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Thesis Eleven

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Book Review: Discursive Analytical Strategies: Understanding Foucault,


Koselleck, Laclau, Luhmann, A Short History of Cultural Studies, Irony and
Crisis: A Critical History of Postmodern Culture, Economy, Culture and
Society: A Sociological Critique of Neo-liberalism
Chamsy el-Ojeili
Thesis Eleven 2005 81: 103
DOI: 10.1177/0725513605051620
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REVIEWS

Niels Akerstrom Andersen, Discursive Analytical Strategies: Understanding Foucault, Koselleck, Laclau, Luhmann (Policy Press, 2003);
John Hartley, A Short History of Cultural Studies (Sage, 2003); Stuart
Sim, Irony and Crisis: A Critical History of Postmodern Culture (Icon,
2002); Barry Smart, Economy, Culture and Society: A Sociological
Critique of Neo-liberalism (Open University Press, 2003)
All of the books under review here are excellent responses to the
familiar sorts of criticisms made of social theory in recent times. According
to some critics, theory is in a bad way today, having become detached from
the real world of struggling and suffering humanity, tending to focus on the
trivial and marginal, and bereft of the sorts of conceptual equipment that
would really allow us to explore contemporary social phenomena.
To start with, one of the troubling things when reading the likes of
Foucault or Laclau is that, stimulating as their approaches and examples
are, it is hardly easy to extract with precision tools and frameworks which
might then be applied to other objects of study. Niels Akerstrom Andersens
Discursive Analytical Strategies promises some help here. Focussing on four
theorists who have thought society as communication or discourse, and
who are deeply implicated in our present, anti-essentialist moment where
the innocence of the empirical collapses (p. xv), Andersen aims to disclose
the different analytical strategies (which he separates from questions of
methodology) at work in each authors writing. An analytical strategy is
defined as a second-order strategy for the observation of how the social
emerges in observation (or enunciations and articulations). The elaboration
of an analytical strategy involves shaping a specific gaze that allows the
environment to appear as consisting of the observations of other people or
systems (p. vi).
I will concentrate, here, on Laclau and Foucault, but Andersen also
considers the analytical strategies of Koselleck and Luhmann. Reinhart Koselleck developed his history of concepts at the end of the 1950s, and, as
Andersen notes, his approach looks rather similar to Laclaus discourse
analysis the formation of identities, the condensation of a wide range of
Thesis Eleven, Number 81, May 2005: 103141
SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi)
Copyright 2005 SAGE Publications and Thesis Eleven Co-op Ltd
DOI: 10.1177/0725513605051620

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104 Thesis Eleven (Number 81 2005)

meaning in the formation of concepts, for instance. Here, Andersen identifies


two analytical strategies: (1) conceptual history the way in which meaning
is condensed into concepts; and (2) semantic field analysis the relationships between concepts and counter-concepts and the resulting establishment of a semantic field. Meanwhile, Andersen finds five analytic strategies
in play in Luhmanns work: (1) form analysis focussing on the distinctions
by which communication works; (2) systems analysis the constitution of
social systems through the establishment of a boundary between system
and environment; (3) differentiation analysis the importance of the
guiding difference similarity/difference; (4) media analysis the difference
form/medium; (5) semantic analysis the distinction condensation/meaning.
In Foucault, Andersen distinguishes four analytical strategies archaeological discourse analysis, genealogy, self-technology analysis, and dispositive analysis. Andersens approach is lucid and enlightening, with, for
instance, important questions of archaeological discourse analysis such as,
When is a statement a statement?, or When is regularity a regularity that
can be defined as a discursive formation? (p. 9). He also provides some very
good illustrations in the many shaded boxes throughout the text. For
example, of the sorts of questions asked by dispositive analysis which
focuses on the interconnections between different discourses, institutions,
practices, self-technologies, tactics and so on, within a particular period
(p. 27) Andersen gives the following illustration: In what way does the
educational way of seeing become a general schematic and strategy for
organising, and how is the educational scheme propagated and apparatised
in employee discourses, self-technologies, office architecture, and so on?
(p. 31). As for self-technology analysis, this involves procedures that
prescribe how the individual is to define, maintain and develop her/his
identity with a view to self-control and self-awareness (p. 25).
In the case of Laclau, while I would dispute his assertion that
Hegemony and Socialist Strategy represents Laclaus final departure from
Marxism, Andersen does a good job in separating a deconstructive from a
hegemonic analysis in Laclau, and he asks important questions such as,
When is a nodal point . . . firmly anchored? (p. 95). While the deconstructive analytical strategy asks, Which infinite logic is installed with a specific
duality?, the key question of hegemonic analysis is, How are discourses
established through never-concluded battles about the fixation of floating
elements of signification? (p. 62).
In a final chapter, Andersen responds that, yes, we could combine
analytical strategies such as Laclaus hegemonic analysis with Luhmanns
analysis of semantics, but we would need to be careful about what happens
if more than one guiding distinction is in play. This chapter is dedicated to
getting clear about such guiding distinctions within the various analytical
strategies canvassed such as regularity/dispersion of statements in the case
of Foucaults archaeological discourse strategy, or continuity/discontinuity in

