Research Overview

My intellectual objective has been to elaborate a formula of critique for politically valiant social analysis, suitable for the conceptualization of radical social change. The evolution of this project is articulated below, referenced to the relevant publications.

My efforts at politically engaged philosophical reflection began with my involvement with the dissident movements in my native Bulgaria in the late 1980s. I observed a continuity between the nascent post-communist democracy and the old regime, questioning prevalent at the time optimistic prognoses for the future of liberal democracy in Eastern Europe (Azmanova 1992). This trajectory of research was continued in Azmanova 2001, 2006, 2009a, 2009b.

My doctoral work at the New School for Social Research in New York focused on theories of justice and judgment, as I explored the capacity of public deliberations on social justice to have not only validating and consensus-building, but also a critical, emancipatory force. I formulated the dilemma of normative political theory in terms of what I called the ‘judgment paradox’ – the more we weaken our normative criteria, the more we enhance judgment’s political realism at the expense of its critical power; however, the higher we set the normative standards, the more we lose our grip on political reality— again at the expense of judgment’s critical power (2012a: 3-4). To solve this paradox, I elaborated a model of critical judgment based on a pragmatist political epistemology, by drawing on Aristotle’s notion of phronesis and Kant’s notion of reflective judgment. I articulate the conditions under which public deliberations on justice generate what I describe as a critical consensus – a shared understanding of the common social roots of seemingly irreconcilable positions, which allows citizens to maintain a critical stance on the norms they embrace as binding, as well as engage successfully in transformative social practices (ibid: Ch7-9). Aspects of this model of agonistic, emancipatory deliberations are developed in 2011a, 2011c, and 2013c.

Another trajectory of my research has been dedicated to bringing the critique of political economy (back) into political and social theory. I observe the disengagement of critical theory from the critique of the structural dynamics of contemporary capitalism (2014, 2019e, 2019c) and propose to shift our thinking on social justice beyond issues of inequality and exclusion (2014). I recast the model of ‘immanent critique’ developed within the Frankfurt School of critical theory away from the communicative turn, in order to ground social criticism more firmly in the critique of political economy. This allows me to focus on the key systemic dynamics and structural contradictions of contemporary capitalism (2012b). At the center of my theoretical framework is an articulation of three types of social domination: systemic (rooted in the constitutive dynamics of the social system), structural (rooted in the structuring institutions), and relational (rooted in power asymmetries); these are also three trajectories along which intellectual critique and social criticism are to pursue emancipation (2020a, 2018b, 2016b). Emancipatory practice is to target these three types of domination, while radical, revolutionary practice is to target specifically systemic domination. Thus, I shift the critique of capitalism from issues of distributive injustice and property relations (which are matters of, respectively, relational and structural domination) to the competitive production of profit – capitalism’s constitutive dynamic which engenders systemic domination. Drawing on this theoretical model, I also spell out a methodology of analysis for critical social theory (2020a, Ch2).

This recasting of the analysis of social domination allows me to argue that social and political theory’s contribution to progressive politics is often undermined by what I call the ‘emancipation paradox’: success in fighting one form of domination often comes at the price of aggravating another form of domination (2019b). I have displayed the way the emancipation paradox plays out in feminist struggles for emancipation in analyses that urge the degendering of social justice, and advance a formula of socially embedded autonomy that unites work, care, and leisure (2012c, 2016b). My account of the enabling conditions for progressive politics leads me to introduce the notion of meta-rights and elaborate the conception of the ‘right to politics’ -- the right of having one’s grievance of injustice (be it suffered by us or by others) to be considered a relevant social concern and a valid object of policy making (2016a).

I have deployed the above-described theoretical framework in the analysis of contemporary capitalist democracy as an institutionalised socio-political order. I identify the spreading economic and social uncertainty (precarity) to be at the heart of the social question of our times (2004a, 2012b), fueling economic xenophobia (2011a) and generating populism as a matter of political mis-articulation of a valid social grievance (2018c) which is to be countered by means of a set of policies that institute what I name a ‘political economy of trust’ (2011a, 2017, 2020a).

