A Critical Theory of Social Suffering

Critical Horizons 11 (2):221-241 (2010)
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This paper begins by defending the twofold relevance, political and theoretical, of the notion of social suffering. Social suffering is a notion politics cannot do without today, as it seems indispensable to describe all the aspects of contemporary injustice. As such, it has been taken up in a number of significant research programmes in different social sciences (sociology, anthropology, social psychology). The notion however poses significant conceptual problems as it challenges disciplinary boundaries traditionally set up to demarcate individual and social phenomena. I argue that philosophy has a role to play in the attempt to integrate the diverging perspectives stemming from the social sciences. I attempt to show that, as it engages with the social sciences to account for the conceptual and normative issues thrown open by the question of social suffering, philosophy in fact retrieves the very idea of critical theory, as a conjugated critique of social reality and of its knowledge. I conclude by showing how the question of social suffering then becomes a useful criterion to distinguish between the different existing approaches in critical theory



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