The Mundane Dialectic of Enlightenment: Typification as Everyday Identity Thinking

Human Studies 43 (4):521-543 (2020)
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Abstract

To make Adorno’s difficult notion of “identity thinking” more amendable to sociological research, this project brings his Negative Dialectics into conversation with Schutz’s theory of typification. When revised with Adorno’s attention to political economy and the pathologies of reification, Schutz’s framework allows for an analysis of identity thinking in everyday life. Both theorists argue that categories of thought: automatically subsume objects for pragmatic yet socially conditioned reasons, are socially formed, transferred, and selected, and suppress particularizing characteristics of objects. Their overlapping arguments are cross-fertilized to propose a critical approach to cognitive sociology that can engage in a form of ideology critique that illuminates forms of thinking that conceal social contradictions. This approach is useful for explaining the “mundane dialectic of enlightenment”: the daily reproduction of unreflective rationalization that breeds irrationality in the form of social domination and environmental harm, a contradiction which finds its ultimate expression in climate change inaction.

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