The problem with grievance studies - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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#15014168
If you ever wondered where the inane progressive ideas and jargon that are everywhere today come from, here's a short and instructive history. The article also tries to tell you why this ideology should worry reasonable people:

The problem with grievance studies

For a long time, my colleagues and I had been trying to raise with leftist academics a problem of corrupted scholarship in women’s studies, queer studies and other “grievance studies” based on identity politics and postmodernism. We ourselves are left-wing liberal sceptics. James Lindsay is a mathematician who has written much on the psychology of religion and advised on ideological extremism. Peter Boghossian is a philosopher dealing with how we arrive at knowledge and make truth claims. I am a literature and history student of the ways in which mediavel women negotiated the Christian narrative.

People could see the grievance studies problem on campuses but they thought we were overstating it. So my colleagues and I spent a year proving our case, and what came to be known as the “grievance studies hoax” was documented along the way by filmmaker Mike Nayna. We set ourselves to the task of writing grievance studies papers, and we got seven accepted for publication because our papers were indistinguishable from genuine ones that influence social justice activism, politics and culture today.

We used two methods. Sometimes we looked at some of the worst ideas coming out of a field and then put them together and expanded on them. This is how we ended up with our paper arguing that only marginalised groups are allowed to use humour and mocking or criticising social justice scholarship is completely unacceptable and must be punished. That one was called an excellent contribution to feminist philosophy. This also produced our paper arguing that astronomy should include feminist and queer astrology and the one arguing that white students should be chained to the floor in classrooms. Reviewers were very positive about both of these and they were progressing well through the system. Sometimes we just thought up something really awful and found a way to make the scholarship fit it. This is how we ended up publishing a paper on how unwanted dog humping in dogparks demonstrated that nightclubs were rape-condoning spaces and that men should be trained like dogs. It’s also how we published a piece arguing that society only values bodies built with muscle rather than with fat because of fatphobia and advocating a form of non-competitive fat bodybuilding. It also how we published a rewrite of a section of Mein Kampf as intersectional feminism.

We had to conclude our probe early but it was not the reviewers of grievance journals who caught us. They did not see our claim to have examined 10,000 dog genitals and analysed this according to black feminist criminology as a bit fishy. It was journalists. They saw the problem with it. The public saw the problem with it. The system supposed to root it out did not.

This is not a problem confined to esoteric arguments between intellectuals. Liberal academia has great cultural power and historically this has served us well. Now, infected by postmodernism, this relativism has seeped into mainstream liberal culture. It has done so through politics, philosophy, media, art and social justice movements. A whole generation of students were exposed to these ideas and went on to become leaders of various industries. These key ideas were distilled into bite-sized, user-friendly chunks for activists and passed into the social conscience of mainstream society. They traded on the good name of the civil rights movement, second wave liberal feminism, and Gay Pride.

What our “grievance studies” sting shows is that something has changed in the way we think about knowledge, in the way we think about language and in the way we think about identity. Something has changed in the way we understand society and power and equality. We all value social justice, don’t we? So why don’t the ideas we hear under that label — Social Justice — seem like the way to create a just society? Why does social justice require censorship, deplatforming and social media dogpiles? How is it socially just to ascribe collective blame to a whole sex or race? What has happened to the idea that the way to beat bad ideas is with better ones? Or that it is morally good not to evaluate people by their race, gender or sexuality?

We are seeing a widespread shift from some well-established and productive ideas that can be said to underpin our modern society, to some highly inconsistent and destructive ones. A new cultural logic is emerging in the west. Those modern ideas: reason, evidence, science, the marketplace of ideas, freedom of speech, the individual and liberal values applied consistently are the best of 500 years of intellectual and moral progress. They can be referred to as “the modernity project,” “the Enlightenment project” or simply as “liberal secular democracy.” Over the modern period, roughly the last 500 years, we moved away from the premodern ethos of divine revelation and towards reason and evidence as sources of truth. Science developed and diversified. We became more liberal and more secular. We made universities the powerhouses of knowledge and advanced rapidly in understanding our world and ourselves. We began to see the individual as the unit of society and develop universal human rights regardless of race, gender or sexuality.

What, then, are these newer ideas? What is “Social Justice?” Isn’t that a continuation of the moral progress of society that gradually unfolded during the modern period?

No. Social Justice is postmodern. It explicitly rejects the fruits of modernity, considering them at best naive and simplistic and at worst, patriarchal, white supremacist and imperialist. It seeks to put the epistemology — how we know what is true — and ethics — how we determine what is right — of modernity behind us and move into a new era where science is just one way of knowing the world and it is corrupted by power. It asserts a conception of society as entirely constructed of systems of power and privilege which are upheld by discourses — ways of talking about things. It insists that multiple knowledges exist and are related to identity; that white, male, western knowledge has unfairly dominated and now it is time for it to step back and let other knowledges have priority.

Very many people see the symptoms of the problem whether they call it “identity politics” or “political correctness” but they may not understand where these ideas are coming from and how they work. The ideas that are troubling us now have their origins in an intellectual shift that took place in the late 1960s known as “postmodernism.” Postmodernism is best understood as a reaction against modernity. So what are the ideas postmodernism reacted against? To properly understand that we need to go back even further and briefly look at premodernity.

The medieval period in Europe is often referred to as the Dark Ages when in reality, there was considerable creativity, both practical and artistic going on throughout it. Nevertheless, in terms of epistemology — knowledge — and ethics — morality-, premodern times were pretty dark. For the premoderns,

• Religion is objectively true, and humans can obtain truth by adhering foremost to the word of God.
• That truth is the same for everyone and everyone must be kept to it.
• Language is inherently dangerous. Heresy damns souls. Therefore, speech must be monitored carefully and offenders punished.
• There is such a thing as a human nature but it is sinful and must be restrained.
• Individuality is not valued. Instead, people are seen as part of collectives in which they have set roles to play.

