CST Notes 9 - Sociology 319 Contemporary Social Theories...

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Sociology 319 – Contemporary Social Theories January 27, 2006 Herbert Marcuse The readings for this section are CST , Chapter 4 and pp. 1-18 of Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man . Next day – Habermas. Read pp. 76-87 of CST and section from “What is Discourse Ethics?” a. Background Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979) was of German, Jewish background and studied philosophy at Berlin and Freiburg. He was a part of the Institute for Social Research in its early days in Germany andemigrated to the United States in 1934. During the second world war, he worked in the Office of War Information and the Office of Secret Services of the United States, and after the war in the State Department. In 1952 he became a professor at Columbia University, and later was associated with Harvard and Brandeis universities, and the University of California at San Diego, retiring in 1976. Associated with the Institute from the early days, he achieved fame in the 1960s, as a guru of the new social movements that emerged in the United States and Western Europe. Of the original critical theorists, he was the only one who developed a relationship with the new left of the 1960s. His writings provided a critical view of the capitalism and modernity that existed in the mid- twentieth century, with an historical and social analysis. His focus was less philosophical and cultural and more concerned with analysis of practical and political developments as a theory of social change (Kellner, “Critical Theory Today”). At the same time, in his major writings he did not develop a political or social guide for those who were resisting powerful forms of social control and limits on freedom. But his critical analysis provided social movement activists with a means of analyzing problems of modern society. Marcuse was generally sympathetic to the new social movements (student, anti-war, feminist, civil rights, gay rights) and became a sort of guru to the new left of the 1960s. Marcuse considered “the substratum of the outcasts and outsiders, the exploited of other races and other colors, the unemployed and the unemployable” (Marcuse, 1964, p. 256) to possibly have a revolutionary potential for opposing the totalizing society. While he recognized that it would be difficult to change
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the system, with respect to these outsiders he argued “the fact that they start refusing to play the game may be the fact which marks the beginning of the end of a period” (Marcuse, 1964, p. 257). At the same time, he did not pin his hopes for revolutionary change on university students (Calhoun, p. 525). In addition to One-Dimensional Man (1964), the main writings of Marcuse were Reason and Revolution (1941), Eros and Civilization (1955), Soviet Marxism (1958), and An Essay on Liberation (1969). Marcuse did not just critique western society but also Soviet society and the socialism of Eastern Europe. His writings demonstrate a concern with issues of human liberation.
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