In contrast to analyses that attribute the rise of populism to a democratic deficit, economic crisis, or eroding national sovereignty, I trace the roots of the anti-establishment revolts to what I conceptualise as ‘socially irresponsible rule’, in contrast to responsive, accountable, and effective rule (2013a). Moreover, I propose to see populist parties and movements not as temporary mobilisations at the extremes of the left-right political spectrum, but as a symptom of a stable reconfiguration of the ideological landscape of liberal democracies, in which the left-right divide is being replaced by what I name opportunity-risk divide (Azmanova 2004a, 2004b, 2011b). This reconfiguration, in turn, is part of the thorough transformation of neoliberal capitalism into a novel form of democratic capitalism (2010a, 2013b), what I have discussed most recently as ‘precarity capitalism’ (2020a).

The various trajectories of my research into the political economy and the ideological dynamics of contemporary capitalism converge into the comprehensive analysis I offer in my new book Capitalism on Edge (2020a), which lays out a path for radical social change without reliance on crisis, revolution, or utopia. In this work, I construct a methodology for critical social analysis, which is then operationalised in an analysis of the transformation of capitalism over the past two centuries. This work elaborates a conception of radical social change as subversion of systemic dynamics, rather than overthrowing or resisting these dynamics.

Books

2020c.

with James Chamberlain (eds.) Capitalism, Democracy, Socialism: Critical Debates (Springer).

2020a.

Capitalism on Edge: How Fighting Precarity Can Achieve Radical Change Without Crisis or Utopia (Columbia University Press).

2015.

with Mihaela Mihai (eds.) Reclaiming Democracy: Judgment, Responsibility and the Right to Politics (London and New York: Routledge).

2012a.

The Scandal of Reason: A Critical Theory of Political Judgment (Columbia University Press).

2006b.

with Marc Pallemaerts (eds.) The EU and Sustainable Development: Internal and External Dimensions (VUB University Press).

Book Chapters and Articles

2021a.

"Battlegrounds of Justice: The Pandemic and What Really Grieves the 99%", in Pandemics, Politics, and Society: Critical Perspectives on the Covid-19 Crisis edited by Gerard Delanty (De Gruyter, Dec) .

2020b.

"The Costs of the Democratic Turn in Political Theory", in Theory as Ideology in International Relations: The Politics of Knowledge edited by Benjamin Martill and Sebastian Schindler (London: Routledge, Mar) .

2020e.

Anti-Capital for the XXIst Century (on the metacrisis of capitalism and the prospects for radical politics), Philosophy & Social Criticism (Mar).

2019e.

Whose development? What hegemony? Tackling the structural dynamics of global social injustice, Ethics & Global Politics 12/4 (Dec): 32-39.

2019f.

with Azar Dakwar. The Inverted Post-national Constellation: Identitarian populism in context, European Law Journal 25/5 (Nov): 494-501.

2019a.

The Emancipation Paradox: Populism, Democracy, and the Soul of the Left, Philosophy & Social Criticism 45/9-10 (Oct): 1186-1207.

2019c.

"Marx", in The Cambridge Habermas Lexicon edited by Amy Allen and Eduardo Mendieta (Cambridge University Press, Mar) .

2019d.

"Late Capitalism", in The Cambridge Habermas Lexicon edited by Amy Allen and Eduardo Mendieta (Cambridge University Press, Mar) .

2019b.

The clash that never was: Debating Islam, the myth of civilisations and the realities of democracy, Philosophy & Social Criticism 45/5 (Mar): 617–624. (a review of Benhabib, S. and Kaul, V. (eds.) Towards New Democratic Imaginaries – Istanbul Seminars on Islam, Culture and Politics. Springer, 2017)

2018d.

Emancipation, Progress, Critique: Debating Amy Allen’s <i>The End of Progress</i>, Contemporary Political Theory 17/4 (May): 511–541. (as editor of Critical Exchanges section)

2018c.

The European Left’s Machiavellian moment: notes on Costas Douzinas’ <i>Syriza in Power</i>, openDemocracy (Apr).

2018a.

The Populist Catharsis: On the Revival of the Political, Philosophy & Social Criticism 44/4 (Mar): 399-411.

2018b.

Relational, structural and systemic forms of power: the ‘right to justification’ confronting three types of domination, Journal of Political Power 11/1 (Feb): 68-78.

2017.

