11/9: Words and Things: Raymond Williams, Late Capitalism, and Keywords for Radicals
November 9, 2016
6:30 – 8:30 pm
Sociology Lounge, Room 6112
The Center for Place, Culture and Politics, in Conversation with AK Thompson
In Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976), pioneering cultural materialist Raymond Williams devised a method for revealing how language not only described but also helped to produce the world. By focusing on historical shifts in word usage and meaning and tracing the constellated vocabularies that gave each moment an appearance of stability, Williams revealed how our most intimate utterances could serve as guides to the contradictions at work within the social totality.
Forty years later, Keywords for Radicals: The Contested Vocabulary of Late-Capitalist Struggle was published with the aim of applying Williams’ method to the contests over word usage and meaning that have become so central to contemporary activist projects. In addition to its more particular focus on the radical milieu, however, Keywords for Radicals also had to contend with late capitalism’s shifting epistemology. How does one submit language to historical scrutiny, for instance, when history itself has become a conceptually indeterminate proposition?
In this public dialogue, Keywords for Radicals co-editor AK Thompson will review Williams’ method in light of the new terrain to highlight its enduring relevance while demonstrating how it might be modified to address the epistemological challenges posed by the cultural logic of late capitalism.
AK Thompson got kicked out of high school for publishing an underground newspaper called The Agitator and has been an activist, writer, and social theorist ever since. Currently teaching social theory at Fordham University, his publications include Black Bloc, White Riot: Anti-Globalization and the Genealogy of Dissent (2010) and Sociology for Changing the World: Social Movements/Social Research (2006). Between 2005 and 2012, he served on the Editorial Committee of Upping The Anti: A Journal of Theory and Action.