Critical realism.

Some time ago, I remarked that I intended to “do theory after Sokal.” By this, I meant a commitment to certain principles of discourse. It wasn’t meant as an enthusiastic endorsement of Sokal’s project–not only are there certain weaknesses in his hoax (that Social Text was not truly peer reviewed being one, and that he was, indeed, actings as a representative of a ‘guest discipline’ being another), as the saying goes, even paranoids have enemies, and the hoax took a lot of its rhetorical power from this sense of real intellectual vulnerabilities in the constellation of ideas against which his prank worked. (As a note, any physicist who took his hoax as some sort of vindication should be directed to the even more-damning Bogdanov Affair which continues to vex physics; this hoax, if it is a hoax–the “perps” have not called their hand if it is–has divided professional opinion, and gone far beyond one case publication in an extra-disciplinary journal.)

Since then, I’ve learned a bit more about some of the more recent tendencies in theory. I have a phrase to place on these premises: critical realism, a critique of both hermeneutic and positivist traditions that has its origins in the work of Roy Bhaskar. (Bhaskar has since had a religious turn, but the critical realist idea has an independent trajectory.)

To date, Bhaskar’s effect is mostly felt in social sciences and the philosophy of science/science studies. To the extent I can, I’m going to see how I can inform my work in the humanities (specifically, exegetical and interpretive work with texts, particularly games) with the same commitment to questions of efficacy and fallabilism.

Some of the key elements of Bhaskar’s work may not actually migrate into the humanities very smoothly. But I think I’ve found a cluster of ideas from which I can build a container-theory which allows me to position my own work in a coherent relationship with that others. (Since many of my colleagues are still working largely with post-structuralist models, it is pretty important that I have some footing for my work which is often outside those models.)


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