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Tony Ward

Tony Ward

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:22

André Gorz


André Gorz (1923-2007)


A year before André Gorz committed suicide with his wife Dorine in September 2002, at the age of 84, he wrote a book, Lettre à D. Histoire d’un Amour - an homage to Dorine. There, he said:

"You’ve just turned 82. You are still beautiful, graceful and desirable. We’ve lived together now for 58 years and I love you more than ever. Lately I’ve fallen in love with you all over again and I once more carry inside me a gnawing emptiness that can only be filled by your body snuggled up against mine.

He was 83. A year later they took their own lives so as not to be separated by Dorine's terminal cancer. They were together for 60 years, and this final act brought to an end a life of remarkable intellectual and political activism.

Gorz who was born as Gerhard Hirsch and was also known by his pen name Michel Bosquet was an Austrian and French social philosopher. a journalist, and co-founded in 1964 of the weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur.. He was a friend and supporter of Jean-Paul Sartre and for a good part of his life was immersed in the philosophies of Phenomenology and Existentialism. He leaned towards an existentialist version of Marxism which supported and advocated the significance of the subjective.  He broke with Sartre after (the student uprising of) May '68 and became more concerned with political ecology, becoming one of its leading theorists. His central theme was work: liberation from work, just distribution of work, alienated work, etc. He was also one of the advocates of a Guaranteed basic income.He was a leading left thinker of his time and Sartre once claimed that Gorz had the "sharpest brain in Europe". (Wikipedia) His disagreement with Sartre typified the pattern of his relationships with other intellectuals and political movements. He continued to grow, to change, to transcend, and to follow his own moral, political and intellectual intuitions rather than to become addicted to dogma and orthodoxy.

His father wass Jewish, his mother Catholic. The father converted to Catholicism in 1930 to avoid the emerguing anti-semitism and the young Gerhard was shipped off to Lausanne in Switzerland at the outbreak of the Second World War. There he completed his degree in chemical engineering in 1945, and in 1954 took up French citizenship.


He met Sartre in 1946, and the latter became a close friend. In 1949 he moved to Paris and worked as a journalist and private secreatary. It was when working as an economist journalist on L'Express in Paris that he adopted the name Michel Bosquet.

In the late 1950s he published two books, Le Traître (Le Seuil, 1958 (prefaced by Sartre) and La Morale de l'histoire (Le Seuil, 1959) -  both of which adopted an Existentialist/Marxist approach. By the 1960s he had become a leading figure in the New Left, and Marxist Humanism. He was friendly with Marcuse and strongly identified with the Frankfurt critical theorists. He was deeply involved with the french Union movement - particularly the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (advocating worker co-operatives and self-management systems) and the National Union of Students of France. In 1964 he published Stratégie ouvrière et néocapitalisme (Le Seuil, 1964), criticizing Capitalist economic growth and analysing the options for trade unions. He also left L'Express and co-founded Le Nouvel Observateur weekly (under the name of Michel Bosquet).

He saw the May '68 uprising, and the students' demands and manifestos as vindication of his Existential Marxism and as an appropriate critical analysis of the repressive role of the State. His analysis embraced issues of Alienation, Institutionalisation and human emancipation and led him to the writings of Ivan Illich, publishing several of his writings in Les Temps Modernes.

Hie was increasingly taken with the work of Illich and inexorably moved away from his earlier Marxist leanings. His philosophical and political transformation led to a break with his colleagues in Le Temps Moderne, which from 1969 he assumed the editorial responsibility. In April 1970, his article Destroy the University (Détruire l'Université) provoked the resignation close colleagues.  In 1974 he himself finally resigned from Les Temps Modernes. In addition, his position as an economist at Le Nouvel Observateur became untenable and rte was replaced by mosr ctraditional economists. It was at this time that he also broke with Sartre.

At this time he was becoming increasingly interested in the relationship between capitalist expansion and environmental issues. In particular, he wrote a combative article against the nuclear industry. The State electricity agency responded by withdrawing its advertisement from Les Temps Modernes. He responded by ptrying to ublishing a special edition of the magazine on nuclear issues. When the editorial board refused his request, he subsequently published it in the Que Choisir? consumers' magazine. 


His increasing interest in environmental issues led to him becoming a leading figure of political ecology, publishing regularly in the ecologist monthly magazine Le Sauvage, related to Friends of the Earth. In 1975, he published Ecologie et politique (Galilée, 1975), which included the essay Ecologie et liberté, "one of the foundational texts of the ecologic problematic". Gorz's ecology was further strengthened by his reading of the Club of Rome's 1972 report, Limits to Growth.(Wikipedia)

In 1980, as François Mitterand (the Left Wing candidate) was being elected to the French Presidency, Gorz published perhaps his most famous and influential book, Farewell to the Working Class. It came at a time when Margaret Thatcher was locked in a struggle to the political death with the British miners unions. It warned of the changes in the global economy and the impending problems for the unions that were wedded to a philosophy giving primacy to the proletariat in the class struggle. He suggested that change might be brought about not by the working class, as orthodox marxism predicted, but by the newly emerging and burgeoning middle class. He foresaw the disappearance of the working class as a political force, much against the prevalent ideologies of the time.
Gorz argues that changes in science and technologies have broken the power of industrial workers, especially the skilled. He suggests that they are no longer central to the socialist project. Their place has been taken by the new social movements - the womens' movement, the gay movement, the ecology movement etc. - by those who refuse to acceptthe work ethic so crucial to early capitalist societies. He believes that their affirmation of personal autonomy and liberation renders these groups the bearers of utopian visionary socialism. He argues his point through a critical analysis of time (much as the British theorist  E. P. Thompson and the French Marxist Henri Lefebvre).
This notion is developed more fully in his later Critique of Economic Reason, (1989)Gorz suggests that it was Marx's modernist utopian conception and glorification of work which lay at the root of the failure of Soviet communism. According to Gorz, Marx believed that work carried the seed of liberation for the proletariat, but that the enslaving nature of mechanized work was never fully anticipated by Marxists or, although recognized, was never taken as a factor which would alienate the workers from the utopian ideals of the Revolution. In other words, the glorification of work under communism served only as a mask for the alienation of the workers from the creation of their own agency in the process of history. Gorz further maintains that even had the Revolution led to direct worker control over the means of production this would still have led to similar alienation, simply because of the scale of the industrial enterprise needed to bring Russia into full industrialization. He, like the Bolsheviks, asserts that such dramatic industrialization process could only have been accomplished through massive centralization of resources. His thesis is that we now need a new utopian model which understands the liberation of the workers not through work, but from work . 

His central concern is the liberation of time and the abolition of work. He points out that work has not always existed in its present form. Our current understanding comes from the emergence of the capitalist econoimic system which requires that work be done for another in return for a wage and under time and spatial conditions and for a purpose determined by the employer. As he notes, the terms "work" and "job" have become interchangeable that one "has" and is understood as the sale of one's time. Under these circumstances, work is always only a means of making money and not an end in itself. (The latter sense is the same as that implied by  Freire when he says that "by making the world we make ourselves!").

Within a Marxist context, the difference between wage labour and self-determined labour is the same as the difference between exchange value and use value. We work for a wage in order to have enough money to ourselves purchase enough time from society (in the form of manufactured commodities and foods as well as leisure. Self-determined work, in contrast, is not concerned with the exchange quantities of time. It is an end in itself, and is essentially the heart of the creative process (of creating oneself). Sale is not the object of this kind of creation - but consumption by oneself, family or friends. According to Gorz, the abolition of work (through automation etc) will only be emancipatory if it allows for the creation and development of the creative process inherent in autonomous activity.

Gorz maintains that the abolition of work is already in pprocess with the likely massive levels of unemployment inherent in new technologies already beginning to appear. (The large scale homelessness and unemployment of the 1990s were a validation of Gorz's theory). He maintains that this process will continue and accelerate and tghat if widespread social unrest is to be aviloded then it is imperative that ways be immediately developed to facilitate the creative work of autonomous, self-determined activity. Gorz argues that a necessary condition for this development is that a distinction be made between the right to work and the right to earn a living. This in turn means that communities develop[ and maintain thr ight tgo produce at least ppart of their goods and services that they consume without the need to sell their labour. This suggests different forms of community stuctures and collectivities based in part upon Illich's notion of conviviality and access to tools. Farewell to the Working Class is more than a warning, but a thesis on how these necessary social and economic changes might be accomplished threough a reconfiguration of the way we organise our social lives. This theorising led him to point out in Métamorphoses du travail  Metamorphosis of Labour (1988)how Capitalism was using personal investments which were not paid back and led inexorably to the conclusion that the only way to avoid the coming social and economic crisis was for the development and acceptance of a Guaranteed basic income, independent from "labour. It was a concept which dovetailed easily with his growing concerns about ecology and the impending global environmental crisis and which has been picked up and developed since by others, notably the Americasn Sociologists Stanley Aronowitzand social philosopher Murray Bookchin.

