Glossary

Glossary of Key Concepts:

On this page, we’ve collated short explanations of many of the theoretical concepts employed in our journal articles and books. To make it as extensive and to keep it as up-to-date as possible, we’ll be inviting our authors to contribute to this list on a regular basis, so be sure to browse through every now and again.

 

 

Abject:

The term derives from the work of Julia Kristeva (especially 1982) in psycho­analysis, particularly the description of the process of separation of the infant from its mother which is a founding moment for the institution of the ego. This process of splitting establishes for the child the boundaries of the inner and the outer, I and not-I, self and other. Because of the association with what is expelled from the body and the traumatic process of separation itself, what the child separates from is experienced as an abjected entity. Besides, the threat of the abject re-entering the ego and undermining its integrity is always present in phantasy, so that thresholds and boundaries of the self and other become marked by the trope of purity and danger. In cul­tural analysis, the notion of the abject and of abjection is therefore used when an other is denigrated in discourse and associated with negative feel­ings, as in racisms, and when the person so positioned in discourse experi­ences herself as an abject subject (through introjection of the bad feelings of the other). Psychic ambivalence is another aspect of the process, for at the level of affect, the other/mother is also the object of desire.

Couze Venn

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Aporia:

The term refers to a problem which does not appear to have a solution, like the chicken and egg case. Often the problem arises because of the way the question is posed in the first place, or because of a basic undecidability in the way a concept is used. Thus because angels are both material and imma¬terial, it is impossible to decide how many would fit on the head of a pin (giving underemployed scholars ample room for debate).

Couze Venn

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Archaeology:

The term is associated with the work of Foucault on the history of the social sciences and the formation and mutation of discourse. One central point about the concept is the recognition that the history or narrative of specific ideas, say, about Galileo’s work on planetary motion or the discovery of the structure of the DNA, presents or records successful experiments and findings, neglecting errors or unfruitful research or discussions with colleagues or influences that do not quite fit the rationalist model of the history of ideas. So, in terms of the reality of the emergence and mutation of ideas and practices, much is forgotten or disavowed or buried under a history of progress and thus remain invisible that would otherwise lead us to understand the emergence quite differently. Archaeology aims to exca¬vate the archive, maybe to reconstitute it, certainly to make visible aspects of the historical process that are crucial yet absent in conventional accounts, for instance, in finding that Galileo’s inadequate theory of inertia under¬mined his explanation of planetary motion or that Crick and Watson’s account of DNA ‘forgets’ the contribution of Rosalind Franklin’s X-ray radiography studies. A case in postcolonial studies would be the archaeol¬ogy of resistance in slave plantation and its contribution to the emancipa¬tion of slaves, or the contribution of Native Americans to the survival of the early colonizers. From that point of view, archaeology helps to raise ques¬tions of the effect of power on knowledge.

Archaeology is also part of the approach to history that emphasizes con-ditions of possibility, and thus searches for evidence in adjacent discourses and practices; it pays attention to the neglected, it searches for the traces of what has been buried.

Couze Venn

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Assemblage:

The concept of assemblage has emerged as one of a series of new concepts, alongside those of complexity, chaos, indeterminacy, fractals, string, turbu-lence, flow, multiplicity, emergence, and so on, that now form the theoretical vocabulary for addressing the problem of determination, of process, and of stability and instability regarding social phenomena. As with the previous set of concepts in the social sciences, notably the notion of structure, they derive from developments in the natural sciences and mathematics. Their introduction signals an important shift at the level of theorization and methodology, opening analysis to the recognition of the complexity of cultural, social as well as ‘natural’ phenomena, for instance, concerning sociality, diaspora, the living organism, mind and elementary particles.

Structure in the natural and social sciences grounds causal determination within a logic of stability and linear causality. It is a central epistemological element in the work of the ‘grand theorists’ of social science such as Marx, Durkheim, Weber, and Parsons. The notion of discrete and nomological determination, which positivism and various forms of structuralism support, has clear pay-offs from the point of view of homogenizing and predicting social phenomena, and thus for the possibility of intervention and rational governance. However, the limitations of approaches based on this notion of determination have been demonstrated in their failure to account adequately for change, resistance, agency, and the event, that is, the irruption of the unexpected or unpredictable. The limitations relate also to their inadequacy from the point of view of co-relating phenomena across different fields, for example, between the psychic and the social, the affective and the cognitive, and between matter and form. The problem for theory is that of thinking structure as well as multiplicity and indeterminacy within the same theoretical framework.

The concept of assemblage has appeared in the wake of these critiques and questions. In the recent literature it is mostly associated with the work of Deleuze and Guattari (particularly A Thousand Plateaux, 1988) and clearly explained in DeLanda (2002). One can also retrace its emergence by reference to developments in the physics of small particles, in topology, in molecular biology and generally in the interface between the theorization of emergence and becoming (say, in ontogeny and phylogeny), adaptation, autopoiesis and cybernetic systems (that is, open systems with feed-back), and post-structuralist mathematics (e.g. of chaos, complexity, string). They all emphasize adaptivity rather than fixity or essence, the formal properties of the system rather than the specific instance or individuation, the spatio-temporal dimension rather than quantities, co-articulation and compos-sibility rather than linear and discrete determination, multilinear time and the temporality of processes such that emergence and irreversibility are brought to the fore, for instance, in embryonic development (Bateson, 1980; Prigogine and Stengers, 1984). Deleuze and Guattari translate these themes into a vocabulary that re-codes emergence and becoming, namely, (de/re)-territorialization (relation to topology), the machinic (relation to the cybernetic, autopoiesis), multiplicity (relation to differentiation, compossibility).

