Steiner Shorts #1: A Comment on Method

How do you begin an interaction with Rudolf Steiner’s social theory? While there are books, many of which share content but vary in name, these are reasonably short incursions into the field of social theory rather than sustained attempts at the development of a coherent whole. There are lecture series’ which offer insights at various points into his thinking, but again these are often specific responses to requests for lectures rather than an ongoing publicly held engagement with the topic. Readers of Steiner are met with this array of material and might find themselves drawn to others’ compendiums of his work, of which there are several to choose, again often sharing similar content but with slightly differing editorial interventions. Should the reader choose not to follow the path laid by others, the remaining option is to engage with the primary material first-hand. The Rudolf Steiner archive is an invaluable resource here, collating books, lectures and articles and making electronic versions of these sources available to the public. Here the reader can find a sea of documents in the original German and translated into English which can provide an extensive, if at times overwhelming, starting point.

But this does not really get to the question of how one interacts with this body of work – if indeed, ‘body’ is the appropriate term. ‘Body’ would imply a whole, a unity of sorts even allowing for those parts that might not quite fit. To push the analogy, a misbehaving appendix in an otherwise well-functioning physical body. Arguably, ‘body’, either in name or concept, is not applicable to Steiner’s writings on social theory as it implies a set of work that can be identified and held together. The reluctance for using the term is not a judgement on the ideas Steiner put out, more a comment on the form that these ideas took. Collections of writings and speeches which share points and often repeat streams of an argument and yet do not, and cannot, represent a sustained engagement with social theory. And so we return to the question of how to engage with these ideas? What method might be suitable for both our contemporary context and the way the ideas themselves were formatted and shared with the world? For this, let us not attempt to fix a body, to point to and elevate some pieces over others for their significance. Instead, let us embrace the format of the original work: the episodic, the transient – in the case of the lectures – and the situated. Such a methodological approach requires a casting off of the desire for a fixed point of orientation, a magnum opus from which to anchor a world view in its totality, in favour of the embrace of a baselessness.

Steiner made it clear that his responses to lecture requests or consultations were specific and contingent. For an example of such an approach we need look no further than his advice to the owners of the Waldorf cigarette factory when they asked for some input on how to establish a school. And so let our engagement with Steiner’s ideas on social theory also be specific and contingent. Let us take them as challenges for a response to the ideas contained in them, rather than attempt to construct a Frankenstein’s monster of different parts in the pursuit of a whole that does not, and perhaps should not, exist. Such a method has precedent.

In the 1970s Paul Feyerband released Against Method (Feyerband, 1993), a sustained critique of the dogma of singular methodological approaches in the sciences. His proposal was that far from a recognizable, singular, and repeatable ‘scientific method’, science actually progresses through those moments of inquiry which do not conform to established practice. The opening gambit of Against Method reads as follows: “Science is an essentially anarchic enterprise: theoretical anarchism is more humanitarian and more likely to encourage progress than its law-and-order alternatives” (Feyerband, 1993, p. 15). While highlighting many examples throughout the book, including the Copernican Revolution and the Darwinian Revolution, Feyerband builds a theoretical argument that the authority of a supposed ‘scientific method’ is stifling as it establishes a ready set of parameters by which new knowledge is deemed to be worthy. Should that new knowledge not conform to the established practice it is likely to be rejected. Feyerband playfully suggests that the only principle of methodology which avoids the constraints of conformity is “anything goes” (Feyerband, 1993, p. 15), and that “[p]roliferation of theories is beneficial for science, while uniformity impairs its critical power. Uniformity also endangers the free development of the individual” (Feyerband, 1993, p. 16). The aim of Against Method is not to displace method entirely, but to open the space for a plurality and flexibility of methods in the course of knowledge production.