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:21

Henry Giroux


Henry Giroux (1943- )


Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:20

Erich Fromm

erich fromm

Erich Fromm (1900-1980)


Erich Fromm was born in Frankfurt in 1900, the only child of orthodox Jewish parents. He began studying jurisprudence at the University of Frankfurt in 1918, but moved to the University of Heidelberg the following year, where he switched to to sociology under Alfred Weber (brother of the famous sociologist Max Weber). He studied psychology under the brilliant psychiatrist-philosopher Karl Jasper, and philosophy with Heinrich Rickert. Being brought up in Jewish orthodoxt, Fromm's thesis looked at the relationship between spiritual teachings and social relations. Fromm received his Ph.D. in sociology in 1922. He then trained to become a psychoanalyst. He began his own clinical practice in 1927 in Berlin, where in 1930 he met  Wilhelm Reich and other Marxist analysts at the Berlin Institute. The same year, he joined the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research and completed his psychoanalytical training. Here he delved more deeply into Marxism, and his interests turned decisively to issues of the socio-psychological nature of different social and political formations. In this he shared the same interests as reich, whose Mass Psychology of Fascism later attempted to understand and explain why it was that Hitler's support stemmed mainly from the working class who should, according to Marxist theories, be instead supporting the socialist revolution.

With the Nazi takeover of power in Germany, Fromm moved to Geneva and then, in 1934, to Columbia University in New York to work at the New School of Social research along with his other refugee Frankfurt colleagues  Marcuse,  Horkheimer and Adorno.


He worked there until the late 1930s when a diagreement with his colleagues about his abandonment of Freudian "drives and an eventual bitter condemnation from Marcuse (who labelled him a "neo-Freudian revisionist") led him to withdraw. The problem had been in Fromm's interest in Freud's theory of the libido - as being, from a Marxist perspective, independant of the socio and economic circumstances operating in society. Fromm's socio-psychological theorising suggested that indeed the libido of the individual was not by definition shaped only by instinct, but also by the social circumstances of the society in which it experienced itself. From this perspective, whole societies were able to exhibit markedly different manifestatuions of libido - and of the subconscious. The individual, from this perspective, adapts to the social circumstances in which he or she finds him/herself and repressions come into play which are culture-specific. By this measure, whole societies can exhibit patterns of mass psychosis. There are echoes here again of the later work of laing, who maintained that the manifestation of schizophrenia resulted from the self-preserving adaptation of individuals to insane (family) circumstances.

Fromm first gave voice to these theories in his groundbreaking book Fear of Freedom (1941), in which he suggested (again presaging Existentialists like Sartre and R. D. Laing) that an inherent fear of taking responnsibility for and control of one's own life in the face of society's demands and mores constitutes a real and present psychological impulse - leading in extreme cases, to the kinds of passivity and public quiescence that had occurred in Nazi Germany. He noted that:

"We believe that man is primarily a social being, and not, as Freud assumes, primarily self-sufficient and only secondarily in need of others in order to satisfy his instinctual needs. In this sense, we believe that individual psychology is fundamentally social psychology or, in Sullivan's terms, the psychology of interpersonal relationships; the key problem of psychology is that of the particular kind of relatedness of the individual toward the world, not that of satisfaction or frustration of single instinctual desires."

His theory was that people in modern society were unable to translate their "freedom from" into a capacity to experience "freedom to"", and instead sought refuge in totalitarian systems and regimes that made the crucial life-transforming decisions for them. He extended this thesis later with the publication of The Sane Society (1955) in which he described the nature of manʻs alienation from himself. In the same work he goes to some lengths to describe the "true" or creative nature of human existence that is realisable through a transformed social world. This idea is extended yet again in his later The Art of Loving (1956) in which he places the capacity (or incapacity) for self love and love of other as the benchmarks of emotional and mental health. From had considerable personal success in the United States, but was unable to achieve any wide acceptance or understanding of his theories.

Fromm had moved to Mexico in 1950 and lived there teaching (as well as in America). In the mid 1950s he joined the American Socialist Party, and his teachings incorporated an ideology that rejected both capitalism and State Communism. In 1958 he recorded three television interviews with CBS's Mike Wallace. These encapsulate most of Fromm's theoretical base and can be viewed below.




During the 1960s he became politically active against the Vietnam War and in support of Senator Eugene McArthy's bid for the Presidency (1968). He continued to teach in America and Mexico until 1974, when he moved to Switzerland with his third wife where he continued to writer and publish in social isolation. He died there in 1980. In his later years he publishe4d a final work on identity - the difference between an insecure  identity based upon possessions and a secure one based upon experience. He tied this theorisinng back to the work of Marx, closing the circle on his own theoretical journey.

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To read a brief but comprehensive biography of Fromm, click here

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:19

Michel Foucault

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 Michel Foucault (1926-1984)


Foucault was born in Poitiers to an eminent surgeon. His schooling was mediocre until he attended a Jesuit college, where he excelled. until he attended the Jesuit Collège Saint-Stanislas, where he excelled. During his High School years he lived under German occupation. After the War, he gained entry to the École Normale Supérieure - a traditionally prestigeous gateway to an academic career in the humanities. While there he became interested in phenomenology - particularly the works of Martin Heidegger, but he was also interested in Hegel and Marx, and attended the lectures of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. During this time he also experienced periods of deep depression and undertook psychiatric analysis. This probably led to his interest in Clinical Psychology, which he eventually gained a license to practice. He also acquired a degree in philosophy. The combination of the two interests led him to devote much of his professional life to the philosophical investigation of state institutions for the criminal and the insane. His earliest writings - a long "Introduction" to his translation of Dream and Existence by Ludwig Binswanger, (arguably the first existential psychiatrist), and Maladie mentale et personalité, (Mental Illness and Personality - a short book on mental illness) are clearly influenced by his twin interests in Marxism and Existentialism. He untimately abandoned and criticised both, undertaking instead, his own particular brand of "archeological" analysis of the relationship between culture and the social construction of identity. From 1950-1953 he was inducted into the Communist Party by his friend  Louis Althusser, but he abandoned his membership in protest against the policies of the Soviet Union under Stalin.


Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault


From 1953-4 he taught psychology at the University of Lille, from where he moved to the University of Upsala in Sweden. He left therein 1958 to move to the University of Warsaw and then the University of Hamburg. He returned to France in 1960 to finish his PhD before teaching philosophy at the University of Clermont-Ferrand. He acquired his doctorate in 1961 and published a part of it under the title Madness and Civilisation in 1965.

Originally published as The History of Madness in the Classical Age it comprioses a study of the emergence of the modern concept of "mental illness" in Europe, and is formed from both Foucault's extensive archival work and his intense anger at what he saw as the moral hypocrisy of modern psychiatry. It excavates the process by which the insane became an institutionalisable category, by which the social construction of insanity came to be. Standard histories saw the nineteenth-century medical treatment of madness (developed from the reforms of Pinel in France and the Tuke brothers in England) as an enlightened liberation of the mad from the ignorance and brutality of preceding ages. But, according to Foucault, the new idea that the mad were merely sick ("mentally" ill) and in need of medical treatment was not at all a clear improvement on earlier conceptions (e.g., the Renaissance idea that the mad were in contact with the mysterious forces of cosmic tragedy or the 17th-18thcentury view of madness as a renouncing of reason). Moreover, he argued that the alleged scientific neutrality of modern medical treatments of insanity are in fact covers for controlling challenges to a conventional bourgeois morality. In short, Foucault argued that what was presented as an objective, incontrovertible scientific discovery (that madness is mental illness) was in fact the product of eminently questionable social and ethical commitments. Foucault's next history, The Birth of the Clinic (1963) can similarly be read as a critique of modern clinical medicine.(Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ).