In the light of the foregoing, assemblage can be seen as a relay concept, linking the problematic of structure and regularity with that of change and far-from-equilibrium systems. It focuses on process and on the dynamic character of the inter-relationships between the heterogeneous elements of the phenomenon. It recognizes both structurizing and indeterminate effects, that is, both flow and turbulence, produced in the interaction of open systems. It points to complex becoming and multiple determinations (Ong and Collier, 2004). It is sensitive to time and temporality in the emergence and mutation of the phenomenon; it thus directs attention to the longue duree. While Deleuze and Guattari suggest desiring machines as exemplar, one could instead refer to weather formation and the genome, or for that matter, to the formation of identity and of diasporic cultures; in other words, assemblage opens towards the question of emergence and becoming.

Nevertheless, it is important to distinguish between the level of abstract general theory – say, the mathematics of string, topology – and the level of concrete material and social life, and the singular or individual entity. For human beings the meaning of social action and of existence adds a dimension to analysis that cannot be reduced to or derived from the general theory. In any case, intermediate concepts are needed for the analysis of concrete social and natural processes and mechanisms. Thus, theory itself can be considered as an assemblage that operates as specific conceptual combinatories in addressing specific problems. The coherence of the particular combinatory would be grounded in the respect for the general principles outlined above. Assemblage is one of the terms that today signals the emergence of a new episteme.

Couze Venn

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Biopower:

In Michel Foucault’s terms, bio-power is a ‘technique’ or ‘technology of power’, a managerial form of authority that makes a population docile and consistent – or more concisely, governable. Bio-power brings ‘life and its mechanisms into the realm of explicit calculations’. Consequently, it organises or ‘distributes’ human subjects as a population, a collective social body that functions according to ‘systems of efficient and economic controls’.

Foucault says that bio-power is ‘continuous’ and ‘scientific’, and that it is ‘the power to make live’. Unlike conventional juridical and political institutions, which have clearly defined rights and legal prohibitions, bio-power functions through the use of regulatory and administrative controls. And because it is an ‘anatomo-politics of the human body’ that is directed at optimising ‘a state of life’, bio-power manages a population according to precise and comprehensive regulations.

The techniques of bio-power function to ‘incite, reinforce, control, monitor, optimise, and organise’ a population.

Jim Morrow

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Coarticulation:

The term is used to indicate the dynamic interaction between two or more discourses or practices such that the outcome or state of affairs in any one of them at any particular time is the result of their reciprocal effects. The discourses and practices or processes are inter-connected by way of relays, hinges or nodes that may be specific concepts or institutions or mecha¬nisms. For example, the genealogy of the discourse of mental measurement (IQ) and that of the development of statistics – specific tests or correlation -show that they are co-articulation in relation to social policy and the concepts of population and of the normal.

Couze Venn

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Colonialism:
(decolonization, imperialism, neo-colonialism, postmodern or neo-liberal colonialism)

Colonialism is the conquest, territorial occupation and subjugation of a population; it has occurred throughout history involving most countries on one side or other of the process, for example, the Aztecs, the Vikings, the Romans, the Chinese. When colonialism spreads across several countries and is relatively lasting, it has often been organized in the form of an empire, say, the Mughal in India or the Ottoman in (what the Americans call) the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Imperialism is an administra¬tively and militarily coherent apparatus of control directed from a centre of power, say Rome or Istanbul. European or modern colonialism adds specific ingredients to the process that marks it as a distinct form: its model com¬bines appropriation-as-dispossession with the reduction of the colonized to the status of a lesser being – an other – according to epistemological and ontological discourses that claim the knowledge, culture, beliefs, way of life of the colonizer to be superior and that fix the colonized in the position of an inherently inferior being. In other words, European colonialism adds ontological and epistemological violence to military domination and eco¬nomic exploitation. It is correlated to occidentalism. In its imperialist form, from around the beginning of the nineteenth century, it attempts to ‘civilize’ the colonized (a process which ideally was meant to include Christianization) by means of processes of assimilation and integration operating through technologies of formation and regulation of the subject – an imperial governmentality – and through processes of subalternization whereby the colonized are recruited into the apparatus of empire as part of its infra-structural supports. One’s understanding of colonialism has been altered as a result of the active process of dismantling it through oppositional strategies and liberation struggles, that is, decolonization.

Neo-colonialism refers to the continuation of colonial domination and exploitation after formal independence. It operates through different eco¬nomic, legal, political, administrative apparatuses of domination, relying on institutions and attitudes instituted or developed in the period of colonial¬ism, for instance, the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO, regional trade agree¬ments, investment strategies, values inherent in the notion of development, a culture of debt.

We are perhaps now seeing the emergence of new forms of colonialism, outside the frame of intelligibility of modernity, and thus postmodern in orientation. They would relate more directly to transformations that have happened in the course of the struggles over the past 30 years and that have gradually seen the emergence of globalization in terms of networks, flows, de-territorialized processes that appeared relatively chaotic or fractal, and that are being reorganized in the form of a ‘new world order’ or Empire. Such new forms could perhaps be called total or postmodern imperialism, or Empire (Hardt and Negri, 2000) that is, the idea of a de-territorialized, global system of hegemony and domination; we could even detect the emergence of neo-feudal imperialism, characterized by feudal relations of power that do not require direct control over territory and the polity, but operate through relays or hinges so that economic, military, political, cul¬tural, technological activities can be correlated in terms of an overall world-view such as neo-liberalism, and global institutions and international laws that inscribe neo-feudal Empire; military intervention takes the form of a policing directed by the interest of security. In the light of all this, one could understand colonialism to designate forms of dispossession and subjugation founded in the homogenisation of a centre, an origin, a sovereignty or a world-view; when they all combine in one form of rule, one has the total or pure form of colonialism.

