Social love as utopian and heterotopian experiences in contemporary society (Capítulo de livro)

Referência: MARTINS, Paulo Henrique. “Social love as utopian and heterotopian experiences in contemporary society.” In: CATALDI, Silvia; IORIO, Gennaro (eds.) Social Love and the Critical Potential of People: when social reality challenges the sociological imagination, pgs. 66-84, Routledge: 2023.

5.1 Introduction: crisis and emancipation

The invitation to think about the place of love in the organisation of new, more convivial forms of life reveals the potential for non-hegemonic utopian models to channel impulses, desires and affections that promote other emancipatory modes of organising power.1 This invitation is timely when old emancipatory perspectives based on technical, economic, cultural and political rationalities inherited from the Enlightenment lose their regulatory capacity. As current modes of governance become increasingly ineffective at managing the dire threats to humanity’s destiny in the twenty-first century, events call for the search for new utopias. Disenchantment with the course of modernity in the Global North and Global South is expressed with different intensities, but it is marked by an increase in violence and destructive and depressive mechanisms that reveal a situation of unreason, antilove or great pain. This process has accelerated in recent times (Rosa, 2019), but its origins are located in the conceptual limits of the Enlightenment as an emancipatory programme and are dependent on the hypothesis of rational autonomy. Encyclopaedic intellectuals blindly believed that emancipation would be a consequence of modern individuals’ rational and moral decisions favouring a time of progress founded on freedom and justice and against religious obscurity. This obscurity was associated with the negative emotional impacts of reason characteristic of the pre-modern tradition. Against the games of passion, modernity should create a rational defence in favour of the progress of economic utilitarianism, according to Hirschman (1977). This conceptual model was efficient as long as there were physical frontiers to be explored, but now, they are becoming an imminent threat, as revealed by environmental and climate issues. The successive current crises confirm the exhaustion of a capitalist development model incapable of responding to the complexity of the systemic potential of human action. They reveal the mistakes of an emancipation programme limited to utilitarian morality that fails to include a more complex aesthetic perspective of social life. In the current post-Enlightenment context, a theoretical review points to two theoretical–methodological moments. One concerns the need to review the theoretical Manichaeism of European Enlightenment intellectuals and the scientistic belief that elected scientific reason and historical progress as dogmas. This belief is inspired by geometrism, which values geometric and quantitative forms over the symbolic and affective imaginary that values dreamlike, uncertain and vibrant qualitative experiences related to art, literature, dreams and fiction. In this model, a geometrical calculation is proof of rational action, in contrast to emotional and affective flows that provide evidence of an animal irrationality to be fought. This generated a psychic split in the planes of politics, cultural and scientific learning with catastrophic impacts that demanded changes in the perception of reality.

The second moment of theoretical and methodological reorganisation is an unfolding of the first. It is related to the decision of conceptual repositioning to include aesthetics as a resource of the deconstruction of mercantile logic. Aesthetic revolution should imply the valorisation of reflexive and contemplative subjectivities as equally relevant powers in the ‘sharing of the sensitive’ (Rancière, 2000), which suggests valuing art and sensibilities to conceive new ways of conducting politics. The two operations of deconstruction and conceptual reconstruction of dominant instrumental rationality suggest the need for a theoretical and normative revision of Western imaginary at the centre and frontiers of capitalism. The aim is to dismantle geometric power to liberate other modes of imaginary organisation of the worlds in which we live. The authoritarian programme aimed at repressing molecular subjectivities and affections has produced an increasingly dysfunctional, authoritarian and pathological social imaginary (Adorno et al., 1950; Fromm, 1956; Ehrenberg, 1998; Honneth, 2009; Han, 2017, 2021;), against which emerge the signs of an ‘aesthetic revolution’ liberating new political subjectivities. In my view, debates on social love in sociology and philosophy contribute to this revision of the pathological epistemologies of modernity. On a sociological level, the emphasis is now on the relational element that allows us to overcome Cartesian dichotomies between agency and structure and objectivity and subjectivity. At a philosophical level, the debate involves an attempt to reorganise the imaginary of emancipation to break down the split between technical–rational logic (which values empirical science) and affective–symbolic logic (which values aesthetics). In the following pages, geometrism’s limitations will be demonstrated, followed by an observation of the reactions that occur on sociological and philosophical levels to advance the construction of the post-Enlightenment imaginary on an aesthetic basis. Finally, the potential of philosophical sociology that contributes to this reunion of sociology and philosophy by liberating social love as a possible and appropriate mode of regulation will be demonstrated. The valorisation of social love as an ‘ontology of the present’ is important to redirect the theoretical critique of geometrism on two levels. The sociological level involves the valorisation of the relational dimension in social organisation undoing the classical structural dualities that traditionally guide the discipline (Corcuff, 2011). The philosophical level involves the valorisation of a complex human imaginary founded on the recognition of a genetic dialectic between emotion and reason. Such a dialectic presents itself as uninterrupted flows in the production of symbolic and stylistic forms and institutional and sensitive representations that are less conflictive and more confluent. To account for this critique against modern dystopia, the relationship between social love, utopia and heterotopia must be situated.

