Anthropology, autonomy and the art of cultural revolution

Christopher Houston*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Anthropologists (amongst others) have noted how some theorists of the Occident, in order to explicate their analyses of Western modernity, have conceptualized an oppositional category of non-Western, pre-modern or traditional societies, understood to be negatively unified by their lack of particular social capacities (despite other vast dissimilarities between them). One such absent elemental capacity is reflexivity, whose existence or nonexistence is posited as defining Western European and non-Western formations respectively. This article explores one expression of the reflexivity/naivety dichotomy, the distinction between autonomous and heteronomous societies, worked out as a central feature in the social theory of Cornelius Castoriadis (and as a sub-theme in the writings of Charles Taylor and Louis Dumont). My core argument is that Castoriadis' reservation of the project of autonomy to the West is empirically wrong, and I use the example of the cultural revolution in Turkey in the early 1930s to demonstrate why. Nevertheless, I argue also that Castoriadis' work not only casts a revealing light on the experience and project of modernity in Turkey, but also provides a suggestive comparative programme for the discipline of anthropology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)252-270
Number of pages19
JournalAnthropological Theory
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012


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