Couze Venn

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Creolization:

My usage extends the dictionary definition that applies it to a native of a colony of European descent, or to the French, Spanish, etc. ‘patois’ spoken in some former colonies, or to a ‘mixed race’ inhabitant of the Third World, particularly in the Caribbean. If we look at creolization as a process, what happens is that an indigenous people appropriates some elements of a foreign language, mixing it with their own and other elements to create a vernacular or indigenized form of the language; thus, the Creole French used in Martinique or Mauritius. In the latter case, it has been established as a lan¬guage in its own right, for obvious political goals relating to the decolonization of the mind. But language is not neutral. It inscribes struggles and a whole culture; it is a memory, carrying tales of what has happened in the history of a people, and connotations that keep the trace of the community’s existence and deeds. For that reason, throughout colonialism, it was the target and symbol of power struggles. Thus, the Spanish Conquistadors do not consider the language of the Native Americans as a proper language – Caliban was not supposed to be able to speak at all, until the arrival of the colonial masters – the English outlawed the Celtic language in Scotland, and successful colonization can be measured by the degree to which a language is implanted in a colony. Creolization therefore is the result of a cultural struggle. It is also the result of the encounter of cultures brought together through the diasporic (diaspora means dispersion in the original Greek) melange of peoples that colonization, migration and displacement produces.

Indeed, looking at it as a general process, one can detect forms of creoliza¬tion in the English language, made up as it is of elements of French, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and so on. Similarly at the level of cultural practices, there are countless examples of the admixture, ‘hybridization’, syncretism, mestizaje, transculturation, cross-overs (as in music) that every culture has experienced: in artefacts, everyday practices, beliefs. Religion such as Christianity, Judaism and Islamism share so much that one could speak of each as the creolized form of the other, bearing in mind the historical order of succession as well as subsequent reinterpretations of the founding texts. Of course, fundamentalist and doctrinaire accounts would argue against the idea of borrowings and admixtures, since purity is central to the strength of the doctrine. Creolization assumes cultures cannot but be heterogeneous and polyglot (perhaps small tribes that have remained isolated for very long periods of time may remain culturally the same for generations).

Tags: creolite, diaspora, hybridity, mestizaje, syncretism, transculturation, translation

Couze Venn

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Deconstruction:

The practice of deconstruction starts with the idea that texts, discourses are the result of multiple determinations, so that what is said is shaped by conditions of possibility and a process of constitution that include factors that are not visible yet are ‘present’ in the text as effect or about which the speaker or author is not conscious. The term refers to the work of Derrida, in particular, his critique of logocentrism and structuralism and the closure of meaning they differently produce. Deconstruction is meant to make visible how a text has been constructed, and throw light on the present-but-invisible aspects that structure it or circumscribe its meaning. One of the aims of deconstruction is to challenge taken-for-granted self-referential frame of intelligibility and bring to light what they conceal or what they normalize. Thus, the black/white divide not only inscribes stereotypes, it produces as effects what they name/assume.

Furthermore, the practice of deconstruction invokes a whole problematic of signifying practice that puts to work notions of trace (for example, in the idea of an absent-presence) and of differance, of discursive formation and archaeology, of metaphor and metonymy, tropes generally, that is to say, all the ways in which discourse, whether in speech or writing, attempts to ‘represent’ or bring to presence or communicate a world that intrinsically differs from the system of sign that refers to it. Meaning thereby is deferred to a practice of interpretation that is itself a provisional point of correlation of sign and referent. Thus, the concept of postcoloniality has been the object of deconstructive analyses from the beginning. Deconstruction, as in the case of the postcolonial, has its stakes. The political pay-off is that the challenge to hegemonic and legitimating discourses through deconstruction and other devices opens up these discourses, say, about ‘race’, to other accounts, particularly those that make visible the erased or hidden or taken for granted process of production of discourse, thus the effects of power inside them: deconstruction, additionally, makes visible the ideological functioning of discourse. To that extent, it could be said that it is one of the tools, alongside genealogy and discourse analysis, of critique.

Couze Venn

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Desire:

Desire is one of a complicated cluster of terms in psychoanalytic theory which is fraught with problems. Desire – in Lacan, Kristeva, Deleuze and Guattari, as distinct from the term ‘wish’ or Wunsch in Freud (see Laplanche and Pontalis, 1980) – is used in the generic sense, relating to affective economy, and not by reference to a specific desire. Its sense is best understood as one of three terms, the other two being need and demand. Need is applied to the ‘individual’ as a biological and physical organism; thus the infant’s immediate need is for food and comfort. Demand relates to a signifying activity like speech; it assumes an other or Other (say, mother, or the generalized other] to whom the demand is addressed; it expects a response. So, a relation to the other is involved from the beginning in the logic of the demand. The response from the other may satisfy a need, but exceeds it, since the response is itself a token of recognition or of love, the sign of a bond. Already, one can imagine a gap between a need and a demand, since one never knows if a response is adequate. Desire is born in that gap between the appeal to the other in the demand, and the response that is itself anticipated as a gesture that establishes or confirms an affective bond, an aspect of which may involve the satisfaction of a need. Additionally, demand, at the level of the relation to the other, enters into other psychic processes, particularly concerning the experience of loss (say, in the separation from the mother), and thus the problematic of lack. (Note that in Lacan, the concept of lack belongs to both psychoanalytic and philo¬sophical discourse, referring to both Freudian theory and the phenomenol-ogy of, say, Heidegger.) One should understand Bhabha’s reference to the ‘desire for the other’ within that conceptual grid, so that issues of recognition/ misrecognition and subjectivity are triggered in the text. Thus, the reference to ambivalence in the relation of colonizer and colonized suggests a dilemma (or aporia) at the level of the mechanism of desire in that relationship: the colonizer refuses recognition of the other as a significant other yet demands recognition from the other, while the colonized demands recognition from the colonizer yet must reject the colonizer as a significant other. This play of recognition and misrecognition, discussed from a different point of view in Hegel’s ‘master-slave’ dialectic and by Fanon, plays an important part in the analysis of identity, identification and mimesis in the colonial and post-colonial context, especially in the context of hegemonic discourses like Occidentalism, and effects of’cultural imperialism’.

