The Culture of Abstraction

Theory, Culture and Society 25 (4):57-75 (2008)
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Focusing especially on Science and the Modern World, this article explores Whitehead's understanding of the social contexts and repercussions of mathematical and scientific abstraction. It investigates his remarks on the need to offset pernicious practices of abstraction in the context of a renewed concern with the link between conceptuality and materiality in social theory. Whitehead's inquiry into the problematic legacy of Galileo and scientific materialism is then contrasted with a different diagnosis of the abstractive maladies of modern society, the one put forward under the Marxist rubric of `real abstraction'. While both stances allow us to explore the social repercussions of abstractive practices, it is argued that an understanding of the practically abstract character of capitalism permits us to identify the limits of Whitehead's pedagogical wish to reform our culture of abstraction.



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