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What'sLeft:Marx,FoucaultandContemporaryProblemsofSocial Change



Source: PRAXISInternational(PRAXISInternational),issue:1+2/1989,pages:88111,onwww.ceeol.com.
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Paul Wapner
On the left, one is accustomed to apologize for deficiences of this sort [not putting forth a grand political theory] because world-historical theory is generally taken to be the essential prerequisite of political commentary. Social life is one long series of interconnections, from the division of labor in ancient Babylonia to the latest strike in Bolivia, and unless one understands it all, one understands nothing at all. I dont believe that, though I take theory seriously and have spent many years studying and teaching it. Michael Walzer Radical Principals

The story of the left in Western industrial countries over the past century and a half can be described as a move away from transformative or emancipatory politics to piecemeal politics. The idea that the problems of human life in all its existential, historical and sociological dimensions are harbored in political conditions and that a change in those conditions can eradicate those problems is no longer a vision of the left. Political thinkers and actors have become much more humble in their claims to understanding human life and the political conditions which affect human life. The result of this, however, has been that they have also become much more confused or frustrated when thinking about ways to improve the quality of life. Without a key to human liberation the left has been deprived of a program for political change. And, without a program, the left has had difficulty devising or orchestrating strategies for change in general. The result has been that while many understand that problems do not come in discrete packages but rather are interconnected, avenues for change have nevertheless taken on a single-issue orientation or have assumed a personalistic flavor. The personal is political, has become a familiar slogan among those on the left. Politics has become a matter of fighting specific battles not waging war. In broad terms, there are both sociological and theoretical explanations for this shift. On the sociological side, it is clear that things have changed since the heyday of emancipatory politics. Advanced, industrial societies have grown into monstrosities. Their sheer size, complexity and bureaucratic nature seemingly deny attempts to unpack them. Consequently, it has become unclear what emancipation would mean today and, more pragmatically, how one would go about achieving it. The weight and density of contemporary society deny one a purchase point on either of these issues. On the theoretical side, as I will argue, the reason the left has moved from emancipatory to piecemeal politics is because of the demise of grand political theory. Thinkers no longer conceive of the political world in architectonic terms. They

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do not try to reveal the fundamental nature of human life and politics and understand the way they connect and inform each other. The reason for this has been that the main constituents of grand theory and the project itself have been rendered problematic by much modern and contemporary thought. For example, much grand or architectonic theory depends upon an understanding of the nature of human beings, society and history as well as a confidence in reason to discover these natures. Contemporary philosophy has problematized each of these elements as well as the attempt to discover how they connect. Without an architectonic understanding of human life and society it is difficult to think about avenues toward change. Without a grand theory, emancipatory politics seem difficult if not impossible. In this paper I concentrate on this theoretical explanation for the demise of emancipatory politics. Specifically, I examine the theoretical difficulties of grand theory and discuss how these affect the problem of devising strategies for social change. To do this, I center the paper around the work of two thinkers who represent opposite ends of the spectrum of grand theory. At one extreme, I use Marx as the paradigmatic thinker of grand theory. At the other, I use Foucault as a thinker who epitomizes the dissolution of grand theory. By posing these thinkers against each other one can gain a sense of the story of the erosion of grand theory. Moreover, these thinkers also represent the conceptual boundaries concerting emancipatory politics. On the one hand, Marx believes that human emancipation is a real possibility. On the other, Foucault believes human emancipation is a mere rnyth. Consequently, by arguing that their respective political views follow from their theoretical work, I suggest that the turn from emancipatory to piecemeal politics can be understood, in part, as a theoretical event. While the bulk of the paper centers around Marx and Foucault, their work is not the central focus. My concern is with social change. The demise of emancipatory politics has posed unique and significant poblems for the project of social change: my interest is to envision strategies of social change short of a program or grand strategy. Marx and Foucault are helpful here to the extent that they are _responsible for laying down much of the conceptual landscape in which one usually thinks about change. Critical exegesis of their work, however, will not itself provide answers to contemporary problems of social change (although it may highlight the problems involved). As a result, after examining Marx and Foucault on the issues of grand theory and emancipation, I speculate about avenues of change given the turn way from grand theory and emancipatory politics. In this, I do what Foucault implores all contemporary students of politics to do, viz., use other thinkers. In discussing Nietzsches influence on his thought, Foucault said,
Im tired of people studying him [Nietzsche] only to produce the same kind of commentaries that are written on Hegel or Mallmarm. For myself, I prefer to utilise the writers I like. The only valid tribute to thought such as Nietzsches is precisely to use it, to deform it, to make it groan and protest. And if the commentators say that I am being unfaithful to Nietzsche that is of absolutely no interest.

I cannot make Marx and Foucault moan, neither is it of no interest to me if I misrepresent their work. I do, however, turn to their thought in order to utilise


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it. I am not interested in expounding on their work per se but in seeing the light it can shed on contemporary problems of change.
1. Marx, Grand Theory and Emancipatory Politics

Marx represents the theorist of human emancipation par excellence. He locates the source of what is wrong with human life in societal conditions and claims that by changing those specific conditions the quality of human life will also change. This conception is emancipatory in that this change entails ripping off the conditions that frustrate the authentic expression of what human beings really are or can be, and replacing them with conditions which are more conducive to the realization of human potential. In short, Marxs notion of social change entails an understanding of how to bring about the conditions in which human beings can be free or liberated and therewith realize their innate potential. Marxs emancipatory politics are based on a grand theory. Marx has a notion of how things work. Specifically, Marx has a conception of human nature (i.e. he knows what a human being is) and society, recognizes the central dynamic of history and identifies the source of human unhappiness. Moreover, in identifying this source Marx points out the fulcrum for change. He shows what specific aspects of society must change if human emancipation is to take place. Marxs grand theory then rests on an architectonic understanding of human life in which he threads together a conception of peoples existential condition and the dynamics of their social life and history. In the following I present an outline of this grand theory and then discuss human emancipation in terms of it. 1.1 Marx and Human Nature At the heart of Marxs political theory is a conception of human nature. The concept of human nature in general rests on the notion that human beings share common features which distinguish them from animals and the rest of phenomena. The concept of human nature can be either descriptive or normative. Descriptive concepts refer to those features that are actually manifested in human beings as we have always known them. For example, rationality, in all its multifaceted formulations, has been identified as the distinguishing characteristic of human beings; human nature has been equated by many thinkers with reason. Human being is the rational animal. Normative conceptions of human nature, on the other hand, refer to features as potentialities which can only be manifested under certain conditions. For example, innate human goodness has been equated with our nature but the expression of this can only be realized under certain conditions. I read Marx with those commentators who, while acknowledging that he never develops a complete systematic theory of human nature, nevertheless see him putting forward, on the whole, a normative conception.2 Specifically, human beings have a latent nature which under the proper set of conditions will become realized. In broad terms, Marxs ideal human being is homo laborans, labourer. This consists, according to Marx, not only in securing the means of subsistence,3 but