Couze Venn

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Episteme:

The term designates the conceptual structure that frames knowledge in particular periods and places. Though admittedly a vague concept, its main fruitfulness for analysis is to point to the intrinsic (spatial and temporal) limits that circumscribe knowledge, and to draw attention to the fact that the epistemological terrain on which one poses and answers questions about the world determines the grid of intelligibility that enables one to make particular sense of the world. It draws attention to the shifts in the epistemological framework that determines the ground rules within which discourses are generated and make sense, for example from the classical to the modern episteme in Europe. Thus, for Foucault (1972) in The Order of Things, the episteme in the classical period is framed by the principles of similitudes, analogy, emulation, sympathies that set out the parameters within which one could understand the properties and behaviour of things. They circumscribed the conceptual framework within which the world made sense. All thought in the period maps into the episteme. As a concept it points to the fact that because of these structures of knowledge, one is unable to make sense of the world outside the perimeter of the episteme. For instance, Native Americans, because of the episteme within which their concept of nature and their relation to the earth was framed, could not make sense of the concept of individual, private ownership of the land, and thus of the European laws that legitimized private forms of ownership regarding land.

The episteme operates at the level of a culture as a whole. The concept relates to but is distinct from that of problematic and paradigm. The latter is more specific and ‘regional’ and should be understood by reference to the usage in Kuhn’s (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (though he finds it difficult to pin the concept down in a definite way and there are disputes about its precise meaning and effect on scientific activity and thinking). A shift in paradigm, for example, from Newtonian to Einsteinian physics regarding the absolute character of time and space, does not challenge the broader episteme (though in this case it had enormous implications for the conceptual structure framing our view of the world). The postmodern is supposed to involve an epistemic shift in our understanding of the world though this is far from clear yet since much still rely on the conceptual framework established by the philosophical discourse of modernity, for instance, regarding the criteria for objective knowledge or the classificatory systems in the social sciences that neglect non-European, non-Western modes of knowing.

Couze Venn

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Genealogy:

The everyday use of the term points to ancestry or lines of descent in tracing the blood line of a particular person. In this case we know the process of generation and only need retrace the parental and consanguine relations that lead backwards to reveal an ancestral tree. But genealogy in Foucault’s (1984) sense must not be confused with this kind of search; it is an approach to writing the history of concepts. Its orientation is to write a history of the present by reconstructing the conditions that have made possible a current understanding of a concept or a historical situation. In the case of a concept – say race – or an historical development – the emergence of the nation-state – antecedent events and conditions of possibility are not obvious, or should not be assumed. It is possible to reconstruct different genealogies, since the decision about conditions of possibility depends on judgement of effects as well as archival research to check for factors that other narrations may not have taken into account and to trawl through existing accounts. The work of the Subaltern Studies Group in India covers aspects of genealogical work.

Couze Venn

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Globalisation:

It is difficult to avoid the term in any discussion of the state of the world. But interpretation and attitudes vary so much that one can only disengage some broad trends and characteristics from the mass of material (see Robertson, 1994, for a classic examination). From a postcolonial perspective, one could note that globalization indicates: (1) the significant acceleration of flows across the world: of people, images, money, technologies, ideas (as in Appadurai, 1996); (2) the idea of the compression of the world made possible by technologies of communication and transport and the speeded-up and intensified processes of production and distribution that accelerate contact in time and displacement across space, or a time-space compression (Harvey, 1989; Robertson, 1994); (3) the idea of a tendency towards the homogenization of culture, for example, as expressed in the claim that corporations dominated by Western, largely American, interests and world-view have colonized other cultures to produce commodified ‘McWorlds’; (4) the recognition that there have been forms of globalization before, for instance, Westernization and occidentalism, and it could be argued that the Arabs and the Chinese had pursued projects of globalization. Globalization is a complicated, complex network of inter-relations and networks that should not be reduced to simple good/bad effects at the level of culture (see Featherstone, 1991; Hannerz, 1996; Tomlinson, 1999), but examined in terms of what is at stake in the specific developments. For instance, increasingly diverse social movements are coordinating their efforts as part of a ‘globalization from below’ to counter ‘globalization from above’. It is true, nevertheless, that, given the extension of imperial and colonial regimes of power in the post-independence period, globalization has had a net pauperization effect on the postcolony, as even ‘insiders’ such as Stiglitz recognize (Stiglitz, 2002). I would emphasize the fact that globalization does not just happen, or that it only exists in the mind or in discourse. It is the result of specific socio-technical apparatuses and tech-nologies of formation that today include institutions, and dispositifs such as the United Nations, the World Bank, transnational corporations like Time/Warner, Toshiba, Exxon, and events such as the World Cup, the Olympic Games and other international realities organized on a world scale. Globalization is produced by this assemblage.

Couze Venn

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Hegemony:

The term hegemon refers to a leader, a dominant power or state. The concept has mainly been developed by Gramsci (1971). The problem which the concept in Gramsci addresses is this: domination can be sustained for a time by the use of force, but how does a group exercise power without constantly having recourse to force? In history we know that many forms of sociality have existed that are characterized by gross and systematic inequalities or clear differences in power and status. Yet such societies have often been politically stable for long periods, for instance, feudalisms, and capitalisms. The question of power must thus be displaced onto that of authority and legitimation, that is, the means whereby a dominant power assures consent to its rule. There is clearly a role for the state, through the law and other apparatuses where power and the norms of the normative are institutionalized, and through which forms of coercion operate when necessary. But additionally, consent and consensus, for Gramsci, involved mechanisms at work in civil society. These relate to the ways of establishing moral and intellectual authority among a population. The mechanisms are part of everyday action in the social world, they form opinion and values, direct conduct, constitute subjectivities, establish a ‘common sense’ and a ‘good sense’, and come to have the status of the taken for granted, what a community takes to be the already-agreed upon. Hegemony and the exercise of power by the dominant group or ‘block’ of groups go hand in hand. It is difficult to transform this taken-for-granted world where consent has become part of a way of life, for instance, in today’s consumer culture in the rich countries. Gramsci spoke of organic intellectuals, belonging to the class they represent in the domain of thought, who would produce hegemonic and counter-hegemonic ideas and values.