Picking up on Feyerband’s argument, Orenstein and Luken make the case for this anarchistic methodology in the social sciences, highlighting instances where misunderstandings of previous work have led to the development of entire fields of knowledge through the questions and ideas they stimulated (Orenstein & Luken, 1978). Reaffirming Feyerband’s earlier argument and making a specific connection to anarchist theorists, Orenstein and Luken point to the likes of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman who refused the new authoritarian structures arising in Bolshevik Russia, or Michael Bakunin who argued against Marx on the basis that Marx sought to replace one authoritarian organization with another:

Thus, just as the older anarchists abhorred the replacement of one authoritarian social-political system by another, no matter how noble its enunciated ends, we similarly oppose the total replacement of present methodologies with any single methodology which could be equally closed and repressive of the individual scholar. (Orenstein & Luken, 1978, p. 65)

The issue here is not the creation of alternative methodological system, but the reification of such a system into an “external authority to which the scientist must conform” (Orenstein & Luken, 1978, p. 65). In place of this, Orenstein and Luken argue for methodological systems to be tools that can aid the creativity of the individual. This also introduces a different understanding of responsibility into processes of knowledge production as the individual researcher must make deliberate and active decisions about their methodological approach rather than falling back on tradition and deferring responsibility to the status quo.

Taking this anarchist methodology further requires us to explore some of the possible tools at our disposal, and for that we can turn to thinkers such as Deleuze and Guattari (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987), and Foucault (Foucault, 1991). In slightly different terms both captured and built upon a methodology that embraces the groundless, or perhaps better phrased, the multiple. The term ‘multiple’ first brings to mind the work of Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus, particularly the concepts of the rhizome and lines of flight. In the opening chapter Deleuze and Guattari take aim at traditional models of thought, much as Feyerband took aim at traditional models of method, and in so doing characterise dominant thought and methodologies as tree-like: arborescent structures with a single main trunk splitting off here and there into limbs of various sizes. As a result of this structure the only connection between limbs lies through the trunk itself, one is always diverted back to and then out from a single source. As a response to this arborescent thought Deleuze and Guattari propose the rhizome as an interconnected set of nodes where one is always already connected to a multitude of others and the development of each new node is not necessarily linear or dependent on what has come before it. This multitude of possibilities of thought represented by the rhizome presents an approach to knowledge that is not tied to singular understandings and predetermined forms, but develops as part of an ongoing process of inquiry (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). To help capture this process Deleuze and Guattari introduce the term ‘lines of flight’ as those moments when ideas emerge and take off on their own trajectory, always presenting “multiple entryways and exits” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 21) to different nodes. To return once more to the question of how to approach Steiner’s work on the threefold social organism and the methodology underpinning this series of written pieces, allow me to quote an emphatic call to action directly from A Thousand Plateaus:

Write to the nth power, the n-1 power, write with slogans: Make rhizomes, not roots, never plant! Don’t sow, grow offshoots! Don’t be one or multiple, be multiplicities! Run lines, never plot a point! Speed turns the point into a line! Be quick, even when standing still! Line of chance, line of hips, line of flight. Don’t bring out the General in you! Don’t have just ideas, just have an idea (Godard). Have short-term ideas. Make maps, not photos or drawings. (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 24)

Deliberately or not, Deleuze and Guattari embrace the call of Feyerband, and Orenstein and Luken to introduce the flexible, the changeable, the challengeable, not to get fixated upon the single arborescent or the multiple rhizome but to always shift, to chase lines of flight and thought wherever they take you and to let them go as you wish. We can already see a relevance to this essay series here in the short, responsive, flexible nature of both the method and format, but we can make the case for such a methodology even stronger still.

Foucault has brought a host of innovations and insights into the study of society and the individual, whether through subject matter or methodology. The particular aspect which can aid us here is the notion of a “polyhedron of intelligibility” (Foucault, 1991, p. 76), the notion that around any single event there is a multitude of understandings and analytical approaches which make any study necessarily incomplete. We should not be perturbed by this incompleteness, as Denzin reminds us interpretations and analyses are always “[…] unfinished, provisional, and incomplete. They start anew when the researcher returns to the phenomenon” (Denzin, 1989, p. 64). However, this does not mean that this incompleteness signifies an inconclusiveness:

“This does not mean that interpretation is inconclusive, for conclusions are always drawn. It only means that interpretation is never finished. To think otherwise is to foreclose one’s interpretations before one begins. That is, individuals should not start a research project thinking that they will exhaust all that can be known about a phenomenon when they end their project” (Denzin, 1989, p. 64).

