Crisis Theory for Complex Societies

A Project Proposal at Occupy Chicago


How do societies change? It has long been observed that capitalism develops in forty-to-sixty year cycles, bookended by great crashes and periods of stagnation. Technologies and relations of production are transformed along with modes of government and social reproduction. New patterns of trade and nternational relations emerge on the geopolitical level. Ten or fifteen years later, people look back and realize: “That was a turning point. The world is totally different now.”

Such a change has been experienced in living memory, with the crisis of the late sixties/early seventies that ushered in neoliberalism. What will happen now? By bringing together various strands of Marxist crisis-theory (the technological innovation school, the regulation approach, world-systems theory) it’s possible to show how a distinctly neoliberal society emerged from the political upheaval, long recession and monetary chaos of the sixties-seventies. Once we have identified the full range of neoliberal institutions, we can generate an analytical picture of the status quo around, say, 2005. And on that basis we can see what’s changing right now, in many different arenas. Who are the agents of social change? Could we intervene in some of those arenas while everything is still in flux? Why wait fifteen years to discover the solutions that the elites will have arranged for us? The idea of this lecture/workshop is to lay the groundwork for a strategic observatory of the still-unfolding crisis.


The conclusion of our meeting at the Educational Forum of Occupy Chicago was that a process of research-action could be focused directly on the city of Chicago, with all its ongoing struggles. By participating in the concrete struggles and systematically mapping out the abstract forces at play in them, we could generate useful knowledge about the restructuring of society as a whole. Useful means the kind of knowledge that helps everyone to intervene more effectively. This would be a long-term project, with a preparatory period over the next few months and a fully active period next fall. Ideally it would lead to the creation of educational products that could be widely shared. The next meeting will be on May 6.

Anyone who is interested in collaborating on this project, feel free to contact me. For previous iterations of this project, see:

Three Crises Seminar

The above is the archive of a collaborative seminar, carried out at Mess Hall in Chicago, concerning the last three major political-economic crises of US and world society: the 1930s, the 1970s, and now. Here you will find written texts, recordings of the seminars, and full-text bibliographies.

Technopolitics Project

This is an open-source research platform, run by people in Vienna, where this inquiry into the processes of social change began.


4 Responses to “Crisis Theory for Complex Societies”

  1. Dr. Ivo Steinacker Says:

    Today I have been appraised to the activities of Brian Holmes, Michael Bauer and Konstantin Mitgutsch through a morning feature in the Ö1 culture radio. I see with great interest the multiversal approaches to the present crisis, in the social system, in education, in management. I am a Theoretical physicist with a degree in philosophy. Since the seventies I have been working in knowledge tranfer and innovation – controlled rebellion. Living at present in the Tyrol, I could easily come to Vienna or Saas Fee (Alphubel, Allalinhorn . . .). Your answer would be much appreciated.
    Ivo Steinacker

    • Brian Holmes Says:

      Dear Ivo –

      Greetings. I am glad this has attracted your attention. You will see (and hear) from the materials above the basic outlines of the work that I have been developing with the Technopolitics group in Vienna and with others. I will forward your comment to Armin Medosch. It would be interesting to hear your reaction to the kinds of things we are proposing. Indeed we could surely meet someday in Vienna. I come once a year or so.

      all the best, Brian

  2. timothynoble (@timothynoble) Says:

    It seems that the mp3 links at the top of this post aren’t working at the moment. Do they perhaps live elsewhere on the web? Looking forward to listening.


    • Brian Holmes Says:

      OK, I uploaded them to wordpress. Should work now. Thanks for pointing that out, I shoulda done that from the start.
      best, BH

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