The Past, Present and Future in the Perspective of Dialectical Theory

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Nov 14, 2013 (3 years and 9 months ago)

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Dmitry Ivanov

St. Petersburg State University, Russia









The Past, Present and Future in the Perspective of Dialectical Theory









Paper presented at the
joint session of RC07 and RC16



The Future and Sociological Theory



of the ISA XV
I

World

Congress of Sociology















Durban
,
South Africa

July
23



29
, 200
6




2

The conceptualiz
ation

of social future

is very difficult issue for traditional theory.
Both
structure and agency approaches can provide us only with visions of social present
:
extrapolation of
the present or
permanent and
all
-
embracing present.

Critical theory as it has been presented in H.
Marcuse’s works provides us with
model
of the future
vision
through dialectical negation:
there are

marginal
and oppressed
radical values an
d utopian movements contradicting dominant structures of
the present society
that
are
sources of development of the established social system.
Oppressed a
nti
-
social movements of the present are
not transforming but are
conditioning
direction of
transformat
ion towards future dominant structures and patterns of agency.

The driving forces of dialectical theory


negation and utopia have enabled critical sociology
developed by Marcuse to reveal the direction of the modern society change in the mid
-
20
th

century
.
U
topia of
‘Reason’
(
rationalized society
)

formulated in the 1930s
was

extracted from radical
revolutionary movements

(Marcuse, 1967)
. By

the 19
4
0s
the rationalization thesis had become
an
affirmative discourse for arising organized capitalism. U
topia of
‘Eros’
(
desublima
ted society
)

formulated in the 1950s as dialectical antithesis for rationalization

was

extracted
from marginal
values and alternative life
-
styles of esthetic communities and hedonistic subcultures of radical
intellectuals

(Marcuse, 1973)
.
By the 19
6
0s the concept of desublimation became descriptive and
affirmative idea for affluent consumerist capitalism.

Utopia of ‘Post
-
technological rationality’ (open
multidimensional society) formulated in the 1960s as dialectical synthesis combining bot
h ‘Reason’
and ‘Eros’ was extracted from movements of difference: antimilitarist
, feminist, ecologist, for civil
rights of ethnic and sexual minorities

(Marcuse, 1964)
. By the end of the 20
th

century the concept of
post
-
technological rationality became aff
irmative discourse for postindustrial and postmodernist
capitalism.

The dialectical theory developed by Marcuse was successful in revealing the direction to the
future in marginal, socially negative tendencies of the present. But
which are negating tendenc
ies
now if the social present for critical sociology


reified society is now the social past?

O
ur present is
de
-
reification


virtualization of society

(Ivanov, 2000)
.


One may speak about virtualization of society for the human essence is alienated not i
n the
social but in the virtual reality. In a virtual reality of any kind a person deals not with a real object /
thing, but with a simulation / image. A person who finds himself/herself in a
social reality
, takes it
seriously, perceives it like something
naturally given which he/she has to live in. A person
immersed in a
virtual reality

enthusiastically plays in it, realizing its conventionality, conditionality
of its parameters and the possibility of quitting it.

Today the virtual reality logic become a

paradigmatic one for any human activity and
computer technologies
as the most efficient simulation tools
become the infrastructure of that

3

activity. The virtualization imperative, a “will to virtuality”, is transforming all domains of activities
as they g
ained shape in the process of modernization.

Images of consumer values, and not real things, circulate in the Postmodern market. The
very economic process, i. e. value production leaves design bureaus and assembly lines and is
transfer
r
ed to marketing dep
artments, agencies, media studios and so on. It is economical
predominance of images that provokes an unprecedented expansion of speculative stock market that
turns in a self
-
sufficient industry. The credit system makes solvency not so much a function of
p
ossessing real assets as a function of image of financial trustworthiness that both individuals and
financial institutions functionaries can simulate. Credit cards owners and banks, even meeting the
reserve requir
e
ments, are the solvency simulators as they

operate by the f
i
ctious, virtual 'total
money'
-

monetary aggregate M
3
.

