Alienation and Acceleration by Hartmut Rosa

January 30, 2019 | Author: Nahuel Roldán | Category: Critical Theory, Norm (Social), Philosophical Theories, Philosophical Movements, Sociological Theories
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Alienation and acceleration – towards a critical theory of late-modern temporality a

Christian Spatscheck a

 Faculty of Social Sciences, School of Social Work, Hochschule Bremen, Germany Published online: 26 May 2015.

Click for updates To cite this article:  Christian Spatscheck (2015): Alienation and acceleration – towards a critical critical theory of late-modern late-modern temporality, Nordic Social Work Research, DOI: 10.1080/2156857X.2015.1047596 To link to this article:

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Alienation and acceleration –   towards a critical theory of late-modern temporality ,  by Hartmut Rosa, Malmö/Aarhus, NSU Press (NSU Summertalks # 3), 2010, 111pp., £36 (paperback), ISBN-13: 978-8787564144/ISBN-10: 8787564149

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With this book, Hartmut Rosa follows the ambitious project to lay foundations for a critical theory of social acceleration and the human ‘ being-in-the-world ’. As a sociologist and social theorist he is working on the formulation of a theoretical analysis of the dynamics and transformative forces of our accelerating societies. In his works, he follows a relational and non-essentialist approach. This present book derives originally from a double keynote he gave at one of the annual Nordic Summer Universities at the Castle of Wik in Uppsala. Meanwhile, this book and some of his others have been translated into different languages and �nd more and more repercussion in the debates of critical theory. The book consists of three parts. In the �rst part, Rosa describes the general outlines of his theory of social acceleration. The phenomena of social acceleration can be identi�ed in three areas,   technical acceleration,   acceleration of social change and acceleration of the pace of life . But what are the driving-wheels behind these developments? Rosa identi �es two external drives, the ‘social motor of competition ’   and the ‘cultural motor of the promise of eternity ’, and one internal drive, the ‘self-accelerating forces of late-modernity ’  that no longer need external driving-wheels. Rather, they work  as ‘feedback-systems’  of permanent individual optimisation that often have lost sense and values. Certainly, there are also phenomena of deceleration. Rosa identi �es �ve of  them,   the natural limits of speed ,   oases of deceleration,  deceleration as dysfunctional  by- products of acceleration, intentional deceleration and  structural and cultural consolidation. But according to his assessment, the forces of acceleration are usually stronger  than the forces of deceleration, and individuals therefore cannot resist or escape them. The relevance of these developments is quite obvious; they determine our  ‘ being-inthe-world’  and our relations to the objective, social and subjective world. On this background, it seems necessary to identify the pathologies and forms of alienation in the current way of life. The second part identi �es the outlines of a critical theory that is able to re �ect and criticise current world relations. Here, Rosa tries to follow methodological intuitions of  the ‘founding fathers ’  of critical theory, like Marx and the protagonists of the Frankfurt  School of Critical Thought, especially Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Benjamin, Fromm as well as Habermas and Honneth, without staying tied to much on their  methodological and theoretical considerations. He identi �es ‘social pathologies ’ (Honneth) as a main focus of critical theory and social philosophy. But critical approaches often implied normative considerations that, in Rosa ’s understanding, can no longer be derived from non-historic and pan-social perspectives. Instead, he pledges to identify the ‘real human suffering’   as the main reference for critical theory. In this sense, a contemporary critical theory would aim to assess social practices on the


