Thursday, 19 March 2015

The Ideology Debates:
From Ideological Closure to Discursive Openness

Dr. Manash Pratim Borah
Central Institute of Himalayan Culture Studies, Dahung


The great artists were never those who embodied a wholly flawless and perfect style, but those who used style as a way of hardening themselves against the chaotic expression of suffering, as a negative truth.
       (Adorno and Horkheimer 37)
The history of the world over the centuries have witnessed an enduring debate concerning hierarchical structures, ideological dominance, consent and resistance with utmost fecundity of dynamic knowledge and epistemic discourses within the ambit of the socio-cultural and socio-political spheres of human existence. Our social thinkers have also displayed same sorts of propensities over the centuries for explicating the causes of creating inequality and the role of economic power in accomplishing the consent of the power less for the sake of the powerful in the hierarchical structure of civil society. The most fascinating part of this material history is that all the way through the ages, it has formed an assorted numbers of schools of critical theories and discourses engendering a prolific dialectical terrain of decisive thoughts for knowledge consumers. These bodies of theories corresponding to their efforts in understanding social inequalities, dominance and exploitation of the dominant sides have stimulated new-fangled knowledge and culture within the domains of the socio-cultural spheres of our existence. Specifically in reading various processes of securing the consent of the powerless or the dominated ones to the systematic social inequality, the social theorists are themselves engaged in abundant debates regarding the ‘motivating factors’ of that consent-- such as ‘ideology’, ‘ideological state apparatus’, ‘hegemony’ and ‘discourse’ in the crossroads of lived history. 
The present paper is an epistemic exertion in reading the ideology debates concerning social inequalities and the role of dominant ideas within the socio-cultural and socio-political spheres in the long run of our material history. In reading that enduring debate, I have basically accentuated the paradigm shift of the notion of Marxian ideology to Foucauldian discourse through Althusser’s ‘ideological State Apparatus’ and Gramscian notion of ‘hegemony’ and how these notions in different crossroads of the genealogy of history have interpreted the dichotomy of dominance and resistance in socio-cultural arenas of civil society. The paper will also accentuate how in the course of paradigmatic shift in these theories, the Frankfurt School of critical theory in the lacuna of Marxist to Gramscian development has problematised the sanguine agenda of ‘great refusal’ and leeway of revolutionary changes in social structure and relation. With this framing at my disposal, I will try to delve into the introspective levels of those “theoretical moments” (Hall 98) which not only radicalized the legacies of previous theoretical postulations but also interrupted with positive aim the course of dissention of the theoretical regime with “theoretical noise” (ibid 99).
In reading these ideology debates from Marxian ideology to Foucauldian discourse through the Frankfurt School’s notion of “Culture Industry” (Adorno and Horkheimer 31), the Althusserian ‘Ideological State Apparatus’, and Gramscian ‘hegemony’, I circumspectly perceive three specific courses of paradigmatic shifts marked with six different ‘theoretical moments’: firstly, this paradigmatic shift is a move from ideological closure to discursive openness; secondly, from ideological essentialism to multiple politicized subject positions; and thirdly, from the notion of unified totalizing power structure to networks of power relations. In every dichotomy, each particular ‘theoretical moment’ postulating an overt theoretical position vis-à-vis socio-cultural quandaries and ideological solutions explicates the specificities as well as limitations of theoretical visions of creators of discursive practices in a dialectical way. In all these dichotomies, mention should be made of a specific point that the first theoretical or ideological positions as preparatory moments of the ideology debates univocally signal to Marxist notion of ideology where the ideological closure of base and superstructure model, essentialist notion of identity depending on class structure and totalitarian model of power structure in relation to the bourgeoisie domination have confined the entire model into a sort of ideological rigidness and provocative paradigms. Here in all these theoretical postulations and positions, the tension is apparent in not only the reflective levels of these moments but also in the kind and type of causal factors of stimulus of those positions. As critical review of those positions and debates, the present paper initially needs to accentuate the basic facets of those ‘theoretical moments’ for negotiating in-between all those conjectural crossroads.


