Transformation Not Progress Tsonis CHED Essay -Libre

Process theory ideology science philosophy Tsonis author sociological theory
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     Transformation Not Progress: Moving Away From ÒDevelopmentÓ in the Age of Big History  An Entry for the Science, Progress & History International Essay Competition   of  The Centre for the History of European Discourses at  The University of Queensland by  Jack Tsonis  April 2014  Word Count: 8017 (inc. footnotes)  Jack Tsonis completed his PhD at Macquarie University in December 2013, and is currently a teaching assistant the University of Western Sydney in History and Sociology.     Abstract   This essay is a work of critical intellectual history which argues that the deeply ingrained logic of the progress narrative continues to structure Euro-American historiography to a significant degree, despite the fact that teleological assumptions about human nature have been largely rejected in contemporary scholarship. It moves in three parts. Part one is a history of the role that developmental thinking has played in the justification for European imperialism, following the powerful account of Thomas McCarthyÕs Race, Empire, and the Idea of Human Development   (2009). In light of such problems, part two reviews McCarthyÕs argument for a Òcritical theory of global developmentÓ, which advocates reparative forms of global justice as well as the continued effort to ÒreconstructÓ the concept of ÒdevelopmentÓ to move it more fully away from its dubious history. In the final section, I argue that while McCarthy frames this problem well at a general level, the actual proposal about the language of development is far less persuasive. To make this argument I contrast JŸrgen HabermasÕ theory of social evolution (which lies behind McCarthyÕs proposal) with theories of cultural change from the macrohistorical paradigm known as Òbig historyÓ, where the leading idea is that the key to explaining the rapidity of change in human evolution is the capacity for Òcollective learningÓ. This comparison reveals the extent to which traditional theories of social evolution remain predicated on assumptions about Òmoral developmentÓ that remain rooted in Eurocentric narratives that such scholars otherwise reject. Thus by using the new space created by big history, the main contention of this essay is that an important part of the reconstruction advocated by McCarthy and others is to downgrade development as a central category in historical explanation and move towards the more dynamic (and more appropriate) language of transformation, differentiation, and complexity.    1 Transformation Not Progress: Moving Away From ÒDevelopmentÓ in the Age of Big History Since at least the time of Augustine, Western historical thought has been structured around the idea of progress Ð the view that historical change was moving towards a final, discernible goal that was not merely a creation of the human mind, but part of our transcendental destiny. For many centuries this final goal was the Kingdom of God and the global acceptance of Christian gospel, a vision that continues to animate large parts of the world population. But with the rise of the political state and capitalist modes of production in the early modern period, along with the planetary consciousness that emerged as a result of European colonial expansion, social philosophers began to articulate a different vision in which humanity was on an inexorable march not to God, but to Freedom. This view received its most influential articulation in the universal histories of Kant and Hegel, whose ideas became paradigmatic for subsequent Western thought. Social evolutionary paradigms received strong propulsion in the wake of DarwinÕs theory of evolution, which reinforced the tendency to see Euro-American social formations as the ÒhighestÓ form of culture, the one closest to having actualized the goal of freedom. And despite numerous shifts in emphasis, this view remains constitutive of contemporary  Western thought, structuring not just popular historical consciousness, but also the  vast majority of policy decisions with regard to global social-economic development. But since the atrocities of the two World Wars, Western faith in progress has been profoundly shaken. After Adorno and HorkheimerÕs scathing exposition of Enlightenment logic set the tone for later generations of critics, a range of wider developments such as decolonization, the civil rights movement, feminism, immigration reform, and the protests of 1968 further called into question Western standards of judgment. Later critics began operating with modes of genealogical    2 critique by linking traditional Euro-American systems of representation with actual relations of power, thereby also making the irreducibly situated nature of all interpretation an ongoing analytical concern. So even though aspects of the progress narrative continue to structure global political and economic relations, as well as significant parts of professional and popular historiography, a robust tradition has developed in which teleology Ð the  view whereby human behaviour can be judged against a Òfinal goalÓ of history Ð has been firmly rejected in favour of an approach which is thoroughly contextual, and  which treats no form of social organization as inherently better than others. Any normative values are derived from present concerns, and they must be grounded on readings of history that acknowledge the actual human consequences of contemporary Western supremacy in greater balance with its traditionally valorized freedoms.  This essay comprises three sections, with the first tracking the intellectual history of the progress narrative as just described. However, it is a programmatic essay that not only seeks to describe   these changes, but also to advocate   a continued push towards non-teleological forms of historiography and cultural comparison. To this end, the first section is a critical genealogy that follows Thomas McCarthyÕs powerful indictment of developmental thinking in Euro-American scholarship, which foregrounds the role such thinking has played in the physical, economic, and symbolic violence of Euro-American imperialism over the last five centuries. 1  Section two then addresses McCarthyÕs call for Òcritical theory of global developmentÓ,  which advocates reparative forms of global justice as well as the need for systems of cultural comparison that are not based upon teleological assumptions about human 1  T. McCarthy, Race, Empire, and the Idea of Human Development   (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009). Hereafter cited as REHD  . Over the course of reflecting on these issues, this essay has largely turned into a response to McCarthyÕs argument.

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