Mr Louis Hartnoll

Research project: Manifest Contradiction: Adorno, Sociology, and the Social Character of Art


The principal and defining question that this project proposes to answer is the following: How can art's social character be made intelligible according to a philosophically and critically coherent category of ‘society'? Responding to a set of converging artistic, theoretical, and contextual problems, my research aims to interrogate this question by focusing on the internally and externally determined concept of fait social as it is employed in Theodor W. Adorno's posthumously-published ‘Aesthetic Theory'.

As is well rehearsed, the concept of fait social is one first outlined by Émile Durkheim in his 1895 work ‘Les Règles de la méthode sociologique'. There are three core propositions of this book that are essential for understanding its overarching structure and claims. The first is to argue for the existence of a distinct class of facts, namely social, which resemble but are fundamentally difference from those found in other sciences. Durkheim identifies their two defining characteristics as: on the one hand, being independent from and not sustained by the individual; and, on the other, exerting a collective coercive power over the individual, revealed in its most naked form when they are attempted to be resisted. The second proposition, one closely aligned to the general intent of the book, is to use the existence of social facts to secure sociology as an independent discipline. In this, Durkheim argues that because social facts lie beyond the individual we can therefore assume that there can be nothing other than society that can provide their substratum and this, in turn, announced the general academic need to find the intellectual tools for their exposition. For Durkheim, neither biology, psychology, philosophy, nor economics is sufficient to this task. The third proposition is to produce a set of normative methodological procedures for sociology's treatment of its ‘proper' object. Through the imitation of methods employed in the natural sciences, Durkheim opens the second chapter with the rather blunt proposition that sociology's ‘first and most basic rule is to consider facts as things.' It is only by treating social phenomena as given things, as ‘the sole datum afforded the sociologist', that sociology can, in Durkheim's view, emerge out of unscientific, subjectivist reflection. 

Each of these three propositions, and their attendant substantive political and philosophical claims, is directly challenged by Adorno. By tracking these and related criticisms, as well as by way of reference to related thinkers and philosophers, it is the gambit of this research to assert that certain tensions thereby enter into ‘Aesthetic Theory', especially through Adorno's description, in a Marxist register, of the ‘Doppelcharakter der Kunst' as autonomous and fait social. Questions such as: what is it that Adorno sees in the concept of fait social that accurately describes the social character of art, beyond the mere sense that art participates in the life-process of society? why would recourse to this concept in ‘Aesthetic Theory' be necessary given Adorno's strong criticisms of it and the sociology it grounds? and, how might a contemporary philosophical account of art's social character appear in the face of Adorno? all inform the starting point for and main avenues of exploration of this research.


Alongside my doctoral research, I work as an Associate Editor for the Historical Materialism journal and an Adjunct Lecturer at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Braunschweig. Prior to this, during the 2020–21 academic year, I served as Gastwissenschaftler [Visiting Researcher] at the Institut für Sozialforschung, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, supervised by Prof. Juliane Rebentisch. I have also taught at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, at the Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, and Columbia University and have given talks at various art institutions such as the BALTIC, Arnolfini Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery, and Tate Britain. I was previously an Editor at the Afterall Research Centre where I assisted with the One Work, Exhibition Histories, and Critical Reader series.

Areas of research interest

  • Theodor W. Adorno
  • Frankfurt School
  • Critical theory
  • G.W.F. Hegel
  • Gillian Rose
  • Karl Marx
  • Heterodox Marxism
  • Contemporary art theory
  • Social philosophy
  • Art and society


  • MA Aesthetics and Art Theory, CRMEP, Kingston University London
  • MA Contemporary Art Theory, Goldsmiths College, University of London
  • BA(Hons) Advertising, London College of Communication, University of the Arts London

Funding or awards received

  • AHRC–Techne Ph.D. Scholarship (2017)
  • CRMEP Aesthetics and Art Theory Dissertation Prize (2017)
  • CRMEP Postgraduate Scholarship (2015)
  • Socrates–Erasmus Postgraduate Scholarship (2012)


2021, ‘As a Rule, the Bird Swallows the Fly: Kracauer and the Micrological', Siegfried Kracauer Filmreihe, ed. Leonie Hunter and Felix Trautmann, Frankfurt: Institut für Sozialforschung

2021, Managing Editor, Art and Autonomy: A Critical Reader, Sven Lütticken, London: Afterall Books

2020, 'With a Dash of Foolishness: Marxist Personae in Nachrichten aus der ideologische Antike (2008)', Décadrages – Cinéma, à travers champs, no.44–45

2020, Review of 'Harun Farocki, Ich habe genug! Texte 1976–1985', Critique d'art, no.55

2020, ‘Preview of "Aby Warburg: Bilderatlas Mnemosyne – The Original"', Artforum Vol.58, no.5

2019, ‘Seeing Horizontally: Interview with Babette Mangolte', Moving Image Review & Art Journal, vol.8, no.1/2, Special Issue on Chantal Akerman

2018, ‘Without Further Ado: Review of Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetics', Radical Philosophy, 2.03.

2016, ‘Artists at Work: Interview with Simone Forti', Afterall Online

2015, Co-Editor, Bad Feelings, London: Book Works.

Conference papers

2021, ‘A Peculiar Unfreedom: Reconstructing Adorno's Theory of the Artist', Centre Marc Bloch, Berlin

2021, ‘Against a Sharp White Background: Fanon at the ICA', BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead

2020, ‘Classroom Tyrant: Theodor W. Adorno and the Education for Authoritarianism', at 'Pedagogic Relations: Art and Art History', Centre for the Study of Contemporary Art and the Institute for Advanced Studies, University College London

2019, ‘"Trophies of Empire" (1992–93) Archive Study Day', Arnolfini

2019, ‘Into the Margins: Reading Walter Benjamin and Carl Linfert', 2019 Istanbul–Oldenburg Critical Theory Conference, Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg

2019, ‘Exhibition Histories Talk: Charles Gaines', Whitechapel Gallery

2018, ‘Exhibition Histories Talk: David A. Bailey', Whitechapel Gallery

2016, 'Hegel and Arts Historical Exceptionalism', Society for European Philosophy–Forum for European Philosophy Annual Conference, Regent's University, London