Friday, March 30, 2007


Wik castle, Uppsala Sweden July 22-29, 2007

What is the social-historical? For the philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis (1922-1997), neither society nor history can be understood without taking the other into consideration; forming the question of the social-historical. However, according to Castoriadis, traditional philosophy is built on inadequate notions that block our understanding – even the ability to pose the question – of the mode of being of the social-historical. These inadequacies are rooted in fundamental presuppositions of the philosophical traditions – such as the notion of universal causality, which Castoriadis rejected as a central part of what he called ‘the myth of being as being-determined’. Accordingly, the notions and ways of thinking that have upheld, and still uphold the Western philosophical tradition have contributed to screen out its own social-historical dimensions. For Castoriadis, this meant a severe reductionism; specifically lethal to the idea of being as creation: creation of meaning, significations and social forms – and creation of new modes of being: ideas that are central in his work.

Inherited thought has necessarily been led to reduce the social-historical to the types of being that it knew or thought it knew – having constructed them and thus determined them – from somewhere else, making the social-historical a variant, a combination or a synthesis of the corresponding beings: thing, subject, idea or concept. … However, if we decide to consider the social-historical for itself; if we understand that it is to be questioned and reflected upon on the basis of itself alone … then we observe that it shatters our inherited logic and ontology. For we see that it does not fall under any traditional categories – except in a nominal and empty way – but instead it makes us recognize the narrow limit of their validity, permits us to glimpse a new and different logic and, above all, radically to alter the meaning of: being. (Castoriadis 1987:169).

But then there is the other side of the matter: the anthropological dimensions of the social-historical. Patterns of the social-historical must also be thematized as modes of being-in-the world. And that is where the resources of the philosophical tradition come back in, beginning with the phenomenological tradition out of which Castoriadis came. This might imply a critique of Castoriadis’s tendency to a certain over-psychoanalytization of the anthropological dimensions. Possible trails to follow are civilization analyses and culture studies inspired by the thought of Max Weber, e.g. recent works of Johann P. Arnason. Also, a promising rereading of Castoriadis’s psychoanalysis can be found in Marcel Gauchet's work, indicating another way of understanding the link between psychoanalysis and political philosophy.

Furthermore, there is the notion of the human subject, which for Castoriadis is closely connected to the mode of being of the social-historical. What are the philosophical/scientific and political/practical implications of this way of conceptualizing the human subject, e.g. in terms of individuality?

To Castoriadis, Greek antiquity is in several respects a privileged domain of reference. First, it is one of his paradigmatic examples of social-historical creativity. Second, it is the one and only case of an original breakthrough to autonomy, i.e. to a self-reflection of the social-historical. Third, Greek philosophy is both an integral part and the most explicit articulation of this breakthrough; and Castoriadis saw it as a crucial resource to be drawn upon for the thematization of the social-historical. Fourth, Plato's thought is for Castoriadis the paradigmatic reversal/suppression of the original current of reflection – although the verdict is ambivalent.

The ensuing questions and areas for investigation are many, e.g.:

- Castoriadis's interpretation(s) of Greek antiquity and philosophy.
- The status and use of psychoanalysis in political thought.
- Notions of the human subject, and “the self”, in social and political theory. Hereunder, possibly, Castoriadis’s ambiguous relationship to Hegel.
- The social-historical discussed in different currents of thought (hermeneutics, phenomenology, pragmatism, postmodernism etc.).
- The influence and use of Castoriadis’s concepts, e.g of the social-historical, in current social theory (e.g. Giddens, Bauman, Joas, Wagner).

Contributions are welcomed on these subjects, or any subject matter within Castoriadis-studies as well as studies of thinkers that may elucidate the subject matter from other angles, whether philosophical, sociological, psychoanalytical or otherwise. We invite researchers, students, activists and others with an interest in these and connected problems to participate with papers, preferably in English, alternatively in a Scandinavian language, with summary and presentation in English.

Registration with a title of paper and a short abstract should be submitted to Ingerid Straume by May 1st

A preliminary programme will be ready by May 15th Participants will be provided with travel costs according to the guidelines of the Nordic Summer University. Participants without paper are also welcome; special terms for students.

More information on the network group and
Nordic Summer University:

Keynote speakers for the summer session:
Hartmut Rosa and Alenka Zupancic (see link above)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


I've just had a brief introduction to the 1940-book by Sartre called L'Imaginaire. It became very clear that Sartre ends up with several problems in this book, which Castoriadis's concept of the (radical and social) imaginary adresses, and solves very well. I believe that Castoriadis must have worked specifically with - and up against - this thought of Sartre's in his own main work, The Imaginary Institution of Society. However, I have never heard mention of any connections between these works. Does anyone know if there has been written papers or articles that investigate the connections between them?

Ingerid S.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Brussels April 26 and 27

The annual colloque on Castoriadis studies in Brussels is announced here

This year's theme is PRAXIS AND INSTITUTION:
"Envisager conjointement la praxis et l’institution permet de saisir l’une des dimensions les plus novatrices du travail de Castoriadis, qui consiste précisément à affronter sans fard l’aporie que manifeste le rapprochement de ces deux notions. "

Language: French. The papers are normally published in Cahiers Castoriadis.