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Richard Rottenburg on Anthropology, Critique and Hope

The Theodor Heuss Lecture

On April 15th, Richard Rottenburg, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Halle, Germany and the 2014-2015 Theodor Heuss Visiting Professor at The New School for Social Research, presented a lecture to The New School’s General Seminar. Here is the announcement of the event:

For a long time anthropology had a penchant for examining other worlds, thereby indirectly critiquing the Western world. Since the late 1980s this shifted and a critical anthropology emerged, which directly interrogated citadels of Western modernity. Anthropology, however, entered this critical intellectual debate at a moment in history when other disciplines were about to abandon it due to a more radical rendering of critique.

Scholarship in the emerging field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) asserted since the 1980s that the realities manufactured by science and technology have to be analyzed symmetrically to cultural realities, subjecting both to the same critique. This reflexive shift was a double-edged sword; it could not spare its own outcomes from imputations of contingency. STS bashfully needs to assume an Archimedean point placed outside the world to observe this world, yet simultaneously vehemently denies that such an external point of view can be accessible to human endeavor at all. Post-critical anthropology offers new versions of postmodern and postcolonial modesty in dealing with this aporia. This lecture examines the remaining space of critique and offers an outlook on the possibilities of a post-critical critique.

The Heuss Lecture marks the overlapping of two cycles in our intellectual world, one annual, the other monthly. Every year, a distinguished scholar from Germany comes to The New School, honoring the rescue mission of German academics and intellectuals from Nazi Germany that was our University in Exile, and every month, the faculty as a whole, along with our students, meet for an interdisciplinary seminar, one that was first founded by the German exiles.

Rottenburg presented a paper concerning a major interest of his, the role of techno-science in democracy, reflecting on how “objectivity,” “critique” and “institution” are related. The lecture was provocative. Note the beginnings of a discussion at the conclusion of this recording. The discussion was so interesting that it was picked up in a special dialogue between Rottenburg and Richard Bernstein, which we will post tomorrow. -J.G.

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Jeffrey C. Goldfarb

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A Dialogue between Richard Rottenburg and Richard Bernstein on Critique and Hope