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March 5, 2006

Grossberg's "Articulation and Agency" Notes

I. Cultural Studies hold a particular model of agency, of how history is made, but it has oppositional theories:
a. Cultural Studies model of agency
• Articulations made by real people
• People try to make best of situations, are NOT passive
• Continuous struggle to manage relations
• Field of historical relations is never entirely open to any re-articulation
o Humans are subject to constraints
• Practices have histories: “traces w/o an inventory?-“bringing their story into new relations? (115) – don’t carry logic of history w/ them
• History not just waiting for re-articulation – has “tendential forces? (115) (having a movement or direction of own: capitalism, technology)
• People located in overdetermined historical realities in which things are done to them – partly anonymous
• “HISTORY IS PARTLY CONSTRUCTED THROUGH UNEQUAL AND ANTAGONISTIC RESOURCES AND CONTIGENT EFFECTS?
b. Two opposing sides to Cultural Studies model of agency
i. Substitutes structural descriptions for causal explanations: events of a particular time w/ no historical context to events that change over time
1. cultural studies sees history as articulated - continuous and active causal relationships
ii. product of agency/forces transcending the structure of history itself - History made according to human subjectivity; “knowing subject? / objective bystander
1. “humanity? is product of social forces/life – no universal human nature making people the same; depends on circumstance – different social formations/historical periods

II. Paradox: individuals as subjects must serve as both the cause and effect of social structures and of history itself
a. Theory of “interpellation? - Louis Althousser- “HEY YOU!?
• Subject is culturally and linguistically determined
• “Subjectivity is the product of ideology’s power to interpellate – to place – individuals at particular sites within the field of meanings which it constitutes? (117-118)
• Subject now has the experience, the “truth?: “passive occupant of a particular position w/in a linguistic universe? (118)
• Subordination occurs
• Even the most subordinate, while becoming an object, still preserves a sense of subjectivity b/c they still “experience? the world
b. Grossberg: Too much power on language and discourse – interpellation – not enough room for individuals to act to challenge history (ideology and history hold winning hand – deny the possibility of agency)

III. Ways to respond to dilemma of agency being denied
a. Interpellation never entirely successful – no one is ever perfectly positioned.
i. Explanation
• Individual subject is always overdetermined by contradictory interpellations which construct his/her subjectivity
• The result is a fragmented subject which can act against and single instance of its own subjection
• Fragments, in a sense, become autonomous and are not a coherent whole
ii. Problem: Doesn’t explain how individuals can make history/how they can be source of historical agency
b. Solve the problematic relationship between subject and agent
i. Explanation: places agent in another ontological realm – independent and transcendent
ii. Problems:
• Ignore social construction of the sites of agency
• Emphasizes the agency of resistance; ignores that of domination
• Agency is too individualized
c. Interpellation is an incomplete account of subjectivity and identity – identity produced only when subject-positions are articulated to ideologically produced systems of meaning
i. Explanation:
• Subject is located within ideological systems of social difference
• cannot be reduced to subjectivity b/c they are determined by a number of social forces that operate differently in different situations
• ideology constructs a set of “cultural identities? which determine subject positions
ii. Cultural Studies carries (c) a bit further: paradox of subjectivity results from mistaken identification of individuals with both subjects and agents of history – history is “made behind our backs?
1. History complex set of relations
• Subjectivity: the site of experience and of the attribution of responsibility
• Agency: the active forces struggling within and over history
• Agent-hood: actors operating, whether knowingly or unknowingly, on behalf of particular agencies
2. Critics try to identify specific planes on which individuals operate in history
• Must, rather, be separated: disarticulated so they can be re-articulated.
• Without the detour: identification of relations is a reduction of possibilities – all politics is of identity and subjection
3. Need to realize the living – what people do: action. Not what they know or what they are.
4. May be irrelevant that people act from ideologically interpellated and articulated positions
5. How act is articulated historically and politically is an matter of agency and agent-hood

IV. Agency
a. Never merely a matter of individual’s power to act
b. Actual historical affectivity – actual specific forces at work in the context of a struggle – is what matters
c. Agency only can be described in its contextual enactments – never transcendent – exists in historical forces at play
d. History has “tendential forces? – create spaces in which people can experience and act – map out “long-term directions and investments? (123)
e. Forces act through agents – control destiny of society
f. Agent: group coming together at particular moment; need not have shared social identity
i. Relationship between agents and agencies NOT simple nor direct; agents have own agenda – might not be in service of a particular historical force
ii. As “players?, agents ability to play the game depends on their access to apparatuses and institutions of agency – within sites, agents do NOT need to act as subjects

V. “What does it mean to talk about a position of subordination in relations of agent-hood and agency??
a. Some individuals and nominal groups are denied specific sites of agency
b. Subordination constructs relations to “historically effective forces?/ “positions of activity? (125)

VI. “What are the links that connect ideological subjects to agents??
a. “Affective individuality?: subject, not of identities, but of affective states
i. Moves through terrains, power depends on its place in specific maps, location, how it is moving
ii. NOT random or subjective: it carries historical maps; course determined by social cultural and historical knowledge ~ specifics not determined
iii. Individual is both an articulated site and one of ongoing articulation w/ history
iv. Unlike subjects, the discourse is “empowering signposts? (126); not just a system of differences
v. Need to establish “not an identity so much as a place, not a subjectivity so much as an affective individuality? (126)
vi. Most important: who is acting and from where
vii. “nomadic, affective life of the individual which empowers the articulation of the individual into structures of agent-hood and agency, which enables it to move between specific identities and nominal groups? (127)

VII. No necessary correspondences between various elements – no “guarantees which subjectivities or identities form nominal groups which are then able to become historical agents? (127)
a. Affectivity depends upon access to specific apparatuses