Sunday, June 1, 2008

Structuralism

I think structuralism is an academic continuation of the end-of-politics dream of 20th century politics.

The 20th century was characterized by attempts to resolve the conflicts that plagued societies- through technocracy, communism, fascism, caretaker governance, accomdationism- and to in that phrase 'end history,' in so much as history is the story of the public fight for power and change.

Structuralism doesn't seek to do that- but rather it seeks to end the mystery of human action. Structuralism is an explanation of agency that places the reasons for events in terms of the systems/structures that humans live in and have created. This explanation is seductive in that choices no longer exist- we are just playing out our roles in a system- but like other reductive beliefs, it takes out the human strangeness, and without that history- real history makes no sense.

The best example I can think of this is from someone who believed deeply in impersonal forces of history: Vladimir Lenin. According to this own beliefs, he should have been a horrific and reactionary oppressor. He was born to the gentry, and had peasents providing his living for the better part of his life. Yet, he and his brother turned into revolutionaries. Why? You can propose a lot of reasons, but ultimately, who knows what happened within him- but it certainly wasn't some inevitable structure. Lenin could have made different choices- probably almost did- and we might have a very different world.

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