"The Crisis of ‘the Crisis of Europe’", in European Union and Disunion edited by Ash Amin and Philip Lewis (The British Academy, May) .

2016b.

Empowerment as Surrender: How Women Lost the Battle for Emancipation as They Won Equality and Inclusion, Social Research: An International Quarterly 83/3 (Dec): 749-776.

2016a.

The Right to Politics and Republican Non-domination, Philosophy & Social Criticism 42/4 (Jun): 465-475.

2016d.

"Democracy Against Social Reform: The Arab ‘Spring’ Faces its Demons", in What is Enlightenment? Continuity or Rupture in the Wake if the Arab Uprisings edited by Mohammed Cherkaoui (Rowman and Littlefield, Apr) .

2014.

Crisis? Capitalism is Doing Very Well. How is Critical Theory?, Constellations 21/3 (Sep): 351-365.

2014a.

"Soziale Gerechtigkeit und die verschiedenen Varianten des Kapitalismus", in Der Wert des Marktes edited by Axel Honneth and Lisa Herzog (Suhrkamp Verlag, Feb) .

2013b.

"The ‘Crisis of Capitalism’ and the State – More Powerful, Less Responsible, Invariably Legitimate", in Semantics of Statebuilding: Language, Meanings and Sovereignty edited by Nicholas Onuf, Nicolas Lemay-Hébert, Petar Bojanić and Vojin Rakić (Routledge, Nov) .

2013c.

Political Judgment for an Agonistic Democracy, No Foundations 10 (Jun).

2013a.

The Crisis of Europe: Democratic Deficit and Eroding Sovereignty — Not Guilty, Law and Critique 24/1 (Jan): 23-38.

2011c.

"Social Harm, Political Judgment, and the Pragmatics of Universal Justification", in Relativism and Human Rights edited by Claudio Corradetti (Springer, Oct) .

2012b.

Social Justice and Varieties of Capitalism: An Immanent Critique, New Political Economy 17/4 (Feb): 445-463.

2012c.

De-gendering social justice in the 21st century: An immanent critique of neoliberal capitalism, European Journal of Social Theory 15/2 (Jan): 143-156.

2011b.

After the Left-Right (Dis)continuum: Globalization and the Remaking of Europe’s Ideological Geography, International Political Sociology 5/4 (Dec): 384-407.

2011a.

Against the Politics of Fear: On Deliberation, Inclusion, and the Political Economy of Trust, Philosophy & Social Criticism 37/2 (May): 401-412. (An Italian translation of this article is published in Queste Istituzioni, March 2011)

2010b.

Deliberative Conflict and ‘The Better Argument’ Mystique, The Good Society 19/1 (Nov): 48-54.

2010a.

Capitalism Reorganized: Social Justice after Neo-liberalism, Constellations 17/3 (Aug): 390-406.

2009b.

1989 and the Accidental Death of the European Social Model, Policy & Politics 37/4 (Oct): 611-614.

2009a.

1989 and the European Social Model: Transition without emancipation?, Philosophy & Social Criticism 35/9 (Oct): 1019-1037.

2006.

"Democratization, Economic Transition and Sustainable Development: A Perspective from the EU’s New Member States", in The EU and Sustainable Development: Internal and External Dimensions edited by Marc Pallemaerts (VUB University Press, Dec) .

2005.

"Le Potentiel Démocratique de la Constitution Européenne (ou Les Démocrates doivent-ils voter pour?)", in Les Européennes en 2005 edited by Dominique Reynie (Odile Jacob Publishing, Jun) .

2004a.

The Mobilisation of the European Left in the Early 21st Century, European Journal of Sociology 45/2 (Aug): 273-306.

2004b.

Europe’s Novel Political Cultures in the Early Twenty-first Century, Contemporary Politics 10/2 (Jul): 111-125.

2004c.

Curbing the Deficit: Democracy After the European Constitution, Imprints 8/1 (Jun): 7-49.

2001.

Bulgaria’s Prospects for EU Membership, East European Constitutional Review 5/4 (Jan).

1992.

Dictatorships of Freedom, Praxis International 12/2 (Jul): 145-157.

1991.

The Legitimacy of Communism?, Sociological Problems 4 (Jun).