A more human language: an exploration of Marx's theory of species being

Fox, J 2013, A more human language: an exploration of Marx's theory of species being, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Global Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title A more human language: an exploration of Marx's theory of species being
Author(s) Fox, J
Year 2013
Abstract In this thesis I explore Marx’s theory of ‘species being’ to counter the Western tradition of treating the body as insignificant or a burden and to support the contemporary effort in much of the critical literature to value the pleasures, pains and potentials of bodily experience. I argue that Marx’s theory can only be fully understood with reference to the long-standing debate about ‘substance’, and that the literature has neglected this debate. ‘Substance’ concerns what provides a being with its character and continuity, and Western philosophy has tended to locate this within a being and independent of others, and as disqualifying matter.
Contemporary social policy, as dominated by neo-liberal emphases on independence and motivation, and neglect of the material world’s influence on agency, reflects this debate. Marx’s theory challenges this extreme individualism and can contribute to contemporary efforts to better appreciate the difficulty and promise of the body.
Through a Foucauldian-style genealogy of Marx’s key works, I address three questions: what critique did Marx make of the debate about substance; what alternative did he suggest (and how did this incorporate the material world); and how did Marx consider this alternative view might be adopted?
My argument is that Marx’s rejection of the traditional characterisation of substance is not adequately addressed in the literature: in short, that the consideration of Marx’s theory has not been dialectical enough. Reference to Hegel’s works, together with other participants in the debate about substance, reveals a being so bound up with its objects as to situate the locus of its being ‘externally’ in those objects and the social relationships that secure them. Being is then open and painfully, intimately dependent upon those objects and social relationships (the mode of production) to a depth that is not recognised in the literature.
I further argue that Marx’s adoption of the ancient Greek and romantic characterisation of matter as active and volatile amplified this insecure, unstable, interdependent characterisation of being. Here too my argument is that the consideration of Marx’s theory has not been materialist enough: the literature has not recognised how Marx’s materialism made the experience of tension, contradiction and pain (alienation) an inherent hazard of the human condition nor the significance of that experience for Marx’s overall project. When considered in the light of the debate about substance, that experience suggests that the resistance to treating matter as substance (including religious thought) was founded in these intimate, everyday, common bodily difficulties. That same debate also indicates why Marx believed that these difficulties had the potential, in extremity, to force the adoption of a conception of the human (and individual) substance in terms of interdependence.
Finally, I outline how Marx’s theory offers a new interpretative framework than can support and expand the consideration of the body in contemporary critical literature. I also suggest how that literature’s consideration of the everyday, ordinary experiences of bodily contradictions, pain and pleasure can give Marx’s theory a much broader, more promising potential application than previously recognised.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Global Urban and Social Studies
Keyword(s) Alienation
Social welfare
Species being
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Created: Wed, 04 Jan 2017, 11:46:49 EST by Keely Chapman
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