Sociology Index


Dialectics is the art of critically investigating the truth of opinions. Dialectics is the philosophy of metaphysical contradictions and their solutions, especially in the thought of Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel; the world process seen as a continuing unification of opposites; the existence or action of opposing forces or tendencies in society. Dialectics is the belief that social organization, culture and intellectual ideas change because of the development of contradictions that create challenges to the existing state of affairs and lead to the emergence of something new from this tension.

When thinking of alternatives to neoliberalism in the sphere of cultural production, why might scholars and practitioners recuperate a praxis that places fracture and antagonism at its very heart? How might the playful and dialogic engagement that dialectics promotes speak to the creation, process and experience of contemporary cultural activity? Is performance inherently dialectical, or is dialectics inherently performative?

Georg Hegel (1770-1831) developed the idea of dialectics in Western philosophy when he claimed that every existing social arrangement or intellectual belief system represents a thesis, a way of doing or thinking about things, that gives rise to a contradictory, or opposing, ‘antithesis’. What exactly is the relationship between performance and dialectics? Fredric Jameson speaks of various ways ‘to stage the dialectic’ (2009: 3), while Bertell Ollman writes of ‘the dance of the dialectic’ (2003). 


Dialectical materialism is a concept linked to Marx's ideas, but an expression never actually used in his writing. In this dialectic concept suggests that the process of social change is not attributable to changes in culture or ideas but arises within the material conditions of people's lives, in the way they are organized around economic activity.

In dialectical materialism, the political and historical events are due to the conflict of social forces caused by man's material needs and interpretable as a series of contradictions and their solutions. There is some element of dialectics conception in the writing of Karl Marx (1818-1883) when he claims that contradictions arise in capitalism and the resolution of these contradictions produces a new type of social and economic system

Unfortunately Marx and Engels never wrote a comprehensive work on dialectical materialism, although they intended to do so. Engels left a pile of manuscripts, which he intended to work up into an account of dialectics, or the laws of motion of nature, human society and human thought. These were later published as the Dialectics of Nature.

Dialectics and World Politics: The Story So Far
Shannon Brincat, Volume 11, 2014 - Issue 5: Dialectics and World Politics.
Abstract: The question ‘What is dialectics?’ is notoriously difficult to answer. Theoretical obfuscation and ideological baggage have fostered widespread misunderstandings of the concept. This article is intended to go some way in providing an answer, though one offered as a heuristic device in which further developments can be made, rather than as doctrinaire statement of first principles.

This introductory account of dialectics proceeds in four steps. It begins with a basic definitional and conceptual outline of dialectics before offering a brief philosophical history of dialectics in Eastern and Western philosophical traditions; its re-emergence from scholasticism through Kant and Hegel. The third part then explores the more modest engagements with dialectics that have taken place within IR theory before closing with a discussion of some of the ongoing tensions and key themes in dialectical thought. These center on the question of understanding dialectics as a process of reflection and an objective logic traceable in human praxis, highlighting the ongoing critical and revolutionary essence of dialectics.

The Phenomenology of Spirit: ‘the being of Spirit is a bone’ (Hegel 1976). If we try to locate precisely what is dialectical about this brief statement, it raises a crucial theoretical question: is it simply intended to be a contradiction, a contrast between immaterial Spirit and material bone?