and one summative (assessed). For the formative, I wrote a 2,500 word response paper to Adorno's Theses Against Occultism (mark: 77). For the summative, I wrote a 5,000 word essay on The Matrix drawing on Adorno and Baudrillard (mark: a slightly disappointing 65, though I don't disagree with the feedback).

Lecture notes

  1. Introductory seminar (January 09)
  2. Adorno 1 (January 16)
  3. Adorno 2 (January 22)
  4. Benjamin 1 (January 29)

Introductory seminar - week 1

I wasn’t signed up for the course at the time so I missed this one, but it was just an introduction to the four thinkers (Adorno, Benjamin, Foucault and Baudrillard). No readings.


Adorno 1 - week 2

I received my offer for this class ~2 hours before the seminar was scheduled to start, while I was still at home, so I had to speed through the readings which, I must say, is not really a good idea for anything written by Adorno. I finished the last few pages of the second reading on the train. Accordingly, my notes aren’t so great (mostly just quotes). I shudder to imagine what Adorno would think of that.

(Note: although it’s a 3-hour seminar, with no scheduled demarcation between “lecture” and “seminar”, the first half of the seminar consisted of the prof delivering a quasi-lecture (no slides) summarising the readings, with only a bit of class discussion, so I’ve split my notes up accordingly into the standard Lecture and Seminar sections.)

Readings

Society

From 1969. An essay on the concept of ‘society’, building on Durkheim and Weber. There’s a summary of it here.

Some good quotes and notes I thought worth saving (I need to get these into Bookmarker ASAP)

Is Marx obsolete?

Originally delivered in 1968 as a conference presentation titled “Late Capitalism or Industrial Society?” (PDF). My notes are pretty scattered and I would recommend reading the original if you want the full Adorno experience in any case.

Lecture

Introduction

Adorno and Marx

On social mediation and the Holocaust

On rationarlity

On sociology

Seminar

A discussion of the readings. The second (Is Marx obsolete?) is the more straightforward one; the first, though less clear, is probably more important to the field of sociology.

Society

Is Marx obsolete?


Adorno 2 - week 3

Readings

The Stars Down to Earth

It’s a book mostly about the LA Times astrology & written when Adorno was in LA. The passages we needed to read are:

My notes are in Bookmarker.

The Culture Industry (PDF)

From Dialectic of Enlightenment. Additional reading.

Lecture and seminar

On the Frankfurt School generally

On the culture industry

On rationality

On critical theory

On commodity fetishism

giving something power it does not possess, the idea that commodities have immanent value as opposed to only being valuable because of this system of exchange (originating from labour, acc to Marx), within social relations

On Civilisation and Its Discontents

On knowing

On authoritarian personalities

On immanent critique

On occultism

Theses on Occultism


Benjamin 1 - week 4

Readings

Theological-Political Fragment

Best lines

Therefore the Kingdom of God is not the telos of the historical dynamic: it cannot be set as a goal.

but just as a force can, through acting, increase another that is acting in the opposite direction, so the order of the profane assists, through being profane, the coming of the Messianic Kingdom.

this totally feels accelerationist but maybe that’s just cus i have an accelerationist hammer so everything looks like a nail etc

The Arcades Project (p456-488)

On the theory of knowledge, theory of progress

Theses on the Philosophy of History

from illuminations

Lecture/seminar