Journalistic Forms of Theory. Periodical Publishing and Theorizing, 1950s to 1970s
The project studies the role of journals and journal related publishing practices in the formation of theoretical discourses in the second half of the twentieth century. It argues that the history of theory has been, to a large extent, a history of collaborative modes of authorship and publishing, especially in times of contention about academic and intellectual ›engagement‹ in society. Examples from the late 1950s to the early 1980s show the emergence of a type of theoretical writing and publishing that combines cultural and social criticism with counter-canonical enterprises and claims of practical reform.
In the light of educational crises, a ›need for theory‹ was most pressingly articulated in circles and groups of the theory-oriented academic New Left. This movement was also a movement of newly founded theory journals, which included the West-German alternative (1958–1982), the US-American Studies on the Left, the French Arguments (1956–62) and the British New Reasoner/New Left Review (1956/60–today). Placing themselves in the tradition of Western Marxism and Critical Theory, these journals now served as observation posts of contemporary intellectual life and introduced their readers to new paradigms such as french Structuralism or psychoanalytical theory. Likewise, they were documentary media, editing and (re-)printing historical texts and sources from the archives, thus historicizing their own activity in a larger (counter-)canonic framework.
The project examines the use of different textual forms that were used to generate dissent or to yield authority in theoretical debates. Interviews, letters and other archival sources were used in controversies about the ›correct‹ interpretation and political consequences of theory at a given time and in a given space. Through their specific means and temporalities, these journals became sites of information, (self-)education and socialization of intellectuals who made use of journalistic forms and practices to mediate between academic and non-academic contexts and readerships.
Fig. above: © Moritz Neuffer