These ideas began to be overturned in the modern period. The Renaissance brought with it a form of humanism in which ideas from the ancient Hebrews and Ancient Greeks could be considered. Art expanded. The Reformation brought a greater sense of individuality and the first arguments for freedom of belief and speech, in that it was each person’s right to read and interpret the bible for themselves. They now had a personal relationship with God. The Enlightenment brought a greater respect for reason, and the scientific revolution ushered in a greater respect for evidence and testing. Liberalism arose and with it a sense of the individual and his right to freedom and self-development. The civil rights movements expanded these liberal concepts of rights and freedom and equal opportunities to women and to ethnic and sexual minorities. The core ideas of modernity are:

• Objective truth exists, and humans can get closer to it by using evidence and reason. We call this science.
• Objective truth is, in principle, accessible to everyone and the same for everyone although different experiences of it exist.
• Language, while occasionally slippery, is generally reliable and it is how humans can communicate and advance knowledge. Thus, all ideas must be able to be discussed by anyone and challenged by anyone.
• Principles of secular, liberal democracy, human rights, freedoms and opportunity should apply universally. Human nature exists and merits human rights.
• Universality and individuality are key to a thriving and free society. That is, all rights and responsibilities must apply universally to all people and all individuals must be free to make their own choices and fulfil their own potential. They must not be constrained in any way by their identity or their collective.

Of course, it did not happen that the modern period began and all these wonderful, liberal, empirical and rational ideas popped into existence all at once and then everything was great. Postmodernists and others who like to be sceptical of progress often like to claim the defenders of modernity to think this. But we know that the modern period saw slavery, colonialism, the tyranny of monarchs and the church, war, genocide, famine, racism, sexism and homophobia. So did every other period. Modernity was the one in which we gained the capacity to realise they were wrong. Not all at once and not in a straight line. This progress took hundreds of years but in terms of human history, it was remarkably fast.

So uncommon to human societies was this, in fact, that the societies that have benefited from it are referred to as WEIRD societies. Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic. And they are weird. But they are the reason I, an atheist woman, am able to read and develop my own ideas and speak and write them. They are also how I travelled across the world in a day to speak to you having not died in childbirth. Because progress is not a myth. It is measurable in so many ways including poverty, education, fatal diseases, infant mortality as well as human rights. These are the fruits of modernity. The postmodernists do not value these fruits. They see modernity as a time of empire and exploitation, of patriarchy and white supremacy. And they see these oppressive systems as being upheld and justified by science, by reason and by liberalism.

Postmodernism arose in the late 1960s and it emerged in several fields all at once. French theorist Jean-Francois Lyotard defined it as a scepticism towards metanarratives. By this he meant large overarching explanations of the world or society. He included Christianity in this and Marxism but also science. He argued that knowledge is constructed by language games and inextricably linked with power. For another French thinker, Michel Foucault, power and knowledge were so inextricably linked that he made one word of them “power-knowledge” and he argued that this existed on all levels of society and was perpetuated by discourses -ways of speaking about things.

This idea has been particularly influential so it is worth taking a minute to get our heads around it. The Marxist idea of power was that it came from above and that the rich exploited the poor in an economic hierarchy. In this conception of society power can be imagined like a weight pressing down from above. Foucault disagreed with this. For him, power worked through everyone on all levels of society. This happened through discourses. It is not that one class of people had power and imposed it on others but that certain ways of talking about things became established as knowledge. This served the interests of powerful groups in society, usually straight white men, and these discourses are then accepted and perpetuated by everybody, thereby creating inequality. People are born as blank slates into a system of discourses and positioned by their race, gender, class and sexuality within systems of power. They then learn to perform that role and to police others in performing theirs, whether they realise what they are doing or not. The same discourses — say, men should be dominant and women submissive — are spoken by the most powerful and the least powerful and they do the same work of upholding power structures. In this conception of society, power can be imagined as linguistic software programmed in the service of the powerful and rolled out across culture. For Foucault, society had not got better in the modern period. It had simply found new ways to oppress and police its citizens via discourses. According to Jacques Derrida, meaning itself was unstable. Language referred to nothing but itself and it was arranged hierarchically so that one referent was always superior to the other. Women, therefore, are understood as both not being men and being inferior to men. Therefore, we need to unpick language on the level of the word.

For the postmodernists, then, knowledge was simply a construct of language — of dominant discourses — and it operated in the service of keeping some groups dominant and some marginalised and powerless. Is this sounding familiar? Smaller but consistent themes arose from this postmodern conception of the world. Language is inherently dangerous again, just as it was in the premodern times and it must be monitored again and transgressions punished. The categories by which we understand our world are all inherently unstable and oppressive. Reason and emotion. Facts and fiction. Male and female. Cultural relativism is the inevitable result of this belief that both knowledge and ethics are oppressive constructs of power. To say that scientific ways of gathering knowledge are better than religious/cultural or traditional beliefs is just to assert one’s own superiority. It is imperialistic. To say that cultures in which women and LGBT people are given equal rights and freedoms are better than ones in which they are not is imperialistic. And it stems from a cultural bias which fails to recognise the inherent oppression in western systems. To think in terms of a universal human nature or the individual as one who develops his or her own abilities and makes his or her own choices and evaluations of the world is simply to try to impose an oppressive system which privileges straight white men on everybody else.

