Bert Olivier
Bert Olivier

South Africans present their papers at the Theoretical Psychology Conference in Chile

Here in Santiago, Chile, a number of South Africans have made thought-provoking contributions to the International Theoretical Psychology Conference at the Pontifical Catholic University. Almost without exception, the South Africans’ presentations were of the critical-psychological variety. Claire Haggard of UCT, for instance, explored the spatial situatedness of human bodies in phenomenological terms through the work of Sara Ahmed, focusing on the migration of especially black bodies in the alienating spaces of Apartheid South Africa. The value of such a space-oriented approach for psychotherapy in a country where the debilitating effects of the political racialisation of space still linger, can clearly not be underestimated, judging by Haggard’s presentation.

In his turn, Werner Bohmke of Rhodes University demonstrated that the attribution of blame and responsibility in cases of sexual violence are far from neutral, instead of which – as revealed by a discourse analysis of news reporting on cases of sexual violence – phenomena such as rape are discursively reproduced and tend to repeat certain patterns of comprehending sexual violence. Desmond Painter of Stellenbosch University employed the notion of “manufactured whiteness” in his critical examination of the persistence of whiteness as a “cypher of normativity and a source of power” in present-day South Africa and elsewhere. Interestingly, Painter problematised the vaunted power of whiteness from the angle of current white poverty in South Africa, in an attempt to move beyond the binary of whiteness and blackness in the conceptualisation of political subjectivity.

Vasi van Deventer of UNISA argued that the increasing emphasis on ethics in psychology must be seen in the light of the collapse of traditional institutional supports. People are increasingly in a position where they have to fall back on themselves, in the absence of the guardrails of yesteryear, in this way demonstrating the inescapable ethical status of the subject. Van Deventer couched his argument in an impressive negotiation of the connections and hiatuses between Derridean deconstruction and modern theoretical physics, particularly quantum mechanics, to show that the ethical status of the subject derives from the differential structure of the self. One does not require the Levinasian “other” to ground ethical praxis; such an abyssal grounding is encountered within one’s own subjectivity.

My own paper focused on the impression that is created by consumer capitalism, that it is capable of providing consumers with what Lacan calls “jouissance” – surplus-enjoyment or self-fulfilment of an unbearable intensity – through commodity-consumption. This impression is illusory, first, because every commodity is “nihilated” by a supposedly “better” successor, and second, because “jouissance” as ultimate, unbearable enjoyment, requires the overcoming of some “law”, prohibition or unjustifiable authority (as embodied in a set of societal norms, for example those that underpinned apartheid practices). No jouissance without transgression, in other words. Far from posing as an authoritative source of prohibitions, however, consumer capitalism constantly encourages one to “Enjoy!” without restraint – as Zizek has forcibly argued – unmasking itself in the process as a purveyor of mere pseudo-jouissance. In fact, the only way to approximate jouissance under conditions of capitalism is to practise a variety of askesis regarding its normative behavioural expectations: resist or distance yourself from consumer behaviour as far as possible (buy only the indispensable necessities) and rediscover your own non-consumerist human creativity. For example, start a love affair with another human being, instead of a reifying relationship with a smartphone.

Clifford van Ommen (ex-Rodes; now Massey University, NZ) and Desmond Painter (University of Stellenbosch) combined to give a rhetorical analysis of South African psychological texts published between 1976 and 2012, with a view to uncovering strategies of self-legitimation aimed at especially Northern readers. What their analytical overview showed, was the interbraidedness of psychology with its socio-political surroundings, and its consequent inability, with rare critical exceptions, to extricate itself from the dominant ideology. Surprisingly, the most recent publications they examined (from 2012) appeared to suffer from a blind spot regarding their own ideological implicatedness, in as far as they reflected an unexpected belief that present social circumstances – which they deem “normal”, instead of being the result of “normalisation” – are self-justifying. Needless to stress, this may be seen as a kind of barometer of the success with which neo-liberal ideology and market fundamentalism disguise their own ideological or dominant-discursive status.

Van Ommen also presented another paper, on the emancipatory potential of “Black Metal” as a sub-genre of the music-phenomenon known as “Metal”. He argued that, despite the problematic and controversial nature of Metal, which is exacerbated in the case of Black Metal (given its violent history), it is possible to foreground its “radical emancipatory dimensions” without turning a blind eye to its attendant dangers. What Van Ommen perceived in what he termed an “extreme sound” was nothing less than “…the expression and co-ordinates of a significant challenge to contemporary subjectivity; a subjectivity in excess of a mere symptom of contemporary society”. Van Ommen’s paper highlighted a conspicuous feature of the conference – but probably not restricted to this one – namely, how rarely musical expression is taken seriously as an indicator of societal or, in this case, psychological conditions by practising academics.

