Re: po-mo is part of the world-system, not a virus

Wed, 12 Mar 1997 10:04:12 -0700 (MST)
Albert J Bergesen (albert@U.Arizona.EDU)

How we date the British hegemony is debatable, but some start at
least part of it with the Treaty of Paris such that the second half of the
18th century would start a universalist trend. The generalizability of
universal rights that is Enlightenment discourse would fit here, as would
neo-classicism in art, Adam Smith's universal wants and needs as
trans-social motivations for economic behavior. Similarly Romanticism
concerns trans-social universal dispositions of all people and of nature
as an eternal entity. All of this comes to be chopped up, collapsed, and
particularized around mid-century with the rise of Realism in art, the
particularistic snapshot images of Impressionism compared with the eternal
images of nature inthe raw of Romanticism. In social theory the
universalism of Smithian classical economics is challenged by the
social particularism of specific classes of Marx and the rise of
sociology, for which the particular group matters and the universalism of
A. Smith is directly challenged, from Marx to Weber and Durkheim.

It is not until the American hegemony that we see a sustained period of
universalism across the board. Talcott Parsons tried universal social
theory; Samuleson's text was a summary of the universal
principles of neo-classical economic theory; and Chomsky's
transformational grammar proposed a general universal grammar that applied
to all languages. In the arts modernism was of universal
principles--particulary Amereican abstraction gave no hint of the race,
class, gender origin of its paintings. Contrast this with the
particularism of today: no general theory in sociology; no general
abstraction in art; everything is particular, for particular groups:
Afrocentricism for some, queer theory for some, feminist theory for some,
social movement theory for some, and so on.

General theory is out. Particular theories for particular groups is in.
It is the temper of our age.

al b.

Albert Bergesen
Department of Sociology
University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona 85721
Phone: 520-621-3303
Fax: 520-621-9875