Fredric Jameson (b. 1934) was the leading Marxist literary and cultural critic in the United States and, arguably, in the English-speaking world in the late 20th century and remains so in the early 21st. In a career that spans more than 60 years, Jameson has produced some 25 books and hundreds of essays in which he has demonstrated the versatility and power of Marxist criticism in analyzing and evaluating an enormous range of cultural phenomena, from literary texts to architecture, art history, cinema, economic formations, psychology, social theory, urban studies, and utopianism, to mention but a few. In his early work, Jameson introduced a number of important 20th-century European Marxist theorists to American audiences, beginning with his study of Jean-Paul Sartre’s style and continuing with his Marxism and Form (1971) and The Prison-House of Language (1972), which offered critical analyses of such theorists as Georg Lukacs, Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, and Herbert Marcuse, along with the Frankfurt School, Russian formalism, and French structuralism. With The Political Unconscious (1981) and other works, Jameson deftly articulated such topics as the linguistic turn in literature and philosophy, the concepts of desire and national allegory, and the problems of interpretation and transcoding in a decade when continental theory was beginning to transform literary studies in the English-speaking world. Jameson then became the leading theorist and critic of postmodernism, and his Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991) demonstrated the power of Marxist theoretical practice to make sense of the system underlying the discrete and seemingly unrelated phenomena in the arts, architecture, media, economics, and so on. Jameson’s concept of cognitive mapping has been especially influential on cultural theories of postmodernity and globalization. Jameson’s lifelong commitment to utopian thought and dialectical criticism have found more systematic expression in such books as Archaeologies of the Future (2005) and Valences of the Dialectic (2009), and he has continued to develop a major, six-volume project titled “The Poetics of Social Forms” (the final two volumes of which remain forthcoming as of 2018), whose trajectory ultimately covers myth, allegory, romance, realism, modernism, postmodernism, and beyond. Jameson’s expansive, eclectic, and ultimately holistic approach to cultural critique demonstrates the power of Marxist critical theory both to interpret, and to help change, the world.
Robert T. Tally, Jr.
For Paulo Freire, the Brazilian activist educator and philosopher of education, communication is at the heart of pedagogy, teaching, and learning through praxis that involves reflection and action ultimately to address social injustice and dehumanization. Dialogue is at the center of his pedagogical approach, as means to individuation and humanization. Dialogue assumes participants to be on an equal level even in the presence of difference. In his literacy work, Freire required teacher-facilitators to co-investigate the most important themes in the lives of students. These themes were codified into pictures and brought to dialogue that animated the re-creation of knowledge of participants’ world and themselves in it and, in the process of learning how to read, achieving knowledge of the word. The objective of this approach was not to reproduce “banking” education but to promote revolutionary emancipation of individual and society. Freire developed his work in the context of life in the state of Pernambuco, in the challenging circumstances—socially, historically, and geographically—of the Brazilian Northeast Region. He experienced poverty and hunger and was lucky in his access to education thanks to the efforts of his mother. He rose through the ranks of civil service, serving at state and national levels, addressing the literacy and emancipatory needs of the population, particularly adults in rural areas. Exiled during the military dictatorship in Brazil, Freire lived in Chile, the United States, and Switzerland, where he worked on education projects worldwide.
Sara Ahmed is a feminist philosopher specializing in how the cultural politics of language use and discourse mediate social and embodied encounters with difference. She has published field-shaping contributions to queer and feminist theory, critical race and postcolonial theory, affect and emotion studies, and phenomenology. Since the publication of Differences that Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism in 1998, her work has epitomized the value of contemporary feminist cultural studies to speak to and against the masculinist traditions of continental philosophy. Unequivocally inserting feminist politics into the rarified air of academic theory, it crosses the sexist boundary which corrals feminist thought into the category of “studies” while opposing it to male-authored philosophy—the latter automatically authorized to speak on the social and material “Real.” In doing so, her work sits squarely within discourse-analytical traditions that seek to expose how various epistemic scenes – activism, the media, and academia, to name a few -- sediment false authority on such issues as happiness, utility, and the good. Moreover, in contesting New Materialism’s search for some monist “matter” beneath experience, she traces how those linguistic moves impose insidiously singular concepts of what social “reality” is, and how it unfolds, for real people. As a field, communication studies concerns itself centrally with matters of social influence, scale, and power, such as the electoral effects of political speech, or the ability of a message to morph as it reaches new audiences. Turning a critical eye upon the (re)production of cultural norms and social structure through interpersonal and institutional encounters, Ahmed’s oeuvre explores the discursive logics and speech acts that sediment or transform the social meanings of race, gender, and other differences.