Subjectivity: The journal

subjectivity-journal-coverI discovered the journal Subjectivity thanks to a link on Dennis Fox’s Critical Psychology website. Here’s a brief, subjective self-description provided by the journal:

Subjectivity is an exciting and innovative transdisciplinary journal in the social sciences. Re-launched by Palgrave Macmillan in 2008, it examines the socio-political, cultural, historical and material processes, dynamics and structures of human experience.

Here’s a somewhat lengthier description from the same page, emphasizing “transdisciplinarity”. (To distnguish transdisciplinarity from interdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity, see here.) (Emphasis in the last sentence below is mine.)

Subjectivity has been an important concept for academic research as well as for intervening in social and political life since the 1960s and 1970s. The idea of subjectivity had a catalytic impact in changing the terms of the debate in the social sciences: in anthropology, geography, psychology, sociology, post colonial theory, gender studies, cultural and media studies, social theory as well as the humanities.

Subjectivity attempts to capture ongoing debates and activities and to foster a discourse on subjectivity which goes beyond traditional dichotomies between the various disciplines.

The journal aims at a re-prioritization of subjectivity as a primary category of social, cultural, psychological, historical and political analysis. It wishes to encourage a variety of transdisciplinary engagements with this topic in theory as well as empirical research, and, accordingly, to advance the potential of engagement with subjectivity/subjectivities as a locus of social change and a means of political intervention.

Can academic papers inspire social change?

That certainly strikes me as a worthy goal, but social change and political intervention are extremely difficult, no? I’m not sure they can be accomplished by disseminating academic articles. Perhaps it’s a start. Perhaps it’s a way for those who share that goal to find each other. But if we find each other, are we then doing nothing more than simply talking to each other (preaching to the choir, as the cliché has it)? And if we are talking to each other, shouldn’t we at least be doing that in public, like on Twitter, where Subjectivity does not appear to have a presence? (There is a Facebook page, but it contains only announcements, not discussion.)

Some days I feel it’s definitely too late for (what I regard as) totally liberating ideas to change the direction in which human society is headed. To search for such insights may be a solipsistic indulgence. I can’t resist pursuing them, though. Who knows what might make a difference? To the extent that I understand what academic critical theorists may mean by “subjectivity,” I can appreciate wanting to make this an important category for analysis. To me this would mean not just acknowledging the contingency of our self-understanding, but using that insight to promote change.

It strikes me that there’s a parallel here between the physical and the mental. Just as you cannot improve physical health simply by telling people to eat their vegetables and exercise, you can’t just tell people to abandon a life of (what some would consider) self-centered, consumerist individualism that, among many other things, is harmful to the continuation of life on the planet. Not only would such advice be ignored. It would be labeled elitist and perhaps insulting.

To improve the physical health of a population, you need to change the physical environment in which people live — less pollution; healthy, readily available, reasonably priced food; convenient and safe open spaces in the outdoors. That’s relatively easy to agree on (if not to implement). The physical/mental parallel breaks down at this point. To “improve” the mental climate of the society we live in — to create a “good” and just society — you need what? Education? Who would get to decide on the priority of values that were taught? Should we teach that a more egalitarian society would be in everyone’s interest? Imagine the right-wing resistance to such an idea! Following this train of thought quickly takes me outside the limits of what I can envision as hopeful social change.

A few years ago, in a post called Down so low we dare not speak, I quoted Adam Gopnik on the Romanian philosopher E. M. Cioran: “A love of Cioran creates an urge to press his writing into someone’s hand, and is followed by an equal urge to pull it away as poison.” Unlike the heady climate of the 1960s, to think of social action for social change today is be caught between the push and the pull of hope and despair.

Free stuff!

Anyway… Authors who publish in Subjectivity have the option to make their articles open access, but only if they (or their institutions) pay an Article Processing Charge of £1,600/$2,600 (plus VAT). Scanning the latest issue (July 2013), none of its five articles (nor the book review) are open access. That’s the Gold Open Acesss option, however. There’s also the Green option (making a pre-publication copy digitally available after an embargo period). So it might be worth searching online for papers not directly available from the journal.

