Emancipation (s) (Radical Thinkers)

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Laclau here begins to explore precisely how our visions of emancipation have been recast under these new conditions. Laclau examines the internal contradictions of the notion of "emancipation" as it emerged from the mainstream of modernity, as well as the relation between universalism and particularism which is inherent in it. He explores the making of political identities and the status of central notions in political theory such as "representation" and "power," focusing particularly on the work of Derrida and Rorty. Emancipation s is a significant contribution to the reshaping of radical political thought.


His domestic life belied the bourgeois style of his professional life, since he cohabited for many years with a semi-literate and very religious peasant woman, Marie David, and, after her death in , although an atheist, he carried with him, until his own death 24 years later, a sacred image that she had given him Berlin, His first book was not published until , after which he became a prolific writer, and a correspondent of some of the most familiar names of the time.

He resigned from his engineering life in , and moved to Paris. In he was an ardent Dreyfusard, but by he had become an opponent of the Dreyfusards, whose victory he saw as colonised by supporters motivated, not by a passion for moral justice, but by self-serving political reasons. His many detractors, of all shades of political opinion, characterise his thinking as erratic and weak. He also has, however, some notable supporters, and these find in his work threads that are both powerful and significant: for example, that creativity is the defining characteristic of being human; that there is no rational harmony in the world; that the proletariat is the carrier of true moral values; that there is no inevitable teleology of history, only the unpredictable outcomes that can be achieved through struggle; that to live is to resist, and that ceaseless struggle is the necessary precondition of emancipation.

We find in Sorel a thinker who offers an analysis that is congruent with much contemporary thinking, especially poststructuralist thinking, in COT, but whose synthesis has something different and significant to offer: an emphasis on action. In a world so clearly teetering on the edge of disaster, where there is such a dire need for alternative thinking, and alternative action, but where it seems that many to whom we might look for such alternatives are like rabbits paralysed by the headlights, perhaps this is a good moment to revisit thinking that emphasises the importance, not just of understanding, but also of acting on the basis of that understanding.

A similar point is made by others — see, for example, Portis We would suggest that precisely the same comment can be made today. Clearly, COT is not a homogenised body of thought and contains much that is disputatious, disputable and contradictory. However, we suspect that most researchers in COT would subscribe to some, if not all, of the concerns of Sorel. We, too, would suggest that this is, to say the least, an unfortunate oversight [1].

Sorel consistently declared himself of the left, but he has been claimed as their own by both left and right. This ability to appeal to left and right is not unique — Nietzsche is a particularly well-known example and, more recently, postmodernism has proved similarly flexible. Sorel was, deliberately, not a systematic thinker — he despised system.

Although focussed on a particular problematic, his method was to interrogate in depth relevant ideas, concepts and issues that had attracted his attention and interest. In a Deleuzean sense, his thought can be seen as nomadic. Sorel produced a large body of work much of which is not easily available, and its accessibility is also limited, from an Anglophone point of view, because much of it is not translated.

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His best known work and the one with which he is most closely associated and our focus here , is Reflections on Violence [] , though Sorel himself did not regard it as his most significant work Berlin, ; Meisel, In Reflections on Violence , and of particular relevance to COT, he sees the emancipation of the working class achievable only through the conflict of the general strike.

This has been seized upon to condemn Sorel, against the evidence of his own words, as the advocate of a mindless brutality. In any case, to do so would be contrary to the spirit of his writing. Rather, we look for relevance to our problematic of COT and treat Sorel, as we must, as a text. Sorel is often labelled an anarcho-syndicalist, but although this seems highly appropriate in some respects, the fluidity of his thinking itself demonstrates the difficulties of such specific labelling, and his position on syndicalism changed over time, his early support for it later becoming criticism of it.

Inevitably with thinkers not of our own time, no matter how timeless some of their understanding may be, there will be aspects that resonate only with the world as it was then. The rise to dominance of the large, mainly capitalist, organisation was not typical of that era.

Ciccariello-Maher comments that study of Sorel discloses. And, indeed, we will argue, for those who wish an understanding of modern organisations. Just as there are contradictions in Sorel and in his work, there are also contradictions in Sorel scholarship. Although the de facto working language of COT is English, it has been widely informed by scholarship which was not originally in English, but is used in translation.