In 1965 he moved to Tunis with his five-year partner Daniel Defert and accepted a position at the University of Tunis in 1965. In 1966 he published Les Mots et les choses (The Order of Things), which was enormously popular despite its length and difficulty. This was during the height of interest in structuralism and Foucault was quickly grouped with scholars such as Jacques Lacan, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Roland Barthes as the latest thinkers to challenge the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre.  In the fall of 1968, following the student uprising, he returned to France, where he published L'archéologie du savoir (The Archaeology of Knowledge) in 1969.

His particular brand of analysis involved turning Kantian philosophy on its head. A quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy makes this point very clearly:

"Since its beginnings with Socrates, philosophy has typically involved the project of questioning the accepted knowledge of the day. Later, Locke, Hume, and especially, Kant developed a distinctively modern idea of philosophy as the critique of knowledge. Kant's great epistemological innovation was to maintain that the same critique that revealed the limits of our knowing powers could also reveal necessary conditions for their exercise. What might have seemed just contingent features of human cognition (for example, the spatial and temporal character of its objects) turn out to be necessary truths. Foucault, however, suggests the need to invert this Kantian move. Rather than asking what, in the apparently contingent, is actually necessary, he suggests asking what, in the apparently necessary, might be contingent. The focus of his questioning is the modern human sciences (biological, psychological, social). These purport to offer universal scientific truths about human nature that are, in fact, often mere expressions of ethical and political commitments of a particular society. Foucault's "critical philosophy" undermines such claims by exhibiting how they are just the outcome of contingent historical forces, and are not scientifically grounded truths."

All of Foucault's excavations of the historical basis for our normative perceptions of social relations lead him to an analysis of the State. For Foucault, the emergence of the State has mirrored the parallel emergence of modern identity, and both have been deeply implkicated in the emergence and development of capitalism - particularly during the modern movement and since (and because of?) the Enlightenment. Foucault has suggested that the emergence of the State was contingent upon the parallel emergence of philosophies of Enlightenment which simultaneously constructed a concept of individualism and liberated it from the feudal limitations of birth and social destiny.  However, it would be more appropriate perhaps to suggest, along with Marx, that the process operates in the opposite direction, and that the philosophies themselves as well as the laws which they helped to frame and which supported them, while contributing to the general tendency of capitalism, were themselves shaped by the changed economic and social circumstances of their time, by the greatly increased accumulation of wealth occasioned by the process of colonisation:

"Legal relations as well as forms of the state are to be grasped neither from themselves, nor from the so-called general development of the human mind, but rather have their roots in the material conditions of life... In the social production of their life, men enter into relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite state of development of their material production forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of a society, the real foundation, on which rise a legal and political superstructure and to which corresponds definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness." 
He has described, for instance, how with the rise of the bourgeoisie, the old feudal rights of the peasantry were swept aside, and redefined as criminal activities. He suggests that what he calls the Great Confinement - the dramatic increase in prison population in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries - was directly connected to the development of increased capital accumulation and property which dispossessed and displaced the multitudinous peasantry. This was paralleled by a decrease in crimes of violence and a corresponding increase in crimes against property. This is not to be taken to mean that there were less crimes of violence, but only that a higher value was now placed on property relations than on human relations. 

Resistance to the new definition of property was immediate and widespread. In seventeenth century England, the Levellers, agitated for a panoply of reforms: the abolition of the Monarchy and House of Lords, law reform, security of tenure of copyholders, the abolition of the privileges of Peers, corporations and trading companies, election (rather than appointment) of sheriffs and Justices of the Peace, and most specifically, the immediate institution of universal franchise and the opening of the enclosures.  They recognised that the alignment of voting rights with property ownership and the ability to frame the legal conditions of social life constituted an assault upon the already-poor. For their resistance they were consistently persecuted and silenced. In the Eighteenth Century, their call was taken up by the Chartists, who agitated continuously for universal franchise and a change in the property laws. If such repression was commonplace within the State, and if the State legitimated notion of property ownership was recognised as a consolidation and extension of power at home, the same realisation did not escape the colonised abroad.
In this social construction of insanity, Foucault notes that the Great Confinement operated at one level as a general solution to the problems of poverty, by absorbing all of the indigent under a single system.  The poor were seen as a necessary corollary to national wealth, partly because they produced, but consumed little. Their absorption by the State reflected an attempt to rationalise their productivity, the more efficiently to manipulate it. The Great Confinement came to an end as it was realised that the costs of Confinement outweighed the profits - particularly at the larger social scale. It was at the time of the Revolution, in France, that the system was disbanded and a distinction was finally made between the poor on the one side and the insane and criminal on the other.
In village after village, enclosure destroyed the subsistence economy of the poor. Peasants without legal proof of rights were rarely compensated. Those who were able to establish a claim were left with land inadequate for subsistence and a disproportionate share of the very high enclosure cost. Enclosure was "class robbery, played according to fair rules of property and law laid down by a parliament of property-owners and lawyers"  The legal authenticity in terms of newly inscribed capitalist property relations, created a rupture of the traditional integument of village custom and of right. The class robbery, the decimation of village life, the abandonment of the countryside for the towns, the burgeoning anarchy of a landless majority created a great deal of social unrest. But it created much more - a whole class of "deviants" confronted by the might of the State and the law, behind which stood the men of property.

The new property relations were class relations created by the law, which, while purporting to universal even handedness, and supposedly based upon the principle of universal emancipation and enlightenment but which in their application were designed specifically facilitate the repression of the majority of the community by the small and powerful minority. The application of the law demonstrated that crime was now almost exclusively committed by a certain social class, from the lower ranks of the social order. Noting this, Foucault observed that:
"... it is not crime that alienates an individual from society, but that crime is itself due rather to the fact that one is in society as an alien, that one belongs to that 'bastardised race'.. to that 'class degraded by misery whose vices stand like an invincible obstacle to the generous intentions that wish to combat it'; that this being the case, it would be hypocritical or naïve to believe that the law was made for all in the name of all; that it would be more prudent to recognise that it was made for the few and that it was made to bear upon others; that in principle it applies to all citizens, but that it is addressed principally to the most numerous and least enlightened classes; that, unlike political and civil laws, their application does not serve everybody equally; that in the courts society as a whole does not judge one of its members, but that a social category with an interest in order judges another that is dedicated to disorder... so that the language of the law, which is supposed to be universal, is, in this respect, inadequate; it must, if it is to be effective, be the discourse of one class to another, which has neither the same ideas as it nor even the same words."   
The legal re-definition of private property was accomplished, as Foucault has pointed out by creating a reciprocal distinction between the illegality of property from the illegality of rights:
"The illegality of property was separated from the illegality of rights. The distinction represents a class opposition because,  on the one hand, the illegality that was to be the most accessible to the lower classes was that of property - the violent transfer of ownership - and because of the other, the bourgeoisie was to reserve to itself the illegality of rights: the possibility of getting round its own regulations and its own laws, of ensuring for itself an immense sector of economic circulation by a skilful manipulation of gaps in the law - gaps that were foreseen by its silences, or opened up by de facto tolerances. And this great redistribution of illegalities was even to be expressed through a specialisation of the legal circuits: for illegalities of property - for theft - there was the ordinary courts and punishments; for the illegalities of rights - fraud, tax evasion, irregular commercial operations - special legal institutions applied with transactions, accommodations, reduced fines etc. The bourgeoisie reserved to itself the fruitful domain of the illegality of rights. And at the same time as this split was taking place, there emerged the need for a constant policing concerned essentially with this illegality of property... (Hence) a penal system must be conceived as a mechanism intended to administer illegalities differentially, not to eliminate them all"
The law, then, is an invention of the powerful who constitute the law-making class, to create a world of private property of which they themselves are the sole beneficiaries, and to consolidate and protect their social power and status. The State, as the agency of this transaction (and as also constituted of the law-making class) has therefore operated from its very inception directly in the interests of its own powerful representatives.

The notion of private property as an exclusive right of possession was and is a convention invented and sustained by the already-propertied, only through the ironic agreement of the non-propertied, but this agreement was not voluntary. The English peasants who vacated the land did not always do so peacefully. But the demands of the new owners were backed up by the might of the State, by the army and the constabulary, and ultimately by the newly constructed institutions of "correction".
What held true of the social construction of instanity (in the Great Confinement) for Foucault also held true of the social construction of criminality. And along with the new institutionalisation of property crimes and property criminals there developed in parallel an institutionalised system of surveillance. Foucalt's other enlightening (no pun intended!) conception involved the epitome of this culture of surveillance, - the conceptual design of the Panopticon by the English philosopher and social reformer, Jeremy Bentham. Foucault goes to some lengths in his Discipline and Punish (1975) to chart the origins and development of criminality and to interrogate the symbolic importance of Benthgam's concept. For Foucault, the power of the Panopticon resided not in its actual physical existence, but as a conceptual mechanism of power-through-total-surveillance.

