requiem for certainty

Problematization & Reconstruction

with 3 comments

One of my primary research foci over the past eighteen months has been the development of a new apparatus for critical inquiry which brings together insights from the two philosophical traditions of pragmatism and genealogy. It seems fitting to inaugurate this new blogspace with a statement of what such critical inquiry might look like and how it might shape up. What follows is just one possible way of developing this apparatus. The project as a whole is still very much in development.

How ought we to inquire into the emergence of practices? There are, of course, innumerable ways to study practices, their constitution, and their formation. But if we are particularly concerned with the logic of the emergence of practices, then it might be ventured that our inquiries ought to focus on problematizations and reconstructions, or what can more colloquially be referred to as problems and solutions. The general view (which is for now simply assumed) lurking behind this thought is that emergence occurs by way of cycles of problems-and-solutions. In such cycles, the relation between problematizations and reconstructions can be described in terms of reciprocity and separateness.

That problems and solutions are reciprocal suggests that in many cases, indeed in the most interesting cases, problems and solutions emerge together in such a way as to inform, reinforce, and amplify one another. For example, a small problem opens up a space of inquiry, which is quickly occupied by a small reconstruction, which in turn amplifies the initial problematization such that an expanded problem space motivates an expanded inquiry, and so on as each aspect reciprocally amplifies the other. There are, of course, plenty of cases in which we find only problematizations or only reconstructions. These, however, tend to be the less interesting cases. A problem without any envisaged solutions will generally be abandoned in short order as a viable space of attention just as a solution which fails to engage any serious problem will generally in short order be dismissed as superfluous. Nearly every important large-scale cultural (i.e., ethical, political, epistemological, and ontological) change emerges into being in the form of a reciprocally-amplifying circuit of problematization and reconstruction.

That problematizations and reconstructions are separable suggests that they are not identical. We can always detect extant problems and solutions without corollary forms. But in nearly every interesting problems and solutions will rely on one another. Therefore, what is important about the separateness of problematizations and reconstructions is not a metaphysical claim about the autonomy of each, but is rather a methodological advantage which can be derived from inquiring into emergent forms in their two separable aspects of problematization and reconstruction. That is, we can inquire into emergent forms in two different ways, each one of which emphasizes the problematizating or the reconstructive side of the emergent. Such inquiries should not be taken to imply that the problematizations under scrutiny can exist without their corollary reconstructions, and vice versa, but can nevertheless usefully bring into focus particular aspects of an emergent practice which may otherwise be difficult to grasp. In nearly every case, any such inquiry will at some point or another need to engage with both aspects of problematization and reconstruction, such that what is useful is not paying attention to the one at the expense of the other so much as foregrounding one in a way that clarifies certain features.

What might such clarifying inquiries look like? There need be no general theory of inquiring into problematizations and reconstructions. And yet it is still true that certain forms of inquire may be particularly useful (or not) in each case.

If the aim of our inquiry is to bring problematizations into focus, then one particularly suitable form of inquiry would be genealogy. Genealogy clarifies problematizations. In clarifying problematizations genealogy understood as the history of the present also has the potential advantage of intensifying these problematizations in a way that adds a sense of urgency or importance to the problems in question. Genealogy thus enables us to inquiry into problematizations as part of a broader apparatus of critical inquiry which is relevant to practices emerging in the present moment.

If the aim of our inquiry is to bring reconstructions into focus, then one particularly suitable form of inquiry would be pragmatism. Pragmatism clarifies reconstructions and in so doing has the added advantage of improving upon the reconstructions in question. Pragmatism thus helps us appreciate the value of certain reconstructive processes whilst also enabling us to amplify this value. Pragmatism thus offers a form of inquiry into reconstructions that is able to effectively operate as part of an apparatus of critical inquiry that is relevant to present practices.

One potential difficulty in the approaches just elaborated might be put as follows. Whereas we might be able to methodologically isolate problematization and reconstruction by employing forms of inquiry developed under the banners of genealogy and pragmatism, such a methodology is bound to distort the emergent practices in question. Problems and solutions may be potentially separable, but insofar as they are reciprocal in the actual practices under consideration they are better studied in tandem in a way that focuses on their inseparability in the realm of actuality. In response to this potential difficulty, what needs to be shown is that there are advantages to be gained from methodologically isolating problematizations and reconstructions for the purposes of specific inquiries. Responding further, it might be emphasized that the study of problematizations and the study of reconstructions must take such forms as are compatible with one another. What makes genealogy and pragmatism particularly suitable for these tasks is precisely the way in which each approach invites the other. Genealogy already has an element of pragmatism built into it just as pragmatism already has an element of genealogy built into it. Genealogy and pragmatism thus reinforce one another. Alternative forms of inquiry may not have this advantage: so while psychoanalysis would be another useful approach to the study of problematizations and positivism might offer another useful logic for explicating reconstructions, it may not be the case that psychoanalysis and positivism can be as fluidly integrated as can genealogy and pragmatism. This, of course, is not a general claim. It remains to be seen what other forms of inquiry can be used to clarify the reciprocal but separable aspects of emergence commonly referred to as problems and solutions.

I should mention before closing that this approach by way of the emergence of practices is only one possible way of developing the apparatus of critical inquiry which I am calling genealogical pragmatism. Another way of developing this project is explored in my paper ‘Genealogical Pragmatism: Problematization and Reconstruction’ currently available at SSRN (link here) where I have also put up another work-in-progress which reviews all of the current literature on Foucault and Dewey (link here). SSRN is an excellent new resource which I advise to anyone who happens to read this.


Written by Colin Koopman

October 2, 2007 at 1:03 am

3 Responses

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  1. I wonder why you set ontology within the realm of culture; is it not useful to universalize the categories of being as, say, Badiou does with his determination: “mathematics is ontology.” Your thoughts about emergence, problematization and reconstruction also seem to have similarities, or at least common objects of inquiry, with his theory of Evental disruption in the face of crisis. I’m currently still in the preparation stage for a long engagement with his Being and Event, so I’m as yet no representative of his thought, but you may be interested in his work (if you’re not already familiar), as it seems to advocate a similar goal: namely, the disavowal of the notion of an unthinkable barrier between “analytic” and “continental” philosophical technique/knowledge.

    Tyler Innis

    October 2, 2007 at 5:10 pm

  2. I’d be in for a short study group on Badiou if we can ever get around to reading Zizek together. Things way too busy now.

    My initial impression is that what I am after is not what Foucault called ‘eventalization’ — the Event as pure disruption or irruption seems to me historiographically quite insensitive — I find myself unable to do much with such a history, at least as I find it in some I have read (perhaps inaccurately!). To the extent that Badiou (or anyone else) is trying to stage a confrontation between analytic and continental, though, I’m all for it.

    Colin Koopman

    October 4, 2007 at 7:19 pm

  3. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you


    December 16, 2007 at 3:07 am

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