Jill Bradbury from Wits University concentrated her presentation on the paradoxical tendency, to plead ignorance of the very psycho-social world represented in disciplines like psychology and sociology. She articulated this tension in terms of “mis-understanding” and the notion of an “ignorance contract” (Miller and Steyn, respectively), and turned her argument in the direction of the kinds of pre-understanding that operate as barriers to communication in a society like South Africa. In fact, Bradbury pointed out, referring to Miller’s work in this regard, in this country it assumes the guise of an active “not-wanting-to-know” that militates against the likelihood of mutual understanding between people, unless a kind of “un-learning” were to be practised to clear the way for overcoming the barriers set up by willed ignorance.

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    • JM Davis

      @Bert : Isn’t there perhaps something of a neo-Luddite mentality/complex at the bottom of this reported obsessive market-phobia in areas like psychology and sociology? “For example, start a love affair with another human being, instead of a reifying relationship with a smartphone”. Contemporary human beings of all cultures engage in love affairs via smartphones and other forms of media/technology, i.e. technology is a facilitator, and in structural-existential terms, the market is an enabler of a mind-boggling gamut of relationships of various kinds through infinite levels of interconnected networks, and the processes of networking.

    • Dave Harris

      Hmmm..only one black academic (Sara Ahmed) in a sea of white affirmative action academics? Still sounds like the old SA to me, This trip to Chile is quite the boondoggle! Interesting topics though. 😉

    • Feel the Love

      Phew. Powerful stuff.

    • bert

      JMDavis – I did not talk about the mediating role of technology. To have a love affair with an aptly named cell phone is a form of fetishism because what should only be a meas to communicate, with a lover for instance, becomes the object of infatuation. Read Lacan.

    •!/pages/Applied-dialectical-method-of-improving-participants-quality-of-life/137824809676592 Alon Serper

      It does seem to me that the distinction between theoretical and clinical psychology is too vague. Critical Psychology usually offers empirical analysis and work and is based on post-positivist and qualitative work. Theoretical psychology offers new theoretical models, innovations, challenges and possibilities to psychology. Then, there is also the third underpinning of radical psychology.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      The biggest problem with psychology that I have experienced is that they are now in the same dead end the philosophers were when they thought they knew everything.

      I have come across MANY cases of people being treated, sometimes for a decade or more, for mental illnesses which EVENTUALLY are accurately analysed as having physical causes.

    •!/pages/Applied-dialectical-method-of-improving-participants-quality-of-life/137824809676592 Alon Serper

      The interaction with technology should be embodied in the dialectics of transforming peoples’ quality of life and wellbeing. Being continuously attached to a machine and in turn to employers, and organisations that are expected to get hold of you 24/7 is slavery and certainly not good quality of life and wellbeing.

    •!/pages/Applied-dialectical-method-of-improving-participants-quality-of-life/137824809676592 Alon Serper


      I her books, Elizabeth Lukas, a Logotherapist, is discussing how she is sending her patients for full medical checkups and does not accept psychomatic possibilities. I think most therapists would follow this practice. I think you are referring to poor ethics and morality and unethical and immoral practices and values rather than the flaw of the discipline. Psychology and certain psychotherapy are value-embodied professions.

    • Enough Said


      “Being continuously attached to a machine and in turn to employers, and organisations that are expected to get hold of you 24/7 is slavery and certainly not good quality of life and wellbeing”

      Sooner or later the bubble is going to burst. I believe there has to be a gigantic social collective nervous breakdown at some stage if the pace of life demands made on humans continues to increase. I don’t know how that collective breakdown will manifest, but I think its coming.

    • JM Davis

      @ Bert – Lacan represents just more self-reflexive postmodernism, which may ultimately exacerbate a neo-Luddite mentality: A non-existent (or never-existent) pre-industrial utopia in which humans were supposedly more human or humane. In effect, the fetisization of the past, or future. Technology, like the selected example of a smartphone, doesn’t represent something inhuman or in-humane: It is the extension of the human; it makes humans more human; it expands humanity – and potentially, it makes relationships that much more meaningful and fulfilling. It redefines human relationships.

    • Bert

      JM Davis – The best-known authorities on the social effects of technology don’t agree with you (even though that was not my point, above) – Sherry Turkle, for instance, believes that current communications technology, like smartphones, is alienating people from their social selves, which is why her latest book is called “Alone Together”. And as for Lacan, you obviously don’t know his work if you label him a postmodernist.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      @ Alon

      I am talking about real people who were mis-diagnosed and who got the best and most expensive specialist care available from the beginning.Giving too much further information would invade the privacy of others.