The camera obscura: Ideology as a Totalizing Force:
The basic problem in defining ideology in concrete terms which can explicitly bring into fore the inherent elements of stimulation and ascendancy is that the notion of ideology is itself an abstract term that comprehensively incorporates variety of strategies and dialectical relationships, assorted points of views and causal factors beyond the reach of general human ken. Its obscurity is the obscurity of fecundity and its inscrutability is the inscrutability of unconstructiveness. It’s both the mentioned qualities are fused together in such an implicit way that often restricts any straightforward definition of the notion as a politicized dominative strategy. In reading the dialectical relationship between colonialism and postcolonialism, Ania Loomba has engaged herself with this ideology debate and has rigorously analyzed the notion of ideology in all detail:

Ideology does not . . . refer to political ideas alone. It includes all our ‘mental frameworks’, our beliefs, concepts, and ways of experiencing our relationship to the world. It is one of the most complex and elusive terms in social thoughts and the object of continuing debates. Yet the central question at the heart of these debates is fairly straightforward: how can we give an account of how our social ideas arise. (26-27)

In Loomba’s reading of ideology, it is manifestly unequivocal that the professed straightforwardness in the entire debate is only marked with its consequential upshots, but is not directed by innate structures. After any thorough discussion, there always remain some sorts of remnants engendering new possibilities of squabbles and provocative inquisition. Even when Marx and Engels through their historico-material perspective have sought to define it as a false or distorted consciousness of the world misguiding or misleading people’s relation with the real world, they simply vindicated its repressive nature, not the structure (whereas ‘structure’ is the most vital concept of Marxist philosophy). For them it is the material reality that constitutes individual consciousness. Like Stanley Fish’s notion of “Interpretive Community” where culture constitutes the boundary of thought and ideas for a community’s participants, in the Marxian paradigm, material reality as the product of human labour reflexively composes an ideological community and ideological boundary beyond what people cannot able to reach the truth (319). This reflexivity is the direct consequence of the demanding interest of the dominant classes for whose sake ideologies speak and circulate.

Corresponding to its disguising nature and obfuscation, Marx and Engels have used the metaphor of ‘camera obscura’: “If in ideology men and their realizations appear upside down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much as from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on their retina does from the physical life-process” (Vil. 5 37, emphasis original). The lethal metaphor unequivocally shows how both the philosophers have calculatingly accentuated the inscrutability lying hidden in the notion of ideology as a consciousness controlling force. The life of individual cannot be separated from the material context within which it is embedded; and it is the material context which thoroughly speaks on behalf of the profit of the dominant class. Hence both the philosophers were unanimous in the view that ideology is not reality, but reality is ideological. Within the ambit of such ideological nature of reality, both the thinkers have remarked that it “is not consciousness that determines life, but life that determines consciousness” (ibid 36). The falsifying nature of reality merging with aggravated consciousness impels individuals to submit his/her consent voluntarily to the dominant ideologies of the society without the use of coercion. However within the paradigm of consciousness and ideological determination, some questions still are emerged with exigency in relation to their emotive and simulative factors. Inside the Marxian paradigm, class consciousness is always apparent within the ambit of social existence of individuals; but individuals seeks to politically stimulate or use that class consciousness to obtain multiple subject positions corresponding to the need and demands of the context and surrounding. Hence in the domain of material reality determining the consciousness of individuals, the notion of static, centralized identity is really a problematic one. On the other hand, in that specific paradigm of ideology which constitutes the reality and thereby the surrounding of living, it is the ideology which itself fuels up politicized maneuvers, motivations and thought distraction. Within the realm of such politicized maneuvers, the notions of passivity and voluntary consent as propagated by the ideological nature of reality are needed to be addressed critically with novel theoretical paradigm. It cannot be discarded that the motivating power of ideology is inherited within its power of creating knowledge and reasoning about one’s own state as a dominated one. That mode of reasoning always exists in a state of perpetual tension with individual intuitive power and art of existence. Within the socio-cultural sphere, that tension is boosted up by counter hegemonic texts, discursive practices and textual reality on the rampage.  
Ideology, Culture Industry and the Frankfurt School:

