Is there such a thing as moral or social progress? How do we understand phenomena that might be seen as instances of social regression? And how, after all, are we to conceptualize social change?
While some Critical Theorists hold that we need a notion of progressive social change (and its counterpart) in order to understand and evaluate the dynamics of the transformations we undergo, the very notion of progress (as it is entrenched in the self-understanding of western modernity) seems to be ambivalent and is strongly contested.
So, while it is not easy to see how progress – as a certain kind of “learning process” that has played a central role in Critical Theory from its very beginning – could be dispensed with, our understanding of it certainly needs to be reconstructed.
It is not only the normative question in the narrower sense, though, that is at stake here. By asking how we can possibly conceive of social transformations as “change for the better”, we are not only addressing the issue of normative standards for evaluation of “the good society”. If we want to rely on immanent rather than freestanding normative standards, we also have to re-investigate our concepts of history and social transformation. That means: we should take seriously the notion that “progress” as well as “regression” are bound up with some account of social change as a result of the erosion of institutions and social practices that have been outlived or de-legitimized. Whether this amounts to an accumulative process, as the terms “regression” and “progress” seem to suggest, is one of a variety of questions that we addressed at our summer school.
Organizers: Rahel Jaeggi, Eva von Redecker, Isette Schuhmacher (Humboldt University Berlin) in cooperation with the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research and the New School for Social Research (Alice Crary)