[The original postmodernism — what I call the deconstructive phase of postmodernism — burnt itself out fairly quickly. It was too deconstructive. There was really nothing that could be done with it if language was so radically unreliable and knowledge about society so impossible to obtain. By the mid 1980s, the immensely prolific stream of postmodern writing began to dry up. But postmodernism did not die. Some academics would like to tell you that it did, but it was the contention of my group of scholars that these core ideas had, in fact, simply evolved and become more user-friendly. We called the next phase “Applied Postmodernism” because of this. In the same way that the original postmodernism had sprung up from various disciplines all at once at the end of the 1960s, so the next wave did so at the end of the 1980s. They came from postcolonial theory, critical race theory, intersectional feminism and queer theory.

By this time — on a societal level — the rapid stream of progress that had been coming from the Civil Rights Movement, liberal feminism and Gay Pride was starting to show diminishing returns. With racial and gendered discrimination criminalised in employment, with homosexuality decriminalised, legal equality was largely won. But prejudice doesn’t simply go away. What remained was to tackle attitudes and expectations and what people believed about the world. It was time to tackle discourses. Of course, postmodernism was perfect for this. From various parts of the humanities which looked at social justice issues, scholars began to write about the need to adapt postmodernism. It was useful, they felt, in that it regarded knowledge as a social construct, but no progress could be made unless some things were objectively true. They couldn’t address, say, racism unless it is true that the perception of races exist and some of them commonly experience prejudice on the grounds of it. Therefore, what became objectively true was the conception of systems of power and privilege that oppressed women, people of colour and the LGBT. We can know they are there even when we can’t see them so now we need to analyse discourses so we can see them.

Postcolonial theory arose first and took on the beliefs of postmodernism wholesale. However, it had a purpose now. Its purpose was to deconstruct colonial narratives of the east being superstitious, irrational and violent in contrast to a reasoning, scientific and liberal west. However, postcolonialists did not point out that science, reason and liberalism belong to everyone and that scientists, secularists and liberals exist everywhere. It perpetuated the idea that science, reason and liberalism were western but now they were bad. Or at least, traditional and religious ways of knowing were just as good and had been unfairly devalued so western values need to get out of the way now. From postcolonialism, we get the idea that everything from curricula to hairstyles needs to be decolonised. This is where we learn that adopting the best of other cultures is cultural appropriation.

From within queer theory, scholars looked at how we arrived at the categories of male and female, masculine and feminine, heterosexual and homosexual. They asked why we think it is normal for men to be masculine and attracted to women or for women to be feminine and attracted to men. These, they decided, ignoring the fact that we’re a sexually reproducing species, are entirely social constructs and they are oppressive ones brought about by an over-reliance on science. Foucault called this ‘biopower.’ It is not only gender that is a social construct. Biological sex is too.

Within critical race theory, the postmodern scholars accepted Foucault’s concept of unacknowledged discourses of power and privilege that permeated everything and they set out to look for them and find them. White people, we are told, are inherently racist. Black people, we are told, cannot be. Because of the way power works. Racism is prejudice plus power. A power imbalance must be present in any interaction between white people and non-white people and the key is to find it. To disagree with any identification of racism is to be wilfully ignorant and fragile.

Intersectional feminism arose out of critical race theory and swallowed up all other forms of feminism. Now all analyses must include race, gender identity, sexuality, physical ability, religion, immigration status and weight. From within intersectionality, we get the kind of diversity which is all about identity features and nothing to do with diversity of ideas. We get the kind of inclusion which excludes all ideas and people who do not agree with intersectionality. Again, it is entirely cultural constructivist. Biological differences between men and women cannot be accepted to exist.

More recently we have seen the rise of critical studies of ableism and Fat studies. These draw to a great extent on queer theory. They ask themselves why we think it is better for body parts to work normally and for people not to be morbidly obese. They answer themselves that it is because science, that false authority that seeks to police and oppress people, has declared it to be so due to underlying hatred of disabled and fat people. They advocate a different form of knowledge. One that relies on the lived experience of disabled and fat people. Unless they would prefer not to be disabled or fat in which case they have internalised this medicalised oppression and need to be reprimanded or ignored.

This entire mess of ideologically motivated, science-denying activity comes under the banner of what is known as Social Justice scholarship or what my colleagues and I called “grievance studies.” We called it this because it begins from the assumption of a grievance and then it bends the available theories to confirm it. It is utterly committed to the postmodern conception of society as a system of power and privilege. It does not seek disconfirming evidence or leave open the possibility that a situation can be explained in any other way. There is no methodology apart from reading situations through these theories and when you have found a way to detect the presence of racism or sexism, you have succeeded. This cannot be considered knowledge production. Because of the radical scepticism of science or objective truth and the commitment to the belief that all imbalances are socially constructed, grievance studies catastrophically limits its ability to find truth. This is particularly a problem within gender studies. Biological explanations for why men and women may make different choices, display different degrees of psychological traits, have different interests or exhibit different sexual behaviours cannot be included in analyses. The explanation must be the effects of dominant discourses that disadvantage women. Because of this, language is analysed in a highly paranoid and offence-seeking way. Micro-aggressions are detected, racism and sexism identified. Heteronormativity — acting as though heterosexuality is the default sexuality — is called out. Cisnormativity — acting as though people usually identify with the sex their reproductive systems indicate is condemned.

