Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

Postmodern Politics and Marxism

Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

Postmodern Politics and Marxism

Article excerpt

Ercan Gundogan

The American University Girne-Cyprus

1. Structuralism, Poststructuralism and Postmodernism

The most decisive role in the development of structuralism, poststructuralism and finally postmodernism has been played by new French intellectual studies after the Second World War. After the war, France was "still largely agricultural and suffered from an antiquated economy and polity". In the post war period, the country witnessed a rapid modernization process. This was accompanied with interesting developments of social and philosophical theories. Finally, the social and political uprising in 1968 gave a "dramatic sense of rupture" symbolizing old French revolutionary tradition. The turbulent events behind 1968 were student movements and workers strikes. New theoretical studies focused upon "mass culture", "the consumer society", technology, and urbanization. The new social relations were theorized first by the conception of "postindustrial society", which was borrowed from the USA. Mass culture and consumer society were analyzed through Anglo-Saxon theories1. Up to that time, dominant theories in France had been marxism, existentialism and phenomenology. However, semiotics developed by Ferdinand de Saussure in early twentieth century attracted intellectual circles and was first applied to anthropology by Levi-Strauss. In marxism, Althusser theorized a structural marxism while Lacan studied for a structuralist theory of psychoanalysis of Freud. The terminology was composed of "codes", "rules", "common system", "parts and whole". Structures are ruled by "unconscious codes and rules". Social phenomena were defined by linguistic and structural terms such as rules, codes and system. In theoretical circles, there emerged a "structuralist revolution" (2).

In structuralist marxism of Althusser, the main aim was to "eliminate the concept of the subject", which was only a "linguistic construct". "[T]he subject itself was constituted by its relation within language, so that subjectivity was seen as a social and linguistic construct". Nonetheless, structural analysis tries to reveal "objectivity, coherence, rigour, and truth, and claimed scientific status for its theories" (3).

Poststructuralism attacked these scientific premises of structuralism. Structuralism reproduced the "humanist notion of an unchanging human nature" and all universal structures of humanism. Unlike structuralism, poststructuralism accepted a "historical view which sees different forms of consciousness, identities, signification, and so on as historically produced and therefore varying in different historical periods" (4).

A common point between structuralism and poststructuralism is the rejection of the concept of "the autonomous subject". The latter emphasizes the productivity of language dismissing "closed structures of oppositions" (5) and "the unstability of meaning". Thus, it implies a "break with conventional representational schemes of meaning". Meaning is "produced not in a stable, referential relation between subject and object, but only within the infinite, intertextual play of signifiers" (6). Poststructuralism seems to suggest an extreme form of relativism rejecting all kinds of claims on objective and universal knowledge, any ontological division between structure and agency, as well as cause and effect or determinant and determined.

As for the development of postmodern theory, we should remember the results of the 1968 events. This last social uprising in Western Europe takes attention to the concrete politics. First of all, student movements produced a debate on the production of knowledge and bureaucratic characteristics of universities. This attention would be theorized by Michael Foucault as an existence between power and knowledge (7). Theoretical and practical politics was common for many intellectuals, who would be poststructuralist later. Moreover, general interest was on everyday life, subjectivity, differences and social marginality. …

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