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Call for Reviews: Pathologies of Recognition

February 18, 2015

The Studies in Social and Political Thought journal is now calling for book reviews for our upcoming special issue containing a series of papers from a ‘Pathologies of Recognition’ research group, headed by Arto Laitinen. We are looking for reviews that go beyond simply providing a summary of the contents of the books, and offer a critical perspective and make an original contribution to the contemporary debates on the theme of recognition.

We are particularly interested in the following books but we are open to suggestions:

  • Judith Butler & Athena Athanasiou, Dispossession: The Performative in the Political (Polity, 2013). [under review].
  • Jonas Jakobsen & Odin Lysaker, Recognition and Freedom Axel Honneth’s Political Thought (Brill, 2015).
  • Rahel Jaeggi, Alienation (Columbia University Press, 2014). [under review]
  • Rahel Jaeggi, Kritik von Lebensformen (Suhrkamp Verlag, 2013). [under review]
  • Cillian McBride, Recognition (Polity, 2013). [under review]
  • Danielle Petherbridge, The Critical Theory of Axel Honneth (Lexington Books, 2015). [under review]
  • Christopher Zurn, Axel Honneth (Polity, 2015). [under review]
  • Heikki Ikäheimo, Anerkennung (De Gruyter, 2014).
  • Arto Laitinen & Anne Birgitta Pessi (eds.) Solidarity: Theory and Practice (Lexington, 2015). [under review]
  • Arto Laitinen et al (eds.) Inwardness and orientation (SoPhi: Jyväskylä, 2014).
  • Federica Gregoratto & Filippo Ranchio (eds.) Contesti del riconoscimento [Contexts of Recognition] (Mimesis, 2014).
  • Danielle Petherbridge (ed.) Axel Honneth: Critical Essays With a Reply by Axel Honneth (Brill, 2011). [under review]
  • Heikki Ikäheimo & Arto Laitinen, Recognition and Social Ontology (Brill, 2011).
  • Volker Heins, Beyond Friend and Foe (Brill, 2011).
  • Jean-Philippe Deranty, Beyond Communication. A Critical Study of Axel Honneth’s Social Philosophy (Brill, 2009).
  • Jean-Philippe Deranty, et al (eds.) Recognition, Work, Politics: New Directions in French Critical Theory (Brill, 2007).

If you are interested in submitting a review, please send us an email at with the title of the book you want to review, a short bio containing your qualifications and current position, and we will inform you within a week as to whether your submission will be accepted. Please, bear in mind that we may not be able to provide you with review copies of the books.

Submissions should range from 2000 to 3000 words in length and written in the Harvard referencing style. The deadline is 15 March 2015.

The book reviews section of Studies in Social and Political Thought has two editors, Valentinos Kontoyiannis and Joel Winder. For additional information about the journal and the reviews section please contact us at

CFP: SPT Conference 2015, Feminism & Critical Theory

February 12, 2015

Call for Papers





In the face of enforced austerity, rampant and increasing inequality, systemic crises of political, economic and environmental organisation, and violence and injustice on a global scale, there has been a resurgence of interest in both feminism and critical theory, as ways of understanding and criticising the world as it is. That such disasters disproportionately affect women is not, of course, new, nor are they differentiated solely through gender – race, sexuality, dis/ability, class and nationality also come into play. Yet many have detected an increase in violence, both (and often simultaneously) material and symbolic, directed against women and gender non-conformists across the world. Examples range from the ‘pornification’ of an increasingly misogynist popular culture (and equally misogynist ‘moral panics’ about the threat posed to society by deviant sexualities), to brutal cuts to already embattled women’s services, to continued institutional discrimination and institutionalised abuse (Yarl’s Wood is just one site).


This has been met with resistance in a variety of forms, on the ground in social movements and protests, and in many recent theoretical developments both scholarly and popular, including: the republication of many classic Marxist and socialist feminist texts of the 1970s and 80s; important contemporary debates, situated within both analytic and continental philosophy, on how to challenge the patriarchal nature of philosophy as a discipline and as disciplinary ideology; the emergence of innovative new journals such as the materialist feminist LIES; and scholarly reappraisals of radical twentieth-century figures like Shulamith Firestone, Claudia Jones and Rosa Luxemburg.