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also in doing so in a specific way. While animals unreflectively secure their physical existence, man makes his life-activity itself the object of his will and of his consciousness. He has conscious life-activity.4 That is, his own life is an object for him.5 While this is somewhat ambiguous, I understand it to mean that it is in the nature of human beings to engage in their work in such a way that they see it as something over which they have control, something they can design, plan and manipulate. They do not simply graze on open land; they design and construct projects. And, it is in this stepping back, this gaining a conscious distance from their work and therewith making it an object of their will, that characterizes human labour and therewith human nature.6 This is what, according to Marx, makes labour self-reflective, autonomous and creative.7 Connected with this notion of human nature is a certain kind of consciousness that inheres in self-reflective, autonomous and creative labour. This is the consciousness one has of being a member of the human species itself. This is what Marx means by species-being.8 Species-being, for Marx, denotes that human labour is always wrapped-up in sociality: whether one is using language, plowing a field or building a house, the tools one works with are human constructs and the product of ones work will become part of the human world. This is why ones consciousness of oneself while laboring is related to his awareness of himself as a member of humanity.9 It underlines the social character of human lifeactivity .
[In labouring either with others or alone] I am social because I am active as a man. Not only is the material of my activity given to me as a social product (as is even language in which the thinker is active): my own existence is social activity, and therefore that which I make of myself, I make of myself for society and with the consciousness of myself as a social being.10

And, when humans recognize this aspect of their work they realize their species-being.11 In short, human nature is characterized by self-reflective, autonomous, creative activity which is both the fundamental necessary activity of the individual as well as the supreme social act. Labour, as described, then becomes both mans activity and end. The whole character of a species its species character is contained in the character of its life-activity; and free, conscious activity is mans species character. Life itself appears only as a means to life.12 The reason this conception of human nature is normative and not descriptive is because, according to Marx, labour as described has never been realized as such. The conditions under which human beings work and have worked in the past, deny them the ability to see their labour as the expression of their species-being, denying them species-consciousness.13 And, this precludes the possibility of free and creative work. Another way of saying this is that while labour, the fundamental constituent of human beings, is potentially a free, creative and self-reflective activity, the degree to which it can reflect this depends upon the conditions under which humans work.


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1.2 Marx and the Conditions of Human Labour (Power in Society) For Marx, the conditions of work consist in the way humans produce or, what is the same thing, the mode of their production. The mode of production, as I see it, consists of two things. First, it entails the existing material conditions. These are the subject of labour, viz. nature, and the instruments or tools used in the labour process. Second, it consists of the relations of production. These signify the way people organize themselves to carry out their work given the material conditions at hand. The mode of production, as such, sets the conditions for labour and is responsible for the realization or deformation of human nature. That the mode of production actually has this much control over labour and human 1ife becomes clear when one recognizes the pervasive effectual nature of the relations of production. While the relations of production correspond to the existing material conditions, they themselves determine the entire formation of social life: the legal, political, religious and artistic practices and institutions which pervade society. In short, they determine the superstructure.14 Seen in this way, it becomes clear that the mode of production is responsible for the type of consciousness human beings share and therewith, by consequence, is fundamentally instrumental in determining whether or not humans realize their true nature. Marx emphasizes the decisive role of the mode of production in his often-quoted preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Marx writes,
In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.15

What is significant here is that Marx locates the conditioning factor of labour in the mode of production. By doing so Marx also identifies what is responsible for the realization of human nature or essence. The mode of production is the key independent variable. Its character is the causal explanation for why human beings have or have not realized their true nature, as indeed it is the determining factor of the superstructure that constitutes social life. (This is why, later, I will refer to the mode of production, specifically the economic realm, as the seat of power in Marxs system.) For Marx, as mentioned, human beings have not realized their true nature. The reason for this is that the mode of production or the conditions under which humans work have never been conducive to doing so. This is especially clear under capitalism, the mode of production which Marx spent most of his time investigating. According to Marx, capitalism denies workers the chance to engage in selfreflective, autonomous and creative labour because of the problematic character of the relations of production. Relations of production in general are constituted by the economic ownership of productive forces. Under capitalism the bourgeoisie owns the means or instruments of production and the proletariat owns its labour

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power. The result of this arrangement is that the entire quality or character of work under capitalism takes on a certain flavor, a flavor which degrades the labour process. In particular, under capitalism all work is part of a system of commodity production. The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as an immense accumulation of commodities, its unit being a single commodity.16 The proletarian sells his or her labour power and the bourgeoisie purchases it for certain periods of time.17 The result of this transaction and the respective activities which follow from it is that both the proletariat and the bourgeoisie experience perverted forms of labour. The proletariat engages in estranged or alienated labour;18 the bourgeoisie experiences restless, relentless profit-seeking.19 Neither knows self-reflective, autonomous and creative labour.20 The point here is simply that the mode of production is responsible for the character or quality of work; it is that which conditions labour. Under capitalism, the mode of production is characterized by commodity production which alienates the proletarian from his or her labour and estranges the bourgeoisie from the way he or she secures the means of existence.21
1.3 Marx and History So far I have shown that, for Marx, human nature is a normative concept wrapped up with labour. It is normative because its realization depends upon the conditions in which human beings labour, the mode of their production. In capitalist society this mode is determined by the ownership of the forces of production, an arrangement of ownership which degrades or de-humanizes labour and precludes the realization of human nature. According to Marx, society is not condemned to live under one mode of production forever. As successive generations labour and populate the world with new products, they alter the existing material conditions, i.e. the stuff with which the labourers work. As a consequence, the relations of production also change. Marx asserts this when he describes the dialectical character of how existing material conditions both determine the mode of production and social life and are, in turn, shaped by them.
[I]n each stage [of history] there is found a material result: a sum of productive forces, a historically created relation of individuals to nature and to one another, which is handed down to each generation from its predecessor; a mass of productive forces, capital funds and conditions which, on the one hand, is indeed modified by the new generation but also on the other prescribes for it its conditions of life and gives it a definite development, a special character. It shows that circumstances make men just as much as men make circumstances.22

Stated in this way the historical element of Marxs understanding of the conditions for the realization of human nature becomes clear. If humans are born into a set of material conditions and into a set of relations of production but alter these through their labouring, then the possibility exists that one day there may be conditions of labour which are conducive to the realization of human nature. In fact, Marx is sure of it. According to Marx, history is not a series of accidental events; historical stages are not unrelated. Rather, there is a teleological aspect to history. There is a certain


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necessity and telos about the way historical stages replace each other. In particular, successive modes of production build upon each other (in the Hegelian style of the negation of the negation) and, through consecutive historical moments, approach conditions in which humans will finally be able to labour in a way that respects their true, potential nature. That is, the final stage of history will be marked by conditions in which humans can engage self-reflectively, autonomously and creatively in their labour. The conditions which will enable this kind of labour constitute Marxs understanding of communism. The central dynamic that brings this state of affairs about is the dialectical mechanism of change inherent in Marxs materialistic conception of history. Briefly, this entails the changing relationship between the forces of production and the relations of production. While their correspondence is at times compatible, Marx claims there comes a time when this ceases to be the case. At such a time, the productive relations appear as fetters impeding social development to a more congenial relationship (between the forces of production and its relations). When this compatibility becomes blatantly antagonistic, a qualitative change in social conditions takes place and a new mode of production is ushered in (the resolution of the antagonism). This, of course, also brings about a new superstructure.
At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or what is but a legal expression for the same thing with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed.23

