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Crisis Culture: The Theory & Politics of Historical Rupture Open Access


Other title
Political theory
Cultural studies
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Janzen, David W.
Supervisor and department
Szeman, Imre (English & Film Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Bosteels, Bruno (Romantic Languages, Columbia University)
Mookerjea, Sourayan (Sociology)
Tomsky, Terri (English & Film Studies)
Simpson, Mark (English & Film Studies)
Kellogg, Catherine (Political Science)
Department of English and Film Studies
Date accepted
Graduation date
2017-11:Fall 2017
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Everywhere, we are told, we are in crisis. And yet, the concept “crisis” obscures as much as it clarifies. Crisis Culture examines how modern conceptions of crisis structure the ways we experience, narrate, and respond to moments of historical rupture and upheaval. It analyzes how logics of crisis and event limit and facilitate the emergence of new forms of social and political relations. In its modern conceptions, “crisis” names an event in historical time, while simultaneously constituting historical temporality; crises reconfigure time by defining a new relation between past and future. Both academic and vernacular discourses frame crisis in normative terms: to name a situation a crisis is to posit and affirm (explicitly or implicitly) a definition of a “normal” or non-crisis situation. As such, the logic of crisis tends to reproduce existing hierarchies—specifically, those determining who has the power to name the situation and prescribe solutions. Contemporary Marxist theories of crisis—including Wertkritik and Neue Marx-Lectüre resist normative understandings by locating crisis in the concrete, historical dynamics related to capitalist forms of value. In doing so, they account for the broader, transformative possibilities inherent to crises. Such theories tend, however, to understand crisis in overly objective terms. Analyzing and responding to this limitation, I develop a reconceptualization of historical rupture that—grounded in the political ontology of the Event (Alain Badiou), and what I call the Evental Crisis—recovers the political, subjective force of “crisis.” Specifically, I develop a theory of embodied subjectivity that grounds crisis in political intervention; within this framework a crisis marks a “new time,” not in the objective movements of history per se, but rather in the process of deciding upon and working through the consequences of an event. Shifting the time of crisis from the (objective) moment of rupture to the (subjective) processes of decision-making, this conceptualization prioritizes political actors over abstract structures. Lastly, Crisis Culture theorizes a material basis for the subject of the evental-crisis by contrasting Karl Marx’s theory of crisis, Jacques Lacan’s theory of the subject, and Alain Badiou’s theory of the event. I conclude that the thought of politics depends on the practice of political subjects, today generated by anti-colonial, feminist, and anti-capitalist struggle.
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