In developing our working group on “Teaching and Scholarship in the Rupture,” I wanted to think critically about how to define a rupture and its social and historical significance. Unsurprisingly, this brought me to Stuart Hall’s work on conjunctural analysis. Below is his description (and my emphasis) of how to understand a crisis from an interview with Doreen Massey in 2010:
A conjuncture is a period during which the different social, political, economic and ideological contradictions that are at work in society come together to give it a specific and distinctive shape…A conjuncture can be long or short: it’s not defined by time or by simple things like a change of regime – though these have their own effects. As I see it, history moves from one conjuncture to another rather than being an evolutionary flow. And what drives it forward is usually a crisis, when the contradictions that are always at play in any historical moment are condensed, or, as Althusser said, ‘fuse in a ruptural unity’. Crises are moments of potential change, but the nature of their resolution is not given.
Gramsci, who struggled all life against ‘economism’, was very clear about this. What he says is that no crisis is only economic. It is always ‘over-determined’ from different directions. On the other hand, you can’t think about a crisis and its resolution until you deal with what he calls the economic nucleus. We can’t ignore the way the financial sector has asserted its dominance over the economy as a whole, or indeed its centrality to the new forms of global capitalism. But we must address the complexity of the crisis as a whole. This is a difficult balance, but, as you say, crises are always ‘over-determined’. Different levels of society, the economy, politics, ideology, common sense, etc, come together or ‘fuse’. Otherwise, you could get an unresolved ideological crisis which doesn’t have immediate political connotations, or which you can’t see as being directly related to a change in the economy. The definition of a conjunctural crisis is when these ‘relatively autonomous’ sites – which have different origins, are driven by different contradictions, and develop according to their own temporalities – are nevertheless ‘convened’ or condensed in the same moment. Then there is crisis, a break, a ‘ruptural fusion’.