This year’s Social and Political Thought conference will investigate the relationship between feminism and other critical social theories in light of these developments. We begin by recognising that the different schools (and historical ‘waves’) of feminist thought are themselves often divergent and opposed. Furthermore, we recognise that there is a certain level of ambivalence attached to the term ‘critical theory’. In the narrow sense, it can refer to theory influenced by the Frankfurt School and the work of Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse (and, on some interpretations, Habermas and Honneth). In the broad sense, on the other hand, it can refer to a group of interrelated, sometimes competing, social theories directed against the status quo, of which feminist thought is one strand. We view this ambivalence and its relationship to feminist theory and practice as potentially productive, and encourage submissions that deal with all kinds of feminism and their relationship to critical theory in both the narrow and broad senses of the term, including feminism as critical theory.

Possible approaches include but are not limited to:


Marxist feminism or feminist thought engaging with Marxism; feminism, materiality, and ‘new materialisms’; feminist social movements and the politics of popular protest; feminism, police, and prisons; feminism and problems of universality; feminism and psychoanalysis; feminism and autonomism; anarchist feminism; post-crisis masculinities and feminism; postcolonialism and feminism; black British feminism; sexual, racial and social contracts; feminism and the politics and theory of intersectionality; feminism and nationalism; feminism and orientalism in the war on terror; ‘third wave’ feminism; feminism and new forms of slavery; feminism in the global South; feminism and poststructuralism;  feminism and communisation theory; feminism and LGBTQI struggles; feminism and sex-work; feminism and social reproduction; feminism and revolution.


Keynote Speakers:


Stella Sandford (Kingston University)

Lorna Finlayson (University of Cambridge)


We encourage submissions for both individual and full-panel presentations. Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be sent to by March 15 2015. In order to facilitate a double-blind review process, please send two separate attachments, one containing a short biographical note, and another containing your abstract with no identifying information.

Call for Papers

November 27, 2014

Now with its 23rd Volume already published, Studies in Social and Political Thought is a student run journal based in the University of Sussex’s Centre for Social and Political Thought. The journal has a dual purpose: first, fostering developments in the inter-disciplinary areas of social and political thought and, second, serving as a publishing platform for junior academics.

Past issues have featured articles by well-respected figures such as William Outhwaite and Stefan Muller-Doohm as well as the first publications of a number of promising junior academics. Although student run, we try to ensure highest standards and best quality publishing. We have attracted a prestigious panel of leading scholars in social and political thought for our international advisory board, including: Martin Jay of UC Berkeley, Robert Pippin of the University of Chicago, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak of Columbia University, Seyla Banhabib of Yale University, Simon Jarvis of the University of Cambridge, William Outhwaite of the University of Newcastle, Homi Bhabha of Harvard University, Adriana Cavarero of the University of Verona, Alessandro Ferrara of the University of Rome, Axel Honneth of the University of Frankfurt and Fredric Jameson of Duke University.

Having focused on selected papers of the Studies in Social and Political Thought Conference of 2013 on the subject ‘Debt and Obligation’ , we are looking forward to submissions for the upcoming 24th issue of the journal. The field and variety of topics should be within the inter-disciplinary areas of social and political thought.

For more information please visit our website:

Deadline for submissions is the 31st of December 2014.

