I thought these reflections by Mariano Zukerfeld on pg 4 of his Knowledge in the Age of Digital Capitalism were absolutely spot on. It would unfair to present this as a characteristic of poststructuralism as such, but there can be a dogmatism to poststructuralist thinkers which is all the more frustrating for their own obliviousness to it:
On the one hand, much of its indisputable publishing success has been based on concepts that, even though they seem attractive initially, are ultimately beautiful but of little use. On the other hand, many of these critical philosophical initiatives, when they engage with discussions about the capitalist economy, adopt concepts from orthodox economics in a completely naturalised and acritical way. Thus, they ascend to their concepts upon the scaffolding provided by the dominant ideology. More generally, I do not share these approaches’ rejection of the categories of totality, contradiction, negativity, and I believe that much of their blithe positivity makes them functional to the dominant ideology of informational capitalism. Finally, this tradition brandishes the banners of difference, otherness, multiplicity. However, in practice it is no more adept at dialogue with difference (in other words with those viewpoints that do not echo its mantras) than any other dogmatism. This intolerance in the face of plurality, debate, and constitutive contradictions, that for Marxism, scientism, or any religion can be explained (disagreeably but with coherence) by the belief that there is one truth, which they are in possession of, is completely unsustainable when observed in these ‘philosophies of difference’ .
The full list is here on Buzzfeed. I found them interesting. Is it unfair to blame postmodernism for creating an intellectual climate in which these forms of argument thrive? Though the argument from thermodynamics was new to me. The New Scientist’s response to it made me laugh.
A couple of weeks ago Open Culture posted a great video featuring an interview with Chomsky being rather scathing about Žižek and Lacan. Today they’ve posted another one where Chomsky discusses the political implications of post-structuralist thought in equally scathing fashion. I was amused by the abuse that was directed at the @soc_imagination account after tweeting the link to the last video (“reactionary”, “anti-intellectual”, “scientistic”) and look forward to seeing what reaction this video provokes. His suggestion that disciplinary insecurity drives the impulse towards high theory reminded me of a similar claim made by C Wright Mills about grand theory in sociology:
Mills’ position here is an extension of his earlier attack on Parsons and Lazarsfeld, and is just as fierce in tone. He observes that ‘a turgid and polysyllabic prose does seem to prevail in the social sciences’ (Mills, 1959:239), and adds that this style of writing has nothing to do with the complexity of the subject matter. Mills explains the prevalence of this style, instead, in terms of a quest for status. He declares: ‘Desire for status is one reason why academic men slip so readily into unintelligibility. And that, in turn, is one reason why they do not have the status they desire’ (Mills, 1959:240). This thirst for status is said to be driven by an underlying desire for the sociologist to achieve recognition as a ‘scientist’; something, he argues, that led to sociology written in clear and accessible prose (including, presumably, his own work) to be dismissed by many as mere journalism.
C. Wright Mills 50 Years On: The Promise and Craft of Sociology Revisited
Faced with theoretical or philosophical positions that seem untenable, it is tempting to counter them by reversing or inverting them, for example, responding to empiricism’s belief in the rooting of knowledge in empirical observation by claiming knowledge to be independent of observation and observation to be wholly dependent on discourses. This strategy retains the problematic structures which generated the problems in the first place […] Defeatist postmodernism typically defines itself in opposition to ‘foundationalism’, ‘objectivism’, and those who claim privileged access to ‘the truth’. In reacting against this, it then flips over into an anti-realism which rules out any possibility of empirical/practical evaluation and makes truth relative to discourse.
Realists also reject naive objectivism, but as we argued in the previous chapter, this need not make us flip over into relativism or idealism, or make us doubt the possibility of scientific progress or abandon the Enlightenment project. I shall call the former reaction a ‘pomo flip’, but there are other pomo flips too: from a rejection of grand narratives or totalizing discourses to an incapacitating fragmentation of the world and its discourses; and from a rejection of ethnocentrism, androcentrism and imperialism to an equally self-defeating cultural and judgmental relativism.
Andrew Sayer, Realism and Social Science, Pg 67-68