The whole world is made to pass through the filter of the culture industry . . . . The culture industry as a whole has moulded men as a type unfailingly reproduced in every product.
(Adorno and Horkheimer  35)
Now, after entering into the theoretical zone of the Frankfurt school, the question that is raised is that is ideology an independent deception standing outside the control of cognition? Does really the proletariat have the logical insight for grilling the bourgeois ideology? The ideology debates demand a discussion of that conjectural zone from where all sorts of dominations are produced.
What we say as the critical theory of the Frankfurt School is that critical insight of the theorists like Max Horkheimeer, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin and Herbert Mercuse where they have thoroughly discussed the causes of failure of the proletariat in converting the capitalist mode of productions through radical activities. However in discussing the Marxist ideology, these theorists like the postmodernists are not totally parochial or pessimistic; even they have not considered that failure of the proletariat as the failure of grand-narrative. Unlike the postmodernists, they marked a departure from the theoretical world of abstract reasoning, and inquired the socio-cultural causation of such failures within the ambit of the socio-cultural sphere itself. In doing so, they have opted the traditional base-superstructure model but have more concentrated on the ideological superstructure vis-à-vis popular cultural forms and psychoanalysis. Andrew Bowie describes its endeavours in this way: “Critical Theory analyses why that culture (modern culture) develops in that ways it does, tries to show how it can negatively affect people’s ability to think critically about their actions and evaluations, and suggests of thinking about positive alternatives to the existing state of society” (189). The chief endeavour of the Critical Theorists is to think critically about individuals’ inability to promote individuality and true freedom by representing the real condition of existence.

Hence in our reading, I personally consider the basic backdrop of critical inquiry of these theorists is that seductive reality which is the consequence growing global capitalism in an industrial age. Because of technological changes and capitalist mode of mass production, cultural products like music, movies, books, newspaper, advertisement are so easily accessible to all sorts of populations including the working class  that ultimately enhance diverse forms of seductive reality and outward democratization neutralizing the perpetuated class distinction and individuality. In relation to this, Adorno and Horkheimer remarks: “Movies and radio need no longer pretend to be art. The truth that they are just business is made into an ideology in order to justify the rubbish they deliberately produce. They call themselves industries . . . .” (32). The “culture industry” circumspectly circulate the ideological products of global capitalism in such a fashion that seeks to socialize the capitalist mode of production as a neutral possible social system erroneously homogenizing class difference, individual identity and taste (33). In consequence of misleading democratization of taste and class structure, the working class as Marx’s historical factor for social change itself losses its rebellious strategies and willingly participates in the consumer society of capitalist mode of production. In his revolutionary creation namely One-dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (1991), Herbert Marcuse considers such deception as “democratic domination” in a ‘one-dimensional society’; it is a type of society which is created by the false sense of cultural democratization diminishing the possibility of ‘great refusal’ (65). In such societies, the ideological function of ‘culture industry’ and technological domination impels individuals to believe the perpetuated social structure as unchangeable; if there is any alteration in the existing structure of the society, it is not due to revolutionary will, but because of technological and industrial control. Hence, what make the Frankfurt theorists separate from the classical Marxists are their thorough review of the cultural and the scientific realm as the sites of domination and exploitation instead of Marx’s economic realm. It is through that cultural and scientific realm through which the dominant class circulates their ideological domination and oppression for economic profit.                   

Cognition Vs ISAs: from Lukacs to Althusser:
In the midst of all such debates, the Hungarian born critic Georg Lukacs has given a different view of ideology corresponding to his notions of totality and cognition. For Lukacs human life is a social process constituted through all those actions done by human beings; and the whole process as a historical period constitutes the so called totality. That totality is always marked with heterogeneity and multihued actions. The bourgeois society is not aware of that multihuedness of that totality as their lives are fixed on some specific points of action. And it is the ideology that always hides that totality from consciousness. Hence he believes ideology is not always a false consciousness as it reveals a fractional cognition. The class condition or situation of the collective subject, whose interest and views it represents, eventually determines the legitimacy of that ideology. One can clasp the real nature of ideology whether it is distorted or dominative by using the power of cognition. The proletariat has the logical ability to be acquainted with the real nature of bourgeois ideology which distorts the real nature of reality in order to own the consent of the dominated. Hence, in comparison to the Frankfurt School, Lukacs is considered as more optimistic and psychoanalytic regarding the proletariat’s existence and situation in society.

