In this, the 51st issue of Radical Philosophy, we are publishing a
couple of articles that survey a range of material. Following
Martin Barker’s study (RP 46) of the way in which the media
transmits its message, David Buckingham examines a profusion
of material on TV literacy. Val Plumwood pursues the arguments
of her previous article ‘Women, Humanity and Nature’ (RP 48)
in her piece on the Sex/Gender distinction.
David Buckingham begins by arguing, with reference to a
variety of texts, that the so-called’ decline’ in literacy may in fact
not be this at all but may rather indicate an alteration in the
standards used to measure the notion. He then picks out three
assumptions which, he says, underlie many perspectives on TV
literacy, but which particularly ground the argument of a representative tome on the subject: H. Foster, The Language of Film
and 1V. These are frrstly, that children are the ‘passive recipients
of TV presentations; secondly that there is a contrast between the
‘rational’ teacher and the irrational child; and thirdly that TV
language is defined in terms of images taken out of context plus
dictionary meanings. The remainder of the article focusses
mainly on a critique of this third assumption.
In Section 11: Is TV a language?, Buckingham considers a
number of texts that draw analogies between language and TV.
These basically fall into two types: poststructuralist and psychoanalytic. His fundamental criticism of both models is that they
abstract TV literacy from the social and historical context of its
production, and they therefore have no means of accounting for
the social and historical diversity oflanguage use. By contrast, he
comments favourably on the work of Volosinov and Bakhtin.
The third section of the article: What is literacy? ,points, once
more, to the asocial, ahistorical nature of much of the work on the
question. And in the [mal section Buckingham develops a social
notion of TV literacy from accounts of language literacy, e.g.
that of Bourdieu, that argue that even grammaticality, for example, is socially defined. This approach, he argues, suggests a
different model of teaching and research on TV literacy: e.g.
research on the social distribution of viewing competencies.
Plumwood provides a defence of the sex/gender distinction
against recent attacks by cultural feminists or theorists of sexual
‘difference’. In a wide-ranging survey of the arguments against
the distinction, she claims that while certain uses of it. have
rightly been criticised, some form of it is not only defensible but
necessary. In particular she argues that it is necessary for the
conceptualisation of the possibilities for the emancipatory trans-
formation of relations between the sexes. Distinguishing between two quite different senses of ‘degendering’ (‘degendering’l – re~ative to the gender structure of any particular, actually
existing society, and ‘degendering’ 2 – the removal of all structures of social difference attached to sexual difference) she
defends the former but not the latter. Degendering1 she suggests,
is perhaps better thought of as regendering. ‘The problem’ , she
concludes, ‘is gender, and regendering is its solution’.
We are also publishing two further articles, one by Ruth
Levitas and the other by Peter Dews. Levitas, in her examination
and comparison of two thinkers who can be represented as
challenging the Second International critics of Utopian thinking
– Bloch and William Morris – claims that there are ‘real problems in how to think about the future’ and that thinking about it
requires a Marxism that is supplemented with the romantic
strands of Utopianism. She avers that Bloch does not uncritically
present one Utopia as the zenith of historical progression; rather
he argues that several are possible. One distinguishes amongst
them by appeal to Marxism and Praxis. And Morris, she reminds
us, argued not for a reduction in labour, but for a reduction in the
pain associated with it, and for a transcendence of alienation.
Both thinkers, she suggests (and this, she argues, is vitally
important for Marxists) emphasise the role of visionary
daydreaming in the process of social transformation.
Finally Peter Dews expands on one of the arguments of his
book The Logics ofDisintegration that, although Foucault lacks
a theory of desire, he has an account of power. Dews argues here
that there are some problems in Foucault’s relativism vis-a-vis
power and the dominated other. Foucault believes, along with
other poststructuralists, that the promise of an undivided reason
has totalitarian implications. Yet, Dews claims, the plurality of
‘forms of rationality’ deprives the concept of any determinate
content. For example, Foucault wants to see power and knowledge as internally related, but he cannot – instead knowledge is
seen as .rising in certain institutional contexts. But in that case
the relation between knowledge and power becomes nonintrinsic In his article, Dews points to other aspects of the
problem in Foucault’ s thought He suggests instead, and this will
come as no surprise to those who are familiar with Dews’ work,
that the Frankfurt school problematised these aspects in a more