The virtual production, virtual corporation,
and
virtual money
allow to
make
computer networks the main means and environment for economic activities.

Under the Postmodern conditions

the struggle for power is more and more waged in the
form of TV debates and advertising. Rating and image
-
makers, press
-
secretaries, and part
-
time
recruited show business stars put back the political party functionaries. Power becomes a function
of politi
cal image. The very political process leaves party and government sessions, where
programs are developed, administrative functions are assessed and controlled. The politics of today
is made at the mass media studios, in PR agencies, and on the show stages.

The administrating and
politics get divorced.
The differentiation of de
-
politicized professional administrators and public
politicians as image carriers is an obvious symptom of a simulation of the mass democracy
institutions.
Having lost reality, multi
-
p
arty system
is

simulated by experts, consultants and image
-
makers as a comfortable and habitual environment for competing political images.
Parties that
emerged as representatives of class, ethnic, confessional, regional interests, now turned into brands:
emblems and advertising slogans, which attract the electorate. The brand loyalty utilization
imperative drives the simulation process of the party’s political struggle.

Another symptom of
simulation of the mass democracy institutions is a substitution of
m
anipulations with ratings for

appeal to the public opinion. Ratings based on a selective poll
s
when respondents are inforced to
choose variations of the expert's opinion, are only models of the real public opinion. These models
are animated by the responde
nts, and through the media
networks
these simulacra become
politically effective.

The speculative economy

of images and

media
tized

politics

of images
exemplify current
human activities aimed at images rather than at real things / actions. Presented analys
is of recent
changes allows us to conclude that the society becomes a kind of virtual reality. When the
modernist values lose their ability to be means of social integration and mobilization of interests,
social institutions lose their power over an indivi
dual. Institutions become images taken in the game

4

of images. Now economic, political and other social activities are simulations of institutional norms
/ roles performance. However, the institutional system of society is simulated rather than
eliminated.
Preserving attributes of reality, it serves a kind of a virtual operation environment which
is convenient for creating and communicating images and is easy to enter / exit. This is the way the
Windows operating system keeps attributes of reality through a
screen simulation of buttons, which
can be pushed or cards stacked in a card file. What is preserved is the image of things the computer
technology is entitled to rid us of. This is an effect of a ‘will to virtuality’, which leads to an
expansion of the vi
rtual reality logic as well as of the virtual technologies into all spheres of human
life.

‘Will to virtuality’ is a dominant tendency of the present but
dialectical theory
presupposes
as the next step of critical analysis
the search for marginal tendenci
es negating established social
order.
Under condition
s

of virtualization t
he dialectical negation of the present can be related to new
anti
-
social
or alter
-
social
movements and tendencies which violate the order of simulations.
Hackers and ‘pirates’ violat
e intellectual property rights and therefore undermine the postindustrial
mode of image
-
production. Fundamentalists and anti
-
globalists violate democracy as political rights
of majority and therefore undermine the postmodernist regime of image
-
making power
.
The
se new
violent movements

represent now new totalizing utopia: struggle for authenticity against plurality,
tolerance, complexity, difference of virtualized society.

On the basis of dialectical theory the model
of the social future should be developed
as
the
model of transformation of the postindustrial and
postmodernist society through absorption of
values and practices of anti
-
social
and alter
-
social
movements as the present society’s
creative
negation.








Literature


Ivanov, D. (2000) Virtualiz
atsia Obschestva (Virtualization of Society), Sankt
-
Peterburg
:
Peterburgskoe Vosto
k
ovedenie

Marcuse, H. (1964) One
-
Dimensional Man
. Boston: Beacon Press

Marcuse, H. (1967 [1941]) Reason and Revolution. London: Penguin Press

Marcuse, H. (1973 [1955]) Eros a
nd Civilization. London: Sphere Books