The possibility of social critique
: between critical social theory and social movements

  • Juan-Pablo Rodriguez Lopez

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The global wave of mobilisations that took place after the 2008 financial crisis prompted social movement scholars and radical thinkers to highlight the ability of social actors to resist capitalism and develop new forms of radical democracy. This initial moment of ‘effervescence’ has been followed by a longer period of balance and critical evaluation. In this context, critical theorists have welcomed the renewal of social critique after a long period of withdrawal and the enunciation of a post-critical era. However, this renewal has taken place at the expense of critical theory’s social significance. In this work, I propose a productive cross-fertilisation of the various realms in which the social critique of capitalism has (separately) taken place: critical social theory and practices of social criticism carried out by social movements. Drawing on Fredric Jameson’s notion of an ‘aesthetic of cognitive mapping’ and on Luc Boltanski’s critical sociology, the thesis argues that the affinities between the two forms of critique provide a basis upon which a politically and theoretically productive articulation might be built. In the first part, I explore four different styles of theoretical critique – from David Harvey to Luc Boltanski – highlighting their merits and limitations. In the second part, I delve into the practices of criticism of capitalist society carried out by two Chilean social movements: the pobladores’ movement and the student movement, respectively, in order to explore how social critique is performed in the context of concrete social struggles. Pobladores and students have been resisting, mapping, and contesting neoliberal policies in Chile since the beginning of the 2000s, actualising old practices of resistance in a new and fragmented social context. By disclosing the affinities between the practices of social critique at both levels, I contend that critical theorists can learn from social movements’ descriptions and explanations, and thus rehabilitate its political emancipatory dimension.
Date of Award25 Dec 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorGregor McLennan (Supervisor) & Terrell F Carver (Supervisor)

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