Power and subjectivities

Clearly subjectivity is important in the discussion of power, but unfortunately neither Lukes’ discussion nor its extension in Hardy’s work quite grasps what is important in subjectivity. The basic point of reference for any contemporary discussion of subjectivity has to be Laclau and Mouffe’s (1985) Hegemony and socialist strategy. It was this work that introduced the basic poststructuralist ideas into discussion of power. Briefly, these are that there are no privileged grounds of theoretical truth from which the theorists can write or speak; knowledge is con-tested and reality is something known only through knowledge of it. Hence, as Zˇizˇek says, ‘there is no transcendental Signified; so-called reality is a discursive construct; every given identity, including that of a subject, is an effect of contingent differential relations’ (2005a: 271).

The argument of Hegemony and socialist strategy effectively puts an end to discussion of real interests because it deconstructs the notion of the subject as something that is a substantial entity, already there and fully formed, except for realization of its real interests which the structure of reality occludes. Instead, inter- ests are never given – any more than is the nature of the subject. Subjects are an effect of the play of contingent discursive possibilities, the signification of which is not fixed in advance because all of its possible terms are relational. It is the play of differences that is important. It is how we see ourselves in the discursive possibili- ties that determines how we, as subjects, constitute ourselves as ‘the’ subject with specific sets of interests that relate to other subjects with other interests. However, going  beyond  this  poststructuralism, Zˇizˇek  sees  the ‘real  achievement’ of  Laclau and Mouffe’s work to be more than merely its poststructuralism (whose general approach has been discussed in greater detail in Clegg 1989):

The real achievement of Hegemony is crystallized in the concept of ‘social antagonism’: far from reducing all reality to a kind of language-game, the socio-symbolic field is conceived as structured around a certain traumatic impossibility, around a certain fis- sure that cannot be symbolized. In short, Laclau and Mouffe have, so to speak, rein- vented the Lacanian notion of the Real as impossible, they have made it useful as a tool for social and ideological analysis. (2005a: 271, 273)

Being constituted as an ideological subject by responding to those interpellations that constitute our subject positions, we are, Zˇizˇek suggests, by definition deluded. We see ourselves in terms of antagonisms – for instance, as man not woman, as reli-gious not an infidel – which have an a priori impossible relationship. Each of the terms stands in an impossible relation to the other. Each of them prevents the other from achieving its identity with itself. As soon as one defines oneself in terms of a religious identity – for instance that one is a Muslim and not an infidel – then one is engaged with a social reality that these terms construct, always the other to those many infidels whom one encounters, and whose being there and being that is a constant affront to the identity that is assumed. Or think of it in class terms. The proletarian demands the capitalist; it needs the capitalist as its other, if only as an illusion, as something to struggle against in rhetoric and through other forms of engagement. The capitalist serves as an illusory figure for the proletarian just as does the infidel for the Muslim or the Christian – where each is the other to the infidel. The real existence of those others who are not bearers of the same subject positions as oneself does not challenge one’s identity, however; in fact, it constitutes it.

However, to grasp the notion of antagonism, in its most radical dimension, we should invert the relationship between the two terms: it is not the external enemy who is preventing me from identity with myself but every identity is already in itself blocked, marked by an impossibility, and the external enemy is simply the small piece, the rest of reality upon which we ‘project’ or ‘externalize’ this intrinsic, immanent impossibility … This is also the real ground for Freud’s insistence that the Verdrängung cannot be reduced to an internalization of the Unterdrückung [the external repression]: there is a certain fundamental, radical, constitutive, self-inflicted impediment, a hindrance of the drive; and the role of the fascinating figure of external Authority, of its repressive force, is to make us blind to this self-impediment of the drive. (2005a: 274)

Indeed, the authority figures that block us in organizations function in precisely these ways. We need them for our identity; overcome them and we are forced to confront the painful emptiness of our own failings rather than project them on to others whose responsibility they can be assumed to be rather than a responsibility that we will not assume. What we imagine that the other deprives us of having or being does not exist as something that the other possesses – the Hegelian moment of ‘the loss of the loss’ or the ‘negation of the negation’, ‘that moment of pure antag- onism where it is brought to the point of self-reference’ (2005a: 274, 275). It is the negativity of the other, as an externalization of one’s own self-hindering, to which we ascribe in terms of the interpellations constituting our sense of who we are. The other functions as a form of positivity for the subject position claimed, as a symptom: the believer needs the infidel to measure the worth of his belief, the other always functioning  as  a  reflexive  determination  of  its  other  term. As  Zˇizˇek  puts  it, ‘the subject is correlative to its own limit, to the element which cannot be subjectivized,

it is the name of the void which cannot be filled out with subjectivization: the subject is the point of failure of subjectivization’ (2005a: 276). The subject is always a work in process whose interests are produced as something seemingly real only in the name of certain antagonisms that are always already there to mask the empty space of the subject: the sinner and salvation; the worker and oppression; the cap- italist and exploitation, for instance. We should be happy in the indetermination of subjectivity rather than clutch at the straws of ‘real interests’, for they are only ever a fantasy of the categories we conjure and conceive.

Source: Clegg Stewart, Courpasson David, Phillips Nelson X. (2006), Power and Organizations, SAGE Publications Ltd; 1st edition.

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