For present purposes it is not necessary to understand the details of Marxs conception of history. Rather, it is only important to notice that he does conceive a specific infrastructure to historical change and that the direction of historical movement is towards the establishment of conditions which are conducive to genuine human labour, viz., communism. This is significant because it suggests that the conditions of labour are not simply a set of potential choices from which each generation can choose as if the mode of capitalism was simply a bad choice. Rather, they are historically determined. The material conditions which make up the mode of production come in on the shoulders of past generations. And only when these are ripe is it possible to have historical, transformative change. Indeed, in order to have a communist society, capitalism was necessary; as indeed, the emergence of capitalism depended upon the existence of feudalism. That is, there is a certain element of technological determinism in Marxs concept of history that makes the possibility of human emancipation or realization of human nature rest on specific historical events. The riddle of human emancipation is a function of history.
1.4 Marxs Grand Theory and Emancipatory Politics If the previous interpretation of Marxs work is on the whole accurate, then the student of Marx is left with the following situation. Human beings have a latent nature or essence. This can only be realized under the proper conditions. The

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determining factor of those conditions is the mode of production. The mode of production is made up of the existing material conditions and the corresponding relations of production. And, the character of these is an historical product. This, as I see it, represents the outlines of Marxs grand political theory. It identifies the relevant phenomena germane to the question of what is wrong with human life, viz. the existential dimension of the human being and the environmental factors that influence it, and renders an understanding of the nature of each of these. Moreover, it presents a conception of how they are connected. In short, it is a systematic theory of the nature of human beings and society. This outline, as I see it, also illuminates the emancipatory aspect of Marxs thought. For, in exposing the architectonic of human life and society and thereby presenting a systematic theory, Marx also points to a way out, i.e. he identifies the key to the alleviation of human suffering and unfulfillment. In fact, the emancipatory aspect can be seen as a function of the systematic character of Marxs thought itself. As I see it, the unifying thread in Marxs work is labour. This both defines the human subject and constitutes the motor of history. In addition, labour also serves to highlight where power rests in society and therewith identifies the target for change. That is, in the same way that labour is the power-center of the human being (singularly responsible for the quality of ones life) and the powercenter of history (responsible for changes in the mode of production), labour is also the power-center of society. Specifically, the economic realm, the social manifestation of labour, is the determining factor in society. To the degree that Marx believes that the way man produces determines his thinking and desires,24 it is clear that the economic rather than the political, artistic or cultural realm, is decisive. The economic realm, for Marx, represents the fulcrum for change. For a change in the economic realm would ricochet and affect all other aspects of society. This is due to the deterministic connection between the base and superstructure. Avineri suggests this interpretation when he writes, Hence the key to the understanding and changing of actuality is in the economic mechanism which characterizes man as a creative being.25 And, it is only because Marx has an architectonic view of human life and society that he is able to identify the economic realm as decisive. While I have already shown in broad terms how changes in the economic realm take place through the conflict between productive forces and relations of production the details of how actual people are involved with such change are matters of tremendous controversy. As I see it, Marx seems to suggest that at certain historically-ripe moments when the forces of production have developed to full capacity26 people can (and will) take the initiative and, by engaging in revolutionary action, alter the existing economic structure. In particular, in the transformation from capitalism to communism, this would entail a proletarian revolution in which the proletariat would abolish private property and the arrangements which make for a system of commodity production. Although the details of Marxs strategy are not crucial, it is important to recognize that Marx locates the target of change and this allows him to devise a strategy. (That Marx was concerned with revolutionary strategy is indicative by such writings as the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League and the Critique of the Gotha Program.)


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To sum up: Marxs politics are emancipatory because they are informed by a grand theory. That is, it is because Marx has a conception of the nature of human beings, society and history that allows him to envision radical change for human beings. This architectonic view allows Marx to locate the source of human suffering, unhappiness and unfulfillment in the conditions which affect human life, the most important of which lie in the economic realm. And, in doing so, he can claim that a change in that realm will affect all aspects of human life. In particular it will get rid of the conditions which have prevented human beings from labouring in a self-reflective, autonomous and creative way and replace them with ones that are more conducive to this. And, due to the fact that such labour signifies true human nature, such change will entail human emancipation. People will be free to realize their true essence.
2. Foucault and the Demise of Grand Theory

If Marx can be considered the grand theorist par excellence, Foucault may be thought of as the anti-theorist extraodinaire. And, if Marx can be thought of as the great theorist of human emancipation, Foucault may represent the great problematizer of emancipation. In this respect, it is no coincidence that Foucault lived roughly one hundred years after Marx. For since Marx there has been a slow but steady chipping away at the elements that make up grand theory and an attack on the entire project in general. Moreover and as a consequence, there has also been a strong theoretical current against emancipatory politics. I present a Foucaultian critique of Marx in the following then in an attempt to capture at least the outlines of this theoretical and political turn of mind since Marx. For Foucault, each of the elements of Marxs grand theory the human subject, modes of production and history as well as his linking them together through the centrality of labour is problematic. As a consequence, to the degree that Foucault rejects Marxs grand theory, he does not see the possibility of human emancipation. Rather, as will be shown, such a goal is futile if not completely incomprehensible. There are many ways to present this Foucaultian critique of Marx. The approach I take is to start from what Foucault takes to be the central thrust of his work and see how this applies to Marxs political theory. In 1981, three years before his death, Foucault wrote,
I would like to say, first of all, what has been the goal of my work during the last twenty years. It has not been to analyze the phenomena, nor to elaborate the foundations of such an analysis. My objective, instead has been to create a history of the different modes by which, in our culture, human beings are made subjects.27

In the following, I concentrate on Foucaults understanding of the constituted subject and use it to build a comprehensive critique of Marx. In particular, I start by presenting Foucaults rejection of the transcendental subject and show how this rejection is critical of Marxs conception of the human being. Next, I show how Foucaults notion of the constituted subject brings forth a unique conception of power in society and how this conception is critical of Marxs understanding of power. Finally, I show how the notion of a completely constituted subject leads Foucault to a certain

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reading of history, a reading which is critical of Marxs conception of history. In short, I use Foucaults notion of the human subject to couch a general critique of the three pillars of Marxs grand theory.
2.1 Foucault and the Human Subject While the notion of a human subject is central to Marxs project, according to Foucault a specific conception of the human being is exactly what plagues most interpretations of human life, society and history. For Foucault, the human subject is not a self-existing thing which has a certain essence or nature. Rather, it is an historical product. It is the production of various social, political, economic and cultural factors. There is no center to speak of; the human being is not essentially a body or a soul or anything else thinkers usually associate with the human being qua human being. It is a socially constituted, historical product. For example, many people understand the soul or mind to be the seat of human being. That is, the soul or mind has traditionally been considered the stuff of human nature. Foucault does not accept this. For Foucault, the mind is a surface of inscription for power.28 One place Foucault shows this is in his discussion of the confession in his The History of Sexuality. As Foucault presents it, the confession does much to define the human soul. The confession gives certain needs to the soul and renders it a specific nature. Foucault points out that the confession comes from outside, as it were; it is a social institution. The confession is not a natural form of disclosing the repressed and evil secrets of the soul but rather is a social form of structuring and constituting the soul. The confession then is an example of how the soul is socially constituted. In addition to the soul, many people understand the body to be a given when it comes to conceptualizing what a human being is. That is, while other aspects may be in doubt, certainly all human beings have bodies and throughout time and across cultures the body represents the most stable of human attributes. Foucaults work shows that this is an unsubstantiated assumption. According to Foucault, even the body cannot be taken to be stable or a given. In the words of Barry Smart,
It is not a biological conception of the body which appears in Foucaults work but a historical conception of the body, embedded within a political field, subject to power relations which restrain it, invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs (Discipline and Punish, New York 1977, p. 25). This Nietzschean conception of the body as inscribed by history and invested with relations of power and domination is the antithesis of conceptions in which the body is the alienated locus of an essential human potential.29

