"Subjectivity" and "subject" and cognate words have meanings which are
very contested; their meaning is generally a marker of the discourse
in which they are used, rather than simply being used "in different
For example, poststructuralists, who claim to have "deconstructed the
subject," mean by "subject" what I would call "subject position", i.e,
a social location or role within a narrative or discourse, with which
a person identifies themselves. Judith Butler has a variation on this
concept of subjectivity in that she adheres to what I would call an
"abstract general" concept of subjectivity, where people identify
themselves according to having or not having certain attributes, a
kind of "in-itself" subjectivity.
Habermas, on the other hand, understands "subject" in terms of the
sovereign individual subject defined by Kant, and makes
"intersubjectivity" the key concept, much like what Mike referred to
as "social = individuals making phone calls to each other", i.e.,
unmediated, individual contact.
Certainly for many "subjectivity" means a state of mind, but for
others it has as much an ethical or moral meaning as an ontological
one, and such a meaning has firm grounding in Kant's "transcendental
subject." For some, drawing their concept of subjectivity from Marx
rather than Kant, subjectivity is a social relationship, in which
individuals exercise the capacity to act, know and identify themselves
through their participation in collaborative activity with others
involving cultural constructs, language,etc., as I understand it.
A structuralist like Althusser, as I understand him, deny subjectivity
of this kind, seeing social structures alone as effective on the
social-historical plane, and therefore confine use of the word
"subjectivity" to "mind".
In general, we have philosophers from Descartes to Fichte to thank for
meanings of "subjectivity" which inhere within the individual as such,
and the overwhelming majority of philsoophical literature today use
the term "subject" in this way. We have Hegel and Marx to thank for
meanings of "subjectivity" which inhere in social relations. We have
to thank philosophers who have interpreted Marx in a structuralist
spirit for taking the individual out of those relations and leaving
agency, knowledge and identity only in social structures. We have
others, such as Marxist humanists and the CHAT tradition, who have
tried to develop Marx in a spirit which retains individual agency
within a concept of subjectivity which includes both individual,
particular and universal, to use Hegel's terminology, as I see it.
Sorry for being longwinded, and apologies if I misrepresented any of
those positions, through trying to avoid being too longwinded! :-)
The great thing about this discussion, in my view, is that we are
discussing what is in my view the No. 1 problem of today, loss of
subjectivity. Look at France today. Take away people's agency, their
identity and their education, and they will fight in the most bitter
and angry way as their life is absolutely on the line. The Parisian
suburbs are about subjectivity.
What do people think?
Could somone, other than Anna who uses the term subjectivity and
knows well how to use it in their work please respond to the
misgivings about its use that I tried asking about some days ago?
And Joe asked about in a different way today?
I think that it might help us sort out misunderstandings from
Andy Blunden, on behalf of the Victorian Peace Network, Phone (+61)
Alexander Surmava's Tour - September/October 2006
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