Critical History and the History of Society

Andrew Sartori, New York University (NYU)

A critical social theory turns necessarily on the availability of "society" as an epistemological object. Political economy had emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as a form of knowledge specifically calibrated to grasp that new epistemological object. It was a fundamental premise of Marx’s writings that political economy was not only the key genre of knowledge through which “society” might be analyzed, but that the historicity of political economy expressed the historicity of the determinate form of life that required this particular form of knowledge. Seen from this perspective, "the social" must be approached not as the universal ground of historical inquiry but as an epistemological problematic with its own history -- and that history is in fact the history to which the possibility of a critical social theory is necessarily bound. At the same time, however, that exercise of historicization is also itself an exercise in critical history that renders the epistemological and normative horizon of our own historical moment visible -- simultaneously as the product of epochal transformation and as a present that must also be grasped in the light of pasts that failed to realize their futures (what we might call "histories of the absent").

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 259. What is Critical History