Couze Venn

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Imaginary:

I use imaginary by reference to Lacan’s use of the term. In Lacan it is always one of three inter-related terms, the other two being the Symbolic and the Real. The capitals indicate the difference from substantive discrete symbols and the experiential real. The schema in which the Imaginary is elaborated is part of an explanatory model of what, at the general level of a universal process, might be happening in the mind or in the psyche. We have no direct access to the processes involved in the mind, and so can only propose a model, and deduce some consequences from it that can be checked out by reference to people’s actual speech, and conduct (or, in models in neurophysiology, by reference to electrical discharges and biochemical activity). Even then it is a matter of a judgement about sense that involves other considerations. There is no way for psychoanalytic theory to get out of this dilemma. See A. Wilden ([1968] 1881), Lacan’s (1979) Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, especially sections 14-17, Grosz (1990). Lacan is difficult to read because in the background to his claims and discussion lie key problems in philosophy – for example, the Cartesian concept of the cogito and disputes in philosophy about it, Heidegger’s emphasis on time, the temporal dimension in the understanding of being, the work of Hegel, Husserl, Freud, Merleau-Ponty, linguistic theory, de Saussure and Jakobson. So the difficulty relates to the ability to pick out the often absent references, and so understand the context and the questions that Lacan’s arguments address. Many disputes about Lacan arise from this difficulty and the different interpretations that the text opens itself to because of the complex and often invisible background to what he is saying. Additionally, his discourse, e.g., the Seminars, was addressed in an open forum to an audience of peers and colleagues, often well established in their own right, such as Althusser and Foucault, so that he did not have to spell out the references in his speech, since they were taken for granted as part of a common background and formation shared by that audience.

Couze Venn

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Longue duree:

This is the idea, associated with the Annales school of history in France that developments in history take a long time to emerge clearly enough, and that historical research should therefore examine shifts and changes over a long span of time, paying attention to the different temporalities that characterize different kinds of historical realities and forces. Thus, one can distinguish sudden events like a revolution, conjunctures that have effects over several decades, and realities that change slowly, such as aspects of everyday culture, for example, religious affiliation in a particular country. It developed in opposition to explanations in terms of facts and their succession or structures and laws of development; instead it emphasizes complex and uneven determination in history. One must be careful to avoid reading back after the event, that is, hindsight reading that many historians fall back upon to point to continuities or precursors when such events owe more to contingency. It is tempting to assume necessary outcomes, especially in the context of scientism, and so retroactively attribute a logic to historical process. The work of Braudel (1949) on the Mediterranean or Le Roy Ladurie ([1967] 1978) on the Montaillou are examples of historical work that are framed within the longue duree.

Couze Venn

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Neoliberalism:

Neoliberalism refers to the ideas, strategies and policies, which have been introduced by intellectuals and governments, in the hope of reinventing economic liberalism. In contrast to 19th century liberalism, neoliberalism is understood as being actively designed and enforced by the state (Foucault, 2008). The term is believed to have first been used at the Colloque Walter Lippmann, a conference organized in Paris in 1938 by intellectuals seeking an alternative to planned economies, Keynesianism and the New Deal, which were dominant at the time (Mirowski & Plehwe, 2009; Burgin, 2013). While the term itself was rarely used in the decades which followed, it describes the broadly pro-market intellectual movement which was assembled in the post-War era, which was coordinated via think tanks and international networks such as The Mont Pelerin Society. The Austrian philosopher and economist, Friedrich Von Hayek, was a central figure in pioneering neoliberal ideas and in initiating the coordination of the intellectual movement. The Chicago School of economics, led by Aaron Director during the 1950s and Milton Friedman during the 1960s and ‘70s, was a key institution in the development of a distinctly American strand of neoliberalism, more sympathetic to monopolies and suspicious of regulation than most of the European protagonists of neoliberal thought.

Following the crisis of Keynesian policy-making during the early 1970s, neoliberal ideas quickly gained greater intellectual and political legitimacy, especially in the United States and Britain. This led to a wave of neoliberal reforms, following the elections of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, which spread internationally during the 1990s via intergovernmental organisations such as the European Commission and the World Bank, along with think tanks such as The World Economic Forum. This ‘applied’ neoliberalism has been widely criticized as anti-democratic and driven by corporate or class interests (Harvey, 2005; Crouch, 2011). The global financial crisis which began in 2007 was initially believed to mark the end of this era of ‘applied’ neoliberalism, yet it may now be that it has only strengthened the neoliberal project (Mirowski, 2013).

William Davies

 

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The other:

The term other immediately brings up a two term relation: the same and the other, the I and ‘You’, identity and otherness. At the most immediate level, there is the recognition that each person exists as a distinct entity, who rec¬ognizes herself as a named person, remaining constant as such (as a self and as a legal subject) in spite of changes in the ‘personality, attributes/appearance, etc. of the person (for example, Michael Jackson). This ‘singularity’ of the subject or ‘individual’ is the topic of widely divergent theorizations, for instance, in Levinas as opposed to liberalism – that I will not pursue here, though it is vital from the point of view of the foundation of an ethics (Venn, 2000). One theme is relevant though, namely, the universalization of the sub¬ject in some philosophies and theologies, specifically in the discourse of modernity relating to the philosophy of the subject as a rational, unitary, self-present autonomous entity. Its canonical form is the Cartesian subject. In occidentalism, that concept is relayed to the Eurocentric ideology that posits the norm of the subject to be the European white male. Within this discourse, the colonized person is positioned as lacking in rationality, less developed, closer to nature, unable to act as an historical agent: she is ‘other’. This sense of otherness is implicit in the expression ‘Europe and its others’ – this is the title of key debates in the early 1980s that interrogated ‘colonial discourse’ from the point of view of its construction of the other as ‘other’ (see Barker et al., 1985). The other, within this same Cartesian parameter, includes women (see Bordo, 1986). So, one sense of the otherness of the other is circumscribed in colonial discourse and in masculinist, patriarchal, phallocentric discourses.

