The globalisation of critical theory is inseparable from its Americanization

This argument is made by Razmig Keucheyan in Left Hemisphere: Mapping Contemporary Theory at loc 6004-6028. It’s a thought provoking conclusion to an impressively broad text, even if it leaves me no more enthusiastic about critical social theory than I was at the outset.

However, the globalization of critical thinking possesses the following problematic feature: it is inseparable from its Americanization. The attractiveness of the United States (not merely financial, but also for the promotion and international circulation of oeuvres) is such that, whatever the provenance of thinkers –Latin America, India, China, Africa and so forth –it is difficult for them to resist it. Yet it is likely that the Americanization of critical thinking contains the seeds of its political neutralization.11 The United States is certainly not the political desert it is sometimes depicted as in Europe. Powerful social movements exist there, among them the movement of illegal immigrants of Hispanic origin that has emerged in the recent years. Rather, the problem lies in the situation of universities and their occupants, which tend on account of their elitist character to be socially and spatially cut off from the rest of society. This socio-spatial segregation of American universities renders the interaction between critical thinkers and political and social movements referred to above even less likely. In this respect, what is required is the emergence of a globalization of critical thinking uncoupled from its Americanization.

While there are objections which should be made to how he characterises the “globalization of critical thinking” as something which diffuses outwards from its American and European foundation, I’ve found myself ruminating on his underlying observation of how the wealth and influence of the US system draws the most celebrated representatives of these currents into its orbit. I had found myself wondering a similar thing about internationalisation and academic celebrity: to what extent does the desire to overcome provincialism entrench the intellectual star system and are there ways in which this can be avoided?

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