5.2 Social love as a utopian and heterotopian experience

In this process of re-signifying life, it is fundamental to value the moral freedom to throw oneself forward in search of a loving social experience, or ‘beyond man’, as Nietzsche (1999) suggests in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In other words, such an experience cannot depend on an objectified time like the mechanical (or cybernetic) clock that creates routines of instants to give the false impression of a linear time directed towards progress. This freedom of insurgency in favour of a ‘beyond man’ allows us to think of social love as a pulsating and affective experience that is prolonged in the paradoxical time of the power of action. This open freedom for reflexive subjectivities appears as a utopia when the present is conceived as updating available memories to creatively reinvent the space of power. Utopia always refers to the possibilities of overcoming the limits of the present to reach through imagination or desire to another horizon of life that remains faithful to the memories of the past even if they are negative (a typical example is the utopia of modernity that surges against tradition but has tradition as its founding reference). In contrast, freedom appears as a heterotopia when the present is conceived as a rupture of memories to produce other temporal genealogies. Heterotopia reveals the displacement of the potency of action towards as yet unregistered horizons, towards a kind of counter-space. That is, of spaces open to other temporalities, such as Japanese gardens (Foucault, 2010)2 or even cemeteries. The thesis of convivialism is proposed by a wide range of intellectuals from various countries. This can also be considered a heterotopic programme as it aims at re-finding the nature of the human in the context of the disappearance of old modern ideologies (Internacional Convivialista, 2020).

The moment is still one of dystopia, thus, the current ecological crisis aggravates dystopian processes and stimulates the dissemination of ideas, such as that of the end of the Anthropocene era. This abysmal image of modernity rescues elements of a new philosophy of subjectivity as those of passions and uncertainties (Prigogine, 2009). The current crisis accelerates an unproductive accumulation that produces the desynchronisation of Cartesian institutional time, leading to a widening of the rupture of modern time as a time of emancipation. This has contributed to economic and social disorganisation (Rosa, 2019), precipitating the ecological and climate crisis we are experiencing. However, it is important to remember that intelligence only becomes utopian when it attempts to transform the dominant reality according to the conceptions of the very group that wishes to transform it to organise another model of power. For ‘only those orientations that transcend reality tend to become conduct, to shake, whether partially or totally, the order of things that prevails at the moment’ (Mannheim, 1972, p. 216). That is, as Rancière (2021) reminds us, it is important to distinguish utopia from a daily dream or fiction, even if the latter produces important narratives for daily life. Utopia is that potential movement mobilised by the will to organise another kind of social power and, therefore, it can contribute to giving dreams and fictions historical forms. This happens when we observe the failure of a previous ideological structure that becomes outdated in managing collective conflicts. The emblematic example is the failure of the utopia of the market as the natural regulator of ecological, political and economic imbalances at national and international levels in modernity. Utopia is situated as an empty place in social creation as an expression of what Castoriadis (1975, pp. 139–192) defines an ‘instituting imaginary’, which is opposed to an ‘instituted imaginary’; or what Koselleck calls ‘horizons of expectations’, to differentiate from the ‘spaces of experiences’ in the organisation of reality (2021, p. 34). Utopia can be understood from an individual or collective perspective. In the individual perspective, we see the individual’s struggle for recognition and love contribute, in general, to generate processes of individuation that are always collective, like the cells of an organism. In this case, the process of social individuation as a complex phenomenon of power that takes place through social, cultural and psychological differentiation in Western modernity is a good example to be remembered (Martins, 2020). Utopia takes on heterotopian features when individual and collective affections impact the power to act and release effervescent passions that no longer fit into the established imaginary. Utopia presents itself as a cultural, artistic and psychological movement when it points to a certain rebirth of social life, with love having a relevant function in producing imaginary solidarity and sustainability. It becomes heterotopia when repressed passions break with the control mechanisms of the established imaginary, creating chaotic conditions for the re-foundation of the social imaginary. Heterotopias reveal the exhaustion of civilising processes or patterns of social and national modernisation.