Freedom of speech and viewpoint diversity are not valued within this system. Within the traditionally liberal concept of the marketplace of ideas, it is believed that all ideas can be spoken. They can be discussed and challenged and refuted and the best ones will win. This is rejected by the postmodern conception of society, because it is assumed that dominant discourses are constructs of power and dominant groups in society are committed to ensuring that they maintain their power. The knowledges of marginalised groups are neglected and may not even be recognised to exist. From this we get the rapidly growing field of Social Justice epistemology. Recall that epistemology is how we decide what is true. In the premodern period, it was the word of God, then in the modern period, it gradually became science and reason. In the postmodern period, there are multiple truths and multiple knowledges but white, male western ones win out and this needs to be remedied. There is a moral imperative to achieve justice for other ways of knowing believed to belong to women and people of colour and trans people. An enormous body of work has built up around this and a whole new vocabulary.

On the surface, grievance studies can appear like real scholarship. It goes through the processes. Papers get written and deemed sound by peer review. Other scholars build on it and so knowledge grows. Except in this case, it does not. It is unevidenced and ideologically motivated ideas which are being built up. It is not the peer review system which has failed. That is only as good as the criteria on which it is based and those in grievance studies are based on postmodernism. The process of knowledge production is a complicated one but we, in modern universities developed one which has served us extremely well. Someone writes a paper. They make as sure as they can that it is well-evidenced and well-reasoned and then they submit it for peer review. Expert reviewers then go through it and if they also think it is well-evidenced and well-reasoned, it published. Then comes the real test. Other people try to tear this idea apart. They pore over it for holes and alternative explanations. They try to replicate it if appropriate. If they think they see a problem, they write their own paper. Yours could be discredited. This isn’t pleasant but it is how we progress. This is not happening in grievance studies. There are firmly set ideas which can be accepted and they work on this postmodern conception of the world. You must operate within this system. You must not criticise this system. You can problematise other people’s ideas according to the system but you cannot suggest the system is wrong. You can’t suggest that gender differences actually exist between men and women and this is rooted in biology. You can’t suggest that Social constructivism does not account for every imbalance. You cannot point out that the concept of white fragility is unfalsifiable and rooted in logical fallacies. Well, you can, but you cannot do so within academia and expect to get published.

Meanwhile the practitioners of grievance studies turn out the teachers of our children and the heads of our industries. The ideas are popularised and made graspable by activists who make their feelings known. The book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo is a bestseller and she was right here at the University of Sydney talking about it at the end of last year. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality is now everywhere. There are people who make it their job to problematise things. Companies need to forestall being accused of racism or sexism by being seen to be committed to this ideologically-specific conception of diversity and inclusion. The US saw James Damore fired from Google for saying men and women have different interests on average. The BBC just fired Danny Baker for not realising a picture of a chimp could be construed as racist. Medical organisations are trying to find ways to avoid associating female reproductive systems with women. Cancer research organisations face difficulties trying to say that obesity is a significant factor. So far from true is it that society is underlain by discourses of patriarchy and white supremacy that accusations of sexism, racism and homophobia, even if unwarranted, can end careers and destroy reputations.

The symptoms of this problem are seen even by those who don’t fully understand how this all works. They feel that political correctness has gone mad or that identity politics have taken over. This assists the reactionary surge to the right. Because this problem is not just on the left. With the universities having seemingly abdicated their role as rigorous, evidence-based producers of knowledge the door has been opened to postmodernism and post-truth. We are now seeing so many forms of personal and cultural narrative, motivated reasoning, confirmation bias and flat-out lies and fabrications. Narratives are back. Group perceptions have validity again.

Postmodernism did not create the problem of humans undervaluing evidence, reason, individuality and liberal universalism. This is a timeless human problem. It’s what we foolish apes do. We form tribes around shared stories and prefer them over the more difficult task of seeking to discover what is true. But over the last 500 years we formed a system to mitigate this — the university and an expectation for evidence, reason and vigorous peer review — and we have achieved wonderful things. We have still always had irrationalism and tribalism among us, but the dominant understanding of knowledge was that it is not served by this. People who really wanted to know what was true and not go along with group narratives could call upon scholarship coming out of universities for the most objective and evidenced answers available.

We must insist the universities take up this role again throughout all of its fields and disciplines. We cannot condone them continuing to contribute to an era in which truth is understood to be anything that feels right to a favoured group. The university is already vulnerable to premodernists who’d like to take us backwards and this only strengthens them. We need to counter this by reinstalling an expectation that truth claims will make sense, be presented in the form of a reasoned argument and accompanied by evidence. We need to insist that even the most sacred cows can be criticised, questioned and challenged in universities. We must get the universities to prioritise this again because without it, we risk a thoroughly pre-modern or postmodern world. We don’t want that.


Note also that the author argues elsewhere that this ideology cannot be regarded as neo-marxism in any meaningful way, because marxists do not deny that an objective reality exists and post-modernists include marxism as one of the narratives that must be "deconstructed". The two should therefore be regarded as opponents and not one deriving from or being based on the other.
#15014296
Indeed, they are not a progressive development on the whole but being based in scepticism, merely destructive to the goods produced by modernism.
https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/help/foucaul1.htm
To make a specific and not a vague characterisation of post-structuralism, I shall confine myself to comments on certain key passages of Foucault's Archaeology of Knowledge. While Foucault himself moved on from this position, this work remains a landmark for the emergence of post-structuralism. A critique of Foucault is particularly important, because he expresses in clear, well-argued form - and has been very influential in this - the rejection of "grand narratives", the rejection of the possibility of grasping from the universe of appearances, periods, tendencies, sequences and so on; in short, the possibility of finding within history that which is Essential. Essence is important, because Essence exists not just behind Appearance, in some beyond, but exists materially in its own right, side-by-side with the inessential. Unless we can see what is essential in the system of oppression we confront, then it is impossible to fight against it.

https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/ebert.htm
It has simply become "unethical to think of such social oppressions as "sexism," "racism," and "homophobia" as purely "matters" of language and discourse. Ludic feminism is beginning to learn, in spite of itself, the lesson of Engels' Anti-Duhring: the fact that we understand reality through language does not mean that reality is made by language.

