Crisis Culture: The Theory & Politics of Historical Rupture

  • Author / Creator
    Janzen, David W.
  • 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.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    2017-11:Fall 2017
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Department of English and Film Studies
  • Specialization
    • English
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Szeman, Imre (English & Film Studies)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Simpson, Mark (English & Film Studies)
    • Mookerjea, Sourayan (Sociology)
    • Tomsky, Terri (English & Film Studies)
    • Kellogg, Catherine (Political Science)
    • Bosteels, Bruno (Romantic Languages, Columbia University)