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Laclau Talk: The question I wanted to ask

Hi All,

Glad to see so many folks at the Laclau presentation. For no other reason than we should all know how to pronounce his name: it is" laclew" ; it rhymes with laflew. Over 15 years, I and everyone I know, has been mispronouncing his name.

On to other topics: Don't you find it curious that when folks turn to the rhetorical tradition(in his case direct references to Cicero) they often do so with an eye toward the figurative (Stylistic) at, what seems to be the expense of other canons of rhetoric? This is, partly, a typical post-structuralist move when it comes to recovering the rhetorical tradtion. But, a stylistic approach to rhetoric should not be thought as both necessary and sufficient to turn one into a post-structuralist. The added trick, and this is where I would want to ask my question, concerns the translation of that stylistic device into a means to discuss the rhetoricity of a given concept (in his case, the move from an antagonism to a hegemonic frontier). In classical rhetorical language, rhetoric as a cultural practice, is situated talk. In laclau's langague it is mostly associated with the demand (what he calls an antagonism) to change the current situation. Classically, we focus on this demand to assess whether or not the demand was successful or not in transforming the addressee. We often do so to recover the notion of agency built into the act of making a demand. But in Laclau's hand, the rhetorical charater of the demand is less important than the rhetoricity associated with pulling together mulitiple demands into a populist reason against the current configuation of the social. I guess the question is: what, then, of the rhetoric of demand 1? Is it best understood as an antagonism, something that is only interesting rhetorically for what it tells us about the possiblitiy of generating a hegemonic frontier that pulls together a host of antagonisms? But, if so, then the anatogonism itself and its rhetorical character would only be important to the extent that it gathers others together, that is, the way it speaks to and offers itself to others or its outside? Well, that would have been my question: not sure how Laclau would answer, or if he would care much about the question. But, it is a question we should put on the table. Simply put: can any one text be the focus of understanding the concept of hegemony?



In an effort to try to answer Ron's question and link our discussion of counterpublics to hegemony/articulation, I want to toss out another concept that I find kinda fun and useful: Counterpublicity. I am pulling this from Doxtader's "In the Name of Reconciliation" from the book Counterpublics and the State (edited by Asen and Brouwer). Counterpublicity for Doxtader is a process of speech actions that aims to replace conditions in "the" public or that can help "groups find the potential for shared understanding or consensus from within expressions of opposition and difference." (This sort of has a ring of antagonism to it). He goes further to describe that counterpublicity 1)emerges because there is a need for individuals to identify as members of a counterpublic/need for oppositional action because of a situation of exigence; 2) counterpublicity marks spaces where counterpublics invent oppositional arguments, challenge dominant visions, and seed collective action and agreement; 3) counterpublicity opens spaces for us to critically question whether strategies of contestation enhance democratic deliberation, and 4) it shows how individuals are representing and re-presenting themselves, experiences, and interests. Doxtader looks at the Kairos Document from the Truth and Reconciliation Comission in South Africa as his example of counterpublicity. He argues that this document allowed a debate and reclaimation of terms (religion, truth, reconciliation as key) and allowed the "truth" to be seen about how social structures were at work. It allowed for re-presentation of the experiences of the people to get at the real "truth". Arguably, then, this document is working to unify groups under this particular representation. Thus, if we take counterpublicity as having the potential to be a hegemonic force, and allowing that it can be rooted in one document that spurs (as in this example with the Kairos document), then perhaps for rhetoricians, we can say that documents have agency or can have some power in being the force to pull fragmented groups together. A very brief view of this argument and the qualities of counterpublicity, but a starting point for us to look at as we get more into crossing that frontier with hegemony.

Perhaps there really is no demand 1, or at least the rhetoricity of demand 1 is not really part of the hegemonic articulation. That is, at least if demand 1 is thought of as an entirely localized and self-birthed demand. The way Laclau constructed a diagram of demand1, d2, ect orginally in horizontal relation to one another suggested that conception of d1. However, I think the kind of hegemonizing he's talking about is a task that can only take place when a speaker is reacting not only to a local instance of injustice (as per demand 1) but is rather reacting to a richer matrix of previously articulated demands and injustices. It may be the original articulation of such injustices may make it more or less easy for a hegemonic articulation to start to construct a logic of equivilence with that demand and others (ie it may easier to bring together poor native workers and unemployed immigrants if, for instance, the workers articulate their demands in terms of corporate exploitation instead of xenophobia). But it seems that the hegemonizing articulations must come after (in response to) local demands that have already been voiced.

While I'm not very familiar with the circumstances of the Kiaros document, it seems like it does come at such a momement when previous demands have already been made and the task has begun of producing both an equivalence among those demands, as well as what Laclau and Mouffe call "a set of proposals for the positive organization of the social" (189).

What seems to be strikingly absent in HSS are examples, like Kiaros perhaps, of democratic hegemonizing articulation (there are obviously much less cumbersome ways to talk about this, but when in Rome . . .) My question is, why are such examples absent in the book? Do they not believe such articulatory practices occur as organic responses to contemporary conditions? Is the call for such a project, which seems they seem to assign to an entirely future status both at the end of the book as well as the 2000 introduction, a project for an intellectual vanguard? Is their claim really that a post-structuralist analysis is needed to prove the conditions of possibility for such a hegemony project, then intellectuals can go at it? What's the status of the intellectual vanguard for radical democracy?