Returning to Foucault, this polyhedron of intelligibility indirectly compliments Deleuze and Guattari’s work through Foucault’s own claim that his endeavours “are not treatises in philosophy or studies of history; at most, they are philosophical fragments” (Foucault, 1991, p. 74) not put to work in the elaboration of a single systematic philosophy, but deployed as particular studies of particular ideas in particular moments (Ferreria-Neto, 2018). We are reminded of Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome and lines of flight in Foucault’s embracing the multitude of perspectives and approaches to any study, and the necessary contingency of the work done depending on the topics in focus.

The rhizome, lines of flight and the polyhedron of intelligibility all combine to help us unseat the dominance of a single methodological approach to Steiner in this essay series, instead embracing the anarchistic flexibility of immediate and emerging approaches arising in the clash of idea and response.

Moving us further forward in our considerations of method and format, the work of Mark Fisher offers a point of inspiration. While Fisher has written longer-form books, most of his output came through the blog k-punk which he started in 2003 as a response to the writing involved in a PhD in which “PhD work bullies one into the idea that you can’t say anything about any subject until you’ve read every possible authority on it” (Wilson, 2010). In contrast, blogging enabled Fisher to write with less pressure, presenting a blank space for him to pursue his own lines of interest as they occurred. In addition to the open potential of blogging as a format, Fisher also found that writing in a blog style made him more aware of having an audience and helped him to rediscover “rhetoric, argument and engagement” (Wilson, 2010) in his writing in a way that is lacking in traditional academic forms. In a characteristically frank moment, Fisher has the following to say about his blogging: “I like Zizek’s line that the idiot he is trying to explain philosophy to is himself; I feel the same. Much of my writing now is me trying to explain things to/for myself” (Wilson, 2010). This open, flexible, and creative potential contained in blogging as a format sits well with the anarchistic approach to methodology captured by Feyerband, Orenstein and Luken, Deleuze and Guattari, and Foucault, and echoes the episodic, the transient, and the situated work of Steiner in relation to his work on social theory. Fisher’s approach not only provides a point of inspiration, it also sets a precedent for other forms of knowledge production and critical engagement which are not tied to traditional academic formats of journal articles, or long-form monographs. This is not a denigration of traditional academic forms: peer-reviewed journal articles and carefully considered monographs play an important role in the development of theoretical and practical work. But this approach is part of a wider attempt to de-centre the focus on journal articles and monographs as the only forms necessary for the development of theoretical and practical work.