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Reviews 105

the case of his genealogical analytical strategy. It is also concerned with what
he calls problems of conditioning (for instance, when is a statement a statement? in Foucaults archaeology, or why this particular distinction? in
Laclaus deconstructive analysis). And, third, awareness of the fixation of
point of observation (for instance, which discursive problem is pursued? in
Foucaults archaeology, or what is the discursive reference? in Laclaus
hegemonic analysis) is also important.
Elucidation and accessibility around difficult intellectual and political
questions are also concerns for John Hartley in his A Short History of Cultural
Studies, but the mode of address couldnt be less like Andersens. Hartleys
is a hip, racy, engaging, conversational prose his second chapter is, for
example, entitled Culture from Arnold to Schwarzenegger. This approach is
in line with Hartleys own background as part of a strand of cultural studies
he characterizes as the democratization branch, as against the struggle
branch. Into the former category fall Fiske and Morris, and one gets the
strong sense that Hartley would feel clearly in accord with the latters,
Classical utopian writing depresses me profoundly, and my idea of an
empowering vision of the future is the ending of Terminator 2: Judgement
Day (p. 56). This branch of cultural studies is intent on reading the signs in
the street, is attentive to meaning, more optimistic, concerned and interested
in the ordinary and in cultural citizenship.
All this has made for a wonderfully entertaining read, as Hartley ranges
across all those very familiar and less familiar cultural studies debates, spectacular interventions, key texts and moments, and heartfelt feuds, embracing
Mrs Beeton and Malevich, New Labour and Adbusters within a few pages of
each other. This is just as well, because as Hartley notes, there is much
debate about what cultural studies (a philosophy of plenty) is variously
accused of being too political and not political enough, as bereft of method
or too academically institutionalized, as too activist or too academic, as too
celebratory or too critical, as too English or too American (p. 12). Hartley
is refreshingly good-humoured and non-dogmatic about all this though it
is clear, in the end, where his sympathies lie.
For Hartley, the project of cultural studies is launched by George
Bernard Shaw in 1937 with Pelican Books republication of The Intelligent
Womans Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. And it is
Pelican who issue cultural studies founding texts, from Freuds The Psychopathology of Everyday Life to Virginia Woolfs The Common Reader, to the
big three of British cultural studies culturalist prehistory The Uses of
Literacy, Culture and Society, and The Making of the English Working Class.
Of course, it is then Allen Lane who capitalize the CCCS (Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies) in the mid-1960s. And Hartley continues his
interesting survey of cultural studies and publishing towards the end of
the book with the Americanization of cultural studies and the appearance of
The Reader. Here, Hartley tracks changes in cultural studies between the

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1983 conference, textualized in Nelson and Grossbergs Marxism and the


Interpretation of Culture, and the fractious 1990 conference at Illinois (Grossberg, Nelson and Treichlers Cultural Studies).
This move to America and the transformation of cultural studies are
summarized for many, Hartley points out, in the name of John Fiske. On the
phenomenon of Fiskeism, Hartley has this to say:
Fiske was an example of what would have been called in the days of Hoggart
and Allen Lane a populariser, in the pedagogic sense. He was trying to bring
together academic, theoretical and intellectual work, on the one hand, and
popular culture, everyday life and embodied practices, on the other. . . . He
simplified (sometimes overly). He illustrated (sometimes causing the single case
to stand for a whole class of evidence). He introduced great theorists
(sometimes getting them wrong). He tried to convey the excitement and utility
of doing things with ideas. . . . He wore his progressive heart on his sleeve
(sometimes his positions were quite conservative). . . . Criticising John Fiske for
bad theory was always going to be poor sport. It was like kicking a dog for
not being a cat. (pp. 1656)

