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Title: The politics of the linguistic turn : a Wittgensteinian analysis and critique of the role of language in contemporary political theory
Author: Fisher, Edward C.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1999
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The thesis investigates the implications flowing from the adoption of certain conceptions of language within contemporary political and social theory. It also examines the impact which this has had upon some of the influential accounts given of concrete political phenomena such as Thatcherism. A chief aim of the study is to re-establish the irreducibly social nature of language, a crucial dimension which, it is argued, has been lost in contemporary poststructuralist and postmodernist formulations of the language/politics relationship. Section 1 places the central topic of the thesis in context by examining the role which certain dominant generative metaphors from the field of linguistics have played in undermining the notion of language as a truly social and political phenomenon. This involves an examination of the political implications which stem from the poststructuralist and postmodernist appropriations of Saussure's theoretical legacy; in particular, the insistence upon the notion of a language 'system' and upon the 'arbitrary' nature of the relation between the signifier and signified. In contrast to the poststructuralist and postmodernist views, a Wittgensteinian conception of language is set out in section II which views the latter not in purely semiotic terms as an autonomous and radically indeterminate structure, but as a socially-embedded network of rule-governed linguistic and practical activities; a conception which is encapsulated in Wittgenstein's notion of a 'form of life'. In the course of this, an immanent critique of the poststructuralist/postmodernist conception of language is developed through a focus upon the writings of Lyotard and Rorty, both of whom claim allegiance to a Wittgensteinian perspective, but whose chief failings, it is argued, stem from an unwarranted universalisation of such notion as 'difference', the 'arbitrary' nature of the signifier/signified relation, and the 'contingency' of language. In contrast, a line of argument is developed via the later writings of Wittgenstein that re-establishes the varied and socially embedded uses of language, one of which is to represent states of affairs in the socio-political world. All of this, it is argued, reveals a number of important parallels between a Wittgensteinian perspective on the language/politics relationship and the views of other writers on the topic such as Aristotle, Marx, and Bourdieu.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available