Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Where I hit a wall

I had one of those funny moments recently where two people from different backgrounds realize that they have very different meanings for the same word. In this case, the word was "structuralist."

Friend was speaking of the importance of physical structures, the role of the built environment in shaping experiences and actions. I, of course, was thinking that friend was kickin' it old-school, eschewing post-modernism's post-structuralism in favor of lit crit/sociology/anthropology-style structuralism: a hard line stance that individual will/agency is an illusion in the face of societal structures and practices, which ensure the continued existence of unequal and discriminatory power relations. "I am a structuralist," declared friend -- and it gave me quite the case of the giggles to imagine, for just a brief moment, what he might have been (but ultimately was not) saying.
This is in my brain this morning because I'm back reading secondary lit on the feminist pornography wars of the 1980s and I'm realizing that the same inflexibility that turns me off to structuralism is at the core of many anti-porn feminists' arguments about the harm of porn. As one described this piece of the ideology:

"Subordination is so deeply embedded in the system that any individual action is tainted by the subordinating elements of the whole society." (Downs, The New Politics of Pornography, p. 39)
Whatever my scholarly brain might think of these kinds of arguments, the rest of me hits the override switch. If I truly believed this, I would never get out of bed again since any action I might take would only serve to further my own subordination. Don't get me wrong, I believe in the power of institutions to perpetuate hierarchy and forestall change, I'm just saying that I need to believe, just 'cuz I do, that it isn't completely hopeless and however constrained they are, at least some of the day-to-day choices I make matter.

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