Hence, it is true to say that the ideology debates in the course of historical dissention were actually fueled up by the rigid paradigm of ideology proliferated by the classical Marxism. The structural Marxist Louis Althusser in his most celebrated essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus” contained in his book Lenin and Philosophy (1971) sought to retrace all the facets of ideology as an enabling force of disabling reality within the ambit of a society manifesting the dialectical relationship between the dominant and dominated. In discussing the elusive structure of and human’s relation with ideology, Althusser in that essay has promulgated three different all-embracing perspectives related with his structuralist notion of ideology: firstly, he discusses the nature and structure of society; secondly, the nature of state power and state apparatuses; and thirdly, the structure and nature of ideology with the help of psychoanalysis from Freud to Lacan. However, in his reading all the three subjects i.e. society, state and ideology are intimately connected with each other through reflexivity and basic conditions of human existence. What makes Althusser different from classical Marxism is his deviation from the rigid and centralized notions of base and superstructure model and of ideology. Althusser finds the root of ideology in the basic structure of society; discussing the difference between the Marxist’s “conception of social whole” and “the Hegelian totality”, he remarks (134):

Marx conceived the structure of every society as constituted by ‘levels’ or ‘instances’ articulated by a specific determination: the infrastructure, or economic base . . . and the superstructure, which itself contains two ‘levels’ or ‘instances’: the politico-legal (law and the State) and ideology (the different ideologies, religious, ethical, legal, political etc. (ibid, emphasis original)

Bringing the allusion of Marx’s topographical metaphor of “edifice” (ibid) i.e. base and of the “upper floor” (135) i.e. superstructure, Althusser questions the “relative autonomy” (ibid) of the superstructure and accentuates the need to rethink the “existence and nature of the superstructure on the basis of reproduction” of the condition of production through its various effects or functions (136, emphasis original). The cause is less important than its function as the state itself is an apparatus or instrument of the ruling class in order to perpetuate their hold over the powerless. The state as the base of creating superstructure is less mobilized than the functions of the superstructures. Hence he distinguishes the “State power” from “the State apparatuses” and discusses various types of State apparatus in function. Differentiating the “Repressive State Apparatus” (RSA) from “Ideological State Apparatus” (ISA) with respect to effect or function, Althusser further discusses relatively eight different ISAs which “function massively and predominantly by ideology” (145): such as the “religious ISA”, the “educational ISA”, the “family ISA”, the “legal ISA”, the “political ISA”, the “trade-union ISA”, the “communication ISA”, and the “cultural ISA” (143). In achieving the same goal of “reproduction of the relations of production, i.e. of capitalist relations of exploitation”, whereas RSA works through “repression”, the ISA predominantly works through “ideology” (145). Whereas Marx and Engels read the superstructure as a unidirectional effect of the base manifesting the ideology of the dominant class, for Althusser, these ISAs are “multiple, distinct, ‘relatively autonomous’ and capable of providing an objective field to contradiction which express . . . the effects of the classes between the capitalist class struggle and the proletariat class struggle” (149). Hence, the class struggle is not only apparent in between the two classes; rather it is an obvious factor within the same class consisting of multiple subjectivities and standard. The base and superstructure cannot be separated vis-à-vis their autonomy; rather there is always a reciprocal relation in-between the two. 

After theorizing the ‘State Apparatus’ in detailed way, Althusser then through the perspective of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis highlights basically four theses of ideology as an allusive force of domination. Firstly, differentiating ideology in general and particular ideologies, he contends that “ideology has no history”; whereas the later has definable histories. However, ideology in general cannot have any specific history as like Freud’s conception of dream, it is a fictionalized representation or “inverted reflection of real history” (160). It is like Freud’s unconscious which is equally trans-historical and devoid of any specific structure. After that thesis, secondly he remarks that ideology “represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence” (162). In the “falsified representation of the world”, ideology does not replicate the real condition of living but the relation of individual with that real condition; it is basically the means not tools of exploitation (163). It has a material existence having the power of “interpellation” (172). As an apparatus, it practice is essentially material.

