• Summary
  • Overview
  • Key Readings

Jean Baudrillard is one of the most important and provocative writers in the contemporary era. Widely acclaimed as the prophet of postmodernism, he has famously announced the disappearance of the subject, meaning, truth, class and the notion of reality itself. Although he worked as a sociologist, his writing has enjoyed a wide interdisciplinary popularity and influence. He is read by students of sociology, cultural studies, philosophy, literature, French and geography.

Organized into eight sections, the volumes provide the most complete guide to Baudrillard currently available:

Section 1: Theoretical Issues

In this section the central themes informing Baudrillard's work are defined and discussed. Baudrillard's place in contemporary social thought is examined through considerations of how his work has been received. The importance of signs and the sign economy in Baudrillard's analysis is highlighted. The case for treating Baudrillard as a seminal theorist in contemporary social thought is elucidated.

Section 2: Postmodernism

Baudrillard is reluctant to regard himself as a postmodernist. Nonetheless, it is as the leading theorist of postmodernism that he is widely celebrated and generally known. This section explores Baudrillard's relation to postmodernism and demonstrates his specific contribution. Questions of Baudrillards relation to capitalism, commodification, fatalism, Lyotard, Jameson and politics are explored.

Section 3: Culture

It is now commonplace to refer to the period since the late 1980s as ‘the cultural turn’. Baudrillard's work provided a leading exponent of the significance of culture in understanding contemporary life. Included here are reflections on Baudrillard and corporate culturalism, power, ideology, simulation, mass media, Disney, hyperreality and leisure.

Section 4: War

In the 1990s Baudrillard became famous for the thesis that ‘the gulf war did not happen’. For some critics, it revealed the poverty of Baudrillard's approach. For others it showed more profoundly why his thought is an indispensable tool in grappling with the complexities of contemporary society. At all events, Baudrillard's treatment of the war represented a climacteric in critical responses to Baudrillard. In this section the various range of responses to Baudrillard's intervention are precisely delineated, providing the reader with the essential data required to decide if Baudrillard's thesis is right or wrong.

Section 5: America

America dazzles and appalls Baudrillard. In America and of Cool Memories 1&2, he documents his violent responses to America as an idea; a physical space. Included here are reflections on Baudrillard, America and postmodernism; Baudrillard's significance as an ethnographer of US life; Baudrillard and American film; Baudrillard and Reagan's America; and Baudrillard, America and the politics of simulation.

Section 6: Seduction

Baudrillard's theory of seduction is, like much else in his work, controversial. This section examines how the theory has been interpreted and criticized. The relationship between Baudrillard and feminism is examined. Applications of his theory to art and work are explored.

Section 7: Fiction and Art

Baudrillard is an unusual contemporary thinker, in as much as his writing is taken seriously by artists. Baudrillard himself has responded to this, by becoming more interested in photography in the last ten years. This section aims to provide an essential guide to the relationship between Baudrillard and art. Included here are enquiries into Baudrillard and science fiction, the relationship between Baudrillard and J G Ballard's ‘Crash’; Baudrillard and abstract painting; Baudrillard and Francis Bacon; Baudrillard, Benjamin and Lichtenstein; Baudrillard, Barthes and photography; and Baudrillard's theory of communication.

Section 8: Baudrillard and Other Social Theorists

The concluding part of the collection aims to situate Baudrillard in the field of contemporary social theory. Interestingly, Baudrillard himself has never attempted to compare and contrast his theoretical ideas with those of others. The 14 contributions included in this section, seek to rectify this shortcoming. The contributions cover Baudrillard and Marx; Baudrillard, Durkheim and Rousseau; Baudrillard and psychoanalysis; Baudrillard and Bataille; existentialism, postmodernism and Baudrillard; Baudrillard and McLuhan; Baudrillard and Critical Theory; Baudrillard and Habermas; Baudrillard and Deleuze; Baudrillard and de Certeau; and the fictional Baudrillard, as dreamt up by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont.

The contributions are selected and introduced by Mike Gane, Reader in Sociology at the University of Loughborough. With publications like Baudrillard's Bestiary, Baudrillard: Critical & Fatal Theory and Baudrillard Live, Gane is widely recognized as the leading secondary commentator on the work of Baudrillard. No-one else matches him in the appreciation and critical understanding of Baudrillard. In a full length ‘Introduction’ to the volumes, written with verve and penetration, Gane shows exactly why Baudrillard is a key thinker of our times.

Mike Gane is Professor of Sociology at University of Loughborough

A Challenge to Theory: Introduction to Jean Baudrillard
MikeGane

Baudrillard's career has not been a typical one. He was the first generation from his family, based in the Ardennes region of north eastern France, to establish a position as teacher and university lecturer. An outstandingly gifted student, he nevertheless did not take the classic route to the agrégation and the Grandes Ecoles. In fact he absconded from the preparatory class for university, and subsequently had to struggle to get a university job after many years teaching languages in French lycées. He was drawn into radical politics under the influence of Sartre in the period of the Algerian crisis. In the early 1960s he became known as the principal translator of Peter Weiss, as well as translator ...

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