The dilemma of ludic feminism in theorising "materialism" is a familiar one. In his interrogation of Berkeley, Lenin points to this dilemma that runs through all forms of idealism: the epistemological unwillingness to make distinctions between 'ideas" and "things" (Materialism 130-300), which is, of course, brought about by class politics. Ludic feminism, like all forms of upper-middle class (idealist) philosophy, must hold on to "ideas" since it is by the agency of ideas that this class (as privileged mental workers) acquires it social privileges. Although posed as an epistemological question, the dilemma is finally a class question: how not to deny the world outside the consciousness of the subject but not to make that world the material cause of social practices either. Ludic feminism, like Berkelian idealism, cannot afford to explain things by the relations of production and labour. This then is the dilemma of ludic feminism: the denial of "materialism" leads Iodic feminism to a form of idealism that discredits any claims it might have to the struggle for social change; accepting materialism, on the other hand, implicates its own ludic practices in the practices of patriarchal-capitalism — the practices that have produced gender inequalities as differences that can be deployed to increase the rate of profit. This dilemma has lead feminism to an intolerable political crisis: a crisis that is, in fact, so acute it has raised questions about the viability of feminism as a theory and practice itself.
...
However, contrary to ludic claims, this diverse deployment of deregulating invention by Butler, as well as by Cornell, Lyotard, Derrida and others (whether as performativity, citationality, resignification, remetaphorisation, refiguring, the differend, differance ... ) is not a progressive move beyond (free of) the bounds of existing systems and their material conditions. Rather invention is a way of avoiding the consequences of the structural forces in society-the social relations of production. The logic of invention is a double move that attempts to displace exploitation.

Again, it does so by first construing material structural forces either as discourse or as so heavily mediated by discourses as to be "indissociable" from them, as Butler does. Then it reinterprets these structures in terms of the trope of invention and a differential logic (differance/differend/difference-within), thereby defining them as, in themselves, heterogeneous, indeterminate, self-deconstructing processes. In other words, within this ludic logic, structures are always already being undone by their own destabilising processes, their own differences-within. This means, in effect, that, for ludic theorists, there are no exploitative or determining structures or systematic relations, including production, because such structures would always already be in the process of undoing themselves and their effects.

Of course, ludic critics do not deny oppression (that is, domination as opposed to exploitation), but they largely confine both their recognition and explanations of the occurrences of oppression to particular, local events and gestures of power that are, by definition, reversible, that generate their own resistances. What this means is that there is no need for revolution or class struggle since any oppressive "structure" is itself a deconstituting process that undoes its own effects (oppression). Domination is especially seen as undoing its own attempts to regulate subjectivities. As Butler argues, "'sexed positions' are not localities but, rather, citational practices instituted within a juridical domain," which attempts to "confine, limit, or prohibit some set of acts, practices, subjects, but in the process of articulating that prohibition, the law provides the discursive occasion for resistance, a resignification, and potential self-subversion of that law" (Bodies 109).

Liberatory politics, for Butler, is thus a matter of invention, of resignification: the difference-within every citation or repetition of norm that opens up a space for reinvesting the norm and its symbolic regime, as in the regime of heterosexuality.
#15014548
A good way to think of the above is in regards to the subject which traditionally concieved of an abstract universal where one attaches predicates to the subject.
https://www.ethicalpolitics.org/ablunden/pdfs/flourishing.pdf
There are in social philosophy two theories of the nature of the human subject; according to the theory credited to Kant, the subject is just a point, a nothing, to which are attached attributes – a person is their gender, age, nationality, occupation, favourite colour, etc., and nothing else beyond.
...
The Kantian subject, on the other hand, can be dealt with by the methods of Set Theory: labelled and sorted into boxes. The idea of such a subject having power or enjoying the prospect of self-determination is unthinkable. All that remains is to develop the theory of how attributes are attached to subjects.

The implication of this in the postmodern tendency to be sceptical of abstract universals is scepticism on the nature of the subject itself.
A great illustration of the kind of idea postmodernists consider the subject is instead of the positive associations of a subject with universal reason, subjects instead become like that of Althusser's view in which subjects the creations of discourses which we are subjected to.
https://www.ethicalpolitics.org/ablunden/works/althusser.htm
As a good structuralist, Althusser can cap off his “proof” of the subjected character of the self-deluded subject with an archetypical sleight of hand of the kind so popular among French structuralists:

“... The whole mystery of this effect lies ... in the ambiguity of the term subject. In the ordinary use of the term, subject in fact means: (1) a free subjectivity, a centre of initiatives, author of and responsible for its actions; (2) a subjected being, who submits to a higher authority, and is therefore stripped of all freedom except that of freely accepting his submission. ... the individual is interpellated as a (free) subject in order that he shall submit freely to the commandments of the Subject, i.e. in order that he shall (freely) accept his subjection, ...

But of course the two opposite meanings of the word “subject” have quite different genealogies. Descartes, criticising Aristotle, used the Latin translation of Aristotle’s upokeimenon (hypokeimenon), subjectum, to mean the substance (substantia) to which all attributes adhered, i.e., (for Descartes) the individual self-consciousness and cogito; Kant went on to define this subject as the sovereign individual, the “free subjectivity, a centre of initiatives, author of and responsible for its actions.” This meaning of the word “subject” has continued in use, but exclusively within philosophical discourse and only in fairly recent times has it penetrated a broader audience.

