Inquiry into the cultural and political dynamics of social movements and resistance proliferates throughout rhetorical scholarship, and indeed it should. However, what methodological presuppositions undergird our prevailing paradigms of social change, and to what extent are these presuppositions deflecting attention away from culturally and politically productive forms of critique and dissent? This is the concern of Christina Foust’s demanding and critical book, Transgression as a Mode of Resistance: Rethinking Social Movement in an Era of Corporate Globalization.
Foust argues that Marxist and post-structuralist theories used by academics for examining resistance and social movements are constricted by particular assumptions regarding hegemonic struggle, at least insofar as such assumptions demarcate what counts as effective and meaningful sociopolitical struggle. For Foust, since “theories of hegemony form a ‘deep structure’ or grammar” from which rhetorical critics interpret and evaluate social movements, then contemporary scholarship risks disregarding modes of transgression such as anarchy that do not conform to these models of hegemonic struggle (6). Against such assumptions, Foust celebrates transgression not only as a powerful mode of contemporary anticapitalist resistance that defies theories of hegemony, but also as a critical heuristic with which to enrich and reorient scholarly methods for analyzing social movements.
To explore the interrelationships between hegemony and transgression, Foust provides astute engagements with major theorists of transgression (Foucault, Deleuze, Bakhtin) and hegemony (Gramsci, Hall, Mouffe, and Laclau), as well as probing analyses into contemporary rhetorical scholarship on (new) social movements. Theoretically rich and politically driven, Transgression as [End Page 387] a Mode of Resistance contributes to crucial scholarly conversations regarding the power of localized and embodied acts of transgression in refashioning sociopolitical landscapes and fostering possibilities for more robust and dynamic forms of resistance.
Foust defines transgression as a contingent and diverse array of embodied performances that violate and challenge the “unspoken or explicit rules” that constitute individuals as manageable subjects (17, 3). She argues that transgression defies prescriptive norms by drawing on the radical singularity and fleeting creativity of embodied performance as inventional resources with which to energize human autonomy. However, in Foust’s view, transgression is often ignored by hegemonic paradigms of social change, which tend to measure the efficacy of sociopolitical struggle exclusively in terms of representational economies and friend-enemy antagonisms. Representational economies refer to the various ways in which rhetoric mediates ideas, symbols, and identities as indicative of a particular collective will or agent. Friend-enemy antagonisms are often formed by such representations, insofar as a diversity of nondominant classes and interests are consolidated as “friends” against a common “enemy.”
According to Foust, transgression often fails to constitute “proper” social action when it is measured from the vantage of hegemony, because transgressive activities are too singular or fleeting to galvanize agents into a collective will or identity. By way of example, Foust argues that Bakhtin’s concept of transgression—the carnivalesque—is often subject to hegemonic (de)legitimation, deemed either (a) a failure for not cohering ideas, symbols, and identities into a collective agent, or (b) a success for establishing friend-enemy affinities across a plurality of interests.
In chapter 2, “Logics of Hegemony, Degrees of Transgression,” Foust argues that a foundational tension between determinacy and contingency animates prevailing theories of hegemony. Through analyses of works by Gramsci and then Hall, Mouffe, and Laclau, Foust argues that theorists of hegemony gradually incorporate varying degrees of contingency and rhetoric within the problems and possibilities of sociopolitical struggle. Gramsci, for example, recognized that social relations and modes of cultural production cannot be reduced only to economic determinations, and he incorporated contingency and rhetoric as vital factors implicated within the mobilization of social movements. Foust argues that subsequent theorists of hegemony allocate varying degrees of contingency within theories of social change, but only when it is mediated by rhetoric in the production of representational economies or friend-enemy antagonisms. This means, for Foust, not only that contemporary theories of [End Page 388] social change are framed by prevailing theories of hegemony, but also...