5.3 Social love and the utopian critique of geometrism

To better understand the new political, moral and aesthetic movements, it is important, in the first place, to critique the dualistic scientific utopia of modernity, which ideologically justifies modernity as an industrialist race towards the future that would be ensured by the increasing instrumental rationalisation of the world. The political and institutional crises, wars and genocides of the twentieth century were not enough to interrupt this cycle of alienation and destruction. But now, capitalism in its neoliberal phase cruelly reveals the signs of exhaustion of a pattern of modernisation founded on a rationalisation that is crucified by its own technical acceleration. The ruin of the modern world is revealed in proportion to the dismantling of neoliberal ideology and an ambitious theology founded on the utopia of the end of a world of material abundance. The critique of the declining technicist and industrialist utopia requires rethinking geometrism as the foundation of metaphysics and classificatory and racial thinking. It has devalued the contribution of various cultural manifestations marked by affective, ritualistic and artistic diversities that exist on the planet to justify an authoritarian and monolithic narrative of power; not just any utopian narrative, but the one based on Christian millenarianism that mobilised collective wills towards an end of a world of glory and material redemption. The way out of the current crisis requires thinking about the conditions of dislocating the devices of the production of knowledge about the world to glimpse a complex human imaginary founded on sensitive and relational reasoning. The success of such reasoning demands a hermeneutic process that illuminates the passage from a Cartesian approach to others that are more sensitive to aesthetic experiences, allowing us to glimpse new modalities of political subjectivities (Rancière, 2000). This shift recognises that technical and economic reasons alone, as proposed by neo-liberal ideology, are incapable of regulating the challenges of social life in the current scenario. The complexity of reality demands new and more interactive modes of perception between the subject and the object (living and non-living) so that the dynamics of knowledge appear as floating representations, images and memories that impose themselves as instituting narratives in various ways; for example, by utopia, dream, fiction, art, literature and by doing freely. In Negative Dialectics, Adorno (1973, p. 44) comments on the subject:

To surrender to the object is equivalent to do justice to its qualitative moments. In fact, scientific objectification, in accordance with the tendency to quantification intrinsic to all science since Descartes, tends to exclude qualities, transforming them into measurable determinations. To an increasing extent, rationality itself is equated more mathematic to the faculty of quantification.

In fact, the geometric method has a fundamentalist bias insofar as it overemphasises the possibility of apprehending the knowledge of reality by quantitative methods applied to objects considered inert. The geometric method values only the experience of the method and not the experience of living, according to Agamben (2005). He says that modern science is born out of a distrust of experience, which led to the expropriation of this traditional experience and the identification of experience as only being the methodological path of knowledge.3

The theme of social love suggests the importance of breaking with simplified intellectual schemes, such as the geometrical, that have led to the atrophy of the imaginary of the affections, on the one hand, and to the exacerbation of cognitive–mental power, on the other, in the last two centuries. The mismatch between subjectivations and objectivations from the mythification of technical rationality in the imaginary of modernisation explains the difficulties of theoretical criticism to deconstruct the materialist rationalist ideology that justified the social, political and ecological catastrophes of the twentieth century. Adorno and Horkheimer’s (2002) critique-denunciation of the myth of rationality in the celebrated text Dialectic of Enlightenment, published in 1947, was insufficient to stimulate a more forceful revision of the normative, technical and ethical foundations of instrumental modernity. Totalitarianism as a catastrophic event was not enough to drive a general critique of technical modernisation as a mythical structure. This opacity of Westernist intellectual critique, fascinated by technological and economic utilitarianism, limited the understanding of the positive value of aesthetics, fiction and art to clarify the relationship between emancipation and power. The deconstruction of the totalitarian and reifying potentiality of geometrism was a fundamental intellectual attitude in the post-war period to rescue the sensitive experience of the human as the basis of an epistemological turn that dismantled the myth of rationalist modernisation. This would make it possible to understand objects as dynamic entities. This resignification of the possible meanings of the object, that is, of matter and its surroundings, would be central to the development of a new affective, moral and aesthetic consciousness in the post-war period, with consequences for the political critique of commodity technicism. This step would be important in enabling the power of affective and desiring bodies to promote freedom and common justice as a utopian programme.4

The invitation to analyse social love from a heterotopic perspective means turning the theoretical horizon of human modernisation upside down to glimpse other modes of the creative inventions of social existence that value the corporal and affective experience of living human and non-human beings. This turn is morally connected to a new challenge: the possibilities of realising social love as a form of hope, which is the thesis suggested by Bloch (1986) in The Principle of Hope. In this voluminous book, completed after World War II, Bloch posed fundamental questions that are still highly topical, such as, ‘Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? What do we expect? What awaits us?’ Here, there is a double challenge in this hermeneutic: to define social love as the central value of new emancipatory rationality and to legitimise social love as a utopia that reorganises collective power. This questioning then leads us to reflect on the process of producing the rational subject of knowledge, considering that the context of disorder modifies his form of action and performance.

