Social Theory in an Age of Limits

Wednesday 16 November 2011, 4.15PM to 5.30pm

Speaker(s): Professor Ralph Schroeder, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

This paper presents an overview of the arguments of a forthcoming book on social theory centred on the notion of limits. The book proposes that the current ‘age’, roughly since the 1970s, marks a departure in the three master trends of the modern era: the struggle for social citizenship rights, the disembedding of markets, and the transformation of the natural environment. Based on a comparative-historical analysis, with a focus on cases in the global North (Sweden, the United States) and sideways glances at China and India, the book argues that there are now similar constraints on social development throughout the global North and beyond. These constraints include the waning of conflicts driving the extension and deepening of rights, the uncertainties of increasing financialization, and advancing lack of control over the exploitation of natural resources. The key challenge for social theory is not in charting these patterns and convergences, but rather in rethinking basic concepts like conflict and cohesion. This is done here by analysing the deepening differentiation between the dominant political, economic and cultural institutions and the resulting cleavages between their powers.

Ralph Schroeder is Professor at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford. His books include ‘Max Weber and the Sociology of Culture’ (Sage 1992), ‘Rethinking Science, Technology and Social Change’ (Stanford 2007) and ‘An Age of Limits: Social Theory for the 21st Century’ (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming 2012).

Location: W/222