chapter  3
Diffracting dialectic
Pages 36

Of Bhaskar’s three main aims in Dialectic, we now turn to the second, the recasting of dialectic on the ground of critical realism. If the first aim was ‘the dialectical enrichment and deepening of critical realism’, and the third is ‘the outline of the elements of a totalising critique of western philosophy, in its various (including hitherto dialectical) forms’, the second is ‘the development of a general theory of dialectic . . . of which the Hegelian one can be seen as an important, but limited and highly questionable, special case’ (DPF: 2). In this chapter, I focus primarily on the second of these objectives, for it is on this that the development of what Bhaskar calls a materialistically diffracted dialectic depends. This involves a process that releases dialectic from its ‘Hegelian moorings’ (Hartwig 2007: 141), and is a question both of form and of method. As regards form, diffraction is associated in science with the breakdown of light in contact with an object, or in a prism. In the process, what initially appears a unitary phenomenon is fractured into different shapes and patterns or is fragmented into a range of different elements. This fragmentation and fracturing is also, however, an opening up, as we see a spectrum of shades or light patterns within an original unitary form. In the process, in addition, we come to understand how the field of light exists in relation to the original unitary form. Fragmentation and fracturing, difference, variety, and the relationship between what is broken and what is one – these are all elements that are caught in Bhaskar’s account of the diffraction of dialectic. It indicates above all that the programmed, rationally ‘linear’, unifying quality of Hegel’s dialectic is to be opened up to a more plural, differentiated vision in which the disjoint, multifariously contradictory nature of modernity is no longer unified by the work of dialectical reason. In the process, it is rendered more available for investigation precisely by stressing its actual fragmented and fractured character.