Foucault makes this clear when he writes, The body is molded by a great many distinct regimes; it is broken down by the rhythms of work, rest and holidays, it is poisoned by food or values, through eating habits or moral laws; it constructs resistances.30 Foucaults point, or at least one of them, is that the body is not a pristine thing that exists underneath the surface on which the social world inscribes its disciplines. Rather, the body is socially constituted; it is defined historically as the result of societal training, shaping and manipulation. In addition to the soul and the body providing unsatisfactory constants for an


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understanding of the human being, Foucault also points out how socially constructed understandings not only define the human being but how these also shift and change due to historical conditions. Foucault points this out in I Pierre Riviere, having slaughtered my mother, my sister, and my brother . . . 31 Here Foucault presents the battle over who or what Pierre Riviere was. Was he criminal or insane? Normal, but perverted by an evil society, or satanic? In the book, Foucault provides documents showing the competition between discourses (medical, legal psychological, criminological) which each try to categorize and define Pierre Riviere. In addition, Foucault presents the memoir of Riviere himself. But while no single social discourse clearly wins out and defines Riviere, neither does the memoir itself provide the deciding factor. The memoir, as well as the other evidence, must be put through the sieve of interpretative discourses. It alone cannot establish the nature of Riviere. But, in showing this, Foucault also makes clear that neither can the other discourses. The battle goes back and forth. And, in the end, there is no winner. Indeed, Rivieres suicide denies each competing discourse final say on what he is. I Pierre Riviere, having slaughtered my mother, my mister, and my brother. . . shows that even socially constructed understandings of the human being are unstable. Perhaps one of the most interesting ways Foucault argues that there is no human essence or nature is in his work on sexuality. In The History of Sexuality, Foucault tackles the notion that sex is central to the human being, at the core of what we are. In the book he shows that, far from revealing or disclosing a true self which is constituted by sex or serving as a key through which one accesses the secret of what he or she is, all the talking and thinking about sex in the past hundred years is actually a social constitution of our sex. Sexuality, the discourse of sex, is paramount; sex itself is the product of sexuality. Stated in another way, sexuality comes first, as it were; sex follows.
So we must not refer a history of sexuality to the agency of sex; but rather show how sex is historically subordinate to sexuality. We must not place sex on the side of reality, and sexuality on that of confused ideas and illusions; sexuality is a very real historical formation; it is what gave rise to the notion of sex, as a speculative element necessary to its operation.32

What Foucault is doing with sex and sexuality here is similar to what he does throughout most of his work in terms of the human subject and discourse. Essentially, he pulls a Feuerbachian transposition: instead of placing the sutject center stage and identifying discourse coming from the subject, Foucault puts discourse first or at the center. Just as sexuality produces sex, discourse produces the subject. For Foucault, then, sex is not the essence of human beings, it is a dense transfer point for relations of power.33 What all the above means is that there is nothing at the core of human beings that could be called a nature or essence. Neither body, soul, social definition or sex is a stable substance. They are made, created, produced; they are social constructs and, as such, even they change; the human being is pure exteriority. That this view is critical of Marxs understanding of the human subject should be obvious. Marx understands there is something underneath the social conditionings

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which, if given the proper conducive environment, would flourish. And, this would represent the realization of human nature. As shown, Foucault rejects this notion. Marxs understanding of human nature, linked up with homo laborans, would appear to Foucault merely as a product of the science of economics, a discipline Marx was immersed in, or it may appear as the requisite fabrication of the capitalist mode of production.34 It would not, however, represent human nature. Foucault would not admit that Marx somehow got it right, that he nailed down what a human being is. This is impossible because there is no interior to nail down.
2.2 Foucault, Social Conditions and Power in Society While Marx has a specific notion of human nature, like Foucault he also understands that human beings are conditioned. In fact, one could say that Marx sees human beings almost entirely as products of conditioning. For, in defining the essential characteristic of human beings in terms of labour, Marx makes clear that the condition of labour the mode of production will be decisive in determining the quality of life. Indeed, it will determine social life and human consciousness. (The economic base determines the superstructure.)35 Yet, while this view shares the notion of conditioning inherent in Foucaults thought, it differs in a fundamental sense. Specifically, it differs in that it locates the source of conditioning, the determining factor of human life in short, power in one place. For Marx, the mode of production is the independent variable; it is the monological conditioning factor; it is responsible for all aspects of human life. In this respect, it represents the seat of power. For Foucault, this view is unacceptable because it puts forward a misguided understanding of power. According to Foucault, power is not simply a force that emanates from one person, institution or sociological realm to another. This view is too linear, too conflative. While it may describe mere instances of power in the contemporary world, and may have been an accurate description of most forms of power in the classical period (the mid-17th century to the beginning of the 19th century, according to Foucault),36 it is too simple a formulation to capture most contemporary forms of power. According to Foucault, such conceptions of power are based on or informed by an understanding of sovereign power. This is where power is seen as flowing down from the sovereign in the form of prohibitive law a law that works to incite, reinforce, control, monitor, epitomize, and organise the forces under it.37 Of the many problems with this view one is that it sees power in terms of origins and agents. As such, it ignores or obfuscates the pervasive character of power in the contemporary world and the specificity of its contextual features. Power in the contemporary world is agent-less; it does not flow from one agent to another The pattern is not linear. There is not a clear dominator and dominated, a clear source and object. Power is simply the configuration of vectors of force relations as they assume a pattern at different times and in different situations. Power is made up of maneuvers, gestures and alignments that are indigenous to the specific locale of interaction. Overarching conceptual grids that try to impose a theme or character to power or which try to locate origins and end-points of power end up lopping off or skewing significant aspects and therewith misunderstand