Accordingly the idea of the Panopticon flowed out into all of the institutions of cultural and social control - barracks, schools, factories, hospitals, and, of course, prisons. In short, the Panopticon represented the inauguration of the disciplinary society, in and through which social control became an automatic and self-perpetuating function, tied, we must remember to the social diffusion of the mechanisms of surveillance, ordering, verification and reflection - a society which controls itself and where the locus of control is at one and the same time everywhere and nowhere, but carried along on the framework of self-imposed social discipline. 

The development of the Panopticon is a natural corollary to Rousseau's call for an open society, where secrecy is abolished and where freedom of expression is total.  It stands as both a metaphor and a shining example of what the Enlighten-ment regarded as the epitomé of the perfect society - that the light of reason illuminating every corner of the social fabric, of total social transparency. And, of course, as materialist conceptions of social reality became more prevalent, positivist science itself became both the primary mechanism and the most vivid example of the enlightening, disciplinary process. The Panopticon represents more than just a novel building form through which institutionalised inmates could be subjected to a regime of total supervision. 

The Panopticon was the quintessential expression of an evolving cultural policy of total social supervision. In the Panopticon it was not only the prisoners who were supervised, but the supervisors themselves, and what the Panopticon represented was therefore rather a regime of social discipline which permeated the whole of society - in other words, a society of surveillance contingent upon, representative of and embodying structures of power which are increasingly diffused throughout the social fabric. The development of regimes of examination and classification represents one important element in this continuing emphasis upon social discipline and surveillance, and connects the later Disciplines to these processes and structures of power.

Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that the physical geometry of the Panopticon was integrated into the design of the great prisons of the Nineteenth Century - prisons such as Wormwood Scrubs and Pentonville, within the framework of the larger society, the principle  of the Panopticon - of universal and diffused surveillance was implemented in a partial manner, by one social class against another. It was not the propertied who were filling the prisons, but the poor and landless, and the increasing systems of surveillance (police, informers etc.) which appeared at that time were organised and applied by the propertied specifically to protect their material interests.  
Until the 17th and 18th Centuries, social expectations were relatively predictable and unchanging. With the advent of capitalism there occurred a socio-political vacuum, so to speak, between the aristocracy and the peasants. To differentiate themselves from the peasants, the newly emerging class of the bourgeoisie adopted as a standard of behavioural expectations, the noblesse oblige of their "superiors". The mores and values of the existing aristocracy in this way became the normative standard against which the bourgeoisie measured their success, their status, their proximity to "old" power and wealth.

What is important to notice is that it also took place alongside the appearance of other key social concepts of "insanity", "criminality" etc. as Foucault has so well described. Children cannot commit murder because they have not yet qualified for full human status recognition. Similarly, someone who is labelled "insane" is not seen as fully responsible, and is therefore allocated similar prescriptive rights to those "enjoyed" by children with respect to criminality.

The insane are seen as having "something missing", and that something, which reduces them down to their essential animalness, is their very humanness.  Foucault goes on to note that the original prescription of madness began to take place, in France, in the late Seventeenth Century, and that is coincided perfectly with the alienation of the peasants from their land - by crowding the indigent and unemployed, the poor and the starving into the large the Hôpital Général and similar institutions vacated by the retreat of the Plague. The numbers of beggars and poor were swelled by the unemployed, by peasants driven from the land, by refugees from religious wars, disbanded soldiers etc. - all of these were recipients of a new form of social control - the asylum, intended to "mop up" the indigent.

There was, initially, no distinction made between the insane and the other poor. What ultimately distinguished the former and led eventually to their separate incarceration and treatment was their inability to work.

"It is not immaterial that madmen were included in the proscription of idleness. From its origin, they would have their places beside the poor, deserving or not, and the idle, voluntary or not. Like them, they would be subject to the rules of forced labour... In the workshops in which they were interned, they distinguished themselves by their inability to work and to follow the rythms of collective life. The necessity, discovered in the eighteenth century, to provide a special regime for the insane, and the great crisis of confinement that preceded the Revolution, are linked to the experience of madness available in the universal necessity of labour."

Confinement was reserved not only for those without property, but also (significantly in an emerging industrialised market economy) for those without the will or ability to labour. Property  ownership and work, in other words, became defined by the Establishment as measures of relative humaneness. We can see from this, that our present concept of humanness (that is, the one associated or influenced by the idea of having an ability to work) originated during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries at the same time that Enlightenment philosophies were promoting the ethic of individualism and when the closely related economic theories of  Hobbes, Locke, Adam Smith, Bentham, Mill Sen., Mill Jun., Malthus etc. were promoting free-market competition as the epitomé of rationality, when they were promoting the essence of man as, in a word - economic man - disciplined man,  man willing to subject himself to the yoke of industrialised capitalism. It was this particular conception of humanness therefore which helped to shape emergent conceptions of a particular, invariant human nature, and the human nature which it helped to shape was that of the disciplined animal.

We witness here, with great clarity, the connection made earlier by Foucault, between power, property and deviance. We see writ large that:
"It is not immaterial that madmen were included in the proscription of idleness. From its origin, they would have their places beside the poor, deserving or not, and the idle, voluntary or not. Like them, they would be subject to the rules of forced labour... In the workshops in which they were interned, they distinguished themselves by their inability to work and to follow the rythms of collective life. The necessity, discovered in the eighteenth century, to provide a special regime for the insane, and the great crisis of confinement that preceded the Revolution, are linked to the experience of madness available in the universal necessity of labour."
In other words, it is the wage-labour individual, expelled from the land, unable or unwilling to work in an alienating and degrading social context who is labelled "deviant", "dependent", "antisocial" and, in the last analysis, "insane". Sanity, in this context is a category reserved for those who are willing to acquiesce to domination and degradation, to bend to the will of the dominant culture and its enforcement agency, the State. Socialisation, as it happens in education, is then seen as a process of training-in-quiescence, and work itself is framed as an uncreative, alienating and inhuman activity, devoid of intrinsic value, which must be accepted in return for the delayed reward of possibly increased consumption.

Seen in this context, normative explanations of sanity as biological dysfunctioning, chemical imbalance etc., can be seen as diversions which preclude a deeper analysis of possible social and cultural causes, and which, with the assistance of the very profitable pharmaceutical companies, therefore prevent critical analysis which might lead to structural change. In this way, the continued reproduction of capitalist relations proceeds unchecked, albeit for the numerous "dysfunctional" victims who are required to accept the blame for their own degraded circumstances.
We must not forget, in all of this, the important link which has been forged in western capitalism between normativity and work - that what is "normal" comes down, in the end, to an ability to passively accept the degraded notion of "work" that capitalism demands. As conceptions of "work" have changed and developed, so also and in tandem, have conceptions of what is "normal" human behaviour - that is, the normative scientifically-legitimated conception of humanness. Science has developed its conceptual categories of humanness in ways which directly serve the interests, and simultaneously legitimate the social relations of capitalist production.
The idea that education is a major influence in reproducing existing structures of power, and conversely, that it can be transformed to be a springboard for cultural and political change brings to the foreground the issue of knowledge itself as a medium for ideology - as a major way in which power interests reproduce their version of reality as the paramount reality in society. This linkage has been accepted since Foucault's studies in the late 1960s and early 1970s,  and other authors have expanded his earlier analysis. The work of  Gramsci has figured prominently in these later works - developing his notion of hegemony, of the organic intellectual and his model of education as a vehicle for cultural transformation.

Knowledge, though, is not a uniform category. There are different forms of knowledge, some legitimated by power interests and others marginalised, but each, according to  Berger and Luckmann, corresponding to different realms of public discourse and legitimation. At the overarching level of what they term the symbolic universe, they suggest that science is the paramount form of discourse and legitimation - that science has, since the seventeenth century, provided the structure and details of the paramount reality, and its ultimate legitimation. It has done this by virtue of its apparent objectivity and apparent value-neutrality -claiming to describe the world as it actually is, rather than as it is witnessed from any particular human vantage point.

