Sunday, March 25, 2012

Victor Turner on Liminality and communitas –Summary and Analysis

Anthropologist Victor Turner made a huge contribution to anthropology by reintroducing the concept of "liminality" into the anthropological discourse. Turner was concerned with understanding cultures on the basis of dynamism and disorder, seeing society not as a "thing" but rather as a dynamic and dialectic process. Tuner conceptualized culture as a constant struggle between structure and anti-structure.

Turner's work on liminalty draws from Van-Gennep's triadic model of the Rite of Passage, which he elaborates to include other cultural phenomena. Van Gennep described the process of shifting from one social status to another in three stages: 1.disengaement in which the individual is symbolically removed from society and his own identity. 2. The luminal stage in which the individual is secluded from society and is under constant supervision. 3. The reunion or post-liminal stage in which the individual is reintegrated into society with his new statues.

Turner took an interest is the second phase of Van Gennep's model – that of liminality. Liminalty, in terms of social structure and time, is an intermediate state of being "in between" in which individuals are striped from their usual identity and their constituting social differences while being on the verge of personal or social transformation. Turner's perception of liminality, it should be noted, is in many respects an addition or correction to Mary Douglas' somewhat dichotomic and static description "ritual uncleaness".

According to turner, liminality brings about a state he calls "communitas". Communitas according to Turner is a relatively structureless society which is based on relations of equality and solidarity and which is opposed to the normative social structure. Communitas gains it meaning through the deconstruction of this normative order. The communitas is according to Turner the ultimate vision of a culture. However, liminality and communitas are usually temporary and structurally defined and limited, thus dialectically serve to reaffirm the existing social order.    

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De Saussure – The Nature of the Linguistic Sign – summary

When discussing the nature of the linguist sign de Saussure criticizes the notion that things precede words. When relating to the lingual sign what de Saussure essentially does is to replace actual referential reality with the signified. What the signifier points to is not something which exists outside of language, but rather to a meaning which is contained within human consciousness. The division between signifier and signified, which together compose Saussure's lingual sign, is the basis for his subsequent proposition that everything gains it meaning out of being in structural oppositional relations with other components. 

When discussing the nature of the linguist sign de Saussure makes his famous statement about to lingual sign being arbitrary. The arbitrariness of the lingual sing is easily demonstrated by pointing to the fact that different languages have different signs for the same denotations. But this points to another matter. Were words representations of preexisting concepts all languages will have parallel words. But we do know that different languages cover the world of meaning with differently divided semantic networks. This means that language does not simply describe reality, but is in fact something separate and autonomous from it. When de Saussure says that the lingual sign is arbitrary he means it not it the sense that anyone can make up words, quite the opposite, signs according to Saussure are all conventions that are socially constructed. The linguistic sign, in other words, is arbitrary but is not open for free choice; its meaning is imposed on us by our linguistic surrounding.    

De Saussure's ideas regarding the nature of the linguistic signs were of huge influence in the 20th century and were the corner stone of both structuralism and semiotics. Saussure's revolution is in making language relational into itself, it is not fixed nor predetermined, and it was now up to philosophy, sociology, linguistics and other adjacent fields to examine the manner in which a signifier is tied to a signified.

See also: Langue and Parole

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Ferdinand de Saussure's Linguistic Revolution- summary, analysis and review

Ferdinand de Saussure is responsible for one of the most dramatic intellectual shifts in the 20th century. It was de Saussure who moved to world from an essentialist perception of reality to a representational and structure dependant one. In a sense, de Saussure's thought is another step away from our ability to know anything about the world following Kant and Hegel's. de Saussure left after him the conclusion that, since everything is structure related, we can never have any stable and essential knowledge of anything. That there is nothing which is absolutely "there", only something which is represented in a system dependant manner.

Synchronic linguistics, rather than diachronic one, detaches language from the historical progression of the world, which leads to de Saussure detaching the lingual sign from its referent. de Saussure's distinction between Langue and Parole sets language is first and foremost a cultural-social mechanism which exists outside single individuals. de Saussure's notion of the lingual sing as being composed from the signifier and the signified "marginalizes" the actual referential world in favor of its symbolic representations. This argument by de Saussure led to serious question regarding the relation between the signifier and the signified which haunt western intellectual tradition to this day. One of deSaussure's key notion were in regards to the nature of the linguistic sign. de Saussure's ideas regarding the arbitrariness of the lingual sing gave rise to the understanding that the relation between language and reality, between the signifier and the signified, is socially constructs. Many a things have been signed off since de Saussure as being socially constructed. Other important concepts and considerations that were introduced by de Saussure are those of paradigmatic and syntagmatic.  

de Saussure view of the language as a system or differences is fundamental for the subsequent structuralist movement which sought to map those system of difference which constructed social reality. This is partly why de Saussure was and still is such a huge influence and founding father of 20th and 21st century cultural studies and critical theory. 

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ideology according to Marx – definition and explanation

Ideology according to Marx – definition and explanation
Karl Marx's philosophy should be understood against the background of the philosophy of the Enlightenment that believed that the world can be objectively understood through the medium of the naturally observing mind that is the gateway for liberating the human spirit.

Marx wrote "The German Ideology" two years before he published his famous "Communist Manifesto" and already here he presents a well formulated, and revolutionary, understanding of ideology. Unlike the young Hegelians, led by Feuerbach, Marx claimed that ideas and ideology are no independent, as Idealism would have, but rather a product which is dependent on material matters, namely social and economic structures. According to Marx, ideas, perceptions and consciousness are always the result of specific historic material circumstances.

What differentiates humans from animals according to Marx is that man is the only species that manufactures in order to survive; this is his basic function while every other aspect of human life is derived from this one central feature. According to Marx every society in history organized its production according to its available means of production that determine relations of production (i.e. feudalism, capitalism, communism…) and its own concept of property.

