MARXISMS: Part 5 – Post-Marxism and Cultural Studies

Marxism no longer as influential as it was in the past for culture studies, which brings us to post-Marxism and it’s perceptions for culture studies. After all, Marxist-type governance was kind of a big failure in practice. And it has been restrained by its on-the-surface problems: these “immutable laws of history” and the out and out rejection of ideology and all the culture and symbols around it.

Post-Marxism can mean two things:

  1. post Marxist – leave behind Marxism for something better
  2. post-Marxism – seek to transform Marxism into something better by incorporating feminism, postmodernism, post-structuralism and Lacanian psychoanalysis. (For Ernesto Laclau, post-Marxist thought leader)

Laclau and Mouffe more post-Marxist, and envision Marxism partnered with new feminism, protest movements, anti-nuclear, etc.

Cultural studies are post-Marxist

Discourse essential to post-Marxism.

Discourse – Laclau has a complicated definition, but basically, discourse is both the verbal and non-verbal movements of any social configuration. The words spoken, the perceptions created by the words, implied communication, and their contexts.

So many great examples given, but “objects exist independently of their discursive articulation, but it is only within discourse that they can exist as meaningful objects”

Think of earthquakes: earthquakes are what they are. However, whether they’re considered a natural occurrence or the wrath of god depends on the “structuring discursive field.”

Translating the importance of discourse to politics/ideology is simple. “Meanings produced in discourse inform and organize action.” Only with discourse can a subordinate relationship become oppressive. For the relationship to be considered oppressive, the oppressee must realize it.

They key in hegemony is to turn that antagonism into “simple differences.” (It’s not that I, a rich person, am oppressing you, the poor, we’re just different, that’s all. We need both rich and poor. There’s nothing oppressive about this relationship.)

Articulation, an important concept for post-Marxism. Articulation consists in “the partial fixing of meaning.”

For Hall, it’s a way to explain the ways “in which culture is a terrain of ideological struggle.” Meaning is always the result of articulation. Articulation, fixing meanings, think of the word nigger and how the different accent used by black performers compared to white racists changes the meaning of the word. How it’s articulated changes its meaning.

Think of Rastafarianism and Reggae, which are anti-capitalist, and the monetary success that comes with producing a popular reggae album. Reggae “is a force for change that paradoxically stabilizes the very forces of power it seeks to overthrow.”

Articulation (also) – “The way in which dominant groups in a society attempt to negotiate oppositional voices on to a terrain which secures for the dominant groups a continued position of leadership.”

The connection between meaning and culture: “There is the social definition of culture, in which culture is a description of a particular way of life, which expresses certain meanings and values not only in art and learning but also in institutions and ordinary behavior. The analysis of culture, from such a definition, is the clarification of the meanings and values implicit in a particular way of life”

So, culture is all forms of social activity, not just high art, etc. Not that opera and stuff isn’t actually better and more high-minded, but we can’t understand a society unless we consider other stuff as culture. So, Laclau/Mouffe/post-Marxists define culture as “the production, circulation, and consumption of meanings.”

Post-Marxist cultural studies draw two conclusions from all of this:

  1. “Although the world exists in all its enabling and constraining materiality outside culture, it is only in culture that the world can be made to mean.
  2. “Because different meanings can be ascribed to the same ‘text’, meaning making is always a potential site of struggle/negotiation.”

Post-Marxists don’t think the masses are passive! They make the culture. It’s not all on the influence of elites. Now, let’s not give popular culture too much credit. It’s just not the wasteland of cultural death some scholars believe it to be.

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