Since Foucault, this view of science has been largely discredited, and numerous other epistemologists -  Lyotard, Levi-Strauss etc. have pointed to the partiality of the scientific paradigm. The partiality of the view of the world portrayed by science leaves a great deal unsaid and untheorised, even though, from a scientific point of view, knowledge is characterised as a unified field.  Furthermore, a significant aspect of the partiality of science is embedded in its supposed objectivity. It portrays the world from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Scientific utterances about reality are without human agency. It describes the world as it is, not as any particular scientist views it. Yet science itself is the product of human agency. Its proponents have beliefs and prejudices which they purport to leave aside when they are engaged in the business of science. The power of Foucault's analysis, is to show that this objectivity is an illusion. What he suggests is that science, the paramount foundation of knowledge in our society, is ideologically contaminated - that it operates for and through specific power interests whose view of the world it reinforces. Since almost the entire edifice of knowledge and education is built upon this foundation, the assertion clearly requires further explication.  
Foucault's philosophies as well as his methods of analysis have been criticised by many, but one thing is clear, despite whatever failings he may have had as a philosopher, he has changed our understanding about the nature of society, the State and the creation of identity forever.
Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:17

Frantz Fanon


Frantz Fanon (1925-1961)


In a strict sense, the name of FranTz Fanon might seem odd alongside those of other critical theorists of the 20th century. Yet he is perhaps one of the most influential theorists and writers on issues of culture, consciousness and colonisation of all time. He was born to (relatively) well off parents in Martinique - a French Caribean colony, and as a child experienced the brutality of French colonial rule. After the fall of france in the Second World War, the French Vichy navy was blockaded in Martinique and the brutal excesses  of the French to the black islanders was graphic and educational - revealing to him the evils of racism when combined with colonial power. At the age of 18 he fled the island to join the free French forces under Charles de Gaulle. He fought in Europe and was awarded the Croix de Guerre, but (along with other black soldiers) was excluded from the triumphant and publicise crossing of the Rhine because of his colour. He returned briefly to Martinique after the war and then moved to France to study medicine and psychiatry in Lyon. While therehe also studied existential pghilosophy and litereature.



After qualifying as a psychiatrist in 1951, Fanon did a residency in psychiatry under the radical Catalan psychiatrist Francois Tosquelles, who invigorated Fanon's thinking by emphasizing the important yet often overlooked role of culture in psychopathology. (Wikipedia) In this he paralleled the work of Erich Fromm, as well as the existential psychiatrist R. D. Laing. Yet it was his theorising of the intersection of the issues of class, race, colour and culture with psychopathology that made him such an important theorist and critical thinker. He practiced pasychiatry in France for a year. During this time he published his first book, Black Skin White Masks - an analysis of the effect of colonial subjugation on the human psyche. There, Fanon used psychoanalytical theory to explain the feelings of dependency and inadequacy that Black people experience in a White world. He speaks of the divided self-perception of the Black Subject who has lost his native cultural originality and embraced the culture of the coloniser. The behaviour, Fanon argues, is even more evident in upwardly mobile and educated Black people who can afford to acquire the trappings of White culture.  Black Skin White Masks has had a profound impact upon our understanding of colonisation and the process whereby the colonised come to act against their own self-interest and to participate in their own oppression. When it was published in 1952 it caused a sensation and it still, today, resonates with the experiences of colonised cultures.

Following the publication of his book, Fanon moved to Algeria in 1953. There, he worked as chef de service at Blida-Joinville Psychiatric Hospital in Algeria, where he stayed until his resignation in 1956. As the Wikipedia article on Fanon perceptively notes:

" might wonder why Fanon spent over 10 years in the service of France, but his servitude to France's army... For Fanon, being colonized by a language had larger implications for one's political consciousness: "To speak . . . means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of a civilization". Speaking French means that one accepts, or is coerced into accepting, the collective consciousness of the French."

Fanon's experiences in Algeria were to coalesce into a clarity of thouight about the intersection of colonisation, race and class that found its expression in his psychiatric practice. he began to introduce cultural and social issues into his disgnosticv models of psychosis - relating (like Reich, Laing and Fromm) the condition of his patients to their social and political circumstances rather than to decontextualised notions of libido. Whenm the Algerian Revolution against French colonialism began in 1954, Fanon joined the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) - the Algerian nationalist movement dedicated to the overthrow of French ruie. He supplied equipment to the FLN, safe havens for militants on the run, as well as psychiatric treatment for the tortured and the torturers alike. He quickly came to be seen as a foreign representative for the FLN at conferences abroad.

By 1957 Fanon was receiving regular death threats, making his work in Algeria unsafe. He resigned and was expelled from Algeria, leaving for France before travelling secretly to Tunisia. In his resignation letter, he described his experiences of colonial Algeria:

“If psychiatry is a medical technique which aspires to allow man to cease being alienated from his environment, I owe it to myself to assert that the Arab, who is permanently alienated in his own country, lives in a state of absolute depersonalisation. The status of Algeria? Systematic dehumanisation.”

His next book, A Dying Colonialism, (originally published as Year 5 of the Algerian Revolution) was a portrait of the impact the liberation movement had on all those involved in it. There, he described how Algerian women fighters would put the veil on or take it off according to the needs of the liberation movement – if it was easier to pass the checkpoints dressed as a European then the veil would disappear. He also records out how the determination of colonial authorities to “liberate” Muslim women from the veil directly inspired more women to wear it.(See: Socialist Worker)

Fanon's last book was also his most profound and influential. In The Wretched Of The Earth (1961) Fanon analyzes the role of class, race, national culture and violence in the struggle for national liberation. Both books established Fanon in the eyes of much of the Third World as the leading anti-colonial thinker of the 20th century. This was his final book, published after his death from leukaemia in December 1961, only months before Algerian independence was declared. Dictated rather than written, this volume contains Fanon’s views on violence, the role of the peasantry in the liberation struggle, and his fears for what might happen after independence.

Fanon rightly understood that the French and British empires had taken land and resources by military conquest, and would only give these up when forced to do so. Algeria’s bitter independence struggle was proof of that analysis. His theories have had a profound impact upon the anti-colonialism movement and ongoing struggles of the colonised for more than fifty years. His range of influence has extensded to jean paul Satrte (who wrote the Introduction to Wretched of the Earth), Steve Biko in South Africa, Malcolm X in America, and Che Guevara. His writings continue to influence a broad range of contemporary scholars, indigenous peoples and marxist revolutionaries around the world.

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:16

Jacques Derrida

jacques derrida

Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)

I thought long and hard about whether to include Derrida in this list of critical theorists. Wikipedia suggests that:

"His voluminous work has had a profound impact upon literary theory and continental philosophy".

But like  Noam Chomsky, for the most part I have found his writings to be difficult to understand and (again like Chomsky) that he uses "pretentious rhetoric" to obscure the simplicity of his ideas. Chomsky groups Derrida within a broader category of the Parisian intellectual community which he has criticised for, on his view, acting as an elite power structure for the well educated through "difficult writing" and obscurantism. On the other hand, his (Deconstruction) conceptualisations have proved to be immensely helpful to me on a couple of occasions and have helped me to clarify key points in my own critical analysis. So here he is.


Derrida was born in 1930, in Algeria, when that country was still under freench colonial domination. He was, the third of five children. 

On the first day of the school year in 1942, Derrida was expelled from his high school by French administrators implementing anti-Semitic quotas set by the pro-Nazi government. He secretly skipped school for a year rather than attend the Jewish school formed by displaced teachers and students. At this time, Derrida read works of philosophers and writers such as Rousseau, Camus,Nietzsche, and Gide. He began to think seriously about philosophy around 1948 and 1949. He became a boarding student at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, which he did not enjoy. Derrida failed his entrance examination twice before finally being admitted to the École Normale Supérieure at the end of the 1951–52 school year.

On his first day at the École Normale Supérieure Derrida met  Louis Althusser, with whom he became friends. He entered the École Normale at a time when a remarkable generation of philosophers and thinkers was coming of age. Besides Althusser, there were also Deleuze, Michel Foucault,Lyotard, Barthes , and Marin. Merleau-Ponty,Sartre,deBeauvoir, Levi-Strauss, Lacan, and others. The Fifties in France was the time of phenomenology, and Derrida studied closely Husserl's then published works as well as some of the archival material that was then available. The result was a Masters thesis from the academic year 1953-54 called The Problem of Genesis in Husserl's Philosophy; Derrida published this text in 1990. He also became friends with Michel Foucault, whose lectures he attended. He completed his philosophy agrégation on Husserl's "The Origin of Geometry." Derrida received a grant for studies at Harvard University. During the Algerian War of Independence, Derrida asked to teach French and English to soldiers' children in lieu of military service from 1957 to 1959.