Another sense relates to the impossibility of fully knowing one’s others, in that I do not know what is in someone else’s mind, and I cannot put myself in the place of the other. For example, I cannot die or suffer in the place of a loved one, in order that she may not die or suffer. The term alter-ity best applies in this case; the alterity of the other remains as an ontolog-ical (and psychological) category and barrier. The sense of the singularity of the other arises from this line of thought (Heidegger says we all die alone), elaborated to encompass issues of fragility, finitude, ontological suffering, responsibility for the other, and thus the question of ethics.

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Overdetermination:

One can think of over-determination as a specific case of complex or mul¬tiple determination, that is, as situations and occurrences where there is no one simple cause in the form of A causes B. Instead, outcomes are deter¬mined by several factors acting in combination where each already pre¬disposes the process towards the outcome. With over-determination, a plurality of the initial conditions leads to the specific outcome or effect. Thus, one could say that globalization was over-determined if one consid¬ers that modernity itself as well as rational capitalism have an inherent thrust towards the global, but each by itself may not have been a sufficient determining cause. In psychoanalytic discourse, dreams may be thought to be over-determined in the sense that several unconscious elements and mechanisms may be so organized as to saturate the dream-content. To take an everyday situation, one may well say of someone who works in a crowded institution, is stressed out, and is recovering from an illness, that the fact that she has caught a cold was over-determined.

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Paradigm (problematic):

Kuhn (1962) in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions addressed the problem of how scientists went about their daily work as scientists: what frames their investigations, what rules guide their practice, what theories shape their thinking. He used the term paradigm to refer to the recognized and universally accepted achievements that for a time provide a particular scientific community with the model problems and solutions that they take for granted in their normal practice. This normal science shapes research programmes until ‘anomalies’ are increasingly found that shake confidence in the paradigm and incite scientists (usually a younger generation) to search for new models and theories and exemplars. A new paradigm then appears, for instance, as happened with the Copernican revolution (against the Ptolemaic system), or the thermodynamic theory of heat or Einsteinian physics in opposition to Newtonian physics. In postcolonial theory, the idea of development acts as a paradigm, although it rests on assumptions – for example, ideas of the good society, progress, modernization – that indicate other conceptual elements – say, Eurocentrism – at work in constructing its ‘normality’ or authority. This problem can be better addressed using the wider though related concept of problematic (Bachelard, 1951). A prob¬lematic indicates both the positivity of the sciences in the sense of the oper¬ating concepts and technical apparatus for producing knowledge, in answer to theoretically formulated questions, as well as the system of unspoken, and often invisible ideas and assumptions that frames how a problem is per¬ceived, what questions one is able to ask and what answers make sense. Africa considered as a problematic refers to the assumptions that enables one to refer to Africa in the singular, a European construction. One finds the problematic repeated in Afrocentrism as the other pole of the denigra¬tion and abjection of Africa in racist discourse, since the former remains on the conceptual terrain of the problematic while asserting a different para¬digm of Africanness. Similarly, the problematic of subjectivity includes several paradigms circumscribing theorizations of the subject, e.g. as con¬stituted or as constitutive, or as in socio-biology.

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The postmodern (postmodernism):

This term has become so overused that it is tempting to dispense with it altogether. Yet, because it appears in all manner of discussion about the state of the world today, it is important to establish how it is being used in this book. I will neglect much of the relevant literature for the sake of brevity and clarity, and focus on the differences, or imputed differences, with modernity that the term signals and that locate its place as an ana¬lytical concept. To begin with, the postmodern indicates a period after modernity, grounding the break in a particular, usually unspecified, way of conceptualizing modernity, for, without this understanding, one is unable to decide that anything is or is not postmodern. Postmodernism has tended to refer more specifically to the arts and to the arguments in aesthetic theory, in contrast to modernism as a movement or series of related move¬ments in the arts from the end of the nineteenth century that challenged orthodoxies in culture as well as in politics. Modernity in philosophical discourse indicates a period characterized by a secular vision of the destiny of humanity; it is a vision of history in which human beings, motivated by the desire to create more just societies, undertake to transform human condition according to instruments and concepts produced or determined by the application of reason to the problems of the world. Accordingly, its keywords are reason, progress, the subject, but also emancipation, democ¬ratization, the maturity of ‘humanity’. It is in the name of this project that decisions about legitimate authority and good governance are justified, and judgements about good science, good laws, great art, are circumscribed. It is claimed that consent to government and its provisions rests on the ground that the modern state advances modernity’s goals of a progressive and ethical march towards the ideal community of human beings. It is my view that what is significant about modernity, in addition to secularism, is the idea of revolution, specifically, the willingness to imagine and antici-pate a fundamentally different social order or state of affairs in order to bring about a more just society, and the willingness to bring it about. Revolution goes beyond dissension, rebellions, uprisings that do not fun-damentally alter the system. Given the promise of the discourse of modernity, it is not surprising that its appeal carried everything before it – in Liberalism and Marxism – and still runs deep (as in Habermas’ defence of the continued relevance of the project, against what he calls neo-liberals, and a good deal of contemporary political activity). I will emphasize, as I explained in Chapter 2, that one must understand this appeal within the broader context of ontological considerations, specifically, the need for human beings to anticipate, as a promise, the possibility of better times or the renewal of past pleasures or joys, or the need to imagine the possibility of redemption. This is because human beings exist as beings in time, bearing within them the memory of what has been (in their own lives and in that of the inter-subjective world in which they are inscribed, including the memory of psychically constitutive – thus, liminal, deferred, displaced – loss) and being able to locate the present in relation to an anticipated future. This ontological con¬dition, and its spiritual dimension, have been expressed primarily in the form of religions, that is, in narratives of hope and redemption. Modernity is the only discourse of the human condition that dispenses with God or gods and substitutes ‘Man’ in ‘His’ place. In practice – say, in Cartesian nar¬ratives of the subject – God remained fundamental (as guarantor, and as the unacknowledged metaphysical presupposition) to the belief that the human being could indeed act as the subject imagined by the discourse of modernity and deliver the promise of the advancement of humanity (hence the force of Nietzsche’s declaration that God is dead, and so is ‘man’, and his advocacy of a ‘beyond man’).

