‚Jenny Brockmann’s work as seen through the eyes of a critical sociologist‘ by Dina Shvetsov

During the second half of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century, sociology, and sociological theory, have been preoccupied with the dramatic effects modernity has had on the course of the development of Western societies and the lives of its members.

Great transformations in social and economic life left people with a feeling of helplessness, emotional suffering, and political oppression, and prompted them to seek to reclaim their agency.
Through the development of collective political action, which came to be considered a remedy to realized deprivations (“relative deprivation”, as a political scientists Ted Gurr would say), the agent of social revolution was born. Revolting against economic, social, and political constraints, the agent was determined to break, or at least tame, the system that caused his disenchantment, disenfranchisement, social alienation and that subjected his life to cold rationalization and discipline.

But while the agent fought the system, the very fight conditioned his mind.

By the time the Nazis came to power in Germany in the 1930s, it was possible to claim that the truth is relative and divisions based upon assumptions of “friend” and “enemy” were thought to be required to overcome the defeat of the grand political ideas by the faceless, soulless apparatus of liberal capitalism, as Nazi legal mind and philosopher-influencer Carl Schmitt theorized. In the Soviet Union, where anti-capitalist forces won the political battle, the building of the “New Man” lead to a mass hunt of the “internal enemies” of the regime, showing that political animosity and ideological struggle which costs millions of human lives do not end with the abolition of capitalism.

The linguistic turn in such social sciences as anthropology and sociology reflected in the works of Levi-Strauss and Douglas, and structural functionalism of Talcott Parsons after the Second World War, represented an attempt to explain how and why societies would conceptualize people and groups into “ours” and “theirs” in a more universal, relational and implicitly free (from political ideology) manner. Structuralism in anthropology manifested the idea that as we are linguistically predetermined to construct meaning from the opposite (as we know what “dark” is – the opposite “light”), our thinking is condemned to the constraints of the binary categories.

But hypotheses exist to be disproven, and without them there is nothing to disprove.

Today we talk about diversity more than we talk about uniformity, and inclusion or exclusion for the sake of the uniformity. We talk about diverse groups in the workplace, in the educational environment, artistic spheres, literature, government, etc. Homogeneity of the social is no longer a value, and in many cases, it is treated as a danger to both culture and productivity.
But does our understanding, or conception, of diversity managee to surpass the binary thinking of the past?
Social research of the recent decade has been more and more confronted with problem of social-constructionism based on binary categories, which divide entities into analytically antagonistic categories, such as the “social” against the “natural,” “ideas” and “material,” “occident” and “orient,” “colonizer” and “colonized,” “white and non-white,” “citizen” and “migrant”, “inner” and “outer,” “self” and “the other.” Social scientists are beginning to contest the reasoning based on creating analytical categories vis a vis its direct counterparts. Authors such David Stark write that we can no longer talk about “capitalism” as a system antithetical to “socialism,” Jason Moore opposes the distinction between the “social” and the “natural,” and Judith Butler contests the social construction of gender.

The approach traces its roots in the Cartesian logic of Western knowledge production, which is now being challenged by the impossibility of giving an encounter with alterity due significance, and particularly to the creative manifestations and outcomes of such encounters. Meanwhile, sociological research continues demonstrating that the productive dimension of such encounters is profound. Upsides of diversity include more intelligent decision-making, which is being demonstrated by studies of financial markets all over the world. “Diversity actually makes us smarter” concludes the research of Sheen Levine and David Stark.
Here is there artistic endeavor of Jenny Brokmann comes into play, with its more than timely intervention. The project “Dialogues on A Future Communication” approaches such central for the contemporary social sciences subject as diversity in simultaneously critical and radical way. Brokmann’s creation changes the very conditions of discourse production, and creates ruptures in the various ways in which diversity has been discussed and articulated: it challenges linguistic structures by providing a physical non- verbal experience of interaction; it gives space and accommodation to a multiplicity of voices, breaking the disciplinary constrains of the centuries long monologue of a social researcher about the nature and function of a society and social order, converting the process of thinking about diversity and society into a dialectical experience between the artistic, the spatial and the analytical.
Engagement #2, “Resilience” of the “Dialogues on A Future Communication” invites one to explore the question of “to which extent intelligence today needs to be defined, besides its quality of adaptability, and become a mode of critical un-adaptability, and whether we need or ready to go beyond the discussion about intelligence in service of achievement of social balance, cohesion and solidarity, as defined by Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons, for the sake of a positive social change”.
The approach that is consciously resistant to Cartesian reasoning allows us to open up a conversation regarding an anti-deterministic view on social history, where intellectual -social scientific and philosophical- intervention into social structures on all levels might help to create a more intelligent society.
The session merges an analytical view on diversity with an approach to social change developed as a part of the critical theory tradition, and rests on the notion that as we think of richer, deeper, more ingenious process of creation in a variety of social realms, we enable the social change towards social, ecological and economic justice, for the individual but also society as a whole.