Mackenzie, Iain Murdo
Limits, liminality and the present: towards a Foucauldian ontology of social criticism.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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Through a series of critical interventions in contemporary political thought, utilising the concept of liminality, this thesis points towards a Foucauldian ontology of the conditions necessary for social criticism.
Beginning with a critical investigation of Foucault's archaeological and genealogical works (chapter one) the idea that Foucault's "analytic of the limit" provides sufficient grounding for a critical theory of society is challenged. While Foucault's approach contains many insights into the character of social relations it ultimately embodies a problematic transcendental conception of the present. It is argued that Foucault's early works require an "analytic of liminality" if this problem is to be avoided.
Chapters two, three and four serve the following functions: firstly, they explore the concept of liminality as a feature of (respectively) the present, the self and everyday speech acts; secondly, they are critical interrogations of non-Foucauldian accounts of social criticism - from neo-Marxism and postmodernism, through communitarianism to critical theory; thirdly, they introduce a series of concepts that are sensitive to the "paradoxical" condition of liminality thereby suggesting the themes that a Foucauldian ontology of social criticism must endeavour to incorporate.
In chapter five it is argued that Foucault's later works implicitly contain an analytic of liminality that entails a non-transcendental account of the present. Integrating the later work into his earlier work, therefore, provides a greater theoretical understanding of Foucault's ontology of social criticism. It is concluded that Foucault (and poststructuralism in general) represents a distinctive and convincing voice in the debates concerning the character of social criticism.
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