Prof. René Boomkens (University of Groningen)

TOPKITSCH or the new conformism in academic life
Challenges of the critical tradition in philosophy

The critical tradition in philosophy has lasted two centuries. It started with Kant, whose critical method tried to overcome metaphysics. The criticism of Marx challenged the new science of political economy as the new metaphysics (ideology) of bourgeois society. Nietzsche's criticism was directed at the hubris of Descartes' and Kant's notion of the autonomous rationality of the Subject - of man, and of the Enlightenment project. Freud's criticism showed us the 'dark side' of rationality - its unconscious side. Benjamin and Adorno criticized the whole notion of progress through rationalization, Arendt showed us how efficiently destructive and deadly rationalization could work out. Finally Foucault figured out how the so-called humanizing and liberating goals of the humanities (the 'Geisteswissenschaften' or 'sciences humaines') played an important part in a politics of control, exclusion and normalization of individuals in modern societies.

What has this critical tradition in philosophy been up to? Was is successful? Is there any reason to continue this critical tradition of intellectual, artistic and philosophical discourse? And if so, what should be its target in the present?

I will argue that the critical tradition in philosophy is needed even more than before. We are entering a new era, the era of the metaphysics of TOPKITSCH, the era of a new conformism in academic life, i.e. of an attempt to silence critique and any critical tradition as such. By 'economizing' academic culture and by developing more and more precise methods and standards for evaluating scientific research output, and by creating so-called international criteria for 'top'-research the critical and skeptical attitude in intellectual practices is discouraged and sometimes even banned from academic circles. To be able to counter this 'MacDonaldization' of academic life and scientific research, the critical tradition in philosophy once more has to look for cognitive, cultural and political sources of resistance and renewal outside the barracks of academic life.

René Boomkens (1954) is professor in social and cultural philosophy at the RUG. He teaches courses on Critical Theory, modernism and postmodernism, media and identity, globalization, the philosophy of Walter Benjamin, philosophy of urban and popular culture and on empirical philosophy. In his research he focuses on the role new media play in the transformation of urban culture and public life, on globalization and politics, and on the changing relations between the private and the public sphere. From 1998 till 2003 he was special professor in popular music at the University of Amsterdam. He is co-founder of the philosophical journal KRISIS (1980) and was editor of the cultural monthly De Gids. He published several books on popular music, media culture, urban development and globalization (all in Dutch), and articles and book chapters on pop culture, urban culture, the role of intellectuals and artists, and on high and low culture (in English). Since 2006 he is member of the Raad voor Cultuur (Council of Culture) of the Dutch government.