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	A Time for Critique

A Time for Critique

Didier Fassin, Bernard E. Harcourt [dir.]
Columbia University Press,  [2019],  320 p.

In a world of political upheaval, rising inequality, catastrophic climate change, and widespread doubt of even the most authoritative sources of information, is there a place for critique? This book calls for a systematic reappraisal of critical thinking—its assumptions, its practices, its genealogy, its predicament—following the principle that critique can only start with self-critique.

In A Time for Critique, Didier Fassin, Bernard E. Harcourt, and a group of eminent political theorists, anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers, and literary and legal scholars reflect on the multiplying contexts and forms of critical discourse and on the social actors and social movements engaged in them. How can one maintain sufficient distance from the eventful present without doing it an injustice? How can one address contemporary issues without repudiating the intellectual legacies of the past? How can one avoid the disconnection between theory and action? How can critique be both public and collective? These provocative questions are addressed by revisiting the works of Foucault and Arendt, Said and Césaire, Benjamin and Du Bois, but they are also given substance through on-the-ground case studies that treat subaltern criticism in Palestine, emancipatory mobilizations in Syria, the antitorture campaigns of Sri Lankan activists, and the abolitionism of the African American critical resistance and undercommons movements in the United States. Examining lucidly the present challenges of critique, A Time for Critique shows how its theoretical reassessment and its emerging forms can illuminate the imaginative modalities to rejuvenate critical praxis.



Introduction, by Didier Fassin and Bernard E. Harcourt

Part I: Critique as Practice

1. How Is Critique?, by Didier Fassin

2. Critique as a Political Practice of Freedom, by Linda M. G. Zerilli

3. Critique Without a Politics of Hope?, by Ayşe Parla

4. The Usefulness of Uncertain Critique, by Peter Redfield

5. Human Rights Consciousness and Critique, by Karen Engle

6. Critique as Subduction, by Massimiliano Tomba

7. What’s Left of the Real?, by Vanja Hamzić

Part II: Critique in Practice

8. Subaltern Critique and the History of Palestine, by Lori Allen

9. Critical Theory in a Minor Key to Take Stock of the Syrian Revolution, by Fadi A. Bardawil

10. Pragmatic Critique of Torture in Sri Lanka, by Nick Cheesman

11. Dispossession, Reimagined from the 1690s, by David Kazanjian

12. Crisis, Critique, and Abolition, by Andrew Dilts

13. Law, Critique, and the Undercommons, by Allegra M. McLeod

14. Critical Praxis for the Twenty- First Century, by Bernard E. Harcourt

List of Contributors


About the Author

Didier Fassin is the James Wolfensohn Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study and a director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. The author of several books, including most recently Life: A Critical User’s Manual, he was the first social scientist to receive the Nomis Distinguished Scholar Award.

Bernard E. Harcourt is the Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law and professor of political science at Columbia University and a director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. Founding director of the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought at Columbia University, he is the author of several books, including most recently The Counterrevolution: How Our Government Went to War Against Its Own Citizens.


What is a timely book? Perhaps one that, in the middle of urgency, is untimely enough to bridge the gaps between a rich tradition and a problematic future, identifying multiple forms of resistance and innovation within multiple life worlds which are also places of reflection. I found all that, and more, in Fassin and Harcourt's fascinating inquiry on the question of critique and its relation to practice. And I trust that readers will think as much. Étienne Balibar, author of Secularism and Cosmopolitanism: Critical Hypotheses on Religion and Politics

These essays make an eloquent case for the vitality of the critique contributed by today's social movements, for the ongoing relevance of critical thought, and for a new theoretical lexicon for the practice of contemporary critique. Penelope Deutscher, author of Foucault’s Futures: A Critique of Reproductive Reason

If critique is in a crisis today, this is not only because critical options are limited in view of social conditions that present themselves as without alternative or because what is criticized is proving to be extremely resistant. Rather, critique itself has become the target of critique. The present volume intervenes in this debate in a helpful way. Not just another volume on the question of criticism it is groundbreaking in that it asks less for the normative basis of critique than for its present state. Starting with the analysis of the practice of critique and of critique as a practice, the authors develop an approach that neither denies the discontent with critique nor adopts a defeatist approach. As in a self-application of Marx's principle of immanent critique to critique itself, here 'the new world' (of critique) is developed 'from the old,' the future possibilities and tasks of critique from its existing practices, from its reality and its problems. Thus again it becomes clear what critique can and should be: an urgently needed catalyst for the transformation of existing social structures and relations. Rahel Jaeggi, author of Alienation and Critique of Forms of Life


  • Columbia University Press, September 2019, 320 pages. ISBN Paperback: 9780231191272 ISBN Hardcover: 9780231191265 ISBN E-book: 9780231549318

A Time for Critique

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