    • Maria

      @JM Davis: Lacan a postmodernist!? You don’t know what you are talking about. Postmodernists celebrate becoming to the point of relativism; Lacan does not – his work is poststructuralist, and like his colleagues in that field of logic, offers all the means of overcoming relativism. Read Bert’s book on Philosophy and Psychoanalytic Theory. And besides, did you not get what Bert said above? It is not about the technology; it is about fetishism, as opposed to desire.

    • Brent

      Must be loosing it as agreed with Dave H. What i love is all these very clever, brainy people talking a strange language plus knocking the capitalst pigs and their fellow travellers the ‘neo liberals’, whoever they might be. Bert bet you that every single person attending ‘liberally’ (pun intended) used hourly the fruits of evil capitalist production from: air flights, clothing, communications gadgits, food, hotel accommodation etc etc could go on for another 100 lines. Note to all you clever intellectuals socialism fell back in 1978 when Deng kicked it aside for free markets and died in 1990/1991 when the USSR collapsed. Please widen your sights/ideas from just 0.0005% of the world’s community and at least recognise the other 99.999% as valid movers and shakers. Many years ago as arrogant students we labled narrow minded people as ‘Keyholes’ as they could see through a keyhole with both eyes at the same time. Bert and fans, get out from your cave and smell the breath of fresh air of new refreshing ideas and developments, scary but necessary to stay with the times. Agree Dave’s comment on the colour of the conference, one truth you had better get used to: the future belongs to the East and hopefully joined by Africa, the ‘white west’ has run its course. Brent

    • Bob

      Lacan is indeed classified as postmodernist by actual, real scientists (e.g. Chomsky), who use the term as an umbrella to cover a larger category of obfuscated pseudoscientific ramblings.

      @everyone else:
      I find this article on the pseudoscience of “broader” postmodernism to be a great read:

      Quite frankly, as a scientist myself, I find it unjust that academics in this field, whatever they wish to call it, get any funding at all. I have nothing personal against Bert et al., but what they do is, in my opinion, not worthy of tax money.

    • Alon Serper

      @ Lyndall,

      Most psychologists will work with medical doctors. You may be referring to psychiatry as opposed to psychology.

    • JM Davis

      @ Maria: In lieu of becoming abusive by return, I’d rather refer those who might be rusty on their intellectual history to a plethora of basic reference sources. E.g.

      “The Postmodern psychology of the socially constructed self was developed by Jacques Lacan, a French psychologist, who was one of four French intellectuals of the 1960s whose writings forged much of Postmodern thought”.

      Like most influential thinkers, Lacan is impossible to categorise in any exact way, but he coheres within the broader postmodernist movement, and is one of its indisputable founders. Yes, his specific contribution is to the poststructuralist strand within the movement.

      Although Lacan isn’t an absolute relativist in the manner of his re-interpretaion of (Structuralist/Modernist) Freud, he falls within the broad epistemological relativism of the postmodernist turn.

      Nobody can argue that within the contemporary paradigm of social constructionism, Lacan must be acknowledged to have anticipated the relativism of self culminating in the well-known notion of a multiplicity of selves.

      How well do you know postmodernist thought and/or Lacan?

    • Sophia

      Bert your reference to askesis is most interesting. I assume you are referring to Foucault’s sense of the word as (approximately); a determined & disciplined practice which aims at deliberate self possession and personal sovereignty. If so, this is a helpful link from Lacanian metatheory to therapeutics. In the sense I take it to mean; we are placed firmly in the arena of the later Stoics, in particular Epictetus. The Stoics offer a ‘method’ (of sorts) that clearly disavows the ‘outer-worldly’ distractions of acquisitiveness, desire & conceit, in favour of a form of mental askesis, a discipline focused on clearly delineating and exercising upon, that which is in our power from that which is not. Interestingly, askesis is therefore a kind of self-imposed prohibition and presumably jouissance is derived from the capacity Stoicism provides its disciples to transgress (Roman) cultural (discursive) authority and renounce false attachments e.g. status, wealth & fame. There may be significant therapeutic value in such a stance, not to mention the socially transformative potential of a psychotherapy that says explicitly (to certain types of clients); “Your unhappiness, anomie & impotence are the result of your attachments to illusory objects of desire; and (almost) complete renunciation may offer you the only real cure”. This style of therapy probably won’t appeal to everyone; most will be more attuned to the likes of Seligman’s (do nothing) ‘authentic happiness theorem’…