5.4 Social love as a resource to liberate post-Enlightenment thinking

Such questions are fundamental to the critique of a modern standard of rationality whose technical basis was imprisoned by what Foucault called the metaphysics of representation. This, Machado (2006) explains, constitutes a thought incapable of promoting a philosophy of subjectivity that clarifies the possibilities of an aesthetic utopia capable of restoring the place of the tragic, artistic and beautiful in modernity (Nietzsche, 1999; Schiller, 2009; Holderlin, 2020). The opening of the field of subjectivation to the dynamics of imagination is central, therefore, not only according to Spinoza (2017) but to the authors of German Romanticism who knew the relevance of transmuting the possibilities contained in Aristotelian poetics. This perspective of a philosophy of poetics and imagination reveals how affective, moral and artistic dynamics go beyond the simplified limits of a geometrical logic, a prisoner of the experimental method.5

The philosophy of subjectivity is very important when critiquing the Cartesian dualism that inspired the organisation of the emancipatory ideal of modernity and whose disastrous results we are witnessing today. It is fundamental to deconstruct the myth of Cartesian geometry founded on the technical and hierarchical classification between subject and object, which ended up generating a general instrumentalisation of practical life and scientific institutions. This distorted separation between subject and object also stimulated the separation between reason and emotion and, thus, undermined the understanding of the role of affections in defining our rational decisions. Consequently, love has also remained in the scientific field as a peripheral phenomenon with respect to rational calculations seen as strategic for making ‘good decisions’. According to the Encyclopaedists’ legend, love is part of the irrational. To deepen the discussion in this post-Enlightenment context, we must rethink the epistemic foundations of the subject and object of knowledge. To value social love, I think it is relevant to rescue the understanding of the concept of reason in Spinoza’s philosophy of subjectivity, which can help us break out of the mythological prison of technical rationality denounced by Adorno and Horkheimer (2002). For Spinoza, what we know as reason must rely on something prior that gives meaning, direction, rhythm and duration in time to our capacities to calculate and make practical decisions. According to Spinoza, it is a matter of valuing the role of affections and desires produced either by external bodies or in the weft of one’s own body and mind, allowing an understanding of the subjective dynamics of the potential of human action. The Dutch philosopher defined affect as ‘the affections of the body through which its potency to act is increased or decreased, stimulated or restrained’ (2017, p. 98). That is, besides theoretically subordinating reason to emotions by undoing positivist objectivism, Spinoza also theoretically innovates by proposing that the potency of the body and mind to act is a dynamic process. In other words, the communication between affections, desires and mental activity works by differentiated rhythms of amplification and retraction of impulses that can be directed reflexively, although they are never repeated. This reminds us of the metaphor of the river in the philosophy of movement in Heraclitus (2007), who would have stated that ‘no one can enter the same river twice, because when one enters it again, one does not find the same waters, and one’s own being has already been modified’. Such an understanding is necessary for the development of a new post-Socratic philosophical practice. We should remember the originality of Spinoza’s proposal of observation of the desiring and affective images present in the subject’s body. His philosophy is founded on the idea that known objects have a dynamic nature and demand a sensitive perception that cannot be understood from the Cartesian gaze. This complex method of observing subjectivities is also opportune for perceiving how the consciousness, or unconsciousness, of the subject interferes with their potential to act because such rhythmic fluctuations are based on the increase of emotional negativity, passion and the enhancement of affirmative action or appropriate decisions. Therefore, according to Spinoza, it follows that ‘the more inadequate ideals the mind has, the greater the number of passions to which it is subjected; and, on the contrary, the more adequate ideas it has, the more it acts’ (2017, p. 130). When the power to act is amplified, joy arises, and on the opposite side lies sadness. Thus, for Spinoza, ‘love is nothing more than joy, accompanied by the idea of an exterior cause, and hate is nothing more than sadness, accompanied by an exterior cause’ (2017, p. 140). An author who expertly explores these possibilities of acting in love is Stendhal (1822) who defines four types of love: passion love, taste love, physical love and love love, which have several variations between more sober and more passionate types. His concept of ‘crystallisation’ considers that ‘the spirit, adapting reality to its desires, covers the object of desire with perfections’ (Stendhal, 1822).6