However, from a poststructuralist point of view, purity of text is not really a relevant concept — a text is a text, it has utility, or not, for the reader, and this is what is important. This is particularly apposite in the case of Sorel. With Sorel, there is no canonical literature, certainly with respect to an Anglophone organisation theory.

The former first appeared in English as an authorised translation by T. Hulme, which was published in [2]. According to Sorel, Reflections on Violence , of which there were several editions in French, originated in as a series of articles in Le Mouvement Socialiste.

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No struggle, no emancipation: Georges Sorel and his relevance for Critical Organisation Studies

However, according to Jennings, in a new edition of Reflections on Violence , its earliest formulation was from in Italy, in Italian xxxv , though Jennings [ ] gives the Le Mouvement Socialiste articles as the origin. Indeed, no translation credit is given. Before elaborating further on the significance of such issues for potential students of Sorel, it is appropriate to explain our own use of Reflections on Violence.

There are a number of reasons for this. As there is clearly no authoritative urtext as regards Reflections on Violence , commentators use a variety of sources. For example, Berlin uses a French version, whereas Jennings , as opposed to Jennings [] above , refers to a version published in Paris and Geneva in Horowitz uses the sixth French edition of unfortunately, none of these record the name of the publishers. Meisel gives a useful overview of the various editions to that date.

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Some authors offer partial translations of their own, e. Stanley Since authors do not usually offer an explanation of their choice of source we must assume that they use that which they find most suitable for their purpose. He continues,. Sorel not only takes violence as his subject but, more importantly, is prepared to equate it with life, creativity and virtue.

And was it not, perhaps, one of the illusions that served most to disfigure the twentieth century?

Emancipation by Laclau, Ernesto

Jennings, xxi. Whether we like it or not, life, creativity and virtue are recognisable products of twentieth century violence, even if we deplore the fact that violence was their progenitor. We might point to the suffragettes, the recession of fascism, decolonialisation, advances in medicine, and, indeed, the artistic flourishing that has accompanied these. It was the politicians and ideologues, and not the proletariat, who resorted to wholesale acts of terror and repression in order to secure their own dominance.

This becomes significant when we recall that Jennings is unhappy with this translation and has sought to reorder the contents, creating difficulties for comparing texts. The edition by Jennings does contain much useful information on Sorel, though, as with all claims regarding Sorel, it should be used circumspectly. We have drawn attention to the above problems because they present a degree of undecideability which the student of Sorel must deal with. And this caveat applies, not just to different editions and different translations, but also to issues of content.

However, according to Horowitz 12 , he rejected the award, as well as a pension from the government, though Stanley 6 claims that he did receive a state pension. There are other mysteries too: in our copy of the edition the translation is credited to Hulme and Roth on the title page, but to Roth and Hulme on the cover. As one might by now expect, this also does not appear to be the case.

It appears in translation in the edition, which means that Hulme was the translator, rather than Roth. However, Hulme was a casualty of the First World War, dying in Jennings xxxviii mistakenly credits the reprint of the edition as the first appearance of the two extra appendices. Similarly with the shorter work, The Decomposition of Marxism , translated by Horowitz Our purpose in such an extensive excursion into the contradictions in Sorel scholarship is to alert the reader to the danger inherent in any authoritative statement on Sorel or his works and that includes, of course, our own.

Does this lessen the potential utility in Sorel for COT? We would argue that it does not. For example, many of the areas of dispute are issues of record, and might be, and, indeed, ought to be, eventually resolved. We suspect Sorel would not be unhappy about this multiplicity, in that it makes his students labour to gain an understanding — he railed against simplistic, glib, superficial knowledge, and argued that what one struggles to understand is, in the end, better understood see, for example, Sorel, It is abundantly clear that this text can be, and is, read very differently by different readers — hence, for example, how it becomes possible for both left wing and right wing thinkers to claim Sorel as an influence, and the attendant disagreements about whether Sorel himself was of the left or the right.

So, now let us return to our own interpretation of this work.

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We write as critical students of organisation, from an explicit poststructuralist perspective. However, at least part of this apparent vagueness is attributable to a concern about the use of language that seems very familiar to contemporary ears. His approach to language was very particular, and he decried attempts to use language so that meanings might be fixed and controlled, might constrain the boundaries of both thought and action. Laclau here begins to explore precisely how our visions of emancipation have been recast under these new conditions.

Emancipation s is a significant contribution to the reshaping of radical political thought.

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