This is what Marx calls the economic base. On top of the economic base Marx poses the "superstructure", all cultural structures that are the result of the economic base. An important part of the superstructure is, according to Marx, ideology. Ideology according to Marx is a veil pulled over the economic base in order to prevent people from seeing its inherit injustice (that is, until communism comes). Ideology convinces people that the current state of production is justified, warranted, "natural" or anything else which gets them to comply to it. Ideology has been famously referred to my Marx as "false consciousness". Revolutions come about when the fallacy of this consciousness is recognized.

Marx's The German Ideology: Alienation and Ideology – summary and analysis

Marx's The German Ideology: Alienation and Ideology – summary and analysis

In The German Ideology Marx argued that the division of labor turns a man's own action to a foreign power (he sells his manual and intellectual capacities to someone else) which enslaves him. Marx argues that certain social-economical conditions, such as those brought about by capitalism; project this alienation to society itself. When the products of production are cut off from workers, they sense that these products have a power over them which are not in their control. In other words, alienation brings about fetishism of products and production which are conceived as being both of independent and separate existence and as of having power over the alienated worker. Alienation can be aborted, Marx holds, when the proletariat take over the means of production.

One of the key concepts in Marxist thought and in Marx's The German Ideology is ideology. Marx says that ideology is a "camera obscura" which turns the image on reality on its head. In other words, Marx holds that ideology reflects an inverted image of social reality, which is distorted and false. Marx, plainly speaking, says that the truth of reality and reality as it is conceived through ideology are opposed.
Marx ties the function of ideology to material reality and the course of human material development (dialectics of historical class conflict over relations ofproduction and property which is driven by development in the means of production). In other words, according to Marx, ideology is the product of material reality and the distorted image of this reality portrayed by ideology is due to social economical conditions.  

According to Marx in The German Ideology all thoughts and ideas are socially constructed and depend on society's material conditions - existence determines consciousness. But what distinguishes ideology from other cultural forms is its function of distorting and inverting the image of reality as it is conceived in society. Ideology presents itself as objective and universal, but when Marx refuted Hegel conception of the idealist historical dialectics in favor of a material one, he set the ground for rejecting any idea such as ideology as detached for actual social and economical reality. Things like nationality and even family values are all signed off by Marx as ideology which is designed to conserve the existing social order and relations of production by presenting the existing state as warranted, natural and justified.

For Marx ideology is always the result of material class conflict and he therefore argues in The German Ideology that the ideas of the ruling class have always been the dominant ideas. For Marx ideology works at the service of the existing social order and in beneficiaries. According to Marx, whoever controls the means of material production also controls the means of ideological production which sustains the existing relations of production. Ideology, in other words, is the interests of the ruling class. Every revolution according to Marx has to introduce a new ideology to support the new social order which is, once again, presented as universal.

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Marx's Perception of History in The German Ideology: dialectics and capitalism

Marx's Perception of History in The German Ideology: dialectics and capitalism

Karl Marx conceives history as a dialectical progression. This is not a new idea even in Marx's times and it was preceded especially by Hegel who saw history as a course where a thesis meets it antithesis to create a synthesis. But Marx's "The German Ideology" is to a large extent a rebellion against Hegel and his followers. Where Hegel thought that the historical dialectics takes place in human consciousness and in the realm of ideas, Marx thought that shifts in the manner in which people perceive their existence is the result of material, not mental, changes.

According to Marx in The German Ideology, material historical dialectics takes on the form of constant class conflict. Marx argues that human history is the history of the development of means of production and the relations of production subsequently formed. History progresses according to Marx through class conflict, contradictions and clashes which have a dialectical shape. This dialectics dictates human progression to the present time of capitalism.

According to Marx in The German Ideology capitalism is different from any epoch that preceded it in that that it is the final conflicted phase of the historical dialectics. In capitalism, for the first time in history, salaried employs are the central form of relation of production and the worker is no longer the property of the ruling class. Capitalism according to Marx is also new in being global, a fact that will aid it in constantly developing new means of production which will intensify the contradictions that are at the base of capitalism. These contradictions between the new means of production and the old relations of production will eventually bring about a revolution which will abolish classes and private property.

It should be noted that although Marx's philosophy in The German Ideology is highly "social", what in fact he is talking about is individual liberation which according to Marx is only possible is a classless society.

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Marx's Perception of History in The German Ideology: relation of production, means of production

Marx's Perception of History in The German Ideology: relation of production, means of production

In his "The German Ideology" Carl Marx discusses two of the most central concepts of his theory of history and society: the means of production and the relations of production.

According to Marx in The German Ideology each historical stage holds a class conflict. Changing property patterns over the means of production creates different classes who are in a constant state of conflict with each other. This struggle is most of the time covert and is manifested sometimes in class clashes, social wars and revolutions which bring about a reformation of the social order. According to Marx, the revolution is always the result of the contradiction between the means of production and the relations of production. Means of production according to Marx are labor as well as the technical, technological and economical means at a society's disposal. The relations of production according to Marx include property and the division of produce and profits within society.

In The German Ideology Marx argues that at some historical point in the life of every society it reaches a point in which means of production cease to correspond well with the relations of production (for example due to the invention of a new technology). The ruling class, which has property over the means of production and thus enjoys a favorable position within the relations of production, sticks to the old relations of production. But these old relations of production become an obstacle in the path of development of new means of production. The subordinate class demands new relations of production which correspond with the new means of production. Tension erupts in the form of a revolution which brings about a change in the relations of production and a change in social hierarchies and division of power (in The German Ideology Marx uses the example of the French Revolution to illustrate his idea)

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