Deborah Lupton, by the way, recently wrote a very helpful and informative blog post on the subject of how academics can achieve greater digital visibility for their work: Opening up your research: self-archiving for sociologists (it’s not just for sociologists).

While very few authors appear to have purchased the Gold open access option, the journal itself has provided ten free articles from its archives. I’ve listed them, with their abstracts, below. The added emphases (and one parenthetical comment) are mine.

~ I Eat an Apple. On Theorizing Subjectivities by Annemarie Mol (2008)

In this contribution to the first issue of the journal Subjectivity, I propose that we draw upon exemplary situations to do with eating as we engage in philosophy. That we play with our food, that is, explore the possibilities of models to do with growing, cooking, tasting and digesting. And that, finally, we move metabolic metaphors from one site/sentence to another. Many things would change if we were to engage in such experiments. Subjectivity among them.

~ What Divides the Subject? Psychoanalytic Reflections on Subjectivity, Subjection and Resistance by Lynne Layton (2008)

The paper argues that the meaning of subjectivity is controversial, even within psychoanalysis. While all schools of psychoanalysis agree that the unconscious creates a subjectivity that is divided, there is great disagreement over what divides the subject, particularly what divides it against itself. The paper examines two controversies that bear on the relation of subjectivity and subjection. The author argues that a psycho-social theory of subjectivity has to account for the effects of the social without succumbing to the reductionism of social determinism, and has to account for the idiosyncrasies of human subjectivity without removing subjectivity from its social and historical context. The author roots one relation between subjectivity, subjection, and resistance in what she calls “normative unconscious processes”: unconscious collusions with normative demands to split off and project such human attributes as dependency, emotion, and assertion. Subjects comply with such demands in order to be recognized as “properly” gendered, raced, classed, and sexed subjects, but relational repetition compulsions often express simultaneous resistance to and collusion with oppressive norms.

~ A.N. Whitehead and Subjectivity by Paul Stenner (2008)

This paper comes at subjectivity from a Whiteheadian perspective. It argues that Whitehead provides us with a “deep” form of empiricism grounded in the notion of the “actual occasion” of experience and in the temporal and spatial co-assembly of multiplicities of such occasions. A deep empiricism that embraces process, affirms creativity, foregrounds value and refuses to bifurcate nature into irreconcilable subjective and objective aspects, it is argued, might serve as a useful corrective to current tendencies in social theory to avoid subjectivity and to elide the differences between forms of subjectivity.

(and challenge the hegemony of an overly scientific understanding of the world, perhaps?)

~ The Voice Devoid Of Any Accent: Language, Subjectivity, And Social Psychology by Desmond Painter (2008)

This article discusses the materiality of language in relation to subjectivity, politics, and social psychology. Whereas social psychology has traditionally disregarded language, especially in its material dimension as voice, recent decades have seen important developments. The developing “social psychology of language” foregrounds subjectivity as constituted in relation to particular languages and particular ways of speaking these languages, and acknowledges that these particularities are politically encoded. However, an important dimension of the human voice is still being neglected in the social psychology of language, namely the way it is domesticated according to the dominant principle of political and cultural organization in modernity, the nation-state. It is argued that social psychology, through its own conceptual entanglement with the nation-state, is in historical collusion with ideologies that render language visible mainly in national terms, and thus reproduces rather than challenges contemporary constellations of language, subjectivity, and the political.

~ The Becomings of Subjectivity in Animal Worlds by Vinciane Despret (2008)

When philosophers deal with the issue of the difference between human and animal beings, there is always a double “we” that imposes itself: “we” know that “we” are different. In order to resist these “we’s” the author has explored certain situations in which human and animals work together, and more extensively the everyday practices of cow and pig breeders. Interviewing the breeders, however, highlights an important issue: might the question of “the” difference, as philosophers have outlined it, be of interest to those who work with animals? Letting them construct “their” questions, we learn that these practices are best described in terms of achievement. Therefore, the questions that breeders think should be addressed are not the differences between human and non-human beings but rather the differences between situations, which offer both humans and animals different opportunities to accomplish subjectivities.

