Start Geo Dictionary | Overview | Topics | Groups | Categories | Bookmark this page.
geology dictionary - geography encyclopedia  
Full text search :        
   A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z   #   



structural Marxism

  A modern school of Marxism most closely associated with the work of the French philosopher Louis Althusser (1918-90). His ideas went through a series of reformulations and autocritiques, but most critical attention fastened on his work during the 1960s and 1970s (see Elliott, 1987). His project was ambitious and complex, but in general Althusser proposed a fundamental distinction (an \'epistemological break\') between Marx\'s \'early\' writings, which were still close enough to Kantian and particularly Hegelian philosophy to represent a humanism, and Marx\'s \'mature\' writings, which supposedly broke so completely with Hegelian philosophy that they could be judged a \'science\' (Althusser, 1969; Althusser and Balibar, 1970).

Two issues are woven together in these claims: on the one hand, the distinction between the work of the young Marx (1840-4) and the mature Marx (1857-83); and on the other hand, the opposition between an early humanism that was still \'ideological\' (see ideology) and a subsequent anti-humanism that was supposed to provide a secure foundation for the construction of a truly critical \'science\'. Both manoeuvres were contested by critics. In the first place, even when separated by the hybrid and \'transitional\' works of 1845-57 — which include the Grundrisse, the notebooks Marx composed in preparation for Das Kapital — most intellectual historians insisted that it was extremely difficult to divide Marx\'s writings into such clinical stages. In the second place, Althusser\'s vision of modern Marxism as a science of modes of production which focuses on the structures of capitalism, exposes the ideology of liberal humanism and seemingly evicts human agency from historical eventuation, was attacked by humanist scholars who objected to the unwelcome shadow of structuralism falling over historical materialism.

The debate was especially vigorous within Anglophone Marxism, particularly among social historians, where it was sparked off by E.P. Thompson\'s (1978) polemic against Althusser and by Richard Johnson\'s (1978) survey of the limits of Thompson\'s own position. A barrage of exchanges then appeared in History Workshop Journal and the debate was eventually joined by, among others, Hirst (1979) — who had collaborated with a number of others in a series of critical engagements with Althusser that went some considerable way beyond Althusser\'s own positions (Hindess and Hirst, 1975, 1977; Cutler, Hindess, Hirst and Hussain, 1977, 1978) — and Anderson (1980), who had played a large part in opening Anglophone Marxism to other traditions of Continental European Marxism and who had himself produced two distinguished Althusserian accounts of European history (Anderson, 1975, 1976). For some scholars, the result of all this was a vindication of humanist inquiry, while for yet others Althusser\'s anti-humanism continued to offer the prospect of a \'renewal\' of Marxian theory (Resch, 1992). But in Francophone circles the arguments over structural Marxism — which were equally passionate and politicized — radicalized Althusser\'s thought and were drawn into the formation of what came to be called post-structuralism.

In human geography, the exchanges in the 1970s and early 1980s were more muted than they were in many other disciplines (Chouinard and Fincher, 1963; Duncan and Ley, 1982) — perhaps because Althusser\'s ideas never had the constituency they enjoyed elsewhere — and the interest in post-structuralism emerged correspondingly later. But in the 1990s it has become clear that the legacy of Althusser is much greater than this suggests, and includes the following:

(1) A well-established rejection of empiricism and a recognition of the basic importance of theoretical work (see also problematic). In human geography this took the form of a critique of spatial science which depended, at least in part, on an engagement with structural Marxism (Gregory, 1978, pp. 105-20); it has since been developed most extensively within different — but nonetheless related — approaches like post-structuralism and realism.(2) A more complex view of the architectonics of capitalism than the base-superstructure model to be found in Marx\'s original writings (\'classical Marxism\'). Althusser distinguished between the economic, political and ideological levels of a social formation, and argued that different levels would dominate different social formations (the political or ideological in feudalism, for example, and the economic in capitalism); the dominant level would in each case be determined by the economic level. This was intended to militate against an essentialism and reductionism in which explanations are immediately and directly reduced to a single and supposedly \'essential\' level: instead structural Marxism treated causality as a question of overdetermination. In human geography this sort of topography eventually became something of a commonplace in two main streams of thought. On the one side were those political and economic geographers drawn to the Regulation school and its attempts to elaborate the highly complex overdeterminations of the process of capital accumulation (see Gibson-Graham, 1996, pp. 24-45). On the other side were those cultural and social geographers seeking a more sophisticated conceptualization of the social location of culture. This did not require Althusser\'s formal apparatus: Cosgrove\'s Social formation and symbolic landscape (1984, 1998) was exemplary in its appeal to the concept of a social formation to secure the integrity of cultural production without once invoking Althusser. More formal expressions of Althusser\'s schema could be found in the work of those geographers who drew on Fredric Jameson\'s (1991) account of postmodernism as the \'cultural dominant\' in the social formation of late twentieth-century capitalism.(3) The assignment of distinctive \'times\' and \'spaces\' to each of the levels of the social formation. The social construction of these times and spaces was an important counter to the abstract geometries of Anglo-American spatial science, but the theoretical elaboration of spatiality in this sense derived from Francophone work in urban sociology (Castells, 1977), political economy (Lipietz, 1977) and political philosophy (Poulantzas, 1980). It subsequently fed into an interest in the production of space, where it joined with work undertaken outside the framework of structural Marxism (cf. Lefebvre, 1992; Gregory, 1994).(4) A recognition of the social constitution of the human subject. The autonomous, sovereign and \'centred\' subject of liberal humanism has been displaced from many analyses as human geographers have been drawn to various versions of anti-humanism. Althusser\'s concept of interpellation has proved to be of particular importance in clarifying the different ways in which human subjects are constituted over space and through time and in elaborating concepts of multiple and competing subject-positions (cf. Smith, 1989; Castree, 1995).(DG) References Althusser, L. 1969: For Marx. London: Verso. Althusser, L. and Balibar, E. 1970: Reading Capital. London: New Left Books. Anderson, P. 1975: Passages from antiquity to feudalism. London: New Left Books. Anderson, P. 1976: Lineages of the absolutist state. London: New Left Books. Anderson, P. 1980: Arguments within English Marxism. London: Verso. Benton, T. 1984: The rise and fall of structural Marxism: Althusser and his influence. London: Macmillan. Castells, M. 1977: The urban question: a Marxist approach. London: Edward Arnold. Castree, N. 1995: Theory\'s subject and subject\'s theory: Harvey, capital and the limits to classical Marxism. Environment and Planning A 27: 269-97. Chouinard, V. and Fincher, R. 1963: A critique of \'Structural Marxism and human geography\'. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 73: 137-46. Cosgrove, D. 1984: Social formation and symbolic landscape. London: Croom Helm; reprinted 1998, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Cutler, A., Hindess, B., Hirst, P.Q. and Husain, A. 1977: Marx\'s capital and capitalism today, 2 vols. London: Routledge. Duncan, J. and Ley, D. 1982: Structural Marxism and human geography. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 72: 30-59. Elliott, G. 1987: Althusser: the detour of theory. London: Verso. Gibson-Graham, J.K. 1996: The end of capitalism (as we knew it): a feminist critique of political economy. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Gregory, D. 1978: Ideology, science and human geography. London: Hutchinson. Gregory, D. 1994: Geographical imaginations. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Hindess, B. and Hirst, P.Q. 1975: Pre-capitalist modes of production. London: Routledge. Hindess, B. and Hirst, P.Q. 1977: Mode of production and social formation. London: Macmillan. Hirst, P. 1979: The necessity of theory. Economy and Society 8: 417-45. Jameson, F. 1991: Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press. Johnston, R. 1978: Edward Thompson, Eugene Genovese and socialist-humanist history. History Workshop Journal 6: 79-100. Lefebvre, H. 1992: The production of space. Oxford: Blackwell. Lipietz, A. 1977: Le Capital et son espace. Paris: Maspero. Poulantzas, N. 1980: State, power, socialism. London: Verso. Resch, R. 1992: Althusser and the renewal of Marxist social thought. Berkeley: University of California Press. Smith, P. 1989: Discerning the subject. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Thompson, E.P. 1978: The poverty of theory and other essays. London: Merlin.

Suggested Reading Anderson (1980). Benton (1984). Gregory (1978), 105-20. Gibson-Graham (1996), 24-45.



Bookmark this page:



<< former term
next term >>
structural functionalism


Other Terms : staples theory | performativity | postmodernity
Home |  Add new article  |  Your List |  Tools |  Become an Editor |  Tell a Friend |  Links |  Awards |  Testimonials |  Press |  News |  About
Copyright ©2009 GeoDZ. All rights reserved.  Terms of Use  |  Privacy Policy  |  Contact Us