Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers: From Structuralism to Postmodernity

Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers: From Structuralism to Postmodernity

Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers: From Structuralism to Postmodernity

Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers: From Structuralism to Postmodernity


Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers surveys the most important figures who have influenced post-war thought. The reader is guided through structuralism, semiotics, post-Marxism and Annales history, on to modernity and postmodernity. With its comprehensive biographical and bibliographical information, this book provides a vital reference work of the last fifty years.


This book follows the very admirable model provided by Diané Collinson’s Fifty Major Philosophers (1987). Thus I offer the reader both an overview of each thinker’s work together with biographical information. Like Ms Collinson, I also aim to introduce, sometimes in a fairly detailed way, one or more aspects of the oeuvre in question, and particularly as this relates to that aspect of thought inspired by structuralism. And I often engage with that thought - differ with it, or appreciate its insights. My hope is that the reader will get a real sense of the flavour, style, and, in many cases, the truly innovative character of the thought in question.

My task, however, was both easier and more difficult than Diané Collinson’s, for while I did not have to treat the entire history of the Western canon of philosophy in writing my entries, I had to choose fifty contemporary thinkers. And although, of course, one can debate about who should be in the philosophy canon, there is less doubt about the fact that a canon has been extraordinarily influential, even to the point where people are speaking Plato, Hobbes or Sartre without knowing it. To some extent, then, Diané Collinson’s task was to make explicit forms of thought which have already formed us. My task, by contrast, has been to distil key elements in the work of thinkers who are sometimes not yet widely known, but who are becoming so. Most people will at least have heard of Plato; but will they have heard of Saussure? Most will know that idealism is located somewhere in Plato’s philosophy; but do they know that ‘difference’ is a key notion in Saussure? Clearly, I believe that the answer is ‘no’ in both cases.

It is not only the general reader’s knowledge that I am actually alluding to here, but also my own. For the contrast that I am trying to bring out is that between a relatively stable canon with which I am familiar, if not in detail, and a series of thinkers whose thought is often still evolving, both because many are still writing and thus have not completed their work, and because, by definition, it is not possible to have a deep familiarity with thought that is essentially contemporary and innovative. In other words, whether I have chosen the most important or illuminating angle on the thinkers in question will be, and should be, a cause for debate.

In response to this difficulty, my wager on behalf of the reader is that the light that I do shine on the thought I have explicated is an informed one, but that even if it turns out to be but one possible way of understanding the thinker in question, this is still informative and educative in the sense that I intend. And this sense is that to (be able to) disagree with me is to understand me.

What of the choice of thinkers, however? Here, the subtitle of the book should

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