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decentered structure


Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405168908.2010.x


A category introduced by A lthusser to distinguish between the Marxist and Hegelian concepts of totality (see M arxism and H egelianism ). According to him, the Hegelian totality was an “expressive totality,” whose parts were so many appearances of an original essence which is the demiurge of history. Transposed to historical M aterialism , this conception generated an economic E ssentialism which abolished the R elative autonomy and “specific effectivity” of the superstructural levels of the S ocial formation . By contrast, the Marxist concept of totality was a complex one, to which neither “expressive” nor “mechanical” models did justice. The Marxist whole was inseparable from the parts or elements of which it was constituted. It was characterized by irreducible states of O verdetermination , since each social practice or contradiction formed the “conditions of existence” of the others. Accordingly, it contained no essence to be expressed, or center to be reflected: it was a “decentered structure.” Nevertheless, it was a “structure in dominance,” unified by a dominant structure and by economic “determination in the last instance.” In his Lacanian-influenced work on I deology , Althusser likewise maintained that the human subject was “decentered,” for it was “constituted by a structure which has no ‘center’ either, except in the imaginary misrecognition of the ‘ego’” (1964, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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