    • Master Bates

      @JMDavies to expand the point I think you’re making; it’s difficult to read all of these reviews of the seemingly inherent injustices within capitalism, ethnocentrism, industrialization and social life in general, and not to wonder whether we are judging our times rather too harshly. Perhaps the standard we are setting is unrealistic or based on a variety of utopianism destined to disappoint? Also, it may lead us to the kind of world renunciation, suggested by, an extreme version of Bert’s reference to ‘askesis’ i.e. a rejection of our social, ‘this-worldly’ existence, denial of our bodies, a turn toward self-resentment and a rejection of our right to err, formally epitomised by the monasteries of christianity and buddhism. Or as you suggest – good old fashioned neo-Luddite doomsday bunkum. But consider for a minute that we both may have missed Bert’s reasons for sharing his Chilean experience. What if, in all these reviews there are hints and important allegations that point to our own deeply held fears regarding the limitations of the prevailing hegemony? In thinking this we need not succumb to dumb utopianism or the gnomic postulates of poststructuralists. We need only look at the window and wonder is this really the best we humans can do for most of us?

    • Maria

      @ Bob: You may find it strange, then, that what Lacan has to teach us about the “real” corresponds to what Heisenberg’s indeterminacy principle teaches us, namely that there is a structural uncertainty at the very heart of “knowledge”. Natural science and human science are closer than you think when practised according to the principle enshrined in this correspondence. It is only “scientists” that are too narrow in their view of science who do not care to see this correspondence. Apart from this, of course, the methods of the two kinds of sciences are different, and should not obscure the fact that both are scientific in their own distinctive way. Read the history of the Understanding/Explanation debate, from Dilthey to Gadamer and Ricoeur, then you may see what is at stake. Do you honestly think that scientists from both groups have not been reflecting about these things for a long time?

    • Bob

      @Maria, Indeed, I do find it very strange that Lacan adopted Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and other quantum mechanical underpinnings to obfuscate his texts. He used terms from advanced physics in ways that are simply incorrect. It is infuriating to see these people who clearly have little understanding of physics abuse it in this way. I suspect that this is caused by a vain desire to be considered in the same light as Einstein and his peers.

      If you want to play with physics, read Heisenberg’s papers. I’m afraid that his uncertainty principle cannot teach you what you think it can. But if you read and comprehend that material, I might consider slogging through some of your suggested reading.

      And please note that I am not claiming that philosophy etc is entirely invalid. Just these writings that nobody is even intended to comprehend, and which add nothing new to our understanding (e.g. “love people instead of phones” is saying nothing that wasn’t already obvious to our collective education).

      At the very least, if you cannot reform your research, please steer clear of raping physics, and I’ll promise not to write about your subject.

    • Bert

      I find it amazing that people who consult Wikipedia on the topic, believe that they can pronounce authoratively on a thinker as complex as Lacan. It is just as ridiculous to refer to natural scientists who hold an opinion on Lacan, who is by no means part of their own field of inquiry. A scientist like Dawkins should be respected for having got to the level of knowledge in his science where he works today; I doubt whether he knows Lacan as well as he does his own domain. Similarly, human scientists, theorists and philosophers who have spent an equal amount of time to get to know their disciplines should be accorded the same recognition. It takes just as long to master a discipline such as philosophy, psychoanalytic theory, etc., as it takes a scientist to master biology, etc. It is true that Lacan, Derrida and others gave impetus to what is today known as postmodernism, but they are themselves NOT postmodernists – as Maria accurately pointed out, they are postsructuralists, and it is only long years of familiarising yourself with many thinkers, that enables you to discern the difference. Besides, ‘cutting edge’ natural science shares something with philosophy – the humility to acknowledge how little it ‘knows’, as was affirmed recently by the scientists involved in the isolation of the ‘Higgs bosun’, when they admitted that they now stand before the task of unravelling something they don’t know or understand at all: dark matter and dark energy.

    • JM Davis

      @ Bert –

      And it is … EITHER what has just been said – which I very much doubt, particularly based upon what appears to be a too cursory and prejudicial reading of what has been written by the contributors so far, not least of which my attempt to make a complicated point selectively in an accessible manner.

      Therefore, more a matter of style, not so much source – which, by the way, happens NOT to be Wikipedia, but is in fact representative of the reception of the thinker in question by the majority of the educated reading public,

      OR (the second, more likely possibility) – It has just been demonstrated that the Information Revolution has at last superseded the Ivory Tower.

