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11.12.03

Poststructural Subversion

An important element of social change which poststructural theory seems better positioned than structuralist theory to emphasize is subversion. Structuralism tends to look at social change as arising from two processes: the development of the logic of the system, and from agents standing "outside," detached from that hegemonic logic in some way. Sometimes the two can work together -- for example, capitalism produces a proletarian class due to its basic structure, but proletarians are by their nature outside the halls of power and thus able to attack them. This can create a suspicion of anyone among the powerful who claims to be working for change -- such a person is compromised by being caught up in the logic of the system.

Subversion, on the other hand, is change from within, the use of power against the system that conferred it. There's simple subversion, in which one structure is used against another (a professor using her status to call for the university to stop buying stuff from sweatshops), and reflexive subversion, in which power is made to nullify itself (voting to abolish democratic government). Poststructuralism suggests a picture of agents confronted with an array of contingently articulated (which is not to say independent) structural elements, which are potential sources of power and may be used in various ways.

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