Rethinking Social Exclusion: The End of the Social?
Publication Year: 2013
‘…classic Winlow and Hall – bleak, brilliant and unmatched in the art of rethinking crucial social issues. Enlightening, and rather scary.’
- Professor Beverley Skeggs, Goldsmiths, University of London
‘This superb book inhabits a unique theoretical space and demonstrates Winlow and Hall at their brilliant best as theorists of contemporary social exclusion.’
- Professor John Armitage, University of Southampton
‘…making exemplary use of critical theory, this book represents a powerful, rallying response to Benjamin's notion that “It is only for the sake of those without a hope that hope is given to us”’.
- Dr Paul A. Taylor, author of Zizek and the Media
‘… an intellectual tour de force. Winlow and Hall, outriders of a radically different political economy for our era, have done it again. Their latest book is ...
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
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© Simon Winlow and Steve Hall 2013
First published 2013
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About the Authors
We should begin by acknowledging a debt of gratitude to our colleagues in the Centre for Realist Criminology at Teesside University, UK. They have created a lively intellectual environment that has made the problems currently faced by Britain's University system a little easier to take. We would also like to thank Paul Crawshaw for his ongoing support and the skill and dedication he has shown in his direction of the Social Futures Institute at the university.
In the broader academic community we have been lucky enough to benefit from the support, encouragement and friendship of a number of hugely talented intellectuals. Among this group, we are particularly grateful to Georgios Antonopoulos, Rowland Atkinson, Pat Carlen, Elliot Currie, Walter DeKeseredy, Mark Featherstone, Jeff Ferrell, Keith Hayward, Simon Hallsworth, Dick Hobbs, John Lea, Bob Lilly, Ronnie Lippens, David Moxon, Georgios Papanicolaou, Larry Ray, Robert Reiner, Chris Rojek, Barry Smart, Colin Sumner, Steve Tombs, Sandra Walklate, Colin Webster, David Wilson and Majid Yar. Not that everyone on this list agrees with everything we say, but the fact that some disagree or only partially agree with us yet still support the dissemination of our arguments shows the true spirit of intellectual inquiry. We would also like to thank numerous postgraduate students who over the years have given us the constant stimulation and feedback we needed to develop our work.
Simon Winlow would like to thank Sara and Gabriel for … everything.
Steve Hall would like to thank his family Chrissie, Chris and Alex for putting up with him and his old mate Mike Randall for half a lifetime of encouragement.[Page viii]
Glossary of Terms[Page 175]
Big Other – this is Lacan's term for the network of social institutions, customs and laws into which the individual is socialised. It has no substance other than the symbolic and is therefore a sort of collective lie, fiction or illusion that is nevertheless necessary for the survival of a coherent social world. Nobody really believes in the big Other, which is not surprising because it has no independent existence, but all members of a symbolically established community are compelled by everyone else's subscription to its rules to act as if they believe in it, and thus by way of coherent social action it becomes real.
Biopolitics – in basic terms this simply refers to the politics of the body. However, it is important to note that throughout this book, and especially in Chapter 5, we connect biopolitics to post-politics. Žižek (2008a: 34) suggests that ‘it is clear how these two dimensions overlap: once one renounces big ideological causes, what remains is only the efficient administration of human life … almost only that. That is to say, with the depoliticised, socially objective, expert administration and coordination of interests as the zero level of politics, the only way to introduce passion to the field, to actively mobilise people, is through fear, a basic constituent of today's subjectivity’. For a different reading, see Agamben (1998).
Critical/ultra-realism – this is premised on the belief that social science can undercut ideology and represent the real world with enough accuracy to appeal to underlying core sentiments of good and evil shared by all human beings. Our commitment is to explaining the world as it is, warts and all. To do this effectively, we must rid ourselves of the entirely unproductive optimism that refuses to acknowledge the genuine hardships experienced by a growing proportion of Western populations.
Derealisation – in psychology and psychoanalysis this phrase is used to communicate a sense of detachment, a sense that the real world we experience is somehow false or staged and the subject can watch himself playing a role in it.
The Imaginary – is one of Lacan's three orders, and is best understood as the realm of narcissistic identification, where the ego splits and identifies with some spectral counterpart in the external world. It is connected to the Real and the Symbolic, but acts as the realm of connotative meaning, of [Page 176]signifieds and signification, so it is a private space of susceptibility and self-deception, whose malleable but insistent desires can be easily seduced and lured by external mediated images; unlike the Symbolic (see below), which is social and potentially political because it is structured by comprehensible and communicable symbols.
Jouissance – the French word for enjoyment, but accompanied with sexual connotations. For Lacan, especially in his later work, the term is often used to refer to those pleasures that exist beyond the pleasure principle and consequently involve an element of pain. Jouissance, therefore, denotes excessive or unbearable pleasures.