    • Bob

      Bert, I agree with much of what you say in your last comment. As you say, it requires many years of experience to become an expert in any particular field. This is why it very difficult for me to tolerate texts from Lacan (and indeed previous posts from yourself on Einstein) in which philosophers describe parts of physics that they do not properly understand. Of course I am no expert in Lacan (or in Olivier, for that matter), but the small samples of writing I’ve seen, specifically the ones that intrude on physics, are so wrong that it leads me to doubt the validity of the wider work in general.

      My advice to you and your peers is in fact to follow the idea of your own wise comment and stick to what you understand. That way, you won’t attract negative attention from people with a deep understanding of physics. I hope we can at least agree on that.

    • Maria

      I’m all for leaving the ivory tower, as I know Bert is – this is why he writes on this site – but don’t confuse a populist access to the internet, with all manner of epistemically variegated sources, with “knowledge” of everything referred to there. There’s a big difference, for example, between reading Lacan’s Milan lecture (available on the internet) with understanding, and reading a prejudiced, too-broad-to-be-of-any-value characterization of his work as postmodernist. Discourse theory shows us that “discourses” are, by their very “nature” as “meaning in the service of (particular) power”, exclusive of other discourses, even if the meaning of other discourses can be appropriated, albeit painstakingly, by working one’s way through them. In short: “information” on the internet does NOT equal “knowledge” – the latter is acquired intellectually through sheer effort. Anyone who has ever entered a new intellectual domain, with its own rules and conceptual difficulties, will know this; it is as true of physics as of psychoanalysis.

    • Rene

      Thank goodness there still are some academics/human scientists around trying to understand human beings – everything seems to be about technology these days!

    • Garg Unzola

      Am I the only one bemused by this Non-Overlapping Magisteria?

      Will the philosophy department also leave psychology alone from now on? It is after all not within their domain.

    •!/pages/Applied-dialectical-method-of-improving-participants-quality-of-life/137824809676592 Alon Serper

      Everything falls within the questions of human dignity, wellbeing, self-fulfillment and ontological security and a meaningful and fulfilling life. Every discipline should enquire on these issues and how to advance humanity, dignity, wellbeing and a meaningful existence.

      Also, Bert has organised a most productive fulfilling and meaningful colloquium on a dialogue between the natural and human sciences. Bob – I think you shall find that your tax money is well spent. And that Bert is worth every cent of it.

    • Mr Sarcasm

      @Garg, you absolute genius. 😉

    • Suntosh Pillay

      Thanks for this update and summary Bert, for those of us who could not attend.

    • Bert

      Garg – we are living in the era of the return of, and renewed need for, the generalist, or more accurately, the inter- and trans-disciplinary thinker. It is through vaunted ‘specialization’ that academics are made powerless to change and enrich academia, especially at the behest of neoliberal governmentality, in whose interest it is to ‘keep academics in their place’. Many of us, myself included, have been working in other disciplines for years. (I have published in literary theory, psychoanalysis, art and architecture, media, film-studies, social theory, the philosophy of science, and more, for example. Why does that bother you? And I am by no means the only one.)

    • Garg Unzola

      Bert, I was poking fun at this notion that it takes many years of experience to become an expert in a field, or that many years are a necessary indication of expertise, which seems to be an excuse for ignorance of physics. I do agree and support this era of renewed generalism. By the way, it is called consilience, and I’m all for it in principle. Note however that it does rely on specialisation first, but in broad terms ‘specialisation is for insects’ and Marxists.

      What I oppose is employing essentially meaningless terms like ‘neoliberal governmentality’ when they are evidently just fudge words. Similarly, critical psychology is a political movement and I doubt that it is based on a working knowledge of psychology as a field. I’m not sure how ‘stick it to the man!’ amounts to a therapeutic breakthrough. Just because the authority of ‘experts’ is unreliable, does not make the authority of amateurs more authoritative.

      I’m perplexed how a strength of numbers, or the amount of years, or the amount of papers is indicative of substance. That’s mere quantity and is by no means an indicator of quality, but it is in tune with spurious Rancièrean notions of equality.

    • Maria

      @ Garg: If you knew a bit about Foucault, you would know that neoliberal governmentality is not a fudge word, but describes the way in which neoliberalism extends its rule over the whole social domain. Much has been written about it. And critical psychology is no more, or less, political than mainstream psychology. The latter actually wields far more political power than critical psychology. And what makes you think that critical psychology does not presuppose knowledge of the field? Stop reading only Wikipedia, and read some of the works written by people like David Pavon Cuellar, Ian Parker or some of the South African critical psychologists like Desmond Painter. hese are people teaching psychology, and in the case of Cuellar, philosophy too. The same goes for Bert – psychoanalytic theory is a variety of critical psychology, and sure, mere quantity in publishing is no guarantee of quality, but publishing virtually all your stuff in accredited journals, national and international (as Bert does), or in internationally published books, is indeed.