Despite these reservations, though, Hartley, as Ive said, places himself


in this broad camp. After culture becomes a hot potato, he hardly wants to
go with the image that cultural theorists of both Right and Left often painted
of the masses as not fully alive, as vile and base, of popular culture and
popular enfranchisement in matters of taste as the problem. He has no real
interest in the dupe or the dope theory of the culture industries; he is
gently mocking of the tendency of Marxist-influenced cultural studies to
sound like the Monty Python crew doing their piece, What have the Romans
ever done for us?, the assumption that Nothing could be right till everything
was . . . after the kettle boiled (pp. 978); hes unimpressed by the residue
of pessimistic elitism of the joining of political economy and cultural studies;
and he couldnt be further from Halls I dont give a damn about it [popular
culture] (p. 104). Some indication of this is given by the inclusion as cover
of Olga Tobrelutss strangely beautiful Sacred Figure 1, Kate Moss (1999)
a perfect exemplification of redactional society (the expansion outwards of
fashion into society, the mixing of cultural ingredients, and the emergence
of a visually literate population).
Ones inner-Marxist might, at some points, get irritated at the underlying populism, or detect a lack of criticality at work. Did we really, for
instance, need to hear so much from the tedious Tom Wolfe in Chapter One?
Yet, in the end, this sort of reaction is clearly out of place. Hartley is, for
example, fair but ultimately unimpressed by the cultural policy turn within
cultural studies: its intervening in the wrong place publicly funded institutions when people get most of their cultural experiences in a commercial marketplace. And of the turn by Third Way governments to the creative
industries, Hartley responds that they leave out the obvious opposition
immediately countering with Klein, Adbusters, and culture jamming.

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At its best, for Hartley, cultural studies will appeal to the intelligent
layman, the imagined reader of cultural studies origins; it would continue,
too, to focus on those things that cultural studies has done best disregarded
zones, respect for ordinary life, textuality, popular culture and entertainment,
consumption, the way in which people negotiate their everyday lives, difference (pp. 151, 122).
The great wealth of reference and general astuteness of Hartleys book
is also evident in Stuart Sims Irony and Crisis: A Critical History of Postmodern
Culture. However, because the function of the book is different a sourcebook for students, says the back cover Sims voice is never as strong and
clear, amidst a mass of extremely well chosen, and often extremely lengthy,
quotations. This is certainly not a problem, as it is such a fabulous sourcebook, which covers, incredibly, the emergence, philosophy, sociology and
politics, science and technology, and aesthetics of the post-modern.
As Sim notes, The variety of viewpoints on the phenomenon is striking
(p. 5), and he quotes Tim Woods exasperated: The term gets everywhere,
but no one can quite explain what it is (p. 8). Despite this, Sim gets the
logic of development and coverage exactly right, I think. For instance, his
chapter on the philosophy of the postmodern begins with a solid section on
Kant, then moves progressively, and at an appropriate pace, through
Nietzsche, Adorno, Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari,
Lyotard, Rorty, Habermas, the Marxist reaction (Callinicos, Jameson, Derridas
Spectres of Marx), and finally into apposite questions from Zizek and from
feminism.
For Sim, you cannot escape postmodernism (p. 251); it has altered
the ground rules in a range of areas. Although the voice is not a strong one,
and it is not really sure that he manages to answer the question he sets
himself as to why irony and crisis have come to dominate the cultural scene
in the West, it is obvious that Sim takes a Bauman-type view of the postmodern, seeing the decline of the metanarrative as a politically good thing:
postmodernisms critique of authority is an extremely valuable one (p. 251).
Here, looking back in irony is deemed a positive, against the ills of the
modernist obsession with control. Postmodernity, then, is not nihilistic but
is underscored as a critique of the moral failings of modernity.
Barry Smarts Economy, Culture and Society: A Sociological Critique of
Neo-liberalism, like Sims book, is massively synthetic, drawing together all
important work on the state of play in economy, culture, and society by the
classical sociologists and by those recent social critics of neo-liberal globalization Castells, Beck, Gray, Klein, Bauman, Bourdieu, Ritzer, Harvey, Gorz,
Lash and Urry, Jameson, Galbraith, Sennett, and others. The voice is, though,
clear and compelling, and it is, I think, an important book that should
become a central text for those teaching in the areas of policy, social theory,
political sociology, globalization, and so on.
Smart begins with the way in which the relationship between economy