What makes Althusser different from the classical Marxist paradigm is his understanding of ideology as more subtle, omnipresent and multidimensional phenomenon evaporating the real from the real world. It is not a centralized power-manifestation of the ruling class, but its function is to centralize individuals within the unchanged anti-egalitarian philosophy of domination. Its subversive nature incorporates all the details of human relationships and conditions of living starting from the familial, cultural, economic, and social to the political regimes. On the other hand, the optimistic agenda of Marxist philosophy regarding the proletariat’s role in social change is also apparently missing in Althusserian paradigm. If subjects are entirely the creation of ideology through the process of ‘interpellation’, then there remains nothing outside the control of ideology. The prevailing discourse concerning scopes and power of individuals in social change is simply a demoniac myth manifesting the falsifying dream of the Marxian project.


Common Sense Vs Common Men: Gramsci, Hegemony, and Ideological Openness:
The apparent rigidness and the pessimistic agenda in Althusserian ISAs along with in Frankfurt School’s reading of the ‘culture industry’ are thoroughly resisted by Gramsci’s notion of ‘hegemony’ where the prevailing firmness has moved towards the sanguine agenda of ideological candidness. What is really fascinating in Gramsci is that he does not consider class as a delineator of fixed unitary ideology; rather, for him a single class can mark out conflicting ideologies. Even he questions the dominance of the economic base over the ideological superstructure. The traditional base-superstructure model fails to comprehend the commonplace activities of common man in a reliable form. The economic base can simply generate precise conditions for nourishing certain types of ideologies in society at large; not those which are purposely functional in our routine activities.

What makes Gramsci different from his preceding social theorists is his emphasis on the paradoxical nature of ideological dominance. For him, if there are dominant ideologies speaking on behalf of the interest of the dominant sides, there are too particular kinds of ideologies which may afford scopes for resistance to the dominated ones. Gramsci believes that if ideologies are means of perceiving social reality, the same may provide realms for social resistance or struggle. According to Gramsci, hegemony as a power of control and domination cannot be achieved through the practice of coercive power. It too cannot be achieved through physical punishment or holistic power structure. For him, it is a type of power that specifically aims at voluntary capitulation of the target subjects through consent. And in order to achieve this voluntary capitulation, hegemony aims at manipulating the subjects by playing upon their “common sense” (Gramsci 333). This ‘common sense’, for Gramsci is a body of beliefs and ideas which are historically being formed and on which the practical consciousness of common people rests. Hence, he believes that ideology is always crucial in constituting and creating the subject and consent respectively. It is the reason why in Gramscian hegemony, ideology is not simply the reflections of the material reality; rather, ideologies reflect all the important cross-fertilization of enduring social actions which replicate power in social spheres. In this way, hegemony itself becomes a locus of contestation of the ruling elites and the subaltern groups. As the traditional Marxians believe, ideology is not a totalitarian system of domination; rather, within the realm of the same society, hegemony and counter hegemony may survive in apprehension. Such tensions locating within the socio-cultural terrain of a given society are the prolific and dynamic spaces for the masses, especially the subaltern classes to resist and contest to the power of the powerful.


Foucault’s Subject, power-knowledge and Discursive Openness:
Now, the basic hindrance in critiquing that trajectory between dominance to resistance by assimilating both the paradigms i.e. Marxian ideology or Gramscian hegemony and Foucault’s notions of power and subject formation is itself Foucault’s rejection of the notion of ideology within the ambit of all sorts of power relations and social practices including colonialism and postcolonialism. For Foucault, ideas and material existence cannot be clubbed together; rather, as he believes all sorts of ideas and knowledge are structured by some “laws of a certain code and knowledge” (The Order of, ix). There cannot be any predetermined truth behind any knowledge or ideological formations as most of the Marxists consider the material domain as the proprietor of ideologies. Even there is no possibility of conceiving any predestined source of fabrication of any type of power-relation (like elite and subaltern). Without power knowledge, we cannot speak about ideology. In order to understand the persisting social relations or power relations, we need to focus on all types of heterogeneous aspects of power relations instead of the Marxian or Althusserian totalitarian ideological structures.   

