Re: [xmca] subjectivity question

From: Martin Packer (
Date: Thu Nov 10 2005 - 18:54:42 PST

This really does not do justice to Foucault (or Butler). The (bourgoise,
Cartesian) subject was just as much an illusion to Marx, for one thing. The
affinities between Foucault and Marx are complex and subtle (as are the
differences), and healthier reading than many simple and dogmatic


On 11/10/05 9:12 PM, "Andy Blunden" <> wrote:

> I agree Mary, that for an understanding of the meaning of subjectivity
> in today's context, poststructuralists like Judith Butler and Michel
> Foucault (and Cavarero ?I think?) are indispensable, as they are the
> main critics of subjectivity still today. But I really do think at
> least a health warning needs to be attached to such a recommendation,
> viz., that for these writers "subjectivity" means what I at least
> would call "subject position", and not anything like what either Anna
> Stetsenko or I, for example, would call "subjectivity."
> Poststructuralists claim to have "deconstructed the subject", for them
> it is an illusion. To Judith Butler's credit, she does indeed claim
> and promote the capacity of individual people and groups to change the
> discourses and narratives (structures) which determine them, but as I
> see it at any rate, this possibility, open to an individual to
> intervene in the structures which determine their consciousness is not
> so much an afterthought - to say that would be missing the point - but
> it is at the margins. (Much like those kind of leftists who say that
> the state control everything, but still envisage the possibility of
> overthrowing the state.)
> I think poststructuralism is a powerful theory, but don't you find it
> very "objectivist" as well, Mary?
> I wish I could offer an alternative reading list, but I find that
> those writers who are currently promoting subjectivity (e.g. Frank
> Ferudi, James Heartfield, Charles Taylor) I cannot recommend without
> "health warnings" either.
> Andy
> PS. Everything people on this list have to say about *how* to discuss,
> I always read with the greatest attention, because XMCA is really the
> most outstandingly successful and productive list that exists. I will
> try to do better.
> At 08:32 AM 10/11/2005 -0800, you wrote:
> Two short books would, I think, provide an excellent overview of
> contemporary thinking about this vexed matter of "self",
> "subjectivitity",
> and the relationality of self and others, and of course, self as
> Other to
> itself...
> Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself, 2005, Fordham
> University Press
> Adriana Cavarero, (1997), Relating Narratives: Storytelling and
> selfhood,
> Routledge
> But for the sake of completeness, I would have to add, Michel
> Foucault's
> later work, The Hermaneutics of the Subject, 2001, Palgrave -- kind
> of
> fascinating because, published posthumously, these are literally
> transcriptions of Foucault lecturing at the University.
> A little contemplative reading is, I think, more helpful here than
> trying to
> summarize about 300 years of work in an email -- and actually, if
> you just
> read the Butler text, which is less than 150 pages, you will get it
> all.
> Mary
> ---------------
> Mary K. Bryson, Associate Professor and Graduate Coordinator, ECPS,
> Faculty
> of Education, University of British Columbia
> Research Profile
> [1]
> On 11/9/05 8:52 AM, "Mike Cole" <> wrote:
>> Mary-- I found the message where I raised questions about the use
> of the
>> term,
>> subjectivity. The question I am raising is one that I have
> brooded about for
>> a long
>> time without ever seeking to bring the discourses where
> subjectivity is a
>> key term
>> and discourses that use terms like psyche, mind, etc. that tend
> to come from
>> different
>> places/times.
>> This may not be productive for people to discuss if others are
> clear on it
>> but I am not
>> so would benefit from such a discussion.
>> mike
>> ------------
>> Second, and on a very different tack. I would really appreciate
> help
>> understanding warrants for claims about another person or group's
>> "subjectivity."
>> I am a member of modern academic culture, so of course I have a
> general idea
>> of what the term means from its uses, as in Anna's paper, but in
> cultural
>> studies more broadly. But, perhaps because of my training as a
> behaviorist,
>> or perhaps because of my training as a student of Alexander
> Luria's, many
>> uses
>> of the term make me nervous, and that extends to Anna's paper and
> your
>> discussion with Martin (for whom the term is more comfortable, I
> believe --
>> Please, Martin, Anna, Andy, Mary, and others join in here).
>> Danzinger recounts how it came about that a researcher in a
> German
>> laboratory in the 1880's-1990's came to be called "the subject,"
> the person
>> whose
>> psychological states/perceptions/elements of
> consciousness/....... his (it
>> was all hims at the time) research-partner was, in collaboration
> with the
>> subject,
>> trying to obtain "scientific evidence" about. In simple terms, it
> was the
>> problem of how you could know what someone else was
> thinking/feeling.
>> Luria writes about his disillusion with various attempts to solve
> this
>> problem. He specifed, in The Nature of Human Conflicts, and again
> in his
>> autobiography,
>> a method in which the researcher created a situation where s/he
> and the
>> "subject" were coordinated in a cultural medium. The behavior of
> both was
>> voluntary, not reflexive. Once they achieve highly coordinated
> joint
>> actions, the researcher introduces a highly selected change into
> the
>> situation and
>> determines if this change results in a change in the coordinated
> actions of
>> the "subject." ONLY when there is selective, predictable,
> DIS-coordination
>> of the coordinated joint activity is there a warrant for a claim
> about the
>> other person's thought/feeling.
>> Peg Griffin and I sought to extend this idea into the diagnosis
> and
>> remediation of reading difficulties of children with, I believe,
> reasonable
>> success. Bruner and
>> others used it, without acknowledgement or recognition of its
> general
>> importance so far as I know, in studies where, for example,
> infants are
>> first habituated
>> to a series of stimuli while their "signature" rhythmic sucking
> is recorded
>> and then a small change of interest (phoeme, visual
> configuration...) is
>> introduced
>> to see if the suckig is disrupted.
>> I can give other examples from rare, but naturally occuring
> events I have
>> participated in.
>> But in general, what are the warrants for claims about another
> person's or
>> another people's subjectivity? Last night on National Public
> Radio I heard a
>> Palastinian and other people writing "in diaspora" speak of the
> fence as
>> huge influence on his feeling of being walled out of his own
> country. The
>> people from various parts
>> of Africa rioting in Paris are clearly outraged over their
> treatment by the
>> French and I see their anger in their actions. But what can I
> claim to know
>> about their
>> subjectivity (their anger is objectively visible to me)? What can
> my
>> daughter, who has lived in Eastern Madagascar at various periods
> in her
>> life, gotten
>> extraordinarily ill from helping grow rice in swamps,
> participated in cattle
>> sacrifice, grieved at the death of her Malagasy ancestors, know
> about
>> Malagasy
>> subjectivity? Behind my back,the BBC is showing anyone who will
> watch the
>> subjectivity of Latin Americans outraged at American policies.
> What can I
>> know about their subjectivity other than its external
> manifestations?
>> This is not a known answer question. I would appreciate help in
> coming to
>> terms with the use of this term. I believe it must be used with
> great care
>> and the
>> possibility of claims being incorrect. Luria wanted to be able to
>> distinguish what people said from what they "felt." In Anna's
> paper, the
>> terms subjectivity
>> and intersubjectivity are central. What is being meant by what is
> being
>> written?
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