On the other hand, “subject” entered the English language in the 14th century in the sense of someone under the dominion of or owing allegiance to a sovereign power, being subject to its laws, enjoying its protection. At this time, “subjectum” was understood in the Aristotlean sense, prior to Descartes’ transformation of the subject into an active agent within a philosophical discourse. In ordinary usage, “subject” retained this passive meaning, and took on further usages, such as being the subject of a poem or an accusation or being subjected to taxes, and so on.

Rather than an ambiguity, what we have is effectively two different words, two different concepts. The connection between the two meanings of “subject” is historical, not logical. It is nothing more than a structuralist trick to suggest a necessary connection to being a subject (i.e., a self-conscious, knowing author of one’s own actions) and being subjected to a higher authority. The two meaning, while not absolutely incompatible, are opposite in their meaning and have different contexts.

This helps situate why someone like Judith Butler thinks emancipation is to somehow deconstruct and disrupt traditional discourses and resignify one's self.
But the problem is that it's not clear that they understand how one becomes signified in a certain way as a certain subject. Instead they emphasize the plurality, the particularity of different things absent any unifying universal (ie things like grand/meta narratives), it is the rejection of universals through deconstruction, kind of like a nominalism even which treats only individuals as real and universals merely a convenient yet arbitrary collection of attributes. But since such universals are something we're subjected to, by destroying/disrupting the discourse that makes it and instead fragment it into many different groupings, somehow this is liberating or something.
https://www.ethicalpolitics.org/ablunden/works/butler.htm
I would put it. in Hegel’s terminology, that the problem with Butler’s view lies in the difference between subjectivity as “concrete universal” and inclusion/exclusion as “abstract generality.”

‘if feminism presupposes that “women” designates an undesignatable field of differences, one that cannot be totalised or summarised by a descriptive identity category, then the very term becomes a site of permanent openness and resignifiability. I would argue that the rifts among women over the content of the term ought to be safeguarded and prized, indeed, that this constant rifting ought to be affirmed as the ungrounded ground of feminist theory. To deconstruct the subject of feminism is not, then, to censure its usage, but, on the contrary, to release the term into a future of multiple significations, to emancipate it from the maternal or racialist ontologies to which it has been restricted, and to give it play as a site where unanticipated meanings might come to bear.

‘Paradoxically, it may be that only through releasing the category of women from a fixed referent that something like “agency” becomes possible.’ [my italics]

Hegel knew long ago that a collection of elements gathered together, externally, according to some attribute they have in common, cannot as such constitute a concept or subject. “Something in common” can only be a “thing-in-itself,” not yet a concept.
...
A community is not formed by people having “something in common.” On the contrary, community is formed by division of labour. Fundamentally, then, the process of differentiation, is not a process of exclusion and inclusion, but an unfolding into mutually supporting subjects, differentiating itself into self-conscious systems of activity, which nevertheless, opens the door to the subordination of one subject by the other, but is not founded on such an abjection.

From the abstract general point of view, the realisation of subjectivity pre-supposes the atomisation, or “rifting,” of subjectivity, of a withdrawal of solidarity. But abstract generality is no basis for the formation of subjectivity or solidarity, and what results is the process which Judith Butler finds mysterious: “the death of the subject.”

The issue I believe is that they aren't able to effectively disrupt anything because it's all within language, hence the earlier point that whilst language reflects reality symbolically, it isn't the primary basis of reality nor reality in it's entirety. As such, one can't change language without assuming the material world and then acting to change that world. Hence end up with reified categories of all sort of different individuals without any unifying notion of people as active subjects organized around an ideal, the category is simply reinforced in groupings based around those identities.
https://thecharnelhouse.org/2014/02/07/a-marxist-feminist-critique-of-intersectionality-theory/
For several pages, Fanon argues that black people must embrace blackness, and struggle on the basis of being black, in order to negate white supremacists social relations. But to stop there reproduces our one-sided existence and the forms of appearance of capitalism. Identity politics argues, “I am a black man,” or “I am a woman,” without filling out the other side of the contradiction “…and I am a human.” If the starting and ending point is one-sided, there is no possibility for abolishing racialized and gendered social relations. For supporters of identity politics (despite claiming otherwise), womanhood, a form of appearance within society, is reduced to a natural, static “identity.” Social relations such as “womanhood,” or simply gender, become static objects, or “institutions.” Society is therefore organized into individuals, or sociological groups with natural characteristics. Therefore, the only possibility for struggle under identity politics is based on equal distribution or individualism (I will discuss this further below). This is a bourgeois ideology in that it replicates the alienated individual invented and defended by bourgeois theorists and scientists (and materially enforced) since capitalism’s birth.


I would really boil it down to the scepticism in the west as a result of failed movements to essentially change things and in their dejection can only critique the world at a distance. And such academic circles are yet to appropriate the most compelling parts of Marxism because the linage in which they draw from is so partial and fragmented, that they end up in the mess they're in now with nothing but word games.
So despite any pleasant intentions or wishes to change the world for the better, they tend to reflect a degeneration rather than a radical avenue for progressive change, they reflect mostly the poor state of the western world and it's own fragmentation and breaking of the social fabric.
#15014556
There is maybe a stimulating argument to be had with the original post-modernists, if one is so inclined, but the current crop starts with a violation of its own ideological core by asserting an objective truth (which as it happens serves their political purpose).

