SOAS University of London

Centre for Global Media and Communications

Metaphysics and Beyond

Professor Mark Hobart

Date: 27 February 2019Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 27 February 2019Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B211

Type of Event: 0

While the sophisticated arguments of the last two weeks invite a critical reappraisal of the
presuppositions of European-derived thinking, to what extent do they offer coherent,
workable and non-reductive ways to engaging with how other peoples represent their worlds
to themselves and to others? Put another way, the critique is so powerful that it risks
reinforcing the Eurocentrism that it questions.
There are several potentially interesting approaches, two of which have been around for
close on a hundred years, but have been often overlooked in the determination to find
systematic – if simplistic – answers to matters so complex, diverse and fragmented that it is
doubtful whether they permit of a single unified explanation. What links these alternative
approaches however is the seemingly quaint notion of ‘metaphysics’. However, in different
ways, thinkers as diverse as Kant, Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze have argued 
that, if we are to address what underlies the diversity of human thinking, then issues of
metaphysics are fundamental to critical thinking. But is metaphysics not the quintessence
of what is airy, remote from and irrelevant to daily life? The Oxford philosopher R.G.
Collingwood argued on the contrary that metaphysics is nothing other the empirical and
critical study of the presuppositions that people invoke every time they speak or do
something. Eurocentrism would then consist of imposing our own presuppositions on others
(which raises awkward questions about what deictics like ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our’ are doing). The
relevance should be obvious. In most parts of the world in the twenty-first century, media
and communications are central to how cultural presuppositions are circulated and
disseminated. Thinking in terms of presuppositions offers a quite different way of thinking
about the question of how people are ‘influenced’ by the media and so the old arguments
about cultural and media imperialism. On this account, what is distinctive about ‘culture’ is
the presuppositions which are inscribed in daily practice: in which case media and
communication become sites for struggle and contestation, if often unwittingly, between
rival presuppositions.
The strong trend towards realism in mass communication studies, coupled with an anxiety
about critical theorizing, means that there is very little work which addresses the
presuppositions underlying contemporary mass media (Peters and Mattelart (below) being
two exceptions). We can also read, as they explicitly intended, thinkers like Baudrillard,
Deleuze and Foucault as a sustained critique of Western metaphysics. These accounts
remain however relatively top-down and remote from practice. So, the aim of this final week
is to review four different approaches to presuppositions and to consider what their
implications are for the study of non-Western media.
The four approaches are: Collingwood on metaphysics as the presuppositions that people
actually made; Bakhtin and Vološinov on the inherently open and dialogic nature of
utterances and action; Lefebvre and de Certeau on the everyday (quotidian); and Deleuze’s
trenchant dismissal of all the presuppositions that motivate European thinking and radical
suggested alternatives. How though can we engage with how other peoples talk about,
reflect on and act towards the world about them? A short answer is that is what social and
cultural anthropology are supposed to – and at their best – do. The class at the end will
consider examples, but I also provide a set of readings for students interested in examples
of peoples with radically different presuppositions.

Discussion theme: What is the potential relevance of the study of presuppositions to

media or communication studies?

Cultural practice: Watching a quiz show, action film or soap opera.