determination

Andy Daitsman adaitsma at mail.cc.trincoll.edu
Wed Mar 15 04:17:08 MST 1995


Howie writes:
>I agree with Fellini that we cannot interpret the determinations in one
>direction only, but I think that we have to be prepared for the consequences
>of accepting that position. It means that consciousness can determine being.
>Not in the sense that we can invent any identity that we want for ourselves,
>but in the sense that consciousness of our capacities is essential to their
>exercise, both for individuals and for collectivities. And it is through our
>activity in the world that we create ourselves.

No erudite citations, but it seems to me that this point is of vital
importance, and goes a long way towards explaining the attraction many
Marxists have felt towards post-structuralist theory.

Meanwhile, Kenny writes:
>...  Consciousness therefore can adjust one's reactions to
>social being--i.e. do you fight back or do you maintain the status
>quo--but it cannot, without the substantial change in material variables,
>change social being.  One remains black, or a factory worker, or a
>woman.  (And if one doesn't, it is not because one's "consciousness"
>changes.)

And later on:
>Note again that saying that "white supremacy" and "patriarchy" are part
>of the productive system would not mean that "consciousness" determines
>social being, since people are socially determined to be a race and a
>gender quite apart from consciousness.  The rejoinder that people fight
>against the social system that insists on their race and gender positions
>is neither more nor less true than it is for class; in any event
>understanding this fight does require a notion of objective social
>location which is relatively stable and nonarbitrary, contra Laclau and
>Mouffe.

and I just get confused.  Kenny, I just don't know what you mean by
consciousness.  On the one hand, you accept that race and gender are
"socially determined," yet on the other you insist that that determination
is "quite apart from consciousness."  Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem
to equate "consciousness" with the capacity for individual action, or "free
will."  I'm not going to speak for Howie, or for anyone else, but in my
understanding consciousness has nothing to do with individual desires,
rather it is another structure imposed on us by our social reality.

Where does "race" exist, if not in consciousness?  Certainly not in any
verifiable material reality.  How does gender exist, if not as a social
construction?  If it weren't on the level of consciousness, we'd have no
analytic reason to separate gender and sex.  But we do make that separation,
because we've realized that the presence or absence of a "y"chromosome,
which does determine sexual differentiation,  clearly does not determine
gender differentiation.

Me, I just can't conceive of a "social construction" without understanding
it on the level of consciousness.  I don't create it -- I didn't give myself
my own racist assumptions, my own sexist behavior -- I receive it from the
society which creates me; that is, the overdetermination of me as a subject
results in my understanding that me in a particular manner.  And what is my
understanding of my subject position other than my consciousness?

I've read a little bit of _Outline of a Theory of Practice_, not enough to
offer a real opinion on it yet, but enough to say that, yeah, I'm real
attracted to the idea that social structures constrain certain practices at
the same time that they enable others.  I think you can take that a little
bit further too.  Consciousness does not necessarily imply resistance, but
neither does resistance imply consciousness.  An act or a practice can be
potentially subversive to the social system without the actor intending it
to be, and even without the actor being aware of its subversive effect.

Andy




     --- from list marxism at lists.village.virginia.edu ---

     ------------------



More information about the Marxism mailing list