The Call of Disquiet: Naming Critique Without Certainty

George Pavlich, University of Alberta

There are many who thrash, almost involuntarily, at any talk of the "postmodern". They mourn the passing of a familiar ethos. The Left once knew its place, critique was critique and progressive political engagement was sure to lead to emancipation. The revolution's justice was always just around the corner. Dreams of emancipation for all were shattered by an unexpected crisis in the ways that radical thinking--in sociology and criminology--legitimated itself. Fragmentations in definitions of oppressed identities, beyond the working class, left many in a state of political disarray. Anything 'postmodern' provided a convenient whipping post to deflect attention away from the woes of ensconced thinking that refused to confront its unexamined orthodoxies. One such orthodoxy rested on the requirement that critique operate as normatively grounded judgement. Firmly rooted within modern disciplinary horizons, this image of critique faces unique and fundamental challenges in contexts that question the privilege once granted to disciplinary power-knowledge relations. Current, perhaps postmodern, conditions invite very different images of critique to witness and frame opposition political activities. This paper names an alternative grammar of critique, thereby seeking a concept of the critical that wrests legitimacy from--whilst also contesting--the uncertain conditions before us.

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Updated 05/20/2006