    • Bob

      Just out of interest, how on earth does “neoliberal governmentality” have an interest in keeping academics in their place? Sounds a lot more like something Marxists have the tendency to do when gaining power.

    • Gary Koekemoer

      I come to this debate late, and am struck by how important it is for us that we correctly categorize Lacan, that we emphasize the path of earning credibility of specialists/ experts and the insistence we place on reinforcing the unassailable boundaries of our respective “sciences”. I think knowledge and humanity are the poorer for it, Bob would it not be better for us for you to correct the misrepresentations of physics rather than to protect its domain, Bert I’d be interested to hear the difference between post-modernism and post-structuralism and Garg, oh Garg, is there life beyond wikepedia? Are we so insecure about our intellectual positions that we seek rather to defend our turf, that it is more important that we assert our individual right to speak with sole authority based on our expertise, than to try understand the relevance of Lacan, to dialogue what he was saying, to make meaning of the latest developments in physics to us as both individuals and a community?

    • Garg Unzola

      Much has been written on many topics of interest. Again, irrelevant. Foucault is known for employing many fudge words too, but he’s still careful to distance himself from the post-structuralists and most of all the Marxists – perhaps due to his first hand experience of their tyranny.

      My definitions do not rely on Wikipedia. As mentioned before, I have studied semiotics at a tertiary institute formally.

      The reason why I link to Wikipedia is because it’s a publicly accessible source and it relies on the participation of its users to be kept relevant and up to date. It’s also a great introduction for those who are unfamiliar with certain terms to get an overview.

      The difference between me and Bert and Maria is that I do not have a particular favourite bias.

    • Bob

      Gary, The problem as I see it is that anyone who doubts the religion of postmodernism (call it what you want) is told that they have no clue and should read Lacan, Foucault and the rest of the usual suspects. But all I have seen of their writing is either laughably wrong (see physics and economics, fields that I actually know quite well) or pure fog. Why should I then continue to study this stuff, when it’s generally acknowledged by respected intellectuals to be nonsense?

      And concerning Wikipedia, it’s a fantastic source, both in terms of breadth and accuracy.

    • Gary Koekemoer

      Dear Bob n Garg, what I would be keen to engage in, is a dialogue in which we all present our OWN views and insights on the topics under discussion.

      We all have experience and expertise in different areas, isn’t the pursuit of knowledge about collaborating rather than discrediting alternate views?

      I would not consider myself to be an expert in Lacan, Derrida, Foucault or others, nor would I consider myself an expert in physics, unfortunately with regards semiotics I have to confess an absolute ignorance on what that is (I’ll check Wikepedia).

      Does my lack of expertise render my opinion meaningless and thus my contribution to the dialogue invalid?

      You claim Wikepedia as a valid source, yet when Bert encourages you to refer to the original source, the actual author themselves, you baulk, neither do you accept his expertise as a valid guide. So in this dialogue, you accept neither the original source, neither the expert, nor the amateur, yet you assert your right to label, to refer to sources of your choosing and uphold your expertise as paramount. It is, I believe, an arrogant view and an unfortunate one, it is too unoriginal and contributes nothing to expanding understanding and knowledge.

      Does dark matter, dark energy, the Higgs Boson, have no relevance outside that of physics? Do the views of Lacan, Foucault and Capra have no relevance to physics? This when philosophy is the parent of all sciences?

    • Garg Unzola

      Exactly. although to me the problem of post-structuralism/post-modernism or any of these fashionable approaches is not so much ignorance of other established fields, but one of epistemology.

      There has to be sufficient reason to support claims that say critical psychology deserves research resources thrown at it. Its claims have to be verifiable by some standard, and this standard is yet to be established.

      If its claims cannot be tested, then there’s no reason to regard Foucault’s or Ian Parker’s claims in any higher regard than we hold our own thumb suck.

      Having loads of prestigious journals publishing a certain author is no indication of its validity, which is precisely what the Sokal hoax is about.

      Merely cherry picking titbits from a field like psychology and fiddling with them until they fit into a critical theory framework assumes the initial point that a critical theory framework is legitimate in the first place. This besides the mistaken notions concerning economics and physics, to name but two.

