Brian Holmes on Thu, 27 Dec 2007 19:01:34 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Interview with Caroline Nevejan

Caroline, Geert, Patrice, thanks for this excellent interview, a 
fascinating glimpse inside the Amsterdam culture of presentation and 
debate that has been crucial and very much appreciated in Euro 
media-culture circles. Caroline, you give a fundamental answer to the 
question of academia's permeability to practice-based theorizing, and 
I'd be curious to hear more about it.

> To answer your question more in depth I turn to the concept of the
> "double hermeneutic" as it is formulated by Anthony Giddens. Social
> sciences retrieve their concepts from society, add and produce new
> concepts that in turn produce new practices which are then analyzed
> which produce new concepts which produce new realities and so on. This
> makes the social sciences very complex, as Cees Hamelink points out
> again and again. Only when I found out how much my practice has been
> influenced by the concepts I gathered, of which quite essential ones
> come from social sciences, I realized the implications of this double
> hermeneutic in the social sciences. When the exchange between academia
> and society is diminished to academic publishing and the influx of
> other kinds of knowledge and output is discarded of, it will be lesser
> and lesser equipped to be able to deal with today's complexities and
> for that reason slowly fade out in the end.

I'm fascinated by this circular movement between social practice and 
social science, which not only enriches pure theory but also makes 
society itself so fabulously and damnably complex. Around 2000 I began 
working on my "Flexible Personality" concept, which explored how the 
sociological critique of mass-industrial economy was embodied by 
dissenting movements, provoking the crisis of 68 and ultimately leading 
to a pervasive reformulation of social values and organizational forms. 
What I wanted to do, from a position outside the academy, was to show 
that it was not only time to begin the sociological critique of the 
flexible, post-industrial economy, but also, to immediately begin 
embodying that critique as social practice (since it was already 
launched on the pure theory side by the mid-90s).

Well, at this point there have been large movements contesting 
"precarity," even reaching the national level in France; and though 
there has been nothing like the systemic crisis of 68, still we are 
seeing the beginnings of a return from the social sciences, as was 
discussed a little here on nettime recently 
( I think 
that this kind of relation should be pushed much further, and that a new 
political give and take between theory and practice should be brought 
into being, by pretty much "any media necessary" as CAE used to say.

Given that, I'd be really curious to hear more about how the circular or 
spiral movement unfolds between your practice and the academic 
disciplines. You say that "In professional social sciences realms (in 
business, in large organizations as well as in individual practices) you 
can clearly see that many more methodologies for creating engaging 
reflexivity have emerged. Interestingly it are the business schools and 
some anthropology departments that have devoted attention to such new 
models." I can see two possible reasons or what you identify as a lack 
of response from classical sociology. One would be that most of it is 
dominated by the outdated categories of mass society, what Ulrich Beck 
calls "zombie categories" (see the interview under that title in his 
book "Individualization," published jointly with Elisabeth 
Beck-Gernsheim). But another, converging reason could be that the new 
kinds of practice simply do not address what most sociologists consider 
the central mediating institution of society, namely the state. Haven't 
we media-culture types mostly treated the state itself as a zombie 
category? Could that be the explanation why only the marketing people 
and the anthropologists are interested? Is there some way to address the 
state and the common good its supposed to represent, without getting 
dragged down into all the bureaucratic crap that we have struggled so 
hard to get away from?

all the best, Brian

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