Changing the Subject: Psychology, Social Regulation, and Subjectivity

By Julian Henriques; Wendy Hollway et al. | Go to book overview

6

Power relations and the emergence of language

Cathy Urwin


Introduction

It is not unusual for psychologists to use children's development as a testing ground for more general theoretical propositions. One of the most frequent debates focuses on the relative importance of nature versus nurture, inbuilt as opposed to environmental factors, or other versions of this familiar see-saw. Representing a particularly clear example of the individual-social dualism which we have criticized, at the core of this view of development is an implicitly or explicitly assumed unitary subject which knows and exists outside of, or prior to, its entry into the social world. This assumption is particularly evident in the study of language development, where there is a marked if not universal tendency to view language as an object outside the child, its acquisition depending on its interaction with internal cognitive structures and/or pre-existing communication systems. The nature of these, of course, may be more or less specified.

This chapter presents an alternative account of the development of language, one which both decentres language per se as the object of investigation, and presupposes a radically different account of subjectivity. It is based on a reworking of Lacan's (1949) account of the formation of subjectivity through the entry into language and on certain ideas critically extracted from Foucault's work. These have been discussed in a prelimi-nary way in the Introduction to this section and elaborated with respect to a particular area in the last chapter. Here, the aim is to show that, on the one hand, redefining the problematic in this way enriches, extends or even overturns the terrain which traditional approaches can cover,

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