Submissions need to be send to:

Victor Frankenstein’s Banquet

November 3, 2014

Elliot Rose:

I wrote this a little while ago, on attitudes towards GM technology, and how conventional opposition is more usually based on sensationalist ideology rather than engagement with the difficult complexities involved. Some time after Greenpeace signed their name to an open letter to Jean-Claude Juncker, arguing against having an EC chief scientific advisor. Rather than have the selection process open to scrutiny (so that those with corporate affiliations – and therefore conflicts of interest – would find it harder to be appointed) and have their  advice publically published (for similar reasons) the letter – signed by 9 organisations (including, for some reason, the “Cancer Prevention and Education Society”) – argued against the very position of a scientific advisor. Their sop to the necessity of evidence-led, scientific advice was that advice could come from “a variety of independent, multi-disciplinary sources….” In short: lobbying. I’m perhaps being cynical, but it’s the multinational corporations who really have the power when it comes to lobbying, not groups like Greenpeace, since they have more money to throw at the issue (and a charity should really spend its money on the cause it was founded to deal with, not meetings with bureaucrats).

Originally posted on Unfortunate Conflict of Evidence:

Perhaps I’ve just misunderstood Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: the point I took away has always been that it is essentially Victor’s own fault that his creation becomes monstrous. His disgust, rejection and eventual fear initially creates and then subsequently sustains the creature’s sense of alienation, which in turn creates its hostile reaction both to him and to the world in general. Surely it’s therefore slightly odd, and yet rather apposite, that genetically modified organisms are so often referred to as “Frankenstein foods”. The phrase is thrown around a lot, and is clearly chosen because it sounds scary and creates the appropriate rhetorical effect that the speaker wishes to evoke.

But it is appropriate because the instinctive and emotive reaction by some to the prospect of genetically modified food and organisms is inherently counterproductive and only invites problems later on. Many people seem to loathe the idea of GMOs and resist them at every turn…

View original 1,449 more words

SSPT Profiles – Elliot Rose

October 24, 2014

Over the coming weeks we will be publishing a series of profiles of the fine graduate students whose hard work makes the journal possible. The idea is to give an insight into the research being conducted by all of us, in what is hopefully a more interesting and revealing format than those short university bios that everyone has and nobody reads. Sort of like an answer to that question, ‘so, what is your research on’, if you were asked in the pub and happened to have a laptop to hand.

My name is Elliot and as (outgoing) web editor and one of the people pushing to get people to add to this blog it seems only right I stick my head above the parapet and do so myself.

My research concerns the idea of human nature, and in particular the various ways in which people have articulated this idea in relation to the social context. Human nature, the notion of what human beings (“naturally”) are, continues to be a contentious concept, not least because it has so often been used to ground normative claims about society – “that’s just human nature” is a common rhetorical trope. Human nature is often seen as monolithic and inflexible, a hard determination of what we are, and on these grounds used as a oratorical court of appeal. Conversely many make the claim that not only are such notions inextricably influenced (almost “tainted” or “infected”) by socially inculcated norms and values, but that this social milieu, coupled with a supposed human plasticity, effectively overrides any innate dispositions, and “human nature” is thus whatever society makes it in a given time and context. There is consequently a widespread tendency to ignore the issue of human nature, or repudiate it as ideologically suspect, just as much as there is a tendency to blindly appeal to it in suspect ways.

This can be problematic because many philosophers, sociologists and political theorists do in fact make assumptions about what people are – they generally presume something about human capacities, proclivities and responsivity, and how these fit into their higher-order work on society. In short, they start with a broadly acceptable philosophical anthropology, in many cases tacitly and without acknowledgement. However coherent the resulting social or political theory may be in itself, these tacitly held conceptions of human nature may not reflect reality at lower strata. It might be that human beings are not sufficiently rational to be Homo economicus (and all the evidence suggests they are not); or that their need for a sense of themselves within a community comes not from their relations to their product, but from an animal desire for affection and friendship.

My work has therefore been directed at human nature theories: how human nature is construed by theorists, where they look for it, and how they integrate their view of it with their view of society. I am primarily interested in the stratification of approaches. Some look for deep roots, a metaphysical or biological rule that governs the formation of human nature – an algorithm of human existence. Others attempt to explain human life in terms of “holistic” analyses of politics (although here I’m using “politics” as a shorthand for an array of economic, social, cultural and political approaches, depending on the theorists’ interests), only dipping into the lower strata when they need to posit a response on behalf of individual agents. In between these is a panoply of strata, incorporating neural systems, individual psychology and desire, interpersonal behaviour, group psychology, and the movements of socio-cultural formations/entities.

