Does discursive=social?

Fri Jul 14 11:41:16 MDT 1995

(Snippets of previous post appended below.)

Howie, the way I read this is that Leo is indeed defining discourse
more broadly than you are.  If discourse is about meaning, which is
itself a social thing, and meaning/knowledge is all from human/social
point of view, and everything that humans think or claim to know is
socially conditioned and socially relevant, then yes, it seems that
"discourse" covers all human thought/behavior/search for knowledge.
Then, by definition, everything outside of human/social
knowledge/meaning/thought is non-discursive.  And by bringing our
attention to bear upon anything, we are entering into discourse
with/about it, so it is no longer non-discursive.

In effect, it seems that the categories of Leo's discourse theory cut
boundaries across the categories of Howie's thought.  This is a
common phenomenon in my experience, when comparing different theories
and orientations towards any topic, including "the social."  Just as
Howie finds an important distinction between natural and social,
because of something about consciousness where I don't really see it.

Howie, I'm curious about "social practice" as "conscious activity in
a social context".  Do you mean by conscious/intentional that people
are aware of or desire all the social consequences of their behavior?
Is there also unconscious activity with social causes/consequences?
Where do you draw the boundary of "social context"?  Isn't it a
common argument on the list and among many 'social scientists' and
such that everything humans do is in social context in some sense?  I
think that is something like what Leo is saying, or Leo's is one
version of it.

Am I getting any of this right, in terms of understanding each of
you, or clarifying the nature of the gap between you, or something?

Talk of meaning reminds me of a thread within anthropology called
"symbolic anthropology."  The person who defined the approach was
Clifford Geertz.  He said that "culture" [an anthro category meaning
something like "social structures plus ideology plus behavior" with
much other highly variable theoretical implications/ assumptions/
baggage attached] is the product of the human search for meaning.
Geertz is also called the "anthropologist of anthropology" or
something like that, as he included the analysis of the field of
anthropology as being a search for meaning, itself.  I think that he
would agree that all meaning is social meaning.

>>> Howie Chodos <howie at>  7/14/95, 09:06am >>>
...{snips throughout}...
Leo said: meaning except through social practice...   ...the
>non-discursive is the outside of meaning, beyond the reach of our

Howie said:.... I prefer a position which, while acknowledging the
limitations to our knowledge at any particular time, also says that
it can be knowledge "of the world out there", as it works
independently of our knowledge of it.

Leo said: Discourse or the discursive (which is just a adjectival
description of the field of discourse) is the form of all social

Howie said: I am prepared to grant this insofar as we are referring
to "social practice", that is our conscious activity in a social
context. But the implication of the way Leo has framed his argument
seems to be that this exhausts the field of the social.
...The natural reproduces itself independently of our intervention.
The social is reproduced only through the activity of conscious,
intentional, human beings. ...

     --- from list marxism at ---


More information about the Marxism mailing list