To bring us back from this diversion into anarchist methodology to the question of how to engage with Steiner’s work on social theory, it lays the ground for a method of inquiry which has hitherto been overlooked by those working on Steiner. What if we are to distance ourselves from established methodological dogmas in relation to Steiner and approach him afresh? To begin answering such a question we need to consider what methodological dogma we want to distance ourselves from. There are two main approaches taken with regards to Steiner’s work more broadly, both nicely framed through Clement’s recent article on the reception of the critical edition of Steiner’s philosophical and anthropological work (Clement, 2021). Clement identifies two approaches to Steiner’s work which are revealing of two methodological strands. One of these approaches tends to feature literature which is ”imitative and apologetic”, but this does not mean that they are not valuable pieces often demonstrating “a deep familiarity and profound knowledge of Steiner’s work” (Clement, 2021, p. 2). However, Clement argues that many of these pieces lack a critical approach to their own subject and methodology, and are not open to discussions with alternative positions and interpretations of Steiner’s work. The second of the two approaches identified by Clement is one that engages with Steiner’s work in a more critical fashion, following a more traditional academic method of inquisition (Clement, 2021). An exemplar of this approach is found in the critical edition of Steiner’s work currently being edited by Clement. This critical edition follows more established academic forms which mirror the publication of critical editions of other thinkers’ works, driven by the desire to track and reconstruct Steiner’s work through a hermeneutic approach, embracing the wider context of the history of ideas, and the role of the work in Steiner’s development (Clement, 2021). Clement is explicit about the aim of critical edition: “Once completed, the edition will feature all monographs published by the influential thinker and thus represent a comprehensive collection of the foundational texts of anthroposophy” (Clement, 2021, p. 3), and this includes a forthcoming volume dealing with Steiner’s social theory. The publication of such a critical edition is no doubt a helpful step in providing other scholars with a starting point for Steiner’s work, something which, as discussed above, is somewhat lacking currently. But this hermeneutic approach and attempt to establish a canon runs in the opposite direction to the methodology and format pursued in this essay series. Indeed, the publication of the critical edition brings to mind two points from earlier in this essay. The first is the move at the start of the piece to displace the very idea of a body of work, and the second is Fisher’s earlier note of caution about writing a PhD and the need to read all authorities before engaging in your own writing. And so while Clement’s critical edition is a valuable academic undertaking, it also represents part of the established methodology of academia Feyerband, Orenstein and Luken, Deleuze and Guattari, Foucault, and Fisher all push against.

To step away from these established methods and embrace the anarchistic methodology proposed by Feyerband, Orenstein and Luken, and others, changes the approach to Steiner’s work. Such an approach does not see Steiner as providing a map of society and a route to an already-known-and-yet-never-reachable form of social organization, nor does it attempt to establish a canon of Steiner’s work for the purposes of future interrogation. Instead, such an approach sees Steiner’s work as cutting across the map of society we are presented with, slashing at the contours of accepted and assumed social forms with a series of provocations which can help us shift perspective. The aim then is not the provision of a new map and route, nor a re-drawing of what is already present, but an interruption in how we think about a wide range of areas of social life without the need for a complete coherence or unified singular reading. Not only does this approach embrace the lack of a stable body of work on Steiner’s social and political theory, it also mirrors the format Steiner himself used in the production of his articles, lectures, and short books. Rather than unify a singular Steiner and read him through the lens of his time, or search for a coherence applied later, the anarchistic approach sends us crashing into the different elements of his work and seeing what emerges in the process. Sometimes the result may be an attempt to understand a collection of ideas he presents, sometimes the result may be a bringing together of other thinkers and concepts which compliment, contradict, or in some way illuminate Steiner’s work. It would be contrary to such an approach to already suggest a thread holding these responses together, but that does not rule out the possibility of something emerging between and across the pieces as they develop and build: a reflection of the pieces themselves and my ever-changing engagement with Steiner and his work. And so I invite the reader to join me on this slightly chaotic, shifting and unpredictable series of essays. I have no idea what they might hold, but let’s find out together.

Andy (


Clement, C., 2021. A New Paradigm in the Academic Study of Anthroposophy?. Steiner Studies, 2(1).

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F., 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: University of Minnesota Press.

Denzin, N., 1989. Interpretive Interactionism. London: Sage Publications.

Ferreria-Neto, J. L., 2018. Michel Foucautl and Qualitative Research in Human and Social Sciences. Forum: Qualitative and Social Research, 19(3).

Feyerband, P., 1993. Against Method. 3rd ed. London: Verso.

Foucault, M., 1991. Questions of Method. In: G. Burchell, C. Gordon & P. Miller, eds. The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 73-86.

Orenstein, D. & Luken, P., 1978. Anarchistic Methodology: Methodological Anti-Authoritarianism as a Resolution to Paradigmatic Disputes in the Social Sciences. Sociological Focus, 11(1), pp. 53-68.

Wilson, R., 2010. They Can Be Different in the Future Too: Mark Fisher interviewed. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed June 2021].