Once we acknowledge this stratification of approaches to human nature we can begin to see that it is it not the monolithic, inflexible caricature, nor is it the infinitely flexible tabula rasa, but is in fact an active and contested field of enquiry in its own right. Furthermore I would argue that not only does the binary division not exist, but many who would deny the existence of human nature routinely employ their own conception of it in their work (indeed it could be argued that their work is one way to approach human nature, given the social and political nature of the human animal). These two positions – roughly analogous to the nature vs. nurture division – in fact represent divergent approaches to the strata that make up human existence, rather than an actually existing binary opposition between competing, mutually-exclusive causal influences.

Gary Larson - Far side

Gary Larson – Far side

Significantly, the denial or deferment of a discussion of human nature also leaves social and political theorists bereft, not only of empirical checks or verifications of the underpinning anthropology of their discipline/theory, but also of potentially useful materiel for their own efforts. This is the argument I want to put forward in the later stages of my thesis. Human nature can be viewed as raw material, which is tempered and shaped by politics, and a better understanding of it can inform decisions relating to our attainment of political ends. (Marx and Freud can both be seen as examples of this position, and their thinking, perhaps ironically, forms much of the theoretical background of positions that ignore or are hostile to the very notion of human nature.) As an example, if we understand the underlying cognitive processes behind in-group/out-group identification, then we might shed light on both the pervasiveness/persistence of ideological self-identification and the potential means to direct it away from harmful (exclusionary) political formations.

This is the position I’m currently in. I think the importance of the study of human nature is highlighted by political scientist Gary Olson, who argues is Empathy Imperiled that the empathetic capacity of human beings is being reduced to the bare minimum by our culture, and what is left is carefully managed to create corporate “brand awareness” and patriotic fervour, whilst being directed away from actual ethical issues. Reclaiming empathy is, on this view, a political project ultimately aimed at reclaiming something important about human nature itself. But empathy is in turn part of this process: it is a tool for recognising the plight of the other and, through this recognition, the realities of our political landscape. This is why I think talking about human nature is important, but first it looks like we need to rethink how we formulate our own theories and ideas about what it is, and what we are (and can or could be).

SSPT Profiles – Richard Weir

October 17, 2014

Over the coming weeks we will be publishing a series of profiles of the fine graduate students whose hard work makes the journal possible. The idea is to give an insight into the research being conducted by all of us, in what is hopefully a more interesting and revealing format than those short university bios that everyone has and nobody reads. Sort of like an answer to that question, ‘so, what is your research on’, if you were asked in the pub and happened to have a laptop to hand.

As editor I have the unenviable task of going first. I hope you enjoy and don’t forget to keep checking back for profiles written by people whose research is far more interesting than my own!

For the most part my PhD has followed a course that I am sure will be familiar to many doctoral students. I began working on a quite specific topic that I had originally become acquainted with during my undergraduate, and gradually became increasingly frustrated with almost everything written on the subject until I decided that it was all wrong and that a fresh start was needed.

The specific topic in question is generally known as collective intentionality—a subject with either a very short or a very long backstory, depending on how you choose to look at it. The long story situates the idea within a line of questioning that has festered at the heart of social theory, in all of its guises, for the best part of the last century and a half: If we are trying to examine and understand society, what exactly are we looking at? What are the units of analysis? And what does it mean to do something socially or collectively? On the other hand the short story only goes back 20 years or so, and points to the foundational work of several key authors (most notably John Searle, Margaret Gilbert, Raimo Tuomela, and Michael Bratman), who started talking about the idea of collective intentions as a possible response to the methodology that had come to dominate mainstream sociology at the time: individualism. Where the latter posited that when studying society the only units of analysis available to the theorist were individuals, collective intentionality argued that the ability of individuals to form intentions that did not relate to them only as individuals, but ranged over groups of which they were members, meant that groups could very often be valid objects of study in their own right.