Foucault believes that it is not labour that determines the essence of individuals; rather, subjectivity is constructed through our engagement with multitude of discourses. He also discards the notion of power propagated by the Marxist so far as centralized unidirectional bludgeon of the capitalist class; even, it is not a macro-social phenomenon. For him power is generated and working through assortment of sites in local level. It flows in numerous directions. Hence power is not entirely repressive, but positive in the sense that it enables scopes for resistance and transformations. Whereas traditional Marxism believes that ideology stands in opposition to truth, Foucault believes that the notion of truth is itself problematical. Truth is produced in social relations not in social structures. It is produced out of social and political relations of power which are the very domain of configuration of subject and knowledge. The use of discourse will decide what kind of knowledge will be utilized in producing truth. This knowledge is not separated from power; because power cannot be exercised or worked unless knowledge is formed. Instead of such deterministic philosophies, Foucault believes that every idea is ordered “through some material mediums” and which imposes an explicit pattern on that idea (100). It is this pattern which Foucault calls as discourse.

Even he also negates the idea of subject as the sole source of meaning. He believes that fixed notion of subjectivity is a coercive delusion created by the material process of subjection. He believes that individual is a self-determining agent capable of challenging and resisting the structures of dominion in modern society. An individual is not a docile body, but an active agent. In the very process of livelihood, an individual can have the reason for self-fashioning and identity assertion. It is not an entity, but a form which is changed depending on sources accessible to him/her. Within the ambit of the power-structure, subjects are always in continuous struggle with technologies of power and they cannot live beyond such struggles. And in such constant struggles, the cohesive subject is lost and subjects are constantly transformed into subject positions. Within the realm of those power relations, individuals have the “technologies of the self” (“Technologies of the” 19) and “ethics of the self” as early discussed and through which they can refashion their art of existence of daily practices (“History of the” 342).


Discursive Openness: Towards New Beginning…
The paradigmatic shifts thoughts within the arena of the ideological debates primarily focus on three distinctive phases of paradigm shifts: firstly, it is a movement from ideological closure to discursive openness; secondly, it is a movement from ideological essentialism to multiple political subject positions; and thirdly, it a movement from unified totalizing power position to networks of power. However, that network as fostered by Foucault is not the end of the ideological debates. Rather, the discursive openness in Foucault’s discourse fostered a fangled of new thoughts and philosophico-theoretical positions within the intellectual world. The post-Marxian notions of hegemonic moments of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, the notion of T-discourse of Dorothy Smith, and Donna Haraway’s notion of Cyborg Manifesto fostered innovative agendas in the ideology debates where ruling and the unidirectional base superstructure models are thoroughly resisted. The latter developments in the debates not only accentuate new hope and scopes for the subalterns but also denies the economic base as the foundation of ideological power structure and resistance. It is the reason why in most of the post-Marxian theoretical positions like Gramsci’s ‘hegemony’ and Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s notions of “a variety of hegemonic nodal points” (139) along with “radical democracy”, the monstrous finality of Marxian ideology is thoroughly challenged and reanalyzed (176). Even in Laclau and Mouffe’s model of post-Marxism, the ideas of class struggle and of class as the only source of power blocs and identity are sought to be replaced by the notion of equivalent participation of multiple subject positions for the sake of creating counter-hegemonic discourses and moments against ‘hegemony’. Whereas Gramsci, going against the confining rigidness and repression of Marxian ideology, conceived ideology as the motivating power which can “organize human masses, and create the terrain on which men move, acquire consciousness of the position, struggle, etc,” the Laclau-Mouffe model has more highlighted the nature of discursive formation of dominance and resistance within the ambit of socio-cultural realm by conscious abolition of the essentialist elements in Marxist ideology (324).

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