Critiques of Identity and the Permutations of the Capitalist Imaginary

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Craig BROWNE, University of Sydney, Australia
In their respective elucidations of the capitalist imaginary, Cornelius Castoriadis and Theodor Adorno emphasize the significance of identity thinking to this social-historical constellation. Adorno contends that the principle of identity constitutes the nucleus of the capitalist imaginary, because it underpins commodity exchange and the formal rationality of bureaucratic administration. Castoriadis associates the logic of identity with the same tendencies, but accentuates the horizon of meaning that animates the deployment of this logic. However, Castoriadis and Adorno recognise that the critique of identity thinking confronts a genuine antinomy. Although it is integral to the capitalist imaginary, the logic of identity is present in every institution of society, and hence critique is itself reliant, to varying degrees, upon it. I argue that Adorno and Castoriadis’ appreciation of this complex entanglement significantly shapes their different theoretical orientations and perspectives on transforming social domination and heteronomy. In particular, I show how the critique of identity poses questions about the ontological underpinnings of the value system of capitalist institutions. It likewise leads, I claim, in the case of Castoriadis and Adorno to the positing of distinctive and original conceptions of justice and autonomy. After comparing these profound critiques of identity, my analysis considers two of the reasons why their contemporary salience may be open to dispute. First, it is possible to argue that neither Adorno nor Castoriadis resolved the tension between the methodological format of the critique of identity and the sense of indeterminacy that they each attribute to the imaginary and expressions of social creativity. Second, it might be claimed that the more recent significations of contemporary capitalism as ‘flexible’, ‘networked’, ‘projective’ and ‘global’ demonstrate the extent to which these two critique of identity were heavily conditioned by models of bureaucratically organised capitalism and that this fixation limits their application.