Little other – After the death of the big Other (see above), there exists no authority capable of determining appropriate social protocols or establishing meaning or truth. One of the outcomes (see also the Other of the Other, p. 179) of the historic decline of symbolic efficiency is the drive to establish an expanding network of new, rational bureaucratic authorities which together attempt to take up the mantle of the big Other. These are little others, but they cannot exercise convincing authority and are therefore destined to fail as the subject is condemned to greet the proclamations of all little others with cynicism, scepticism and enduring disbelief.
Master Signifier – to be brief, the Master Signifier refers only to itself. It is a powerful organising abstraction – such as ‘nature’, ‘commodity’, ‘money’, or, in pop culture, ‘cool’ – that structures our immediate understanding of the symbolic order and its content. The dominance of the Master Signifier effectively renders its prescribed meaning the only one of any consequence, and it fixes the context in which associated meanings can develop in its shadow. As Lacan (1997: 297) observes ‘the relationship between the signified and the signifier always appears fluid, always ready to come undone’. It is the Master Signifier that fixes meaning in place.
Neoclassical right – we use this phrase as a means of capturing the reality of much contemporary rightist thought. It is ‘neoclassical’ because it revives classical liberalism's selfish, calculating rational subject as its model of subjectivity and the ideological foundation for its political and economic thought. This neoclassical right is quite different to the traditional right-wing conservative parties that were once powerful Britain and America. For example, in Britain the contemporary Conservative party has completed abandoned one-nation Toryism and is now a party dominated by the attempt to advance the interests of global neoliberal capitalism.
Postmodern/liberal left – we use these terms interchangeably throughout the text, but in most cases we are referring to the same people, processes and [Page 177]ideological approaches. It is our contention that at the start of the neoliberal period the traditional left – with its deep, structuring commitment to equality and social justice – effectively lost out to a new leftist discourse that discarded the symbols of the traditional left and replaced them with a general acceptance of capitalism and its harms and injustices. Rather than arguing for systemic change, they instead argued for better management of the economic and political systems with a view to ameliorating its worst aspects. Integral to this new liberal left was a concern with rights and freedoms and a faith in the legal system to defend individuals from exploitation and injustice. The discourse of the new liberal left is expressed clearly in Tony Blair's ‘third way’ politics, an approach to economic management and statecraft that had much in common with Bill Clinton's presidency of the United States at around the same time. They believed that the liberalisation of capital would create economic growth, which would in turn boost tax revenues, which could in turn be used to provide forms of social security that would alleviate poverty and sustain inclusivity. We also claim that this left liberalism, and the left-liberal analyses that are so common in the social sciences, is far more closely connected to the reproduction of global neoliberalism than its key protagonists are willing to countenance.
Post-politics – we talk through precisely what we mean by this phrase in Chapter 5, but very briefly: post-politics is simply the form of politics that follows the end of genuine political engagement. For us, genuine politics involved a degree of ideological commitment. Post-politics is the politics of now. Post-politics is the reduction of politics to mere representation and administration. These days, our politicians appear to have no clear ideological commitments beyond improving what already exists. For a more detailed elaboration, see Žižek (2008a), Rancière (2010a) and Badiou (2009).
The Real – for Lacan, the Real is one of the three orders (see also The Symbolic and The Imaginary) that constitute the psyche. It defines and shapes our pre-symbolic subjective psychological experience, a milieu of conflicting and unexplained stimuli and drives – powerful feelings that cannot be put into words. The word is capitalised to distinguish it from mere ‘reality’, which tends to occupy the symbolic realm. For Lacan, the Real exists beyond symbolisation. Quite literally, we have not got the words to describe it. Imagine being faced with a phenomenon that impacts on your senses to leave you feeling completely agog, entirely unable to explain or understand it, no matter how hard one tries. This suggests an encounter with the Lacanian Real. See Taylor (2010) and Fink (1996).
Repress/repression – this is a very basic psychoanalytic concept that refers the attempt to force subjective desire or traumatic memories from consciousness. [Page 178]These desires remain in the subconscious, and can ‘return’ in altered form to intrude upon consciousness, identity and social behaviour.
Subject/subjectivity – we use this phrase in the traditional philosophical sense to denote the unique, internal, non-objective life of the individual. Using Žižek's transcendental materialism as a guide, we describe fundamental changes in the nature of human subjectivity throughout the book.
Sublimation – for Freud, sublimation is a process in which amorphous libidinal energy is channelled into socially acceptable activities such as artistic or intellectual endeavour. Sublimation is not simply an ‘escape valve’ for excess sexual energy that might cause excessive behaviour or, if repressed, neurosis, but the fundamental means by which a ‘state of nature’ can be converted to a ‘state of culture’. It is thus essential for the journey of socialisation from the Real through the Imaginary to the Symbolic during the Oedipal phase.
