ReadySteadyBlog

Larval Subjects (via wood s lot) discussing Social Multiplicities and Agency:


Increasingly I am coming to feel that Continental social and political theory – especially in its French inflection coming out of the Althusserian, Foucaultian, Lacanian, and structuralist schools – woefully simplifies the social and therefore is led to ask the wrong sorts of questions where questions of political change is concerned ... [we] need to look at the variety of different social formations from individuals, to small associations like groups (the blog collective for instance), to larger groupings and institutions, to global interrelations, treating none of these as hegemonizing all the others, but instead discerning their varying temporalities, organizations, inter-relations, points of antagonism, and so on. This, I think, is far closer to Marx’s own vision – or at least the spirit of his analyses in texts like Grundrisse and Capital.

E.P. Thompson’s critique of Althusser in his excellent The Poverty of Theory (1978) hangs in the air here — and rightly so. Thompson's account is still sharp and wholly relevant: empirical, local and humanistic (and I know that that is a bogey word!)


With regard to evolutionary theory highlighting the possible ways that change can occur in societies, the work of Chris Knight (Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture) shows the way. Knight argues that we became human via a revolutionary sex strike ... you’ll learn more from radicalanthropologygroup.org.

Readers Comments

  1. Very interesting post. This is what I said in the comments box:

    I think you may be tiptoeing up to the subject a bit timidly when you should, in my opinion, just dive in and embrace it. You say:

    “I certainly have no wish to “biologize” social and political thought or adopt a socio-biological standpoint.”

    Well, why not? Give it a try, see what it’s like. Take it as far as it goes. You quote Gould, like many with left sympathies, but although Gould is wonderful in so many ways, I think he and his fellow travellers have had a poisonous intellectual influence. Far better, I think, to embrace the orthodoxy, ie, “reductionist” selfish-gene Darwinism. I’m currently reading Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature”, and I’m more convinced of this than ever. True, Pinker gets out of his depth when discussing politics and Marx; he contradicts himself; and he’s got all the blindspots you’d expect from a Western, bourgeois liberal. But on the science and all the broad issues, he’s more right than wrong.

    So I agree with you that if we want to think about social and political change, then we need evolutionary theory and cognitive science and so on. But you need the hardcore stuff from Pinker and Dawkins, not the wet left polemics of Gould et al.

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