As the article in the OP points out:
The original postmodernism — what I call the deconstructive phase of postmodernism — burnt itself out fairly quickly. It was too deconstructive. There was really nothing that could be done with it if language was so radically unreliable and knowledge about society so impossible to obtain.

From various parts of the humanities which looked at social justice issues, scholars began to write about the need to adapt postmodernism. It was useful, they felt, in that it regarded knowledge as a social construct, but no progress could be made unless some things were objectively true. They couldn’t address, say, racism unless it is true that the perception of races exist and some of them commonly experience prejudice on the grounds of it. Therefore, what became objectively true was the conception of systems of power and privilege that oppressed women, people of colour and the LGBT.

The humanities are just too vulnerable to bullshit.
#15014638
Kaiserschmarrn wrote:There is maybe a stimulating argument to be had with the original post-modernists, if one is so inclined, but the current crop starts with a violation of its own ideological core by asserting an objective truth (which as it happens serves their political purpose).

As the article in the OP points out:


The humanities are just too vulnerable to bullshit.

Indeed, it is the case they've created a mess for themselves because their political sympathies are incompatible with their philosophical outlook and methods which requires a materialist position and is why they've been forced to either avoid the issue altogether or try to theorize the objective world but often do in an inadequate manner.
Spoiler: show
https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/ebert.htm
The re-theorisation of materialism in postmodern feminism follows two related paths. The first is a re-understanding of materialist feminism coming out of the Marxist tradition. But this is itself a contradictory and divided site — involving a conflict between those feminists reclaiming historical materialism and those who, following postmarxism, marginalise historical materialism as "positivism." These postmarxist feminists largely subscribe to the continued dominance of poststructuralist knowledges and are caught in the contradictions between the political necessity of materialism and its displacement by the ludic priority given to discourse. They end up substituting discursive determinism for what they reject as an economic determinism in classical Marxism, as Barrett does in The Politics of Truth. The second mode of materialism is non-Marxist and is developed entirely out of feminist encounters with poststructuralist theories (especially those of Derrida, Foucault, Lacan and, with some recent modifications, Bourdieu) and rearticulates materialism as what is, in fact, a mode of idealism — what I call "matterism": the "matter" of the body, the 'matter" of sexuality, the "matter" of race, the "matter" of media, and, above all the "matter" of language.

In its engagement with "materialism" ludic postmodern feminism has reached a political crisis. But it attempts to represent and deal with this crisis as an exclusively epistemological question — as if epistemology itself is not partisan. We, therefore, need to examine some of the reasons why "materialism" — after the serious epistemological and political challenges from poststructuralism, postmarxism, post-Heisenbergian physics and New Historicism — continues to remain a fundamental issue in feminism and how ludic feminism (as the avant-garde of discursivist social theory) has theorised materialism in the post-al moment.
...
However, as long as ludic feminism continues to address the question of "women" — and does not simply collapse into a merely textual or epistemological meditation on the fate of the sign — that is, as long as it follows the feminist imperative of praxis, ludic feminism (unlike other varieties of postmodern discourse) is pulled into debates over the actual conditions of the lives of women. But, no serious engagement with these conditions can possibly bracket or evade the matter of materialism. Ludic feminism is thus constantly drawn into arguments and counterarguments over questions raised by "materialism" and its epistemological "other" idealism. Some ludic feminists, however, have tried to obscure the problem of materialism and prevent a full critique of the issues involved. ironically this "new" debate replays an old and familiar strategy described by Lenin nearly a century ago in his critique of idealism (Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 196-255).
Describing the writings of the Machians, Lenin says that one thread that runs through their texts is their rejection of binaries, their claim that they have "risen above" materialism and idealism and "have transcended this 'obsolete' antithesis." This gesture, Lenin writes, is no more than an ideological alibi because in their actual practices, they "are continually sliding into idealism and are conducting a steady and incessant struggle against materialism" (354). Like Machians, ludic feminists declare that the debate over "idealism and materialism" is an "outdated" binary and, in the ecumenical spirit of postmodernist eclecticism (which underwrites liberal pluralism), provide a reconciliation of the two. Judith Butler, for instance, offers her theory of "performativity" to, in effect, "think through" the binary of what is "characterised as the linguistic idealism of poststructuralism" and a "materiality outside of language" (Bodies that Matter 2731). Similarly, Drucilla Cornell offers her notion of remetaphorisation" and the "performative power of language" as a way of avoiding "pit[ting] 'materialist' feminism against feminine writing" (Beyond Accommodation 3). However, as Lenin writes, any such "hybrid project" is in fact an alibi for the legitimisation of idealism (Materialism, 350).

The politico-epistemological crisis that "materialism" has produced in ludic feminism has to do with its class politics. Ludic feminism becomes — in its effects, if not in its intentions — a theory that inscribes the class interests of, what bourgeois sociology calls, the upper-middle classes and of Eurocentrism. It does not acknowledge the "materiality" of the regime of wage-labour and capital. Nor does it acknowledge the existence of a historical series independent from the consciousness of the subject and autonomous from textuality. Such a recognition would lead to the further acknowledgment of the materiality of the social contradictions brought about by the social relations of production founded upon the priority of private property. Ludic feminism cannot accept a social theory that finds private property — the congealed surplus tabor of others — to be the cause of social inequalities that can be remedied only through revolution. Ludic feminism is, in effect, a theory for property holders. Nor can ludic feminism simply revert to an a-historical, essentialist position and posit the "consciousness" of the subject as the source of social reality. Such a move would go against the general post-structuralist constructivism and consequently would lead to, among other things, a reinscription of logocentrism and the phallocentrism that underlies it. Ludic feminism therefore needs to 'invent" a form of materialism that gestures to a world not directly present to the consciousness of the subject (as classic post-structuralism has done), but not entirely "constructed" in the medium of knowing (language) either.' It has simply become "unethical to think of such social oppressions as "sexism," "racism," and "homophobia" as purely "matters" of language and discourse. Ludic feminism is beginning to learn, in spite of itself, the lesson of Engels' Anti-Duhring: the fact that we understand reality through language does not mean that reality is made by language.