Before returning to the postmodern, one other feature of modernity must be emphasized, n

amely, the belief that the arts mediate between the instrumental rationality of means and the ethical imperatives of ends, giving expression in its saying to the hope of something beyond the pre¬sent (though perhaps inscribed in it as a promise or sign). Thus, the great novel, say Dostoievski’s War and Peace, a painting like Picasso’s Guernica, or The Crucifixion by Souza, or a film like Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, are supposed not only to address at the experiential and affective level the deep-seated problems of the time, but, in their way of telling, convey an essential or fundamental but unpresentable quality about human beings, a desire that participates in or even motivates the process of enlightenment. Basically, cutting a lot of corners, the (good] work of art is meant to chal¬lenge one’s state of being, promoting the questioning of being as to its way of being that is at the heart of the possibility of imagining a different way of being. This applies equally to the postcolonial existential reality, as the Souza painting, and countless more examples of the postcolonial arts of resistance, reveal.

Against this background, one can understand the postmodern as the period characterized by the rejection of the assumptions and practices, the claims and narratives that legitimate or are attributed to modernity. Gone is the idea of a project. Gone too is the ‘desire for revolution’ that Kant thought decisive. The discourses that supported such a project have been the target of a whole range of critiques: because of their Eurocentrism, their occidentalist presuppositions, their patriarchal presumptions including the phallogocentrism, or because they have failed to deliver the promised enlightened society, indeed, their efforts have resulted in a great deal of inhumanity. Lyotard ([1976] 1984) is the figure most associated with the critique of the postmodern (though many people mistakenly continue to believe he advocates it), although Jameson’s (1991) characterization of the postmodern has set some key parameters for analysis. Jameson selects the following as defining differences from modernity: (1) the death of the sub¬ject (the subject as agent, and as the subject of responsibility); (2) the spread of works that present the surface of things giving only an illusion of depth; (3) the loss of a sense of historical depth, e.g., works that exist and refer to the now, to the present by closing off reference to other times (say, in the typical blockbuster film); (4) the emphasis on textuality at the expense of reality; (5) pastiche (instead of irony); and (6) the valuing of the copy, the simulacrum in Baudrillard’s sense (say, in Damien Hirst’s works). What is common to all these characteristics is the idea of ‘depthlessness’. Many people would like to attribute them to the products of mass culture (therein another debate). Indeed, a visit at Tate Modern would indicate the difference between modernism and postmodern art, for example, in the work by (most but not all) American artists in which the features high¬lighted by Jameson seem to be present.

Jameson’s own Preface to Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition (PMC) ([1976] 1984) repays close reading in the light of what has been said since about the postmodern. In his book, Lyotard analyzes the location of knowl¬edge today in relation to the project of modernity. It is in that respect that the term postmodern is used. In PMC, he begins with the claim that what characterizes modern science is the way in which it is legitimated, namely by reference to a philosophical discourse that it engendered in answer to the question of its own status as the only legitimate knowledge. In this way it appealed to a grand narrative that functioned as master or metanarrative, founded in the Enlightenment notion of a universal Reason and an auto-nomous rational agent of truth in pursuit of the humanization of humanity; thus it is that ‘the hero of knowledge works towards a good ethico-political end – universal peace’ (PMC: xxiv). He specifies in a later work (Lyotard, 1988) that the metanarratives to which he refers are those applying to modernity; in particular they envision:
the progressive emancipation of reason and liberty the progressive or catastrophic emancipation of labour (source of alienated value in capitalism), the enrichment of the whole of humanity through the progress of capitalist technoscience, and also, if we were to count Christianity itself within moder¬nity (thus opposed to ancient classicism), the salvation of creatures through the conversion of souls to the christic narration of sacrificial love, (ibid.: 31)
The proof of the pudding for this narrative of the progress of humanity

towards a more just society on the basis of the progress of reason is meant to be found in the institutions and the achievements that inscribe this ideal or project. Given the history of the project of modernity: wars of coloniza¬tion, genocide, capitalist slavery, the barbarity of the Second World War and the inhumanity of the concentration camps – Auschwitz as the expression of a very modern inhumanity and thus as signifier of the failure of moder¬nity’s grand narrative – Lyotard argues that one must lose faith in the meta¬narrative underlying modernity’s claim be an ethico-political project. This loss of faith in the assumptions and foundations that the discourse of modernity had privileged in legitimating its idea of a project of emancipa¬tion is one sense of the postmodern.

Another sense relates to the means invented to achieve the project, and the historical conditions (capitalism, colonialism) that have gradually meant the privileging of instrumental rationality – the power to – and cap¬italist technoscience in deciding the criteria for accomplishing the ‘ends of man’. One consequences is that, as Lyotard says, ‘In matters of social justice and scientific truth alike, the legitimation of that power (the power to …) is based on its optimizing the system’s performance – efficiency’ (PMC: xxiv). When applied to all the different ‘language games’ that circumscribe the diverse aspects/elements of sociality – pedagogical, medical, economic, cultural, technological, developmental – the criterion of efficiency-as-performativity entails a terror: be operational or disappear. This other sense of the postmodern means that the project of modernity ‘has not been aban¬doned, forgotten, but destroyed, “liquidated”‘ (1988: 32).