      Perhaps it is legitimate, but merely keeping up with the reading material is special pleading that has no bearing on its legitimacy. Especially when one is familiar with a field, providing a layman’s version (even a Wikipedia version) is not that difficult.

    • Bert

      Thanks, Maria, but you’re wasting your breath. Our Garg is a true Renaissance man – he knows EVERYTHING.
      Gary, watch this space re postmodernism and poststructuralism.
      Bob, the very thinkers you so lightly dismiss, are among the most respected in the humanities – i.e. Foucault and Lacan, to which one may add Lyotard, Kristeva, Heidegger, Deleuze, Nancy, Caputo, Copjec, Silverman, and a host of others. And they are not postmodernists, as your ‘reliable’ Wikipedia writers suggest. I’ll write a short piece on the difference between that and poststructuralism (which is a form of complexity thinking) soon. As for the rest, I’m afraid you would have to read these thinkers themselves to understand what is at stake.

    • Garg Unzola

      Bert, on the contrary, it seems that I am wasting my breath. I never claimed that I know everything. I studied semiotics and economics, as mentioned. Bob also studied economics. So you have 2 people knowledgeable in economics who claim we cannot recognise the ‘neoliberal governmentality’ you refer to and one who claims you are entirely ignorant of the subject.

      Then you proceed with the special pleading and by your caricatures, seems that you haven’t read the Wikipedia page on post-modernism or post-structuralism. I still maintain that reading Foucault and Lacan is a colossal waste of time, as is nitpicking over the differences between one brand of nonsense and the next. A bit more intellectual rigour is all that is required.

      I think this is more than anyone needs to know about post-modernism:

      I am however looking forward to some clarifications on topics with which you are schooled in, such as post-modernism and post-structuralism. Hopefully, this will also address my questions, which originate from Socratic irony.

    • Bob

      Bert, you and your peers are free to contribute changes to Wikipedia entries. Your changes may be discarded by others, but if you feel that your field is misrepresented there, and you want to provide the layman with the benefits of your field’s thinking, then that would be the logical place to start.

      And about the reading list that constantly gets thrown at nonbelievers by Bert, Maria etc.: it reminds me of Terry Eagleton telling Dawkins that he had to read the literature produced by theology, otherwise he had no basis from which to criticise religion. The fact is that Wikipedia and other such condensed forms will have to convince me that the field is valid before I invest my time reading Lacan. Again, what little I have read of the foggy thoughts of Lacan and his peers has not exactly left me wanting more.

    • Bob

      An additional note on (or off) this topic: I would like to mention that I admire Prof. Olivier for putting his thoughts to the public in the form of this blog, where critical comments are allowed. By far the majority of academics I know, even in far less controversial fields, would not be brave enough to do this.

    • Garg Unzola

      Your lack of expertise does not render your opinion meaningless. Your opinion has to be judged on its own merits by the rest of us, just like you have to judge my opinion on its own merits. Just because I’ve studied economics or semiotics does not lend more weight to my opinion than to yours. Similarly, just because something is a primary source, does not mean that it is more valuable than secondary sources like Wikipedia.

      This begs the question: By what standards do you judge our opinions, and by what standard shall we judge yours? By what standard shall we judge Foucault and Lacan? I find these standards valuable:

      The reason why I baulk is because I am familiar with many of the primary sources. This was prerequisite reading for my undergraduate studies. Again, don’t value my opinion because it’s informed, decide what your standards are and judge them by these. I view the special pleading as a tacit omission of being stumped in addition to being a cop-out.

    • Glenn

      Bob/Garg, you’re of course entitled to your opinion, but why not state it as such. In short, your argument is; 1) it’s extremely hard to know what x is saying; 2) z & g suggest that what x is saying is ‘nonsense’ & hard; 3) r & b suggest that what x is saying is ‘highly significant to our understanding of human beings’ in our time; 4) therefore; what x is saying is nonsense i.e. it’s simply your opinion that post-structuralism (p/s) is nonsense, fine, but there’s another considered opinion that it’s not.

      It’s understandable that you (& many others) simply don’t get p/s – I’m not that fond of it myself. Given that Lacan’s writings for instance, are mostly impenetrable to almost everyone, except the most dedicated reader, it’s reasonable that some will conclude that it’s not worth it. Similar claims, as you acknowledge, can readily be made of articles by respected authors in physics &, econometrics: they too are wholly inaccessible to the layperson. At the cutting-edge of these disciplines there’s also heated debates about the cogency of competing theories (cf Susskind v Hawking) – in which the untrained are as good as dogs learning algebra. Despite my disagreement with aspects of p/s, I must agree with Bert, (in my opinion) there’s much to be gained from working through what it has to offer i.e. rethinking the notions of self, history, meaning & thinking itself. Yes it’s content & style are extremely challenging, but so are its topics.