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and society is presented within the sociological classics. The cultural turn
has meant a movement away from this classical focus. For Smart, an
economic (re)turn within contemporary social theory is both necessary and
to be welcomed (p. 174), because so much economic thinking has managed
to detach itself from institutions, mistaking the model for the world. In this
vein, Durkheim was critical of the neglect by classical economists of the
societal context, and he opposed their sad portrait of the isolated egoist
(p. 14). Instead, economic functions are not their own justification; they are
only a means to an end; they constitute one of the organs of social life
(Durkheim, p. 16).
Smart then launches into analyses of the economic transformations of
the past three decades, and he critiques the neo-liberal justifications for these
transformations. As Zizek has noted, it now seems easier to imagine the end
of the world than the end of capitalism. This substantial closing of the
political universe involves an astounding historical amnesia, where the
original movement away from the market towards regulation, because of
the markets lethal injury to the institutions in which social existence is
embodied (Polanyi, p. 30), is completely forgotten about. Polanyis analysis
of the great transformation, where the primacy of society over the economic
system was secured, seems a lifetime away, given the shift over the last 30
years back to the market utopia and to the individual, with the transitions
variously captured by phrases such as post-Fordism, disorganised capitalism, the crisis of governability, and flexible accumulation. Although
drawing on Harveys and Lash and Urrys analyses, here Smart is rightly
critical of the lack of sustained interest they show in the importance of the
neo-liberal programme. This programme completely occludes the reality that,
as Gray has pointed out, free markets are a product of artifice, design and
political coercion (p. 43).
The closing of the political universe with neo-liberalism sees Smart
making a welcome return to Marcuses notion of imposed needs connected
to dominant interests, in the face of the rhetoric of consumer choice and the
reality of perpetual management and manipulation of consumers. Despite the
passing of important coordinates in which he worked the industrial society,
the threat of communism Marcuses intervention has vital resonances, with
the increased focus on advertising, marketing, and branding of the consumer
society, the triumph of exchange value above all other value, and the effacement of critical distance. The move from production to consumption sees
greater economic insecurity and identity, social recognition, and integration
centred on consumption, with less satisfaction, security, and meaning for
work (which, for many, are transformed into McJobs). Meanwhile, a work
ethic gives way to an imperative to consume (for those not completely
excluded from this world). For those who can be part of the new
consumerism, it is, in Smarts estimation, less sovereignty than postmodern
serfdom and bondage to the imperative to consume that issues.

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The effect of branding, whereby culture becomes little more than a


collection of brand extensions (Klein, p. 72), is part of what Weber identified
as the markets operation without regard for persons (p. 84). Smart provides
excellent treatments of both Hayeks and Friedmans praises of the market
and its benefits; and he contests those assertions with criticisms of negative
liberty, showing how the market undermines rather than promotes the autonomous character necessary for real choice. He also spends some time arguing
for the moral limits to markets these limits clear in the issue of the commodification of human organs.
This market utopianism also, argues Smart, threatens to issue in what
Galbraith called private opulence and public squalor (p. 137). The shortsightedness of the current animus against the public sphere and the growth
of a culture of contentment, where the main concerns for voters centre
around protecting their current position and securing future prospects,
means a loss of civitas (Bell) and a lack of interest in the vagabond poor.
Smarts great synthetic effort seeks, then, to identify this retreat from
the economic and to combat the disconnection between economics and
human well-being. In this, the analytic responses of Castells and Bourdieu
are championed. The task for sociologists, that is, is to provide a rigorous,
relevant and accurate account of the world, to develop the tools necessary
to expose the myths and deconstruct the doctrines and policies that have
acquired the status of self-evidence and, in turn, to reinterpret and promote
understanding of the world we live in (p. 173).
Smarts identification of the tasks ahead, and the approaches taken in
the three other books under review, can perhaps be read as part of what
Gregor McLennan has called the new positivity in the social sciences. That
is, these accounts are animated by the desire to really say something substantial about the world we are living in, without relinquishing for a moment an
insistence on the inescapable importance of theory. The mode here is
engaged and reflexive, intellectually generous and non-dogmatic, wideranging and poised, all signalling the apparent good health of contemporary
social theory.
Reviewed by Chamsy el-Ojeili
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
email: chamsy.el-ojeili@vuw.ac.nz

Chamsy el-Ojeili, From Left Communism to Post-Modernism: Reconsidering Emancipatory Discourse (University Press of America, 2003)
Its always refreshing to read a book of political theory that makes no
qualms about the practical purposes for which it has been written. As this
texts final sentence makes clear, el-Ojeili has chosen to address the legacy

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