This is interesting to understand the dynamics between movement and inaction of the pulsional field. The valorisation of social love as the ontology of an affective and sensitive reason is an important way out in the context of a palliative society marked by the cult of pain in the twenty-first century (Han, 2021). This perspectivism suggests relevant methodological revisions aimed at rethinking the strategic place of Cartesian geometry in the organisation of the production of reality to rescue the structural value of the tensions between symbolic opposites (birth and death, day and night, heaven and earth, etc.). Thinking of social love as the fruit of a permanent indeterminacy between opposites avoids the error of supposing that the dualistic mind could dominate the affections in favour of calculation and linear decisions. The shift from objectivist to subjectivist and dynamic understanding helps human beings reflectively and responsibly construct their politics of affections. Only in this gentle place of observation can the subject choose to organise their powers of action in a direction that expands joy and solidarity. On the one hand, this stance prevents the mind from getting lost in self-interested and selfish passions related to philosophical and practical utilitarianism (Caillé, 1989). On the other hand, it contributes to deconstructing the process of reification of the human by the technologies of social control. The awakening of an ecological consciousness that feels the power of the body and mind in the organisation of life contributes to understanding the value of ethics as a guide to inhabitable worlds. Only ethics can awaken the collective understanding of the moral and political consequences generated by alienated modes of managing power, such as geocentrism, avoiding the authoritarian suppression of the conditions of freedom in the organisation of the rights of humans, the state and democracy. Thus, Spinoza (2017) warns of the suspicion of individuals who condemn passions as vices to self-justify themselves as defenders of pure human nature. As they seek to appear holier than others, they think satirically rather than ethically and make politics a mere chimaera.

5.5 Social love and philosophical sociology

Sociology is at the heart of this dilemma advanced by Bloch about the role of hope in imagining more lasting and legitimate social pacts. In this direction, sociology is invited to rethink its normative and technical foundations to organise an expanded critique of reality that considers hope as a utopian value. The technical problem is fundamental. How can sociology open a broader critique when it is imprisoned by a disciplinary specialisation that limits its analytical horizon? Indeed, it is important to remember that this historical sociological disciplinary specialisation does not result from objective determinations of the social sciences in their scientific development, as it might appear to someone inattentive. Rather, it is the fruit of the ideological expansion of instrumental rationality within the scientific field, leading to a narrowing of the understanding experience, on the one hand, and the broadening of instrumental methods and techniques, on the other. In a sense, what happened to sociology as a speciality was already foreseen in Frankfurtians’ critical theory. That is, the presence of instrumental rationality that does not reconcile ethics and technique tends to favour quantification and diminish qualitative and sensitive reasoning. The disciplinary specialisation of sociology and the social sciences, in general, reveals a movement towards fragmentation and the narrowing of knowledge. This specialisation constitutes a type of coloniality, having favoured the emergence of specialist groups at the expense of a broader historical understanding of social events. This path has left specialist sociology trapped in an institutional dilemma between scientific empiricism and technical dependence on canonical authors and ideas. The fact is that the answer to the challenge of rethinking scientific normativity and its immanent guarantees cannot be given within the framework of the super-specialised sociological discipline that is captured by geometrism. To get out of this impasse generated by specialisation, sociology must redo the dialogue with philosophy and scientific epistemology. It needs to question society again from a general sociological perspective. This review can promote the emergence of a new hermeneutic capable of remaking the interaction between the observing subject and the observed subject. That is, to see the object not as a target to be controlled and subjected but as an agent of learning and interactivity. Caillé (1993) and Chanial (2011) suggest a new alliance of sociology and the social sciences in favour of political philosophy. Chernilo (2017) suggests the reorientation of the human to form new philosophical sociology.7 These possibilities seem relevant as long as one does not lose sight of the problem of the normativity of social theory, which cannot be equated outside a reflection on ethics and society. This dilemma can only be resolved within the framework of a transdisciplinary knowledge programme that allows itself to be sensitively involved by the object to uncover the complexity of life. Only this affective and consciously desired involvement can offer a broader sharing of the subject with the sensitive (Rancière, 2005), aiming to emancipate the affective possibilities of the observer in favour of a world that shares common good in solidarity. The rapprochement of the sociological approach with the philosophical one may allow us to more deeply interrogate the immanent, mental, affective and pulsional foundations of social action.