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Book review

 background of the individual ’s conceptions of the ‘good life ’. Here, Rosa explicitly follows Charles Taylor ’s conviction that human subjects and their actions and decisions are guided by their conscious or implicit conceptions of the ‘good life ’. This enables Rosa to formulate a critical theory without conceptions of the human nature and essence. Instead, he focusses on individual experiences and comparisons with social  practices and institutions. Here, the right to lead a life that matches individual abilities, needs and hopes, and the need to create a democratic political community that supports these aims, can serve as alternative references for critical theory. In two sub-chapters he re�ects why the approaches of Habermas ’   critique of the conditions of communication and Honneth ’s critique of the relations of recognition fall short to be a critique of  accelerated societies. The thorough analysis of relations of communication and the re�ection of norms, good arguments and sense often are too slow to criticise the accelerated processes of political deliberation. And the growing societal demand for   permanent performance and optimisation makes it dif �cult to establish relations of  recognition in environments of competition. Therefore, our accelerated social relations need even to be regarded as a new form of totalitarianism. Struggling not to fall back  against competitors, we lose the ability to recognise these conditions as socially constructed. Rather, they seem as naturalistic and become part of an untouchable ideology. Clearly, it seems necessary to �nd a critique of these conditions. In the third part, Rosa formulates his four critiques of social acceleration. His �rst  one, the   functionalist critique, identi �es the ‘ pathologies of de-synchronisation ’. Some social processes cannot be accelerated. This leads to tensions between systems, social institutions, processes and practices that follow a different level of speed. Everyday examples are the ecological impacts of the overgrowing human consumption of  resources, the still ongoing economic crisis with crashing global �nancial markets, the increase in individual psychological problems or the lack of relaxation and creativity in our accelerated lifestyles. On a political level, social acceleration also threatens processes of political deliberation that need time for debate and consideration. Rosa ’s normative critique re�ects the paradoxical situation that we are living in apparently free and liberal societies, but still feel obliged to follow a growing number of social demands and pressures. The imperative of our unful �lled social duties seems to become successively stronger; therefore, it is hardly possible to escape from them. Individuals feel more and more guilty to meet the needs of optimisation, but still it is hard to lead a debate about the seemingly anonymous forces behind these feelings. As the current  time norms undermine the modern promise of re �exivity and autonomy they need to  be challenged and enlightened by normative critique. Rosa ’s next and �rst ethical critique refers to the ‘ broken promises of modernity ’. Originally, the project of modernity was promising autonomy and self-determination for subjects. In accelerated societies, this promise has lost its credibility. Acceleration is no longer liberating subjects. Rather  it hinders them to �nd autonomy. Over time, subjects are threatened to lose their  ‘original wills ’  and to become ‘alienated’   from their actual wishes, interests and needs. This leads to Rosa ’s  second ethical critique, the connection between acceleration and alienation (Following the tradition of German social sciences, Rosa here uses the German term ‘Entfremdung’). Through acceleration individuals become alienated from space, things, their actions, time, themselves and their social relations. In this longer chapter, Rosa comes closest to meet his claim from the introductory chapter: ‘In this book, I will come back to the question that is the most important for us humans: The question of the good life –  and the question why we actually do not have a good life ’.

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But what can be done against these developments? Despite his strong focus on the analysis of problems, Rosa at least describes some solutions in his �nal outlook. He identi�es the need to �nd and establish social relationships of  ‘resonance’   as a positive  perspective. This could enable individuals to overcome current time regimes. Historically, we have been mainly building on two systems of resonance, religion and the arts. Today it might be necessary to �nd new forms and settings for resonance in everyday social relations and relations to things, nature and work. This again would be in �uencing our  ‘ being-in-the world ’. For creating experiences of resonance, Rosa argues that  critical theory could at least provide more support than rational choice theories and their concept of the instrumental homo economicus. With this book, the term of alienation is rediscovered in a very clarifying argumentation. Rosa does not build on essentialist arguments about the true nature of the human being, but formulates a new approach for the debate about the good life. Why is this relevant for social work? Firstly, practitioners and researchers can better understand time regimes of acceleration that affect the life worlds of social work ’s target  groups as well as social workers as professionals. Secondly, it provides revitalising arguments for a reformulation of a critical position without the need to refer to the often doubted essentialist idea of knowing what the essence of a good life would need to be. And thirdly, the four critiques of Rosa can help social workers in practice and theory to �nd detailed and concrete arguments for a critique of the condition of our  current society and their alienating powers. This enables a well-grounded and innovative perspective for the discovery of the good life as a conceptual subject matter for  social work ’s research, theory development and practice. Christian Spatscheck   Professor of Social Work   Faculty of Social Sciences, School of Social Work, Hochschule Bremen, Germany [email protected] © 2015, Christian Spatscheck

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