~ Culture and Subjectivity in Neoliberal and Postfeminist Times by Rosalind Gill (2008)

My aim in this paper is to think through a number of issues concerning the relationship between culture and subjectivity. It seems to me that exploring the relationship of changing forms of political organization, social relations and cultural practices to changing modes and experiences of subjecthood and subjectivity are among the most important and urgent tasks for critical intellectual work. These questions go to the heart of understanding power, ideology and agency, and they require research that is interdisciplinary, psychosocial and intersectional. My particular focus in this short article is on the interrelations between changing representational practices in visual culture and changing subjectivity/ies. I argue that neoliberalism and postfeminism are central to understanding contemporary media culture, and I put the case for research that does not retreat from exploring how these broader social/political/economic/cultural discourses and formations may relate to subjectivity.

~ After Judith Butler: Identities, Who Needs Them? by Lynne Segal (2008)

After Butler, identities and belongings, whether gendered or of any other hue, can never be securely pinned down. They must be seen as fundamentally contingent, stabilized only through the performative acts that attempt, unsteadily, to fix them as integral markings of our existence. Nevertheless, identity concepts remain pivotal to our ways of perceiving the world, positioning ourselves and asserting differing forms of agency within it. In this article, I discuss the ways in which Butler has herself shifted her analysis of subjectivities, even coming to embrace forms of identity for political ends, although, of course, never less than critically.

~ Identity, diasporas and subjective change: The role of affect, the relation to the other, and the aesthetic by Couze Venn (2009)

If subjectivity is relational and metastable by reference to the material, discursive and psychological conditions that constitute it, it would follow that dislocations provoked by diasporic displacement occasion mutations in subjectivity and identity. The problems concern finding ways of understanding the mechanisms and means that enable subjects to explore dissident or disjunct identities, and that provide the supports for the critical distancing which is integral to the process of disidentification. This paper argues that this requires a radical break with either essentialist or egological conceptualisations of identity and the subject, together with the development of approaches that address the effects of the affective machinery, including the domain of the aesthetic, that binds subjects to particular socio-cultural complexes, be they ‘consumer capitalism’ or ‘traditional’ forms of sociality. Re-theorising the inter-relationship between the psychic and the social, beyond the limitations in psychoanalytic discourse, is integral to this project.

~ Touching technologies, touching visions. The reclaiming of sensorial experience and the politics of speculative thinking by María Puig de la Bellacasa (2009)

The sense of touch is being revalued in disparate places, from cultural theory to expanding markets of haptic technologies. In this paper I explore the potential of thinking with literal and figural meanings of touch. My standpoint inherits from discussions in feminist knowledge politics and constructivist conceptions of science and technology that problematize epistemological distances – between objects and subjects; knowledge and the world; and science and politics. In this direction, touch expresses a sense of material embodied relationality that seemingly eschews abstractions and detachments that have been associated with knowledge-as-vision. Engaging speculatively with experience, knowledge and technology as touch, I explore the differences made by touching visions.

~ Sex on the move: Gender, subjectivity and differential inclusion by Rutvica Andrijasevic (2009)

Heterosexuality and patriarchal social arrangements built within immigration regulations signal the undiminished urgency of feminist engagement to rethink migration through the perspective of sexuality and gender. At the same time, feminist analysis of contemporary migration remains bound to the analytical framework centred on control, and approaches borders and immigration regulations primarily in terms of exclusion. Yet, the contemporary transformations of state borders, labour relations and citizenship question the currency and adequacy of the exclusion-based interpretative model. This article brings together feminist and queer migration studies with literature on the transformation of borders, sovereignty and citizenship as developed in critical political theory with the aim of broadening the interpretative scope and political relevance of feminist and queer migration scholarship. The stakes are both theoretical and political in that such a reading allows for a more nuanced account of the changing forms of governing as well as of emerging political subjectivity.

More interesting, perhaps?

I can’t say any of these went to the top of my reading list, but browsing through the archives, there are some special issues that sound promising: Žižek and Political Subjectivity, Politics and the Unconscious (especially the article Irrational exuberance: Neoliberal subjectivity and the perversion of truth), and Neuroscience and Subjectivity.

Related posts:
Down so low we dare not speak

Image source: Facebook


E.M. Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born

E.M. Cioran, On the Heights of Despair


Sorry, comments are closed for this post.