Class Consciousness and Political Agency: A Conceptual Reconstruction for the Twenty-First Century

Dissertation, University of Memphis (2020)
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This dissertation aims to analyze, clarify, and reconstruct the concept of class consciousness by developing a dialectical account of political agency at work in the concept. I defend a dialectical account of agency, that includes both the way in which individuals come together to form groups, but also the capacity of a collective to transform social conditions. I argue that this account of political agency is necessary in order to understand the possibility of social transformation or change. I trace the development of the relationship between consciousness and agency in the early tradition of Western Marxism, focusing primarily on the account of class consciousness given by Georg Lukács in History and Class Consciousness. Against his account of the world historical agency of a unified proletariat, however, I defend Theodor Adorno’s insistence on nonidentity, and the importance of unreconciled groups in capitalist society. In order to understand these groups, such as the vanguard, party, or proletariat, we must understand the way in which individuals form groups, as well as their inherent collectivity. My account of the political agency at work in the concept of class consciousness is broadly speaking pluralist. I argue that a multiplicity of methodologies is needed in order to arrive at a complete picture of the concept. I defend an account of class consciousness that is neither reductive nor deflationary with respect to other dimensions of social domination. This class forward approach seeks to build intersectional political coalitions in order to undertake revolutionary action. Successful revolutionary social transformation is never guaranteed in advance; however, the concept of class consciousness, reconstructed through the lens of political agency, offers conceptual resources to address the problems of today, for the sake of a better tomorrow.

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Benjamin E Curtis
Rhodes College


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