Agon Culture: Competition, Conflict and the Problem of Domination
Agon Culture: Competition, Conflict and the Problem of Domination is a book in the tradition of the Frankfurt School’s critical theory. It takes a critical look at one of the key concepts in sociopolitical thought – agon (conflict) – through a reworking of Adorno’s model of reification-as-domination. Reification occurs when practices aimed at preserving individuals actually end up harming them (p. 176). Reified practices, in turn, are mirrored by reified concepts. One such concept is agon, i.e. the idea that the clash of opposing forces necessarily results in growth and progress. Such ‘agonal rationality’, the author argues, promotes social and international conflict and domination (p. 2). From ancient Greek to contemporary Marxist and liberal/western sociopolitical thought, the author argues, agonism has been seen as a positive force at the service of individual growth and sociopolitical progress. Colaguori is clear about his opposition to the use of agon as essential to democratic spirit and personal growth. He views it more of an ideology that masks the workings of destructive practices and repressive power relations. As a result, he reconstructs agon as a critical model that points to the destructive side of conflictual social and global practices. Dubbed by Colaguori as the ‘agonal model’ of critical analysis (p. 4), it is particularly relevant in a time when all repressive forms of domination are on the rise globally. Similar to Adorno’s idea of the ‘economic mechanism of selection’, the agonal model emphasizes the destructive side of the competitive mechanism of selection. Warfare has been one of the most prominent forms of such destructive social practices. While there have been some recent books on reification (e.g. Timothy Bewes’s Reification) and on the growing culture of militarism (e.g. Carl Boggs’s Imperial Delusions), these have remained virtually disparate realms of social enquiry. Colaguori successfully ties reification theory with a critique of the culture of war. This connection is exemplified, the author convincingly shows, by the discourses of domination that underpin the international conflicts of the post-9/11 era.