The Discursive Preconditions for the Acceleration of Publishing, or, Why Scholasticism and Positivism are Now Everwhere

From On Sociology by John Goldthorope, pg 7. This is a really nice description of the intellectual conditions necessary for someone like Žižek to come along and publish 55 books in 14 years:

Such a response, it may be noted, is highly congenial to those theorists who would believe that the main task of theoretical writing is not that of providing a basis or more successful explanations but indeed of expounding, analysing, and ‘discursively’ criticizing the variety of traditions and schools that Sociology comprises. For a vista is thus opened up of books being written out of books, with little need for empirical enquiry,t hat extends indefinitely.

There are other factors implicated in the spiralling rate of publication. But as a whole, the ensuing discursive conditions invite two responses:

  1. Scholasticism: much theory becomes an endless sequence of footnotes to those who successfully monopolise the attention space of academics, or who are retrospectively elevated by those who this (e.g. the fashionableness of Lacan after Žižek).
  2. Neo-positivism: empirically inclined researchers turn away from theory, correctly seeing little of practical use and/or being driven by a disdain for what is regarded as groundless and self-indulgent chatter. Perhaps compounded by an inability to keep up with a spiralling literature and a lack of confidence about where to start, given the destruction of any shared meta-theoretical context which could provide guidance.

The middle ground between the two is the tendency to take theory ‘off the shelf’ at a late stage of empirical research. Combining the worst bits of scholasticism and neo-positivism.

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