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power. According to Foucault, [P]ower must be understood in the first instance as the multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization . . . 38 The result of this view of power is that in the asylum, state or prison one does not see the source of power nor even powers final forms. Rather, one sees the codification of force relations at a given time. Moreover, within these disciplinary institutions power does not flow from psychiatrist to patient, sovereign to ruled, or warden to prisoner. Rather, power characterizes the configuration of exertion, coercion and force articulated by the interactive strategies of both sets of subjects. Approaching power in this way, essentially Foucault is asking his readers to look at it not in its macro-formations, which, for the most part, are crude conceptualizations, but in its micro-forms. But in thinking of the mechanisms of power, I am thinking rather of its capillary form of existence, the point where power reaches into the very grain of individuals, touches their bodies and inserts itself into their actions and attitudes, their discourses, learning processes and everyday lives.39 Focusing on power at this level shows the complexity of its machinations as well as its fluidity. It denies monolithic, reductionistic, linear conceptualizations. In most of his work, Foucault focuses on the interplay between different discursive formations as they compete and interact to constitute the subject. In doing so, Foucault simply sketches the contours of force relations as they pattern themselves in this interplay; he does not talk about origins, end points or broad movements of power. That Foucault does not write in terms of origins or end-points is highlighted by his understanding of the fluidity of power, a concept that becomes clear in his discussions about resistances and reversals. Foucault understands that power does not originate in one place and end in another because he notices that there will always be resistance to force relations. This means that for every exertion in one direction, there will potentially be forces opposing such movement. And, this becomes important especially when opposing forces overpower initial ones. One example of this, according to Foucault, can be seen in the episode when society tried to control masturbation in children. Throughout European history, although culminating in the 18th century, masturbation was understood as a sickness of the Western world. As a result, via the medium of families, though not at their initiative, a system of control of sexuality, an objectivisation of sexuality allied to corporal persecution, [was] established over the bodies of children.40 Resistance, however, formed against this. Instead of steering adults and children away from interests in the body and therewith dissuading them from masturbating, almost the opposite took place.
But sexuality, through thus becoming an object of analysis and concern, surveillance and control, engender[ed] at the same time an intensification of each individuals desire, for, in and over his body . . . The revolt of the sexual body [was] the reverse effect of this encroachment.41

Foucault cites another example of such resistances and reversals in Discipline and Punish when discussing public executions. In that discussion, Foucault points out how the spectacle of public executions served as a form of social control. It was a deterrent to people contemplating criminal acts; it demonstrated the awesome

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strength of the state. Curiously enough, however, being able to witness executions also allowed people to revolt against the state. It represented a transfer point of power, a place where resistance could manifest and fight back and reverse the direction of power. Thus, witnessing executions the people
could express . . . rejection of the punitive power and sometimes revolt. Preventing an execution that was regarded as unjust, snatching a condemned man from the hands of the executioner, obtaining his pardon by force, possibly pursuing and assaulting the executioners, in any case abusing the judges and causing an uproar against the sentence all this formed part of the popular practices that invested, traversed and often overturned the ritual of the public execution.42

A final example of such resistances and reversals can be seen in the epitome of control as it was translated into architecture in the panopticon. While this was understood as the most efficient form of control to be used in prisons, as well as offering an architecturally sound way to maintain control of people in schools, hospitals and factories, inherent in its design was the situation where power did not only move from the center into each of the cells or to the periphery. There was a sense of resistance that flowed from the periphery to the center. Foucault refers to this when he writes,
An inspector arriving unexpectedly at the center of the Panopticon will be able to judge at a glance, without anything being concealed from him, how the entire establishment is functioning. [But] enclosed as he is in the middle of this architectural mechanism, is not the directors own fate entirely bound up with it? The incompetent physician who has allowed contagion to spread, the incompetent prison governor or workshop manager will be the first victims of an epidemic or a revolt.43

The point here is that Foucault does not see power as a simple thing that originates in one area and, upon moving in a linear fashion, affects another. Rather, power is web-like; one cannot identify its sources nor control its direction and ultimate impact anymore that one can find the beginning and end of a spider web and draw a straight line between them. There are resistances to power that frustrate clear delineation of direction. When these are considered in addition to powers pervasiveness in general, it is clear that Foucault has a unique conception of power that is critical of traditional monological, undirectional understandings of it. That this conception of power is critical of Marxs understanding should be obvious. Marx locates power in one place: it is within the sphere of labour and, in society it rests in the economic realm. Accordingly, what happens in this realm has direct impact on all other areas of life. Foucault sees this as too simple, too reductionistic. Power is rather the multiplicity of forms of force relations exercised within the fabric of society. Thus, while Marx locates power in one spot and talks about it in strict economic terms, Foucault warns against such broad, singular conceptual strokes. According to Foucault, this bleaches out the specificity and contextual characteristics of power. (It should be noted here that both Foucaults and Marxs conceptions of power flow from their notions of the human being. For Marx, to the degree that the human being is defined in terms of labour, it is no surprise that he locates power in society within the realm which embodies labour, viz. the economic realm. On the other hand, Foucault sees no essential human attribute and, as a result, does not locate power


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in any one realm. The pervasiveness of discursive formations explodes the core of the human being and results in a view that sees power as diffuse.)
2.3 Foucault and History A Foucaultian critique of Marxs conception of history is similar to a Foucaultian critique of most forms of history. According to Foucault, traditional history is marked by its implicit philosophical flavor. That is, traditional history usually introduces a supra-historical perspective which imparts a pattern to history, a pattern that has both a texture and direction. The texture, or what is the same thing interiority, of history has a certain dynamic or procedure. This can be described as progressive, evolutionary, continuous or dialectical. The direction of history describes the way events move away from an origin towards an end point. Direction can be described ideologically, eschatologically, cyclically and so forth. The problem with traditional history is exactly this supra-historical element which unifies, serializes and renders meaningful past events. Bringing it to bear on history is to impart something to the past that is not immanent and, according to Foucault, this is to distort historical events themselves. Traditional history is
a history whose function is to compose the finally reduced diversity of time into a totality fully closed upon itself; a history that always encourages subjective recognitions and attributes a form or reconciliation to all the displacements of the past; a history whose perspective on all that precedes it implies the end of time, a completed development. The historians history finds its support outside of time and pretends to base its judgements on an apocalyptic objectivity.44

Foucault finds traditional history problematic then because it bleaches out the specificity of events as it smooths over rough edges and removes disruptions and discontinuities which characterize historical events. Moreover, it also injects an overall theme to history which the circumstantial aspect of events cannot support. Foucault expresses his rejection of such history in an interview with Le Monde. I am completely opposed to a certain conception of history that uses as a model a sort of grand evolution which is continuous and homogeneous, a sort of grand mythical life.45 In place of a strict traditional historical approach Foucault suggests a genealogical one. Genealogy is a type of historical study which rejects inserting specific events into grand explanatory schemes or macro-conceptual grids. Instead it preserves the singularity of events and in so doing gives voice to the silenced conflicts and twists and turns of the past. In this way, genealogy robs traditional history of its use of supra-historical constants. In short, it tries to get rid of any transcendental reference. Summing up his own reflections on the history of thought, Foucault writes,
the essential task was to free the history of thought from its subjection to transcendence . . . My aim was to analyze this history, in the discontinuity that no teleology would reduce in advance; to map it in a dispersion that no pre-established horizon would embrace; to allow it to be deployed in an anonymity on which no transcendental constitution would impose the form of the subject; to open it up to a temporality that would not promise the return of any dawn.46

