More about that relative autonomy thing

Philip Goldstein pgold at
Wed Sep 28 06:41:47 MDT 1994

	The problem with the phrase "relative autonomy" is that it does
not recognize how readily and frequently this autonomy is violated.
What's more, the autonomy in question is economic and not political. I am
using the phrase "professional integrity," which has its own problems, but
at least we know that it does not always preclude political
discrimination. What's more, the phrase reminds us that we are talking
about a specific institutional context -- academia, and not the state of
intellectual activity in general.

	Of course, from a radical point of view, to talk of relative
autonomy or professional integrity is to forget that academia reproduces
the bourgeois system. Hence, this objection: " The key to hegemonic control
is the appropriation of various aspects of the subjugated into the hegemony.
This allows for control through the appearance of "relative autonomy."
To take it a step further, intellectuals serve, Gramsci argues, pretty
much as functionaries of the superstructure, as mouthpieces which hold
up the hegemonic forces. I don't think I would go so far as to say
the academy defines or did define what culture is or was. I also would
maintain that the academy, as an  institution, not as individuals, is,
like Althusser and Stuart Hall and countless others point out, merely
is an Idological apparatus of the state. So, any cultural formation,
which would then, using the previous argument, lead to social formation, ends
up being a product of the state, or the borgeoisie (whichever terms you want
to use)." There are two problems with this position. One, the position
assumes that you can occupy a place outside the system and understand its
workings in a neutral, systematic way. More precisely, Marxists who work
within the system are corrupted and need to find some place outside it
within which they can preserve their integrity and critique its
operations. Where is this outside place? Who else will occupy it?
Second, the position assumes that the system reproduces itself as a
coherent whole and not as a fractured and divided entity. To work with
the system is to maintain it coherently and not to subvert it from
within. Postmodernists argue against the system's ability to reproduce
itself  coherently and to preclude indeterminacy and ambiguity.

Philip Goldstein


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