Situatedness, or, Why We Keep Saying Where We re Coming From

Situatedness, or, Why We Keep Saying Where We re Coming From

Post-Contemporary Interventions

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Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: Published: January 2002

Author: David Simpson

Cultural Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

“Let me tell you where I'm coming from . . .”—so begins many a discussion in contemporary U.S. culture. Pressed by an almost compulsive desire to situate ourselves within a definite matrix of reference points (for example, “as a parent of two children” or “as an engineer” or “as a college graduate”) in both scholarly inquiry and everyday parlance, we seem to reject adamantly the idea of a universal human subject. Yet what does this rhetoric of self-affiliation tell us? What is its history? David Simpson’s Situatedness casts a critical eye on this currently popular form of identification, suggesting that, far from being a simple turn of phrase, it demarcates a whole structure of thinking.
Simpson traces the rhetorical syndrome through its truly interdisciplinary genealogy. Discussing its roles within the fields of legal theory, social science, fiction, philosophy, and ethics, he argues that the discourse of situatedness consists of a volatile fusion of modesty and aggressiveness. It oscillates, in other words, between accepting complete causal predetermination and advocating personal agency and responsibility. Simpson’s study neither fully rejects nor endorses the present-day language of self-specification. Rather it calls attention to the limitations and opportunities of situatedness—a notion whose ideological slippage it ultimately sees as allowing late-capitalist liberal democracies to function.
Given its wide scope and lively rendering, Situatedness will attract a range of scholars in the humanities and legal studies. It will also interest all those for whom the politics of subjectivity pose real problems of authority, identity, and belief.


"[Simpson] is refreshingly provocative and surprisingly so considering his professional identity as a literary critic . . . ."

— Martin Jay , London Review of Books

"[T]he book's point and power reside in the variety of historical cases that Simpson provides from law, philosophy, sociology, and literature, where struggles to affirm the priority of situation run into the problems that we currently elide or ignore. . . . [It] should make it harder to make claims about situatedness as though the (forgotten) problem of mediation had already been solved."
— Bill Brown , American Literature

"Brave. . . . Situatedness provides a well-balanced view of its subject particularly pertinent to the current U.S. academic, legal, and social scene." — John Vignaux Smyth , Comparative Literature

“An exciting work, phenomenally erudite, informative, shrewdly and scrupulously argued, and very attractively written in vivid, non-jargony prose spiked with wry wit. Situatedness makes a striking contribution to current debates in humanities and social science scholarship, and it will be a touchstone for theoretical commentary in a range of different fields for a good while to come.” — Christopher Herbert, Northwestern University

“The philosophical nature of the concept of the situation has too often been neglected or overlooked altogether. Simpson has shown remarkable astuteness in identifying ‘situatedness’ in our current discourse, in naming it and revealing its functions. This is a splendid and unique contribution to our awakening from the Zeitgeist and its unconscious presuppostions.” — Fredric Jameson, author of Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

David Simpson is G. B. Needham Fellow and Professor of English at the University of California, Davis. His previous books include The Politics of American English and The Academic Postmodern and the Rule of Literature.

Table of Contents Back to Top


1. Self-Affiliation and the Management of Confusion

2. Mitigating Circumstances: Secular Situatedness and the Law

3. With God on Our Side? The Science of Character

4. Literary Situations, Novel Solutions

5. Reasonable Situations: Philosophy, Biography, and Private Life

6. Lost for Words: Can We Stop Situating Ourselves?



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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2839-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2825-4
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