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A significant result of genealogy is that in dismantling the large, conceptual architecture of traditional history it denies all forms of legitimacy to historical subjects. By this I mean that historical subjects cannot claim a sense of naturalness, rationality or ontologically privileged raison detre. For example, the prison, asylum, school or state cannot claim to represent the natural consequence of things, the culmination of what was meant to be. Genealogy in this sense, dislodges any claim by an historical subject to a privileged existence. It does so by showing that subjects do not reflect forms infused to the nature of the universe nor are they the result of purposive, historical movement. Genealogy exposes the accidental character of historical subjects; it points out that they owe their existence and character to the mere conjunction of historical accidents. In short, genealogy shows that historical subjects have no essence but rather are socially constituted. Essentially, then, Foucault uses a genealogical approach to exteriorize everything. Everything, and he means everything, is a social construct. Foucault makes this clear when he writes, If the genealogist refuses to extend his faith in metaphysics, if he listens to history, he finds that there is something altogether different behind things: not a timeless and essential secret, but the secret that they have no essence or that their essence was fabricated in a piecemeal fashion from alien forms.47 In Foucaults historical work he actually finds that the events he traces do not have smooth, continuous character, as if they are being animated by something supra-historical, by some transcendental constant. And, as a result, he does not see historical subjects enjoying unquestioned legitimacy. For example, in Discipline and Punish, he finds that the history of imprisonment does not represent a progressive or rational or logical series of events. The history of imprisonment does not obey a chronology in which one sees, in orderly succession, the establishment of a penalty of detention, then the recognition of its failure; then the slow rise of projects of reform, seeming to culminate in the more or less coherent definition of penitentiary technique; then the implementation of this project; lastly, the recognition of its successes or its failures.48 The result of this is that observers and critics should not assume that societal practices concerning imprisonment are inherently legitimate. When considering the legitimacy and acceptability of imprisonment practices, those practices must be considered on the same topical level as all other historical products: they represent the result of the interplay between force relations which are not injected into the historical scene like lightning from the heavens. Rather, they are the ruses of human beings, nothing more, nothing less. Foucaults preference for genealogy over traditional history, like his views on the human subject and power, is obviously critical of Marxs approach. Genealogy rejects both the ideological element in Marxs concept of history as well as his view of its interiority or central dynamic, i.e. the dialectic. In Foucaults words,
History has no meaning, though this is not to say that it is absurd or incoherent. On the contrary, it is intelligible and should be susceptible to analysis down to the smallest detail but this in accordance with the intelligibility of struggles, of strategies


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and tactics. Neither the dialectic, as logic of contradictions, nor semiotics, as the structure of communication, can account for the intrinsic intelligibility of conflicts. Dialectic is a way of evading the always open and hazardous reality of conflict by reducing it to a Hegelian skeleton, and semiology is a way of avoiding its violent, bloody, and lethal character by reducing it to the calm Platonic form of language and dialogue.49

To sum up: the above represents Foucaults critique of Marx. In essence, it consists of an attack on the three pillars on which Marxs grand theory rests: the human subject, power in society and a philosophy of history. Foucault problematizes each of these; he knocks each down. In the end, then, nothing is left standing of Marxs system.50 In addition to dismantling the pillars of Marxs grand theory, as mentioned, Foucault also undermines the enterprise of constructing a grand theory in general. For Foucault, Marxs attempt to thread the whole system together with the concept of labour is ludicrous. This is not because there is something inherently wrong with labour, but because there is something wrong with trying to discover a center to human life, society and history. Indeed, there is something wrong with discovering a center to anything. According to Foucault, there are no centers. And this is the main thrust of his critique of Marx as well as the main-stay of his thought in general. It also represents his critique of grand theory. Grand theory, which tries to connect understandings of the human being, society and history, cannot hold together because nothing holds together. Again, there are no centers. Moreover, this can also be seen as the dominant character of modern and contemporary philosophical thought, a character which precludes the project of grand theory. This character can be understood under the rubric of decentering.
4. Decentering

Put most succinctly, decentering is the critique of the idea that any one element or part of social reality can be defined as essential, fundamental, determinate. In its milder forms, decentering characterizes the view that nothing neither history, philosophy, reason, religion or poetry can serve as a satisfactory orienting principle for human life. In its more extreme forms it characterizes the view that there are no referents in reality itself, i.e. behind the words history, philosophy, reason, e.g., nothing exists as an independent, self-existing object. In fact, there are no objects in the traditional sense of the term. Everything is exteriorized. Nothing is substantive; there are no centers to which words point; nothing is independently existent. Above I showed how Foucault fits this turn of mind well. Most of the examples I cited suggest Foucault subscribes to the milder form of decentering neither the subject, a specific type of power, nor history can serve as a standard or orienting principle. It should be pointed out, however, that Foucault also subscribes to its more extreme forms. For Foucault, not only are there no orienting principles or points of identity around which one can develop orienting principles there are no referents. He makes this clear to the degree that his investigations into psychiatry, medicine, criminology and sexuality do not focus on the nature of insanity, illness, the criminal or the male or female. Rather, his works are catalogues of the discursive

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formations which, while seemingly referring to the same subject, actually produce the object about which they speak. That is, there are no objects for Foucault, only discursive formations producing objects. For example, by the time Foucault wrote The Archeology of Knowledge, he came to see mental illness not as a fundamental experience but as a constructed phenomenon.
It would certainly be a mistake to try to discover what could have been said of madness at a particular time by interrogating the being of madness itself, its secret content, its silent, self-enclosed truth; mental illness was constituted by all that was said in all the statements that named it, divided it up, described it, explained it, traced its developments, indicated its various correlations, judged it, and possibly gave it speech by articulating, in its name, discourses that were to be taken as its own. Moreover, this group of statements is far from referring to a single object, formed once and for all, and to preserving it indefinitely as its horizon of inexhaustible ideality...51

What Foucault says here goes for his work in general. Madness, criminality, illness and so forth are not things awaiting to be discovered by modern science. For this would suggest that the object of science exists before science itself. Rather, for Foucault, the sciences produce their objects. Discussing Foucaults work on madness, Alan Sheridan writes,
Madness did not wait, in immobile identity, for the advent of psychiatry to carry it from the darkness of superstition to the light of truth. The categories of modern psychiatry were not lying in a state of nature ready to be picked up by the perceptive observer: They were produced by that science in its very act of formation.52

While this shows the extremity of Foucaults approach, it merely hints at the level to which he takes decentering. At another level Foucault not only takes apart the objects or phenomena referred to to show that there is nothing there but discourse, i.e. the act of referring but he also explodes the elements of discourse themselves, i.e. the tools with which people talk about supposed objects. Foucault unpacks the statement itself. He shows there is no cohesive core element to the statement that delineates it as a thing, a referent. One should not be surprised, then, Foucault writes, if one has failed to find structural criteria of unity for the statement: this is because it is not in itself a unit...53 Thus, not only are referents disembodied but the discourse which actually constitutes them as well is disembodied. This expiring of phenomena or dispensing with the object is what I call decentering. It sees no unities and hence no central spot or organizing principle to phenomena. Foucault is not alone in practicing decentering. Much modern and contemporary thought shares this perspective. For example, structuralism (especially structural linguistics), Lacanian psychoanalysis and deconstruction take this view. While, in truth, most of these do so to a lesser degree than Foucault, they all share the general thrust of decentering. They try to shift analysis away from what traditionally appears central or essential. For example, as I understand structuralism, the human subject, which is generally understood as the center of analysis, is dislodged from the center of attention and dissolved into objective laws which govern behavior.54 Human life is a dependent variable. The human being is a function of structure. As a consequence, structural