From 1960 to 1964, Derrida taught philosophy at the Sorbonne, and from 1964 to 1984 at the École Normale Superieure. Beginning with his 1966 lecture at Johns Hopkins University, "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences", his work assumed international prominence.  In 1967, he published his first three books—Writing and Difference, Speech and Phenomena, and Of Grammatology—which would make his name. He completed his Thèse d'État in 1980; the work was subsequently published in English translation as "The Time of a Thesis: Punctuations."

Derrida travelled widely and held a series of visiting and permanent positions. He was director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. WithFrançois Châteletand others. In 1983 co-founded the Collège international de philosophie (CIPH), an institution intended to provide a location for philosophical research which could not be carried out elsewhere in the academy. He was elected as its first president. In 1986 he became Professor of the Humanities at the University of California, Irvine.  He was a regular visiting professor at several other major American universities, including Johns Hopkins University, Yale University, New York University, and The New School for Social Research. All of this superstar status flows from his initial conception of Deconstruction, which has proved to be a powerful analytical tool for uncovering the hidden and often ambiguous meanings

Characterising Western knowledge as being grounded upon what he calls a "metaphysics of identity",  Derrida has noted how language organises the world into oppositional categories - body/mind, culture/nature, subject/object, male/female, and so on. 

These oppositions provide a vast array of categories which order the entire domain of philosophy, each category being conceptualised as a totality. The necessity for enclosure which is required to circumscribe any meaning requires the creation of exclusions - that some things are "left outside" the categorical boundary of any conceptual classification. The existence of hidden conceptual pairings is therefore paradoxically related to the need to create whole bodies of knowledge which have clear and precise meanings. Derrida demonstrates how the second component of the pair is therefore always implied by the first, and is always reduced by it to a secondary or inferior status. 
  • Within any paired hierarchy, the lesser of the pair remains invisibly cast as an inferior form, always already implied, and therefore confirming and legitimating by its absence, a particular yet illusory totality which then stands ipso facto as the reality. This binary contradiction flows into the structure of the entire common stock of knowledge where, as Berger and Luckmann note, it operates to foster conditions of hegemony by creating a whole world of invisible exclusions which by virtue of their invisibility, render particular clusters of meanings pre-eminent:
    "... every institution has a body of transmitted recipe knowledge, that is, knowledge that supplies the institutionally appropriate modes of behaviour. Such knowledge constitutes the motivating dynamics of institutionalised conduct. It defines the institutionalised areas of conduct and designates all situations falling within them. It defines and constructs the roles to be played in the context of the institutions in question. Ipso facto, it controls and predicts all such conduct. Since this knowledge is socially objectivated as knowledge, that is, as a body of generally valid truths about reality, any radical deviance from the institutional order appears as a departure from reality.(emphasis added). Such deviance may be designated as moral depravity, mental disease or just plain ignorance. While these fine distinctions will have obvious consequences for the treatment of the deviant, they all share an inferior cognitive status within the particular social world. In this way, the particular social world becomes the world tout court.."

    Using textural readings of Kant, for instance, he has investigated the truth claims of art and aesthetics. In his investigation of Kant's Third Critique, he develops Kant's notion of parergon, literally "what we call ornaments" i.e. those things which "do not belong to the complete representation of the object internally as elements, but only externally as components".  Derrida shows how Kant's parergon or frame of reference cannot be separated from the otherwise essential quality of the art itself. He reveals the internal contradictions in Kant's classification system by showing that what is essential to a particular work of art or architecture remains ambiguous in Kant's own terms. In seeking which aspects can be left out without detracting from the whole, he isolates elements whose marginality defies classification.

    These become the parergon, the frame of reference for the work, being neither inside nor outside its qualitative field. They both define its quality and are defined by it. Thus, claims Derrida, the work of art can only be defined by elements which are extrinsic to itself. From this it follows naturally that the work has no wholly intrinsic value. Once the relational quality of art has thus been established, it is only a small step to locating its "essential" qualities within the medium of social discourse itself with all of the consequent relativistic implications for the influence of class, race, culture, personal history and the power relationships which they represent and reproduce. In other words, a great work of art is a great work of art not because it contains immutable and transcendent aesthetic qualities, but because it is defined as a work of art by society through a process of social discourse mediated by relationships of power.  The implications of this philosophy are extensive for a politicisation not just of knowledge, but also of aesthetics.
    This has consequences within the whole domain of aesthetics which has always tried, in the tradition of Kant, to stand above and beyond the "impure" domain of ideology. The status of Art (and Architecture) in this light, is dramatically altered, with ramifications for professional work as well as for education. To the extent that art (which in rejecting the scientific paradigm) identified itself as a Fine Art, it meant, for in¬stance that if there was no essential quality which describes or defines that which is Art or Architecture, then the issue of what to teach as Art or Architecture is open to radical debate. In other words, the whole conception of a disciplinary core is undermined.
    Thus it is that the deconstructive work of Derrida, particularly, attacks the neat boundary demarcations between disciplines and opens up the issue of knowledge to questions regarding its social construction and its reproduction. Like all culturally determined phenomena, art is a site of social and political struggle,  as well as being a powerful instrument of oppression in the struggle for voice and social emancipation, maintaining as it does the social and political status quo through a series of concentric mystifications which mask both its own agenda of social distinction as well as the very mystification by which it is maintained. While the cartoon of Dot (below) undoubtedly suggests that she is not very intelligent to mistake a fire alarm for a work of art, it also points to the role of art as an instrument of mystification and social and cultural discrimination.
  • dot.1
     Dot Inspects the Fire Alarm in the Art Gallery
  • The surface structure of the category art as a superior form of knowledge, conceals the principle of superiority itself, which is accepted by default: 
    "The material or symbolic appropriation of works of art functions to reproduce social superiority: knowledge or possession of works of art is a mark of distinction, rather than merely a distinguishing mark. This for two reasons. First, since works of art are taken to embody timeless values, an understanding of them is taken as confirming the intrinsic worth, and thus the right to social dominance, of the comprehending beholder. Second, because sympathy with works of art gives vicarious access to the world of self-determining and self-defining activity, and such sympathy confirms the status of the comprehending beholder as one fit to determine and define. Failure to understand art, to participate in the culture which it defines, operates hegemonically in two ways. If understanding art is seen as a good, then failure to understand is humiliating. Learning to understand, in as much as it  involves accepting authority, reinforces subordination for one's own good, and in particular reinforces the notion that cultural authorities articulate not particular forms of social hierarchy but eternal values, the values of aesthetic worth. If rejection of art as a good is based on exclusion through cultural and economic deprivation, then it hides the mechanisms of that exclusion, which is perceived by the dominated not as a necessity but as choice. If such a rejection is based not on necessity, but on familiarity, it is itself an expression of cultural dominance."(Gretton in Rees and Borzello )
  • This critical analysis of art precipitated by Derrida's concept of the parergon (and suupported by Bourdieu's concepts of cultural codes and cultural capital ) reveals a world of elitism, of cultural dominance, of silencing. This cultural dominance through Art, developed over four centuries and finally given a philosophical seal of approval by Kant, was finally consolidated by the rising hegemony of the British in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and in particular through the Romanticism of Keats, Byron, Constable, Turner and Blake and a host of artists and poets who embodied the detached, aristocratic ambience of eccentricity so beloved of the nineteenth century Englishman. Here was consolidated the myth of the universal man, the Grand-Tourist, the consummate coloniser, the true cultural aristocrat, the determiner of taste in an environment of manufactured scarcity in a burgeoning market in which he was that essential direct connection, an anchor to that which was not transitory, but which was permanent and timeless.