The philosophical sociology proposed is based on an expressive understanding of the immanent potentialities of the human body to act. In this sense, it is considered relevant to rescue a critical reading of modernity that is more focused on valuing lived experience in the understanding of the world and to diminish the weight of the logical argument related to the geometrical and technical approach that dominated the modern debate on rationality. This is in favour of the waves of innovation brought by psychoanalysis, phenomenology, existentialism, feminism and ecological critique, among others. The philosophical critique of Cartesian metaphysics is fundamental to reconstructing philosophical sociology that reorganises the dynamics of emotions, affections, creative imagination and mental representations in the perception and production of the worlds in which we live. The theme of social love immediately poses the challenge of understanding reciprocally consenting affective bonds in an expanded sociological perspective that surpasses the technical functionality of Cartesianism. This implies that love ceases to be viewed merely as a metaphysical category, a state of mind or a conceptual abstraction and is revealed as the dynamic and interactive process of social life. We should not, however, dismiss the importance of a transcendental reading of love as well as those readings of justice or freedom present in the Kantian perspective. We should understand that the valorisation of the practical uses of the affections of bodies as immanent conditions of social love can provide us with a more complex understanding of the relational perspectives of human affective action in society. In a world so inflamed by heated disputes over power and wealth, the decision to bring love to the centre of sociological reflection is timely and strategic. It helps update the motivations and conditions of the organisation of individual and collective psychic structures. Philosophical sociology also dialogues closely with relational sociology, which contributes to updating the conditions of possibilities for a broader aesthetic understanding of social institutions, such as family, kinship and association systems, among others. This kind of innovation is being carried out by Social-One researchers who understand that agapic acting is a legitimate expression of social love (Araùjo et al., 2015; Iorio, 2021). The relational perspective of society is present explicitly or implicitly in several authors (Mauss, 1999; Bergson, 2001; Simmel, 2006; Donati, 2011; Iorio, 2021; Vandenberghe, 2021). It contributes to understanding reality as potency that refers to power but which is not exhausted in the available ‘spaces of experiences’. The relational perspective opens up to a potentiality of present action that contributes to welcoming the idea of social love as a utopian or heterotopic programme. Following suggestions by authors who work on the relational as being the ontological basis of society, we can rethink utopia as a representation that is configured in collective affective plots. This allows us to definitively overcome the Cartesian dichotomies between agency and structure or objectivity and subjectivity, as suggested by several authors sympathetic to the relational perspective. In the relational view, love refers above all to a collective weave of groups that dispute the practical uses of affections and feelings in public and private life. But in this view, expanded by philosophical sociology, love is not manifested simply by the recognition of the co-presence of two identifying instances of the relational social form, such as two individuals, two families, two communities, two classes, two nations. There must be a third element that reciprocally connects them, as is the case in Simmel’s (2006) affective phenomenon, the second-order observer suggested by the sociopoietic approach of Maturana (Arnold-Cathalifaud, 2006) or the reciprocal link represented by the triadic construction of the gift in Mauss (1999). Similarly, Donati stresses: ‘From a cultural viewpoint, the central problem is definitely that of recognising a free gift as a motor for generalised social relations, including those of exchange’ (2011, p. 243), which allows us to understand how reciprocal action overcomes the distances between the objective and subjective. We should also remember Scribano’s (2021) sociology of sensibilities, which critiques digital capitalism based on the possibilities offered by the body and emotions.

Vandenberghe synthetically explains that the existence of relational sociology requires overcoming dualistic, idealistic and realist schemes to integrate two orders of realities: ‘the network of objective relations between positions (systemic integration) and the network of subjective relations between people (social integration)’ (2021, p. 138). The formulation of social love as a relational sociological category should be expanded in post-Enlightenment times, reinforcing an approach that overcomes the dichotomies between objectivity and subjectivity. This allows one to understand that the theory of knowledge cannot be presented as dissociated from the theory of life. For Bergson, the distances between organism and individuality are very tenuous, and he asks, ‘who can say where individuality begins or ends, whether the living being is one or several, whether it is the cells that associate in an organism or whether it is the organism that dissociates in cells?’ (2001, p. 8). According to Bergson, in the domain of life, there is a dynamic oscillation between individual and association regardless of whether we are talking about human or non-human living beings, protozoa or cells (2001). In Bergson’s intuitive philosophy, time becomes a continuous duration different from physical and objectified time. Therefore, the material world is reviewed by a flux, a continuous flow or a creative becoming (2001). It is about a one-off, interpenetrated time that cannot be perceived by the Cartesian method that fixes itself on inert objects to classify discontinuous time. We see here how Bergson and Spinoza approach each other in favour of an expanded experience of reflexive subjectivation that does not remain imprisoned by positivist dilemmas. Understanding social love as an ‘intuition of duration’ has broad possibilities, living in a continuous time connected to the experience of life. This continuous time cannot be reduced to a Cartesian one that is divided by routines. Lived time is connected to a dynamic past and a present that opens up potentially, even improbably, to the future. Here, we see the enormous possibilities offered by Bergson for understanding social love as an intuition that cannot be calculated but only directly experienced by the subject and object through insights, revelations, premonitions and inexplicable attractions. From this perspective, the relationship of social love to utopias and heterotopias invites us to understand how it can provide the opening of an interiorised intelligence of the phenomenon of affections. This occurs when the subject dreams, desires and constitutes fictional narratives in addition to rethinking the possibilities of reconstituting power in the objectified world. Such inner construction is related to the Ego’s potential, which is not necessarily bewitched by its selfimage. The Ego can open itself up to explore the potential of images, memories and utopias on behalf of the Other, of a broader associative dynamic present in the mirror of culture (Costa, 2000). From a temporal point of view, love refers to the transmutations of affections in the transition from a patriarchal world to a post-patriarchal world in which the processes of individuation and association make affective, sexual and solidarity pacts extremely complex. Bergson reminds us that everything happens ‘as if an undecided and vague being, which we may call, as one pleases, man or superman, had tried to realise himself, succeeding only in leaving on the way a part of himself’ (2001, p. 238). This reminds us of Zarathustra, when he states, ‘I love Those who do not look behind the stars for a reason to succumb and be sacrificed: but that they sacrifice themselves to the earth, so that the earth may one day become of the beyond-man’ (Nietzsche, 1999, p. 211).