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linguistics sees languages as systems that operate more or less independently of their expressive or representational function.55 They have forms which are not developed by expressive human beings but rather have simply self-relational character. Accordingly, objects of the world have no self-evident identity or individuality outside the words that denote them. Objects as well as human beings are linguistic constructs, not essential substances. Structuralism then by dislodging the human subject as the center of analysis, decenters both human beings and objects. It exteriorizes them and denies them essential or determinate status. In addition to structuralism, Lacanian psychoanalysis uses a similar approach. Lacanian psychoanalysis takes what many see to be the central part of human psychology, the ego or psyche, and casts it as a convenient illusion, an imaginary construct, composed of projections and introjections.56 Accordingly, there is no unitary psyche that harbors, e.g., Freuds id, ego and superego, the conscious and the unconscious, the life and death drives. Rather the psyche is riven. It is not a unit but merely a place of conflicting elements. Lacanian psychoanalysis decenters the human subject as it problematizes and exteriorizes the psyche. Deconstruction is another movement of thought that subscribes to the general tone of decentering. To the degree that deconstruction is a literary genre, it concentrates on language and writing. In doing so, it abolishes the traditional understanding in literature that texts possess meaning and that the literary critics job is to seek a knowledge of that meaning.57 The catch-phrase of deconstruction, in its literary mode, seems to be: It is only writing. This means that there is no truth or meaning to disclose in texts. Thus, there is no place to get to in literary criticism, e.g., the authors intention (in fact, there really is no author in the traditional sense), the truth, Being and so forth. Deconstruction then decenters literature to the degree that it dislodges its central object, viz. the meaning of a text. In its less literary mode, I understand deconstruction to be about acknowledging the social construction of everything and then proceeding to strip off the constructions; it literally pulls things apart. In doing this deconstructionists point out that underneath the conditions there is nothing essential. As such, they knock-off any seeming legitimacy which practices may enjoy because they appear to be connected with something fundamental or determinate. Deconstruction, in its more general sense, decenters by dislodging anything that appears essential or ontologically privileged. What distinguishes these contemporary movements of thought is that they represent a move to go outside, as it were, to exteriorize. Specifically, modern and contemporary thought takes the notion of social construction seriously. Human beings and all objects are social constructs. There is nothing inside binding things to a fundamental constitutive foundation of the universe or providing a simple interior point for internal cohesion. There is no-thing.
5. Problems of Decentering for Emancipatory Politics and Social Change Prima facie, decentering lends itself to a radical politics. It does so through its ability to delegitimize social institutions and practices. By going outside, as it were, or exteriorizing phenomena it renders things social, i.e. social constructs. This

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delegitimizes social institutions and practices by severing any seeming connection they may appear to have with something suprahuman, something essential or fundamental, e.g., god, nature, logos, rationality and so forth. This removes the notion of necessity which is associated with suprahuman realms and therewith allows people to notice that what is just as well may not have been. It helps them realize that things could be otherwise. This is radical because it destroys the weight that guards against change: the notion that what is is meant to be. While decentering is radical in this respect, it has shortcomings when it comes to thinking about strategies for change. This is because decentering is mainly critical or a form of criticism. Its constructive element is not apparent. As such, decentering, as a turn of mind, poses significant problems for changing society. For example, decentering provides no countervision from which to criticize the status quo and towards which to orient social change. It provides no notion of freedom or truth or the good life and hence offers no purchase point from which to criticize, or blueprint to consult for social reconstruction. Indeed, it is prentised on the view that nothing can possibly play these roles. A second obstacle toward change posed by the decentering turn of mind is its view of society. Society is a battleground or arena for discursive formations. And, since no single formation ever wins out society consists of layers of disciplining formations, layers of conditionings. This layering is characterized by the crosscutting of disciplining formations which, tumbled on top of and through each other, discloses no logic as to how the different formations connect. Beyond this labyrinthine quality, society has no general character. Discourses are anonymous.58 The result of this understanding of society is that there is no escape, no chance for radical change or emancipation. Because there is no logic to the way discourses connect they discipline us in innumerable ways one can not unpack society and therewith identify the lever or fulcrum to initiate change. The sheer density and anonymity of its discursive network denies such moves. Instead of improving social life then in any serious sense, all strategies simply play into the force relations at large. In place of social change, humanity installs each of its violences in a system of rules and thus proceeds from domination to domination.59 Connected with this problem of change is that the network of discourses is not only complex, dense and labyrinthine, but if one suspends the crosscutting analogy for a moment, there is an aspect in which the layers are like Chinese boxes. They build on each other but disclose nothing in the center, i.e. there is nothing underneath the layers. Specifically, there is no human being underneath discourses. This is significant in terms of social change to the degree that there is no human being to save, emancipate, protect, liberate. Transformative politics and traditional notions of social change in general depend upon a notion of the human subject. For, after all, this is the recipient or raison detre of political transformation. Without this, there is a lack of direction or even reason to engage in social change. An additional obstacle to social change has to do with the notion of power as it is understood from a decentering perspective. Actually there are two obstacles or problems here. The first, which is connected with what was said above about layers, is that because power cannot be located in one place, there is no fulcrum on which society hinges. As such, there is no lever by which one can institute change. Social change has to do with locating power locating the source of the


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problem. A decentered view of power does not allow one to identify a source. There is no independent variable. That is, neither the economic, political nor cultural realm serves as a monological conditioning factor which, if altered, would usher in change. The second problem is that because power is not located in a single place there also is no locus of opposition or resistance. This is to say, while social change requires an ability to identify the source of problems, it also demands that there be some kind of organized effort or agent directed at instituting change. If, however, power is understood to be pervasive and ever changing, the idea of coordinated, strategic opposition becomes problematic. As I see it, all these problems or obstructions to emancipatory politics and social change inherent in the decentering turn of mind derive from the absence of a grand theory. Grand theory provides a systematic understanding of the nature of human beings and society. Specifically, it provides an architectonic conception of what constitutes each of these and how they connect. Without such a map it is unclear how things work. In particular, there is no order within which to identify the source of political problems nor to locate the center of power. As a result, it is impossible to devise strategies for change because there is no target against which to organize or direct energy. In short, grand theory provides a handle or fulcrum on which to situate change. Decentering denies any such move or approach. The result is that the political theorist operating under the rubric of decentering is in a state of paralysis. Decentering poses difficult problems for those seeking social change.
6. Decentered Political Change

Assuming there has been a move away from grand theory and toward the philosophical attitude of decentering, and recognizing the problems this entails for social change, how is one to think about changing society? Specifically, how can one conceive of improving the quality of life given this turn of mind without going the route of piecemeal or personalistic politics? As I see it, given a decentered view of the world, one is left with thinking about change in one of two ways. First, recognizing that society is a matter of discursive formations or conditionings of human life, one can try to characterize these and attack those which appear to oneself as oppressive or insidious. Here one need not have a conception of the human subject, society or history or expect human liberation. One can rely on ones experiential insight. One can simply try to get rid of the seemingly most detrimental discursive formations and, while recognizing one will never be free in any serious sense, can at least alleviate the suffering one witnesses or experiences. This would not be piecemeal politics, as I see it, because it would entail getting rid of huge discursive formations, those on the order of, e.g., hierarchy, militarism or nuclearism. This approach to change is fairly traditional. It thinks in terms of conditionings and, while not necessarily conceiving of human subjects, seeks to get rid of evil or degrading conditions. A second approach to social change in a theoretically decentered world the one I want to suggest is to move beyond the notion of conditionings itself. That is, recognizing that a decentering political attitude has pushed the notion of social conditionings to its extreme seeing everything as a social construct it may

