Knowledge, Power, and Political Transformation: Rethinking Events

Nathan Coombs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Continental-inspired political theorists increasingly focus on the singularity of events. By way of a contrast with Hegelian and Marxist teleology, the event is rendered a determinate concept oriented around the contingent becoming of political novelties. Yet this article challenges the dichotomy, arguing that there has been a tacit concept of the event within Marxist dialectical materialism since the late 19th century. The Marxist idea may not be identical with recent continental eventalisms, but it shares with them enough formal and functional characteristics in order to substantiate a qualified conceptual continuity. Accordingly, this article attempts to delineate more subtle continuities and discontinuities between the idea of the event in classical Marxism and contemporary notions like Alain Badiou’s. Both conceptions, it is shown, grapple with the same problem of knowledge/power in political transformation, but they suffer different pitfalls in their attempts to proscribe intellectual authority through novelty-bearing events. The task today, the article concludes, is to draw from the merits of both traditions in order to rethink a theory of the event resistant to transhistorical schemas, as with contemporary notions, but which nonetheless enable anticipation of those tendencies with the most productive political potential, as with more classical Marxist ideas.
Original languageEnglish
JournalContemporary Political Theory
Publication statusIn preparation - 2014


  • politics
  • event
  • knowledge
  • power
  • novelty

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