5.6 Final notes: social love and the political heterotopia

The perspective of social love in a context of crisis reinforces criticisms that open breaches in established reality. We believe that the present moment is favourable to certain ruptures in modern ways of feeling and doing reality. Western rationalist humanism, based on the philosophy of being of Greek and Christian origin, has failed to organise a human civilisation that is more sensitive to an affective intelligence of reality, widening the gap between technical and ecological reason. A gap has opened up in the social imaginary. On the one hand, we see an expanded cognitive and instrumental rationality that has emancipated itself from social and political determinations. On the other hand, we observe expressive and affective rationality that has atrophied due to the exaltation of hubris (arrogance), as explained by Illich (1976), resulting in the psychopathological utilitarianism denounced by Han (2017). The discussion of social love from a utopian or heterotopian perspective is fundamental to understanding the paradigmatic character of collective loving action, reinforcing Wallerstein’s (2003) thesis on utopistics. He says that ‘utopistics is a thorough evaluation of historical alternatives, the exercise of our judgement to examine the substantive rationality of possible alternative historical systems’ (2003, p. 8). This idea of articulating utopia as a complex and individuated collective project reinforces the possibilities of loving action that is convivial from a moral and aesthetic point of view. This aligns with the Convivialist Manifesto that proposes a new model of civilisation that overcomes the ideologies of the twentieth century (communism, socialism, anarchism and liberalism) in favour of a new humanity or a new collective utopia that claims to reorganise political power (Internacional Convivialista, 2020). Following Bergson (2001), we can say that there is an important understanding concerning the revision of technical rationality and Cartesian logic from the subordination of the theory of knowledge to the theory of life: ‘It is necessary that these two investigations, the theory of knowledge and the theory of life, be joined together and, through a circular process, unceasingly impel each other’ (Bergson, 2001, p. 11). In the invention of an expanded post-Enlightenment and, therefore, post-patriarchalist and post-colonial social love, it is necessary to revalue the relationship between humans and nature in favour of an ecological reason that broadens the anthropocentric reading to include Gaia as a living being (Latour, 2020). Such an attitude means revaluing the animal–human dimension as the basis of a new human process. In this sense, it does not hurt to recall what Nietzsche says about the nature of the human to understand where the critique of anthropocentrism can advance:

man is a rope, tied between the animal and the superman – a rope across an abyss. Dangerous to cross, dangerous to walk, dangerous to look back, dangerous to shiver and stop. What is great, in man, is that he is a bridge and not an end: what can be loved is that he is a passing and a succumbing. (Nietzsche, 1999, p. 211)