This elimination of the ethico-political ideals of modernity is completed in the new world order of neo-liberalism. The latter is progressively coloniz¬ing all other ‘language games’ in the name of a rational efficiency that is itself far from rational since it rests on a quasi-religious faith in capitalism. (Is this why so many upholders of neo-liberalism appear to subscribe to religious fundamentalism?) The instrumental objectification of human beings in the biopolitics of postmodern governance, the latter’s reduction of the human to facticity, to zoe (objective being), as opposed to bios (way of living, implying an ethos), sits uncomfortably with religious doctrine (except, as I have indicated in the book, when the latter too is instrumentalized in terms of a theological form of insurance). The extreme individualism of the post¬modern condition – society does not exist, there are but individuals making choices – is consistent with these mutations in the narrative of being.

Check out: Lyotard ([1976] 1984), D. Harvey (1989), Walter Benjamin (1999), the Surrealist or the Futurist manifestoes; examine the Bauhaus and their aims. There is obviously a massive literature and an ongoing polemic about the postmodern.

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Poststructuralism:

A misleading term. What is the problem at the basis of the disputes and confusions? And, what is at stake? Clearly it is meant to mark a break with structuralism. It is worth starting with the original problem here, which is about different frameworks for explanations for social phenomena, and thus about the search in the social sciences for the determination or the causes of such phenomena. There is a whole range of types of explanation, from reference to the action of autonomous individuals, say, the great leader who shapes the course of history, to socio-biological accounts of why we do the things we do: it’s all in the genes, and there’s nothing much we can do about it. Among the types of explanatory theory are those (outside socio-biology) that recognize regularities and patterns in human behaviour and social action, and the implication that they indicate certain kinds of underlying regularities in the way social forces work. One type of explana¬tion has looked for structures and structural relations, following a line of thought long established in the natural sciences, for example, regarding molecular structure, or the structure of the atom. Indeed, finding such structural forces and regularities in the social and human sciences repre¬sented a sign of scientific maturity for a field. Early examples are structural linguistics and classical Marxism, that is to say, accounts of language that explain particular utterances in terms of underlying linguistic structures then generate them according to specific conditions (as in Chomsky’s struc¬tural linguistics and from a different perspective in de Saussure’s work), and explanations of society and its development by reference to the model of base and superstructure. In the 1920s and 1930s structuralism achieved impressive success in mathematics (the work of the Bourbaki group in France), and in Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. In the 1950s and 1960s, the work of Barthes and Levi-Strauss extended the application of the conceptual framework of structuralism to the analysis of culture.

Poststructuralism emerged because structuralist accounts were criticized for their weakness in accounting for change, for agency, for indeterminacy in historical process, for mobility in meaning, for neglecting categories such as gender; equally, at a time of suspicion towards positivism, functionalism and scientism, the appeal of structuralism waned. Out went invariable laws of development and neat models of social and semiotic processes. But poststructuralism is a mixed bag, addressing this whole range of issues in different ways depending on the particular author or problem.

Foucault, for example, proposes a search for genealogical explanations, that is, lines of descent from a present state of affairs that we may recon-struct by looking for traces in the conditions that the searcher assumes make for the particular configurations today. His approach owes much to work done in the history of the natural sciences by people like Bachelard, and particularly Canguilhem (see Venn, 1982), so that it is not a matter of flying in the face of ‘proper objectivity’, as some people may claim about poststructuralist approaches, but of a reconceptualization of the process of producing and authorising knowledge, and of establishing the effects of power, and other factors, in this process.

So, generalizations about structuralism and poststructuralism detract from what they address as problems and from what may be gained from a scholarly approach to the positions they elaborate. Poststructuralism does not claim that anything goes, or that one cannot predict or propose rela¬tions of determination, but turns to a series of other terms to explain effects and conditions: over-determination, correlation, co-articulation, genealogy, archaeology, rhizome, indeterminacy, structuration, the processual, that is to say, concepts that draw attention to the dynamic and complex character of historical and social and natural processes, recognising that they are open to plural outcomes.

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Power/knowledge:

This is a term introduced by Foucault in his studies of discourse and the process of production of knowledge (see Foucault, 1976). It refers to the effects of power in the field of knowledge and indicates the fact that if one is to understand why particular knowledges have emerged at particular times and become authoritative, we cannot separate out the effects of power on not just the process of production but on the statements or con¬tent of the knowledge. Foucault’s concept is not the same as the claim that knowledge is power or that power confers knowledge, which is an older view and at times seen as common sense. An example will clarify the Foucault’s problematic of power/knowledge. A history, or genealogy, of the development of tests of intelligence that have come to be known as IQ tests shows that specific governmental concerns about military and industrial performance incited the need to find reliable means of measuring ‘intelli¬gence’ and distributing populations for schooling and training according to abilities so that the level of numeracy, literacy and general educational attainment could be improved.

Experts – psychologists like Binet in France, Burt in England, Pearson in the USA, and others – were given the task of developing adequate dis-courses and tests to constitute norms and produce measures of abilities so that populations could be established and appropriate technologies of formation devised to pursue the aims of normalization. The history of these developments (see Rose, 1979, for details] shows not only that the knowl¬edge produced, psychological as well as statistical and pedagogical, was con¬ditioned by these goals of governance, but that the claims made within the discourse of psychology inscribe these interests in specific ways. Thus, the content as well as the conditions of production of the psychological and pedagogical sciences were shaped by power. Today we could apply power/ knowledge in the analysis of topics like alternative technology, alternative medicine, genetic research or the emergence of the theory of evolution in relation to the fact of European empires and their interests in, for instance, surveying and categorizing all the species of the world (Venn, 1982).

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Sciences and technologies of the social (govemmentality, pastoral power, power/knowledge):

These are terms used by Foucault (e.g., 1976} to describe the discourses and the techniques that are put into place from around the period of the Enlightenment to constitute populations and subjects. The latter are taken in charge by the state and become the target of interventions that seek to normalize them according to norms determined by discourses such as the science of ‘police’ and the social sciences that claim objectivity and truth as part of their legitimating strategy. So, questions relating to the standpoint of power/knowledge are central to the understanding of the terms. Their genealogy takes one through the emergence of the form of power that Foucault calls pastoral power and the form of governance that is tied to the idea of governmentality.

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