The dilemma of ludic feminism in theorising "materialism" is a familiar one. In his interrogation of Berkeley, Lenin points to this dilemma that runs through all forms of idealism: the epistemological unwillingness to make distinctions between 'ideas" and "things" (Materialism 130-300), which is, of course, brought about by class politics. Ludic feminism, like all forms of upper-middle class (idealist) philosophy, must hold on to "ideas" since it is by the agency of ideas that this class (as privileged mental workers) acquires it social privileges. Although posed as an epistemological question, the dilemma is finally a class question: how not to deny the world outside the consciousness of the subject but not to make that world the material cause of social practices either. Ludic feminism, like Berkelian idealism, cannot afford to explain things by the relations of production and labour. This then is the dilemma of ludic feminism: the denial of "materialism" leads Iodic feminism to a form of idealism that discredits any claims it might have to the struggle for social change; accepting materialism, on the other hand, implicates its own ludic practices in the practices of patriarchal-capitalism — the practices that have produced gender inequalities as differences that can be deployed to increase the rate of profit. This dilemma has lead feminism to an intolerable political crisis: a crisis that is, in fact, so acute it has raised questions about the viability of feminism as a theory and practice itself.
...
Understanding materialism as a matter of language has led ludic feminism to rethink politics itself. If the "matter" of social reality is "language," then changes in this reality can best be brought about by changing the constituents of that reality — namely, signs. Therefore, politics as collective action for emancipation is abandoned, and politics as intervention in discursive representation is adopted as a truly progressive politics. Since language always works in specific contexts, the new progressive ludic politics was also deemed to be always "local" and anti-global. From such a perspective, emancipation itself is seen as a metaphysical metanarrative and read as totalising and totalitarian (e.g., Lyotard, Postmodern Condition). Following the post-Marxism of Laclau, ludic feminists like Judith Butler, proclaim the "loss of credibility" of Marxist versions of history" and "the unrealisability of emancipation." Emancipation for Butler has a "contradictory and untenable" foundation and thus becomes part of a sliding chain of significations ('Poststructuralism and Postmarxism"). Social change, thus, becomes almost entirely a matter of superstructural change, that is, change in significations. Political economy, in short, is displaced by an economy of signs.

The substance of their politics almost seems, to put it crudely, equivalent to wanting a kind political correctness where oppression instead stems from the way we describe the world and a people. That the world is determined by language rather than language merely the way we describe the existing state of the world and social relations within it.
It really does seem to reflect such academics backgrounds as political correctness seems to be largely a middle to upper class progressive liberal thing where they're not so much opposed to the state of the world as much as having to be exposed to the language that reminds them of such a state, they want their language sanitized to pretend that everything is okay.
#15015167
Wellsy wrote:Indeed, it is the case they've created a mess for themselves because their political sympathies are incompatible with their philosophical outlook and methods which requires a materialist position and is why they've been forced to either avoid the issue altogether or try to theorize the objective world but often do in an inadequate manner.

And despite this, it's been working really well for them so far and any opposition that exists has been ineffective. It's worrisome because it's propagated from the universities and hence benefits from their reputation and status.

Wellsy wrote:The substance of their politics almost seems, to put it crudely, equivalent to wanting a kind political correctness where oppression instead stems from the way we describe the world and a people. That the world is determined by language rather than language merely the way we describe the existing state of the world and social relations within it.

Not only political correctness, but for example equal standing for "alternative ways of knowing" with science. You are of course right that language is central, and this explains their obsession with it we see in everyday life and why there are all kinds of confusion when normal people try to argue and interact with them. If everything is just a narrative, then the narrative must become the only battleground.

Wellsy wrote:It really does seem to reflect such academics backgrounds as political correctness seems to be largely a middle to upper class progressive liberal thing where they're not so much opposed to the state of the world as much as having to be exposed to the language that reminds them of such a state, they want their language sanitized to pretend that everything is okay.

We also get significant concept creep in language, e.g. oppressed groups can be harmed by seeing, reading or hearing something. They cannot be expected to have critical distance or historical perspectives when it comes to books or art, with the intent of the author or artist also being irrelevant.

I think there is more utility for the upper and middle classes (and those with aspirations) in this, because not getting on the wrong side of the oppressed and their defenders requires some skill and knowledge about ever changing rules. They are also using this to distance themselves from the "proles", much like manners have always been used as a way to signal status.
#15015961
Kaiserschmarrn wrote:It's worrisome because it's propagated from the universities and hence benefits from their reputation and status.

Indeed. Certain fields like philosophy, sociology, psychology, psychiatry and religion should be booted out of academia/formal education as they make claims of truth in various areas that concern public policy, without relying on objective, rigorous, experimental testing of their theories. They(some idiots) just spit out random nonsense which gets "validated" by simple "consensus" of views among their peers(other idiots) This is how religion was created, this is how all the cranky theories(eg. gender identity stuff) get promoted as "truths" , this is how "mental illnesses" get manufactured by various crooks(at the APA or elsewhere)
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