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be time to abandon this way of conceiving society and politics. Those on the left must conceive change outside the rubric of conditionings. Now I am not exactly sure what politics would look like beyond a notion of conditioning. Yet, I have a hunch that thinking beyond the notion may be fruitful. The problem with this approach is that it is very difficult to do. Thinking in terms of conditioning is probably the paradigm of Western political thought. Specifically, almost all political thought that sees something wrong with human political life describes that wrong in terms of a set of conditions that can be righted, altered, modified or abolished. These conditions can either be a set of affairs into which all human beings are born or an historical set of circumstances unique to time and place. In either case, it is through modifying these conditions that human life will be improved. This paradigm is found throughout the tradition of Western political thought. In addition to characterizing traditional political theory, political science itself indeed modern social science in general can be seen as thinking in terms of conditions. Specifically, to the degree that conditioning implies determining or acting upon or governing (in the widest sense of the word), the entire notion of causality is wrapped up with the idea of conditioning. The search for an independent variable is the search for the source of the condition. It is trying to understand what conditions what. Recognizing the degree to which conditioning is ingrained into Western political thinking, it is obviously not going to be easy to think beyond it. Nonetheless, this difficulty may be its very strength. A politics that challenges the ruling paradigm of political thinking may be exactly what the left needs. After all, Marxs thought which has constituted the principle source of vocabulary through which to articulate opposition to the prevailing social order60 broke with the tradition of Western political thought in fundamental ways.61 With the left in shambles throughout most advanced, capitalist countries, it appears that only a challenge on this scale can help the left resuscitate its effectiveness beyond a piecemeal or personalistic politics.
Conclusion Over the past century and a half, left-wing politics can be described as moving away from emancipatory to piecemeal politics. While there are probably important sociological explanations for this, I have suggested that there is a significant theoretical one. This is the demise of grand theory and the predominance of decentering in contemporary thought. Modern and contemporary philosophy have exploded each element that goes into grand theories and have undermined the thrust of the project itself. As a result, they have left the political theorist in a state of paralysis. He or she cannot conceive of avenues toward change (short of piecemeal or personalistic politics) because he or she lacks an understanding that can identify the source of political problems and point out the target of change. Grand theories were able to do this; their demise in the age of decentering has made this very difficult, in fact, close to impossible. In an attempt to combat this difficulty, I suggested one way to think about social change which may avoid the problems inherent in a decentering perspective. Specifically, I suggested that political theorists think beyond the category of conditionings.


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I would like to thank Amy Gutmann, Thomas Rochon and Sheldon Wolin for commenting on earlier versions of this paper. 1. Michel Foucault, Prison Talk, Power/Knowledge, ed. Colin Gordon (New York 1980), 53-54. 2. Elster, Fromm and Avineri, e.g., read Marx in this way. Althusser, who eliminates the subject from Marxist analysis, obviously does not. 3. In Capital Marx writes, labour ... is an external nature-imposed necessity, without which there can be no material exchanges between man and Nature, and therefore no life. (Capital, Volume One, 309.) All citations to Marxs work refer to The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert Tucker (New York 1972). 4. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, 76. 5. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, 76. 6. Theories of Surplus Value, 344-345. 7. See Erich Fromm, Marxs Concept of Man (New York 1967), 60. 8. On the Jewish Question, 33, editors note 1. 9. Jon Elster, Making Sense of Marx (Cambridge 1986), 63. 10. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, 86. 11. Marx makes this point in a slightly different way in his, On the Jewish Question, 46. 12. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, 76. 13. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, 86. 14. For an interesting, if not classic, discussion of Marxs distinction between base and superstructure, see Shlomo Avineri The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx, (Cambridge 1978), 76. 15. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 4. 16. Capital, Volume One, 302-303. 17. See Wage Labour and Capital, 204. 18. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, 71-72. 19. Capital, Volume One, 334. 20. Avineri makes this point in a slightly different way. See Avineri, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx, 179. 21. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, 81. 22. The German Ideology, 164-165. 23. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 5. 24. Fromm, Marxs Concept of Man, 12. 25. Avineri, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx, 64. 26. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 5. 27. The Subject and Power, in Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, ed. Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, (Chicago 1983), 208. 28. Michel Foucault Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York 1977), 102. 29. Barry Smart, Foucault, Marxism and Critique, (London 1983), 86. 30. Nietzsche, Genealogy, History, in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York 1984), 87. 31. I Pierre Riviere, having slaughtered my mother, my sister, and my brother..., ed. Michel Foucault (Nebraska 1982). 32. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume One (New York 1980), 157. 33. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume One, 103. 34. Smart, Foucault, Marxism and Critique, 113. 35. This does not contradict the view that Marx has a specific conception of human nature. Humans are essentially homo laborans and this entails labouring in a specific way, viz. in a way in which people can realize their species-being and be engaged in their activity in a self-conscious, autonomous and creative way. Realizing such a form of labour, however, is a function of the conditions within which people work. And, noting that ideal conditions have yet to exist, Marx holds an normative understanding of human nature. 36. Leslie Paul Thiele, Foucaults Triple Murder and the Modern Development of Power, Canadian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 19, No. 2, June 1986, 246.

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37. Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume One, 136. 38. Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume One, 93. 39. Foucault, Prison Talk, in Power/Knowledge, 39. 40. Foucault, Prison Talk, in Power/Knowledge, 56. 41. Foucault, Prison Talk, in Power/Knowledge, 56-57. 42. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 59-60. 43. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 204. 44. Smart, Foucault, Marxism and Critique, 87. 45. Le Monde, May 3, 1969, 8, quoted in Thiele, Foucaults Triple Murder and the Modern Development of Power, Canadian Journal of Political Science, 253. 46. Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge, (New York 1972), 203. 47. Foucault, Nietzsche, Genealogy, History, The Foucault Reader, 78. 48. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 264-265. 49. Foucault, Truth and Power, in The Foucault Reader, 57. 50. This demise in Marxs grand theory has led sympathetic Marxists like Jon Elster to claim that the only thing left in Marxs political thought is a set of values. See Making Sense of Mart, (Cambridge 1986). 51. Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge, 32. 52. Alan Sheridan, Michel Foucault: The Will to Truth, (New York 1980), 26. 53. Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge, 87. 54. Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, xix. 55. Sheridan, Michel Foucault: The Will to Truth, 199. 56. Sheridan, Michel Foucault: The Will to Truth, 199. 57. Christopher Norris, Deconstruction: Theory and Practice, (London 1982), xii. 58. Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge, 210. 59. Foucault, Nietzsche, Genealogy, History, in The Foucault Reader, 85. 60. Smart, Foucault, Marxism and Critique, 25. 61. See Hannah Arendts discussion of Marx and his relation to the tradition of political thought in Tradition and the Modern Age, in Between Past and Future (New York 1968), 17-40.