Symbolic Order – for Lacan, the Symbolic Order defines our experience of everyday social life. In order to make sense of social reality, and subscribe to the normative meaning of symbols, we need to pass through a period of socialisation that encourages understanding and the acceptance of symbolic meaning. The Symbolic Order is therefore simply the social world of communication – including but not restricted to language – that allows us to understand the world around us. The law forms part of this symbolic order, but here ‘the law’ is not simply a reference to the formal laws created by liberal democratic legislatures. The law is used to capture all rules and conventions that are the products of the big Other (see above). Drawing on the work of Žižek, for us the very principle of the necessity of a Symbolic Order has been challenged by the rise of postmodernism and the onward march of liberal capitalism. One key aspect that suggests the decline of the modern Symbolic Order relates to the associated decline of symbolic efficiency. For clear extended accounts of the Symbolic Order, read: Bailly's (2009) Lacan, Taylor's (2010) Žižek and the Media, Dean's (2006) Žižek's Politics, and Fink's (1996) The Lacanian Subject.
Symbolic efficiency – symbolic efficiency relates to the general agreement that is reached about the meaning and consequence of the symbols that make up the Symbolic Order. Crucially, in order for a ‘fact’ to take on the appearance of truth, it must first be accepted by the big Other. When the big Other identifies something as factual, the subject is then also encouraged to fully believe in it. For example, before the rise of postmodernism, we were encouraged to take a medical prognosis at face value. We accepted that the doctor was the holder of hidden knowledge, and that their assessment should be accepted as truth. The decline of symbolic efficiency means that we no longer take such things at face value, and that there are gradually fewer [Page 179]symbols that we can immediately accept as basic truths. Symbolically efficient cultures are not rigid and incapable of producing new truths, but pan-sceptical postmodernism challenged all established forms of belief; it asks why they should be accepted over alternative accounts of meaning. We might imagine that challenging conventional understandings of the world must be a good thing, but refusal to accept established meaning ensures the gradual erosion of faith in all social institutions and conventions and the incremental advance of a culture of immobilising cynicism. Increasingly we greet all accounts of truth with cynicism, and it is difficult to identify anything today that we can fully accept as an article of faith. But there is also an associated and paradoxical change taking place. Our inability to believe is connected to a deeper, unconscious form of belief that takes the form of a belief in our own non-belief, or a basic commitment to our own scepticism. This, Žižek suggests, signifies the return of the big Other, or what, following Lacan, he calls the Other of the Other. The decline of symbolic efficiency and the sad demise of the big Other encumbers us with an oppressive freedom in which less and less of the world around us makes sense and can be taken at face value. In order to escape this torment and to try and restore some sense of order we construct an Other of the Other that occupies the sphere of the Real (see above). For Žižek, we can see this process at work in the growth of belief in conspiracy theories. We dismiss authoritative accounts of an event, but we seem increasingly willing to accept alternative accounts of conspiracy and hidden power that test the boundaries of credulity. For example, we seem willing to believe in the existence of some hidden power that manipulates governments and controls the world order, even though we find it increasingly difficult to believe in more mundane aspects of the symbolic order. This paranoia is deeply reflective of our times, but, in the standard psychoanalytic manner, we should see this paranoia as an attempt to address some other issue. Paranoia is not in itself ‘the illness’; rather it is a formation that reflects the subject's attempt to address the true illness. For Žižek, this common paranoia is an attempt to cope with the decline of symbolic efficiency and the death of the big Other. For clear accounts of symbolic efficiency, read Taylor's (2010) Žižek and the Media, Dean's (2006) Žižek's Politics, and Žižek's (2006b) How to Read Lacan.
Thymos/thymotic passions – thymos is the Greek word for passion or spiritedness, but in Greek philosophy it usually refers to those passions that structure a desire for external recognition.
Transcendental materialism – this is a phrase used to describe Slavoj Žižek's contribution to philosophy, more specifically his foundational ontology. It relates to a model of subjectivity he develops sporadically throughout his work. In Chapter 8 we describe this model in quite basic terms. Žižek's [Page 180]ontology involves an attempt to fuse the German idealism of Hegel, Kant and Schelling to Lacanian psychoanalysis as a means of grasping the relationship between mind and body and the nature of human freedom. The fundamental principle is that the human being's material neurological system is flexible whilst the ideological sociosymbolic system is rigid. This reversal stands much of liberal thought on its head and challenges the Marxist notion that material conditions determine consciousness; the real problem we face is that material conditions do not always determine consciousness, which means that obsolete ideologies can survive past their sell-by date to cause huge problems in the present. See Johnston (2008), Hall (2012a; 2012c), Winlow and Hall (2012a) and Žižek passim.
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