As some see it, one of the biggest problems for this theory is how little of individualism it actually wants to give up. While the whole point of collective intentionality is to provide a basis for a sound alternative methodology, this soundness is achieved by giving up as little of individualism as possible (individualism being perceived as lacking in numerous respects, but ultimately a solid foundation), and steering clear of the strongly collectivist areas of thought that John Searle described as ‘ontologically mysterious’.

While I share these reservations, I do not feel that they strike at the heart of what is truly unconvincing about the idea of collective intentionality. After all, the attempt to carve a middle path between the two extremes of individualism and collectivism can easily be seen as the field’s greatest strength. I share the intuition that an answer to the question of what it means to act collectively is only going to be found in this fertile and hazy ground between individuality and the loss of that individuality wholly to the collective. The far bigger problem, as far as I am concerned, is that the idea of collective intentionality is completely unequipped to explore this murky territory, as much as it might desire to do so.

This problem is masked by frequent references to the term ‘we’. Thus, virtually every analysis of these supposedly collective intentions involves, at some level, some reference to ‘we’ (either the respective individuals in the collective think of themselves as a ‘we’ or their own individual thoughts make a reference to ‘we’ such that they are all linked). However, these references to ‘we’ are never themselves analysed. As such, what is missed is that the term ‘we’ is itself ambiguous between either an individualistic or collectivist reading. In other words, collective intentionality seeks the middle ground between the individual and the collective by relying on intentionality that makes reference to ‘we’ rather than ‘I’, but talk of ‘we’ is already suggestive of precisely this middle ground and requires its own analysis. The question that collective intentionality set out to answer has, therefore, been merely sublimated.

It is this critique that is the dominant focus of the first few chapters of my thesis (the chapters within which I find myself perennially stuck). I agree that individualism offers a thoroughly unsatisfactory analysis of society. And I agree that our analysis ought to be formed on ontologically solid foundations. But, I argue, it is because collective intentionality as an idea seeks to bypass crucial questions of subjectivity that must be at the heart of any such ontology that it fails. It fails to grapple with the question of what it means to be the possessor of an intentional state and what it would mean for a group, that is for a ‘we’, to be such a possessor. In no small part this is because, in taking individualism as its foundation, collective intentionality as an idea tends to take for granted the individual as the sovereign seat of subjectivity and casts off any suggestion to the contrary into the category of Searle’s ontologically mysterious collectivists.

In coming towards the latter stages of my PhD my focus has now turned towards offering some preliminary responses (or perhaps ‘gestures’ would be the more accurate description) of my own to these questions of subjectivity that I feel have been neglected. In this regard my work has followed what I view as two largely distinct, but complimentary trajectories. The first is focused on several fringe authors in the field who have tried to tackle questions of subjectivity and argue, at least in part, for its extension to groups (most notably Carol Rovane and Michael Bacharach). This work, I believe, can point us in the right direction, but unfortunately falls short in several key respects. The second trajectory is guided by my increasing conviction that only a phenomenologically minded approach can deal with the inherent ambiguity involved in thinking and acting collectively. In particular I have become fascinated with the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and the idea of body intentionality. Some of this work is now being taken up in the cognitive sciences under the guise of embodied cognition, albeit in an inevitably watered-down way, and has begun to exert quite a lot of influence amongst those concerned with collectivity. What is crucial for me, however, is that this way of thinking allows us to begin to theorise both thought and subjectivity as features that are intrinsically extended out into the world. It allows us to detach these concepts from the sovereignty of the individual and therefore move further away from the limiting tenets of individualism that have had a largely negative impact on theories of collective intentionality to date.

So that is where things currently stand for me. In all likelihood, and if the past is anything to go by, I will have changed my mind completely by the end of the week. However, and as that most important of deadlines looms (the one where they won’t give me any more money), I hope to try and stick to the script- no matter what!


Seminar Series – Autumn 2014

October 6, 2014

We’re pleased to announce the programme for the CSPT research seminar series for Autumn 2014. All are very welcome to attend. Please visit the weekly seminars page for more information. You can download the programme as a PDF file here.


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