Antonio Negri as a social theorist

Connell, Raewyn. (2012), 'The poet of Autonomy: Antonio Negri as a social theorist', Sociologica, 6(1): 1-23.

Antonio Negri was perhaps the most brilliant theorist produced by the European  and  North  American  New  Left  in  the  1960s  and  1970s.  He  is  now,  on  the strength of books published since he turned sixty, internationally famous, and one of the most influential analysts of global power. His joint book Empire stirred huge debate, being fiercely attacked by orthodox Marxists and neo-conservatives, while enthusiastically embraced in the anti-globalization movement.

In this paper I explore the aspect of Negri’s work that has been underplayed in  the  controversies,  yet  is  arguably  the  most  important  key  to  its  political  value: the social theory it contains. I try to specify the main ideas Negri offers about contemporary world society and its dynamics, explore the sources of those ideas, and offer an evaluation.

Appropriately, this paper began in a controversy. Several years after the publication of Empire, Negri was invited to give the keynote speech at a conference at the University of Sydney. Reviving charges from the 1970s, the right-wing Murdoch press – which controls most of Australia’s print media – called Negri an apologist for terrorism and attacked the University of Sydney for inviting him. The speech was cancelled, and a local controversy arose as to whether Negri had been censored, or was simply ill. To vindicate the invitation, I gave a public lecture about Negri’s work, in a series sponsored by the University. 

The lecture was published in the Australian literary journal Overland no. 181 in 2005; and a shorter version in Confronting Equality (Allen & Unwin and Polity Press). The new paper develops its ideas.

The article is available here, and on the Sociologica website.

Back to Top