- Post-Marxism versus Cultural Studies: Theory, Politics, and Intervention
Paul Bowman’s Post-Marxism versus Cultural Studies forms part of the Edinburgh University Press series Taking on the Political, a series that sets out both to foster thinking that embraces the political and to invite work that conflicts with it. Bowman’s contribution to the series examines post-Marxism’s disavowal of its hegemonic impulses and the persistent elision by post-Marxists of questions arising from the institutional context within which they are operating.
The problem with the post-Marxist discourse theory of, for example, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe is that it “does not adequately theorise the politics of its own institution” (174). The institution is, as Derrida argued, “an irreducibly and fundamentally textual matter” (172). The paradigm of post-Marxist discourse theory refuses the radically deconstructive implications that would accompany an acknowledgment of this textuality.
Bowman’s interrogation of the implications of this refusal lends his work broader relevance given that a similar denial characterizes other disciplines such as sociology, which regards queer theory as text based and divorced from the real world “beyond the text,” the world of material experience that forms the sociological domain of inquiry (Halberstam, 12). Too disciplined, post-Marxists and sociologists will not embrace a politics of antidisciplinarity of the kind proposed by John Mowitt in Text.
Mowitt is a crucial interlocutor in Post-Marxism versus Cultural Studies and functions, alongside Stuart Hall, as a key representative [End Page 191] of cultural studies in the face off Bowman encourages between cultural studies’ ideas about the practice of politics and post-Marxism’s own theories of intervention. Bowman also draws on the ideas of thinkers not usually positioned on either side of this divide such as Judith Butler, Richard Rorty, and Slavoj Žižek.
It is a division that is dimorphic in that Bowman reads both cultural studies and post-Marxism as deconstructive but their critiques of politics have ultimately crystallized in ways that are markedly distinct. For cultural studies, post-Marxism is a foreign culture: they do deconstruction differently there. Cultural studies practices intervention— does politics—through textual deconstruction while post-Marxism endeavors to do so through discursive deconstruction (Bowman, 84).
Discursive deconstruction is textual deconstruction in denial. It is differentiated from text by thinkers such as Laclau who construe text in a narrow sense of “something produced by a subject who precedes its production,” as linguistic text (Mowitt, 16). In reality, however, the real difference between text and discourse is that discourse fails to acknowledge its own status as “a disciplinary object, a paradigm that organizes the way cultural research is designed, legitimated, and conducted” (17). Textual deconstruction, by contrast, does acknowledge its disciplinary object-hood and is therefore able to form a politics that can effectively connect with the political.
Bowman calls for a specific form of textual politics that is not one rooted in cultural studies (or post-Marxism should it recognize its discursive failings). Intervention requires rather a “new interdisciplinarity” (Bowman, 177). Such an intervention is likely to encounter resistance given the contemporary obsession with audit culture, accompanied as it is by an “intensification of disciplinary compartmentalisation and regulation” that leads to a “disarticulation of academic work from intruding into any other context” (180). The required response to this disarticulation is a political strategy of antidisciplinarity that does not deny disciplinarity but rather identifies it as a “key locus” for intervention (180).
Post-Marxism versus Cultural Studies is therefore an extremely valuable contribution to ongoing debates about what it means to be an academic who wishes to challenge injustice, to practice intervention. The work forms a vital contribution to the “interminable effort to listen and to try to address and redress justice” (95). It is principally [End Page 192] addressed to the politically committed academic endeavoring to intervene within the institution in ways that will have ramifications, impact, beyond its boundaries. The thinker Bowman believes most successfully delineates what form such an intervention should take is Mowitt. Of the alternatives, the theoretical positions of Butler and Rorty are...