Regarding the relationship between fact and knowledge, J. Rancière (2000) reminds us that ‘The aesthetic revolution redistributes the game by making two things solidary: the blurring of boundaries between the reason of facts and the reason of fictions and the new mode of rationality of historical science’. The debate on social love should also consider the contribution of the gift as a perspective that reinforces the relational character, uncertain and open to various experiences of reciprocity on individual and collective levels (Mauss, 1999). The gift helps to take love out of private life and prove its validity for public life (Cataldi & Martins, 2016, p. 9). That is, it contributes to understanding how affections function in organisations because ‘the more legal norms seek to normalise social relations, the more, within these same relations, the primary and social role of the gift reappears’. The gift also makes it easier to understand how social theory dialogues with the theory of life, between fiction and fact. The gift helps rethink social love as an expression of an experience of reciprocity that values trust, generosity and solidarity. The gift reinforces the character of rituals of exchange that are moral, affective and aesthetic and oriented towards a time and space of sharing and sensitive to the possibilities of the present. It is complex to understand how human beings can act lovingly in society in favour of a shared world in an open time, without demanding recognition or return for the good given. In other words, although the gift is primarily inspired by interpersonal and ordinary practices, it constitutes the necessary foundation for defining society as a social totality: ‘it explains the existence of trust, friendship and love in formal and anonymous relationships, a good example of which is the way virtual social networks function’ (Martins, 2016, p. 43). Finally, we must stress that the understanding and release of unconditional love in contexts of great suffering and pain emerge as a necessary emotional outcome to give meaning to individual and collective life. There are ample spaces to validate social love in daily life, in face-to-face and virtual networks, in religious and spiritual associations and communities that cultivate higher collective and human values and finally, ‘in political and economic organisations that understand the need for a new solidarity pact to ensure the survival of each and everyone’ (Martins, 2016, p. 45). Social love as utopia or heterotopia is a total aesthetic social fact that involves the set of moral, artistic, cultural, economic and political expressions available with a view to organising new horizons of meaning. This is particularly important in strongly dystopian historical moments like the present that need to be overcome by a firm decision in favour of hope and social love.


1. For Paul Ricoeur (2017, pp. 348–349, 361), power is the central theme whether we refer to ideology or utopia. While ideology refers to the present power, utopia refers to a variation of the imaginary of power. Ricoeur’s hypothesis is interesting because it allows us to better situate the contexts in which, through individual or collective initiatives, dreams and fictions are transformed into utopias to replace ideas that no longer make sense in the justification of power.

2. Personally, I consider the term heterotopia very adequate for the current context as we need to rethink the prospects of Anthropocene for human survival in a radically new way. Human activities need to be reinvented to rework the relationship between utopia, politics and responsibility. Reversing the prospects are pessimistic, which is the biggest challenge (Danowski & Viveiros de Castro, 2014; Latour, 2020; Magnelli, 2020).

3. Bergson had a similar view decades earlier and considered that intelligence that values geometrical logic as the basis of its method has very superficial contact with dynamic experience insofar as it acts only on inert objects in the mistaken belief that experience would follow the ‘logic of solids’ and would invariably give it reason (2001, p. 7). I understand that these reflections, which are placed in the field of a philosophy of phenomenal subjectivations, are of great importance for reorganising the basis of a sociological critique that allows us to redo the meanings of emancipation.

4. In other words, criticism was not enough to deconstruct the myth of modern reason or mythified reason. On the contrary, the development of human intelligence founded on the ‘logic of solids’, or geometrical thinking, as Bergson defined it, continued to define the processes of organising human life and its economic, scientific and technological, political and cultural institutions, disdaining the value of experience. Thus, attempting to define ‘the real’ using the logic of solids only resulted in reconstructing an imitation of ‘the real’ because ‘the essence of things escapes us and will always escape us; we move through relations, and the absolute is not within our competence’ (Bergson, 2001, p. 9).

5. Rescuing the philosophy of the tragic opens the perspectives of an epistemic and epistemological revision of the Hegelian imaginary of the subject to another vision of change that includes radical alterity. Finally, aesthetic education, proposed by German Romanticism (Machado, 2006), helps liberate the imaginary of art and dramatisation of life. To organise a philosophy that knows how to reconcile essence and appearance, reason and mysticism and drive and culture helps us understand the boundaries between the sublime and the tragic.

6. Spinoza’s approach to the relationship between emotional and mental manifestations with a view to organising appropriate ethical and political decisions recalls the Eastern traditions of Taoism and Confucianism, which value the dynamic movement of the opposite poles in life. These traditions consider various possibilities for organising human behaviour between yin and yang. In Taoism, learning the ‘middle way’ reveals an appropriate reflection between the constitutive opposites of reality (heat and cold, high and low, reason and emotion, etc.) (Tse, 2013).

7. In the modern context of systemic pressure towards social science fragmentation, it is relevant to situate the originality of the Frankfurt School, which was built in a context of strong disputes involving different disciplines, such as Marxism, psychoanalysis and social philosophy. The founding intellectuals of this school left an important legacy on the value of complex and interdisciplinary thinking, which is still an example that warns against the attraction of technical specialisation, which favours the formation and concentration of power camps. Observing the trajectory of German critical theory during the twentieth century, we observe how it renewed itself through dialogue with other theoretical currents, such as pragmatism, the sociology of practice and anti-utilitarianism (Delanty, 2020; Martins, 2020). Thus, critical theory has maintained this broader transdisciplinary vision, although it has recently known a certain functional marginalisation in specialised congresses.


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