Summary and Info
"The anthropological idea of 'culture' has provided twentieth-century American intellectuals with an ideology for the relentless textualization of everyday life through social-scientific inquiry. In this book I argue that the rise of 'culture' as a mode of critical self-consciousness has fostered a destabilization of received social meanings necessary for the expansion of both consumer capitalism and critical thought itself. Indeed, critical, humanistic social science, so often arrayed against the market, has just as often been at the vanguard of extending the logic of commodification to the most intimate aspects of people's lives."--from the IntroductionIn Conspicuous Criticism, historian Christopher Shannon argues that the social-scientific critique of American culture, whether liberal or radical, can only reproduce the social relations of bourgeois individualism. He analyzes in depth key works of scholars such as Thorsten Veblen, Robert and Helen Lynd (of Middletown fame), Ruth Benedict, John Dewey, and C. Wright Mills, among others, to demonstrate how American middle-class ideas of progress, individualism, and rationalism became embedded in their critique. These works embody an ideal of reason free from tradition which unites capitalism and its social-scientific critique. The critical attempt to detach oneself from society so as to study it objectively only reinforced the ideal of objective social relations at the heart of the market society itself.Shannon argues that most historical writing on American social sciences has focused on the ways in which intellectuals have used social science to advance particular political agendas. This political focus, he argues, has forced the story of American social science into a narrative of reform and reaction that is incapable of seriously addressing the larger issue of the rational control of society. Shannon concludes that social science research of this sort has perpetuated values of individualism and capitalism which may hinder contemporary America's need to address serious social, economic, and political problems. A thoughtful and provocative alternative history, Conspicuous Criticism will interest scholars in American intellectual history, American studies, and social thought.