    The interrogation has also been particularly helpful in my own analyses of architecture and architectural education. It was precisely this transcendent legitimation of the material exigencies of power and wealth which gave art its power to forge and sustain social hierarchies from the 18th century to the present, and it was the very reason why, to the fledgling architectural profession, the paradigm of architecture-as-art (achieved through design) proved so alluring then as it still does today, and why the profession is so reluctant to share the concept, let alone the activity of design. We can now see that art, along with science is equally susceptible to the critical interrogation of its political and ideological instrumentality. No longer can we accept the simple model of design as a socially and culturally neutral construct. Its exclusions, whether  economic - those associated with manual vs. intellectual labour, whether political - operating as a mechanism of social exclusion, whether cultural -  operating as a cover for dominance, whether geopolitical - as a front for and an instrument of capitalist expansion, or whether epistemological - in maintaining a false dichotomy between rational and empirical realities, or whether ideological - maintaining its ideological nature behind a mask of ideological neutrality - in all of these cases, design is no longer an innocent bystander to exploitation and domination. Yet Derrida's influence in architecture has also been significant in other areas -having been adopted in the form of Deconstructivism - a particular formal treatment of Postmodern Architecture which stresses visual fragmentation. Deconstructivism in architecture, began in the late 1980s. It is characterized by ideas of fragmentation, an interest in manipulating ideas of a structure's surface or skin, non-rectilinear shapes which serve to distort and dislocate some of the elements of architecture, such as structure and envelope. The finished visual appearance of buildings that exhibit the many deconstructivist "styles" is characterised by a stimulating unpredictability and a controlled chaos.

    Proponents and theorists of Deconstructivist architecture include Peter Eisenman and Bernard Tschumi'. The movement was given prominence by  the Museum of Modern Art’s 1988 Deconstructivist Architecture exhibition in New York, organized by Philip Johnson and my ex-colleague from Auckland University, Mark Wigley.  New York exhibition featured works by Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Rem Koolhaas, Peter Eisenman, Zaha Hadid, Coop Himmelb(l)au, and Bernard Tschumi. Since the exhibition, many of the architects who were associated with Deconstructivism have distanced themselves from the term. Nonetheless, the term has stuck and has now, in fact, come to embrace a general trend within contemporary architecture.(Wikipedia )

    The contradiction of the Deconstructivist movement will be readily apparent. Its proponents have taken Derrida's radical social analysis and turned it around for their own ends to foster and promote yet another elitist and oppressive aesthetic. While theoretically holding to his thesis of the mythology of a unifying truth in the name of architecture, the omissions inherent in their designs and their statements of theory point to a deeper parergon - the exclusion of the social, the political, the just, the inclusive

  • Derrida's work and concepts have had a profound influence in a wide range of fields - not always in ways that he would have supported or which are internally consisten. He died of pancreatic cancer in 2004.

    To download an critical analysis of Deconstructivist architecture in three PDFs click here

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:13

Ward Churchill

200px-ward churchill

Ward Churchill (1947-)

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:12

Noam Chomsky


Noam Chomsky (1928- )


Strictly speaking, Noam Chomsky does not fit easily into the category of Critical Theorist - this on a series of levels. First of all he is not that interested in Marxist Humanism, or Marxist revisionism, but has rather described himself as an Anarcho-Syndicalist, more interested in open democracy and citizen power than in institutionalised forms of governmentm and advocating instead forms of worker ownership and control over the means of production. He abhors State Communism, while at the same time saving his most incisive criticism of the major capitalist states and their mosrt recent brand of U. S. colonisation and imperialism. And although his theories of media hegemony have had a very wide reading and a profound influence upon our analysis of the relationship between the Fourth Estate and the military-industrial complex, this has not translated easily into prescriptive (rather than descriptive) discourse. He has no website of his own - choosing to place the importance of his work in the ideas themselves rather than in his own ability to voice them. Having said this, he is undeoubtedly one of the great intellectuals of the 20th Century whose work has shifted paradigms on several differnt levels. He was born in Philadelphia in 1928 to a father who was a Hebrew scholar and a member of the Wobblies. In his film Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky himself has acknowledged the importance of this early influence of political activism and intellectual rigour - which seems to have been pervasive in his whole family. His political activism has been a lifelong involvement and he is one of the very few intenatuionally renowned publioc intellectuals in the USA to consistently and forcefully call his own government into question.

"Beginning with his critique of the Vietnam War in the 1960s, Chomsky has become more widely known—especially internationally—for his media criticism and politics. He is generally considered to be a key intellectual figure within the left wing of United States politics. Chomsky is widely known for his political activism, and for his criticism of the foreign policy of the United States and other governments."(Wikipedia)

He was totally immersed in Hebrew culture in his early life and experienced anti-Semitism from an early age. At eh age of ten he wrote an article on the Spanish Civil War, warning of the upsurge of Fascism after the fall of Barcelona.By tyhe age of 13 he was already identifying with the Anarchist Movement which had been so successful there.




Later, he studied linguistics and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania where he received his PhD in Linguistics in 1955 after 4 years at Harvard. He thern joined the faculty at MIT (where he has since taught continuously for 52 years). Two years later, in 1957, he published his book Syntactic Structures. Behaviourism - which was to revolutionised the field of linguistics and which stands today as one of the most important works in the field. The basic premise of the book is that humans are "wired" to understand the syntactical structures of language - that children have an inate ability to understand the grammatical srtructures of all languages. This theory flew in the face of prevailing linguistic and psychological theorising at that time -the theories of promoted by B. F. Skinner and others - which held that there are no inate tendencies, and that behaviour is entirely conditioned by contingencies of reinforcement.

But his academic success failed to deter his political asctivism. In 1967 he came out very forcefully and publicly against the Vietnam War in an essay by the title The Responsibility of Intellectuals in the New York review of Books. He followed this with a book, American Power and the New Mandarins (1969). The latter extends the arguments of the former, maintaining that the intellectueal classes and academics of the United States were and are largely responsible for U. S. militaristic foreign policy. In this, he articulates one of the primary understandings of - that Political Power and Knowledge are not mutually exclusive but rather are intimately connected. The relationship between power and knowledge has been one of Chomsky's abiding interests, and has shaped much of his subsequent theorising and work.

Yet despite all of his political activism, Chomsky has consistently refused to be drawn into supporting postmodern and post-structrualist critiques of science, suggesting instead that the scientific method offers the most significant hope for human emancipation. His theories carry a remarkable degree of internal consistency. He also refuses steadfastly to support censorship in any form and himself refuses to pursue legally those who defame him.

Over the years, his philosophies have led him to oppose not only the Viertnam War, but also the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada, the U.S.  support for the Contras in covert war against the freely-elected Sandinista government in Nicaracua, the 1989 invasion of Panama, the 1991 Gulf War, the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Chomsky sees all of these American foreign policy actions as imperialistic and tied directly to the need to maintain American hegemony worldwide in the interest of maintaining control over "free" market capitalism. He has been rated as the most important intellectual of the 20th century and one of the eight most read and cited intellectuals of all time. Noam Chomsky is an intellectual giant by any measure, and his critical theorising has been arguable the most influential of all of the critical theorists cited here. He is the recipient of numerous Honorary Doctorates and is the recipient of the New Zealand Peace Foundation Prize.

Perhaps Michael Apple sums up the life and works of Noam Chomsky best when he says:

"For a considerable number of years, Noam Chomsky has played a crucial role in the intellectual and political life of the nation. In essence, he has been one of those people who acts as the conscience that this country has all too often lost. In doing this he is following what Eric Hobsbawm described as the historian's and social critic's duty. For Hobsbawm, the task is to be the "remembrancers of what [our] fellow citizens wish to forget." Such a role entails a commitment to detail the absent presences, the there that is not there, in dominant policies. Chomsky has performed this task with relish, offering powerful critiques of the ways in which dominance works in the economy, in the state, in international affairs, and in the media and education. His question has been simple but consistent: How do official interpretations of events, official language, and official knowledge work to legitimate certain interpretations of the power relations surrounding us, while marginalizing others?

What sets Chomsky apart from many other social critics is not one thing. Rather there is an interrelated set of elements that characterizes his work. Among the most important is his attention to historical detail. He marshals fact after fact against official interpretations of events until the edifice cracks under the weight of its own perfidy. Further, he is a master at seeing relationships among events that are often hidden beneath official rhetoric. Just as important is the fact that he writes exceptionally clearly. He is impatient with the equivocations of the obfuscatory language that dominates a good deal of academic writing on power, preferring instead to speak plainly and often (and deservedly) angrily about "really existing" power in this and other countries."

 (Michael Apple in Review of Chomsky on Miseducation (Macedo)

To download Nopan Chomsky's Critique of Postmodernism and Deconstruction click here

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 21:10

Pierre Bourdieu


 Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002)


Bourdieu was born in Denguin in the South Atlantic Pyrenées and educated at the lycée in Pau, before moving to the lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris. From there he gained entrance (like Foucault and numerous critical social scientists before him) to study philosophy in Paris at the École Normale Supérieure. He studied with Louis Althusser  and became a school teacher at Moulins from 1955 to 1958.

