Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Power versus Love: The Production and Overcoming of Hierarchic Repression

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Power versus Love: The Production and Overcoming of Hierarchic Repression

Article excerpt

Love is not a frivolous word. It is a word with which we struggle to express some of the most important experiences of our lives. A struggle that we do not win but cannot give up. This article is not so much about love--what it is; it is about that struggle to communicate as the basis of our knowledge of other people, of other cultures, of "others" that we cannot reduce to other versions of ourselves. It is about the production of knowledge and the relations of individuals in a would-be fairer world.

Recently, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has ventured to write about love as a necessary part of political struggle and the learning that that entails.

This learning can only be attempted through the supplementation of a collective effort by love. What deserves the name of love is an effort...mind-changing on both sides, at the possibility of an unascertainable ethical singularity that is not ever a sustainable condition. The necessary collective efforts are to change laws, relations of production, systems of education and health care. But without the mind-changing one-on-one responsible contact, nothing will stick. (1)

The idea of a mind-changing relationship that is also an ethical relationship is an important one. The notion, however, needs a lot of explaining, a lot of unpacking and exploration. We need to see its connections with a broader theoretical field, and how perhaps it can be integrated with more wide-ranging considerations of identity and economy. To this end, this article will propose how this concept of mind-changing love can be understood in the context of a number of poststructuralist schools of thought and postcolonial examples, with what I consider a broadly Marxian perspective. If this seems at times a loose, eclectic use of these authors, it is because I am attempting to read them into each other, highlighting their parallels and points of connection rather than their disagreements.

Exchange and Value

There is a lot of mileage to be had in seeing social relations as relations of exchange, relations in which one thing gets traded for another. This, I hope it can be seen, is not economistic in the sense of making economics the determinant in "the last instance," but rather takes economics as the "most abstract instance" of social relations. (2) In this view, the concept of exchange needs to be stretched rather a lot from the image of handing commodities back and forth. Relations between people are exchanges also in the manner of a conversation, questioning and responding, an exchange of views, or a trading of insults. An insult may repay a polite remark; pictures of starving children generate lots of money; dark skin may be met with police harassment, job refusals, or maybe with respect, or with disrespect; someone may build a set of steps and then a wheelchair user may need to get up those steps. All these, analytically, have the structure of an exchange. They express worth; the one term measures the worth, the value, of the other. Is it worth building a wheelchair ramp? Would you change your mind about the steps if the wheelchair user was rich and famous, or your boss?

People do things; in other words, they produce. Also what we all do is to be ourselves in that we are white, black, able-bodied, male, and so forth, but of course we exist in these ways logically before they are labeled as such. It is only afterwards that our being is given norms to live up to and a socially encoded ascription of value. We produce, in a sense, an identity, but this identity is more than the obvious labels of gender, race, and so on. We are identified by everything we say and do: Are we knowledgeable, authoritative, lazy, weird, or fashionable? These are not natural states, but social codifications. One of the most important areas of being-production and coding, often neglected by current concerns with identity--is the production of all the "symbols" that make up the great hierarchy of poverty to wealth. …

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