Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview
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within it--professional or technical, for example--can enter into relations of antagonism with centres of power, within the state itself, which seek to restrict and deform them. None of this means to say, of course, that in certain cases the division between state and civil society cannot constitute the fundamental political line of demarcation: this is what happens when the state has been transformed into a bureaucratic excrescence imposed by force upon the rest of society, as in Eastern Europe, or in the Nicaragua of the Somozas, which was a dictatorship sustained by a military apparatus. At any event, it is clearly impossible to identify either the state or civil society a priori as the surface of emergence of democratic antagonisms. The same can be said when it is a question of determining the positive or negative character, from the point of view of the politics of the Left, of certain organizational forms. Let us consider, for example, the 'party' form. The party as a political institution can, in certain circumstances, be an instance of bureaucratic crystallization which acts as a brake upon mass movements; but in others it can be the organizer of dispersed and politically virgin masses, and can thus serve as an instrument for the expansion and deepening of democratic struggles. The important point is that inasmuch as the field of 'society in general' has disappeared as a valid framework of political analysis, there has also disappeared the possibility of establishing a general theory of politics on the basis of topographic categories--that is to say, of categories which fix in a permanent manner the meaning of certain contents as differences which can be located within a relational complex.❖

Nancy Hartsock teaches political science and women's studies at the University of Washington. Among her writings is Money, Sex, and Power. Toward a Feminist Historical Materialism ( 1984) and the important article "The Feminist Standpoint: Developing the Ground for a Specifically Feminist Historical Materialism" ( 1983). The selection is from her essay "Foucault on Power: A Theory for Women?" Here, Hartsock presents a nuanced standpoint response to Foucault, who has been a particularly troubling theorist for feminists. On the one hand, Foucault's deep critique of modernity and his theory of the diffusion of power throughout the micropolitics of modern society are thought to weaken the basis for informed political action. On the other, few social theorists have done more than Foucault to open consideration of sex and sexuality in social theory and research. Hence, he is sometimes considered a dangerous ally. Another well-known feminist response to Foucault is Nancy Fraser Unruly Practices: Power, Discourse and Gender in Contemporary Social Theory ( 1989). Hartsock's essay is in Linda Nicholson (ed.), Feminism/Postmodernism, which (along with Feminists Theorize the Political, edited by Judith Butler and Joan Scott in 1992) is an excellent source for the feminist debate on postmodernism.

Foucault on Power: A Theory for Women?

Nancy Hartsock( 1987)

To mention the power of women leads immediately to the problem of what is meant by "women." The problem of differences among women has been very prominent in the United States in recent years. We face the task of developing our understanding

Excerpt from Linda J. Nicholson, ed., Feminism/Postmodernism ( New York: Routledge, 1990), pp. 158-160, 161-168, 170-172.


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Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings
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