In 1958, following in the footsteps of  Lyotard, he took up a post as lecturer in the faculty of Algiers at a time when the Independence movement there was becoming particularly violent. For Bourdieu, the conflict between the Algerian people and French colonists could only be clarified by understanding the original economic and social structures and conditions of the indigenous civilisations. He chose to study the Kabyle peoples - the Berbers. The result was his first book, The Algerians..

In 1960 he returned to Paris and taught at the University of Paris until 1964, when he took up a post at the From 1964 on, Bourdieu held the position of Director of Studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (the future École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales). In 1968, he took over the Centre de Sociologie Européenne, which he directed until his death. In 1981 he was appointed to the chair of Sociology at the Collège de France.



The Wikipedia article on Bourdieu gives a succinct account of his influences:


"Bourdieu's work is influenced by much of traditional sociology, which he undertook to synthesize into his own theory. From Max Weber he retained the importance of domination and symbolic systems in social life, as well as the idea of social orders which would ultimately be transformed by Bourdieu into a theory of fields.

From Karl Marx, among other insights he gained an understanding of 'society' as the sum of social relationships; "what exist in the social world are relations – not interactions between agents or intersubjective ties between individuals, but objective relations which exist 'independently of individual consciousness and will'. (grounded in the mode and conditions of economic production), and of the need to dialectically develop social theory from social practice.

From Emile Durkheim, finally, he inherited a certain deterministic and, through Marcel Mauss and Claude Lévi-Strauss, structuralist style that emphasized the tendency of social structures to reproduce themselves. However, Bourdieu critically diverged from these Durkheimian analyses in emphasizing the role of the social agent in enacting, through the embodiment of social structures, symbolic orders. He furthermore emphasized that the reproduction of social structures does not operate according to a functionalist logic.

One should not neglect Bourdieu's philosophical influences: Maurice Merleau-Ponty and, through him, the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl  played an essential part in the formulation of Bourdieu's focus on the body, action, and practical dispositions (which found their primary manifestation in Bourdieu's theory of habitus).

Bourdieu's work is built upon the attempt to transcend a series of oppositions which characterized the social sciences (subjectivism/objectivism, micro/macro, freedom/determinism). In particular he did this through conceptual innovations. The concepts of habitus, capital, and field were conceived, indeed, with the intention to abolish such oppositions."

These conceptualisations.

form a mutually suppporting analytical structure through which Bourdieu is able to move beyond the previously simplistic Marxist analytic of class - and indicate instead the social and cultural processes whereby hegemony is maintained and social relations are reproduced.


The habitus, for Bourdieu, constitutes a set of acquired patterns of thought, behavior, and taste  These patterns, or "dispositions," are the result of internalization of culture or objective social structures through the experience of an individual or group. Membership of the group is created, determined and maintained through the use of different symbolic languages. Differences in linguistic abstraction operate as boundary filters - both separating different levels of the social hierarchy and at the same time instrumentally defining and monitoring social movement between them. One must "learn" or adopt the new language of any other level in the social hierarchy to be allowed to participate in its operation. Language in this sense operates as what the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has termed a mechanism of social distinction.

This is to say that the social hierarchy in any society corresponds to the levels of abstraction of the linguistic forms through which it operates. Hence, as  Berger and Luckmann have noted, the objectivated distinctions between different social realities and between their corresponding linguistic systems are increasingly and ongoingly experienced as real. This lends an objectivated sense of order to the social framework as a whole so that, for instance, the social reality which operates at the level of university knowledge is seen within the common stock of objectivated and legitimated knowledge  of society as a whole to be a superior form of knowledge to that which operates in everyday life. This holds true within the boundaries of any overarching social collectivity which accepts the legitimacy of the university as a legitimate and legitimating social institution.

Any movement between these language/social systems is controlled, so as to maintain the social order implicit in the social reality as a whole by maintaining the relative autonomy of the linguistic spheres through the policing and continual demarcation of their conceptual as well as their geographical boundaries. What this means in everyday terms is that in any society, hierarchical distinctions tend to become sedimented and objectivated through their respective languages such that the very notion of hierarchy itself becomes similarly sedimented and synonymous with a "natural" social order. Thus a person who wishes to move "up" the social and linguistic hierarchy is required to learn and to accept that s/he must learn an entirely new language system. This system is correspondingly more abstract, and at the same time must be accepted as a superior explanation of reality than that from which s/he originates.

Since the objectivated "superiority" of this "higher" social realm must be internalised by the social climber as a function of institutional acceptance, this almost invariably sets up an internal conflict between internalised social realities which frequently acts as a substantial disincentive to upward mobility. Berger and Luckmann describe how lower class children not only absorb a lower class perspective in their formative years (with all of the received and accepted sedimentations of class circumscriptions) but are also faced with internalised conflicts, when they desire to migrate from their culture of origin.   Freire points to a similar phenomenon in which the child's reflective and internalised "family" self - that which is formed in the context of family perspectives and values - is brought into conflict with the internalised and deprecated self which emerges from the reflective experience of living in a classed society.  Bourdieu calls this framework of cultural dispositions the habitus.  

Bourdieu calls this totality the "habitus" - suggesting a habituated "life space", which operates through an awareness (albeit unconscious) of a series of socially-constructed oppositions.  Inscribed within the habitus is the:

"... whole structure of the system of conditions, as it presents itself in the experience of a life-condition occupying a particular position within that structure.. The most fundamental oppositions in the structure (high/low, rich/poor etc.) tend to establish themselves as the fundamental structuring principles of (social) practices and the perception of practices. As a system of practice-generating schemes which expresses systematically the necessity and freedom inherent in its class condition, and the difference constituting that position, the habitus apprehends differences between conditions, which it grasps in the form of differences between classified, classifying practices (products of other habitus), in accordance with principles of differentiation, which being themselves the product of these differences are objectively attuned to them and therefore tend to perceive them as natural."

In other words, occupations, education, income level, titles, academic qualifications, sporting achievements, material possessions, residential location, manner of dress and speech, all tend to influence as well as express the social status and power of the individual. Each aspect of our lives carries with it a different value in our own and other social groups. These different values make up the sum total of what Bourdieu calls cultural capital and symbolic capital. This is why, we lay such great store in driving the "right" car and being seen with the "right" people. The habitus is found if not in  all of the properties, then at least in a loose unconscious relationship which binds them together. Indeed, property as such can be seen as a mechanism for allowing the exercise of the social distinctions which the habitus bestows.

Bourdieu shows in more detail how these linguistic and cultural barriers operate through the establishment of cultural codes. He describes how a "work of art" contains a coded language system which operates to distinguish between those individuals who exist at different levels of the social hierarchy:

"The definition of cultural nobility is the stake in a struggle which has gone on unceas¬ingly, from the seventeenth century to the present day, between groups differing in their ideas of culture and of the legitimate relation to culture and to works of art, and therefore differing in the conditions of acquisitions of which these dispositions are the product... The logic of what is sometimes called... the "reading" of a work of art, offers basis for this opposition. Consumption is, in this case, a stage in the process of communication, that is, an act of deciphering, decoding, which presupposes practical or explicit mastery of a cipher or code. In a sense one can say that the capacity to see (voir) is a function of the knowledge (savoir), or concepts, that is, the words, that are available to name visible things, and which are, as it were, programmes for perception. A work of art has meaning and interest only for someone who possesses the cultural competence, that is, the code into which it is encoded. The conscious or unconscious of explicit or implicit schemes of perception and appreciation which constitutes pictorial or musical culture is the hidden condition for recognizing the styles characteristic of a period, a school or an author, and, more generally for the familiarity with the internal logic of works that aesthetic enjoyment presupposes... Thus the encounter with a work of art is not "love at first sight" as is gen¬erally supposed, and the act of empathy, Einfühlung which is the art-lover's pleasure, presupposes an act of cognition, a decoding operation, which implies the implementation of a cognitive acquirement, a cultural code." 

It is through processes such as these that cultural capital is acquired and augmented, and by which social hierarchies are maintained and social and cultural reproduction takes place. The medium for this process is, according to both  Foucault and Bourdieu, the body, upon which the values, attitudes and distinctions are at one and the same time impressed and repressed. 

Bourdieu has left a lasting impression not only in the field of sociology, but in almost every branch of the social sciences. It is not without reason that he has been called, "the greatest French intellectual of the 20th Century".

To download a more complete and detailed analysis of Bourdieu's theory of the Habitus in a PDF Hegemony and Space click here

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