determination

Kenny Mostern kennym at uclink2.berkeley.edu
Thu Mar 16 10:36:48 MST 1995


>
> 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?
>

If I understand the problem here, it is the epistemology/ontology problem
in Bhaskar of a previous discussion.  That you "understand" your
relationship to race and gender through "consciousness" is of course
true, but then again, it is also true of class.

Let me back up a step.  Consciousness is a necessarily individual term.
Attempts, like those of the structural anthrolopologists, to turn it into
a larger structure are problematic inasmuch as they don't account for
concrete variation in consciousness; the point is not that there aren't
patterns of consciousness in a society, but that these patterns are not
what explains the consciousness of the individual.

Therefore, when I say you're still white no matter how Black you think,
I'm saying consciousness cannot determine social being:  race is
determined at another level besides that of consciousness.

"Social construction", then, would refer not to what is "inside"
"consciousness", but rather a different anthropological framework:  that
of the "cultural arbitrary".  If, for example, instead of imagining white
and Black U.S. cultures as "different" (as too often happens in cultural
nationalist argument), we instead imagine them as dominant and oppressed
positions in a single, caste-stratified cultural system, we would not be
searching around for the thing that "determines" race.  We would
understand that race really is nothing more than skin color and features,
and that the reason they are determining of social being is not because
of anything biological but because of the cultural arbitrary:  in the
U.S., they do.  Then we would want to study in detail the mecahnisms by
which this arbitrary caste system is enforced.  What we would not do is
assume that, because in one sense it is sytemically "arbitrary", than it
must somehow be nonobjective.  On a day to day basis it is not the least
bit arbitrary.

All of this can be done using Foucault's notion of disciplinarization,
especially as it appears in *The Order of Things*, to a lesser extent
*Discipline and Punish*.  I do not prefer to use Foucault largely because
I think *The History of Sexuality, volume 1* is so obscurantists about
"power", so anti-liberatory (see the last chapter), that the use of
Foucault has become necessarily suspect for radical politics.  But of
course there are multiple Foucaults; we can use the ones we like.

At this point I prefer to do this with Bourdieu, as I have indicated.

For a very good analysis of race along the lines I suggest here, see
Gilroy, *There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack*.  Unfortunately from my
point of view, the last chapter turns into a defense of Laclau & Mouffe,
which for reasons developed in the article of mine I've cited before
("The Idea of Coalition In Black Feminist Theory") I think is wrongheaded
on Gilroy's own terms.

Kenny Mostern
UC-Berkeley Ethnic Studies Graduate Group

Against:  racism, sexism, homophobia, capitalism, militarism
For:  the truth--and the funk!



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