ideology, history, transhistory

alec ramsdell a_ramsdell at
Sat Jul 11 14:28:52 PDT 1998

>Date: Fri, 10 Jul 1998 10:10:46 -0400 (EDT)
>From: Mathew Forstater <forstate at>

>Yes, Voloshinov's work is also important. Another lesser known
>along the same lines is Stephen Feuchtwang's "Investigating Religion"
>Tavistock, 1975. From his essay:
>"The separation of conciousness or the 'ideal' from non-consciousness
>the 'social' as independent factors of human reality either takes ideas
>and consciousness out of reality or divides every social unity into two
>'aspects' on these same categorical lines. It is often thought that
>Marx's historical science does this...But marx's materialism precisely
>not a fundamental categorical separation of thought from material
>Ideological production, the production and communication of ideas, is
>more purely ideal a practice than economic production is purely
>It is nothing if not social." (pp. 67-68)
>In the same piece Feuchtwang makes a point relevant to the
>'transhistorical' discussion, and issues raised around the discussion
>of "universalism" and capitalism and racism in theory and history:
>"Marxist analysis produces a theory of the system of practices, a
>from which can be derived all the forms which make up the complex unity
>the society in question. This must involve marking its difference
>other societies. A theory of a specific socio-economic formation shows
>to be repeatable. That is to say it shows it to be the constitution of
>specific set of conditions, and not any other set. But marxist
>neither starts from nor seeks to discover some universal object, like
>Human Nature, or Society, or Power, or Ideology, or Religion, which is
>non-historical 'fact.' Rather it produces theories by which historical
>reality can be known and changed." (p. 68)


I'll have to pick up the Feuchtwang . . .

I've been thinking about how medical discourse and medicine, as a science that separates the ideal from the social, gives the ideal authority over the social. And how medical research proceeds without full consideration of its politically fraught role in social ideological production.

The latest _In These Times_ has an article on experiments done on young boys "in an effort to prove that violence, aggression and even criminal behavior are caused by biological factors." The experiments are generously funded. I would argue that the actual object of the study, based on the racial and socioeconomic cross-section of the young boys, is "the roots of violence . . . [in] . . . disenfranchised, inner-city communities." The ideal object of study is the relationship of levels of serotonin in the brain to aggression.

Here we can read an ideology of race (and class) that operates socially, whose specific source of legitimation is the supposedly economically and politically disinterested sphere of neurobiology, or the brain as a non-historical or transhistorical "fact".

I think when I mentioned the grounding of the "fact" in my previous post I was attempting some quip about pulling the historico-metaphysical rug out from under our feet, or stepping out of our shoes as we walk, or something like that. I think the example of medical discourse in some of the fields it chooses to colonize is a good example of an idealized, transhistorical study, advertised as an innocent, helpful intervention, being bound up with certain specifically historical, political & economic motivations. It is a non-historical "fact" being enlisted in the service of real historical interests, and pretty disengenuously at that.

Maybe serotonin level is a factor in violent behavior. The point is the evidence is inconclusive. An instance of the ideological motivations at work in the sign: "Geneticists and other biologists who are interested in understanding aggressive behavior should take a second look at whether the human & social literature justifies linking the words 'serotonin' and 'aggression' with the words 'specific relationship'". Or with the words "young", "Black", "Latino", "Gangs", etc. (Or with millions of dollars in grants).

More innovative research in the service of validating racial claims through biology. Like when Chief Gates hypothesised that Blacks are genetically pre-disposed to death by LAPD chokehold.

To locate this in the context of racial determination and the ideology of the sign, under the rubric of medicine and biology (and by extension justice), from Voloshinov's _Marxism and the Philosophy of Language_: "The idealistic philosophy of culture and psychologistic cultural studies locates ideology in the consciousness." As far as race and class go, both a grave error and a nonfortuitous tactic.

Thanks again for sending your past posts.


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