    • Gary Koekemoer

      @ Garg ok I think we’re making some progress here, in answer to your question, I am happy that you judge me by the merits of my argument, which I assume is the same standard you would apply for your own argument. To me primary sources are always the better reference because then I can make up my own mind, rather than rely on the interpretation of another. The problem with Wikepedia, is you don’t know who contributed to the article, and unlike a publication there is no editorial board that scrutinizes the text. So, I agree such secondary sources are useful, but I use them as guides to primary sources, and then try make my own mind up.
      But let me put something else on the table, my special pleading is not a cop-out, nor is my giving up the expert role an indication of a lack of conviction. What I am interested in is a collaborative debate, dialogue, discussion, my plea is in fact an invitation to engage in such. The difficulty I have in both your and Bob’s style of engagement is the reliance on labels and descriptors such as, “religion”, “non-believers”, “one brand of nonsense”, “fashionable”, “thumb suck” to list a few quick examples. I am not sure how those are intended, but I certainly don’t view that as considering an opposing argument on its merits. I think the descriptor gets in the way of a critical view and I see it as a lazy way of arguing, because it means the need to present your argument is done away with in exchange for a broad label whose merits…

    • Garg Unzola

      I’m asking for objective justification for 3. Being familiar with the reading material is not a prerequisite, but if it were, then I still need sufficient (objective) justification why it’s not better than reading a horoscope. Astrology and chiropractic are fields with no underlying justification whatsoever, yet they still provide similarly insightful side effects on occasion, perhaps by pure chance. It’s a questionable cause.

      The insights may be valid – that’s not the issue. The issue is providing sufficient reason for one’s claims.

      Claiming that x provides keen insight into human nature assumes the initial point that there is a narrative that captures human nature to some extent. This assumes some meta-narrative by which the profundity and appropriateness of narratives are measured, on an ordinal scale from providing the least insight to providing the most insight. I’m merely enquiring what the nature of this meta-narrative is. This because purely naturalistic world views also lead to similar insights, with the exception that even the layman can mostly be shown how these insights were gained. Silly example:

    • Garg Unzola

      I did not claim that you are guilty of special pleading. On the contrary, you seem genuinely curious and open minded with regards to the topics at hand. Special pleading is a fallacy that entails double standards.

      To be more explicit, we are told that we’d come around to accept post-structuralist writings as extremely profound instead of impenetrably dense once we are more intimately familiar with their content. Then we are presented with a reading list that contains the rudimentary content we are already familiar with, which is a cop-out and does not lead to more insight regarding our questions.

      This means either our nonsense is indescribable from other nonsense, or that Bob and I are presenting straw man arguments. I believe the case is the former, while if the case is the latter, rectifying the problem merely amounts to stating the correct positions – this should not present problems to experts of post-structuralist complexity.

    • Gary Koekemoer

      @ Garg, why thank you Garg, that’s almost a compliment…
      I can understand how you find being referred to the original author as frustrating, that it gets your straw men pleading special cause for questionable behaviour, but in turn covering the works of Lacan in a short column like this, is a bit of a challenge, so I can understand Bert’s frustration at Wikepedia being used as the expert source rather than the author themselves. But other than Bert referring to you as a Renaissance Man, I hear him taking your points at face value, you in turn seem to resort quite frequently to “put-downs” or whether the label is being used correctly, rather than taking up the point under discussion? I get that you see a weakness in the structure of Bert’s argument, namely referral to original authors, but I don’t get what the objection/ alternative view/ counter point to the point is, what is your substantive difference with Bert’s argument, or do you simply reject any non-modern view out of hand on the basis that any post-structural view simply by application of the label is automatically without relevance?

    • Garg Unzola

      I am in fact familiar with the original authors, for the most part. Appealing to the authority of the original authors is merely a cop-out and does not constitute presenting an argument (either for or against), not to mention that it does not even exhibit competence in or familiarity with the topic at hand.

      I’m waiting patiently for a substantive, convincing argument. Merely claiming that say Lacan is too complex to summarise in a blog post is a poor substitute for an argument. Wikipedia does offer a summary, not to mention there are plenty available. Here are two, whose weakness is that unlike Wikipedia, you cannot amend them:

      I know it seems like ad hominem arguments, and in that sense I am unfair towards Bert. The reality is that the issues I raise are problems with the overall field, which is partially why I my queries are not answered here or in the works of the original authors.