Predicting the Fifth Phase: Interpellation, World Systems Theory, and the Fall of Nation-States.

Author:Croce, Nicholas
Position:Report
 
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Electronic technology and capital are inextricably tied. Today more than ever, it is hard to distinguish one from the other. The predominant medium for capital transfer and accumulation, electronic technology supports capitalists in the creation of further capital. In the United States, the divergence between workers' wages and productivity--where wages have grown by 9 percent since 1973, while productivity has grown by a whopping 72 percent--is due, in some significant portion, to workers' use of technology to enhance their ability to create capital. (1) Relatedly, outside of the mode of production, electronic technology has become a significant means of entertainment, social networking, communication, commerce, education, and more. In some respects, the nature of postmodern technology makes it difficult to discern between these things. This paper argues that electronic technology and capital have changed the way people interact, form identity, and by extension, the way we are governed.

Electronic technology, after all, must have impacts upon these facets of social life. Such technology enables unprecedentedly rapid "sacrificial doublings," the process where "human animals substitute a sign (or a totemic image) of something for complex, fleshy, ambivalent, and the often-contradictory sensations of being in relation to others." (2) In other words, electronic "sacrificial doublings" enable meta-constructions which bear superficial similarity to the original social construct but are ever-more detached from the underlying construct's source. Sacrificial doublings appear to relate to truths but are often flashy, numbing, referents of referents. Facebook's double of a social network is different than non-electronic networks because users' presentation and construction of self is subject to the rules and modalities of the medium. (3) If being in sustaining relation to another requires interpretation of the other's self, certainly social media disorients users in that process. This happens, in part, because social media users create a representation of themselves within a non-neutral medium: each social media platform encourages certain types of behaviors. Interpreting electronically-mediated face-line (4) pairs requires a set of skills apart from those learned by in-person interaction. As users of electronic social networks adapt these skills, issues are bound to arise in the electronically-mediated sphere. In addition, there is a significant likelihood that what is practiced in the electronic sphere will leech into in-person interaction and self-conceptualization. Never before in human history could doubling occur at such a pace, or in such complex networks. Therefore, sociologists must contend with the unique residuals of such sign-making.

This paper introduces theory that examines how electronic capital production and acquisition have changed social interaction. Louis Althusser's theory of interpellation is interpreted into a context where capital, not political governance, is the most important modern factor of subject-object formulation. By defining ultramodern forms of power and culture, the paper explores their consequence. Second, this paper examines what these power-charged developments signal for society going forward, especially in the West. (5) Using the theory of Immanuel Wallerstein, this paper argues that this shift in electronic capital fundamentally changes power formulation, reification, and relation, ultimately leading to the end of modern nation-states.

Althusser: Interpellation by Capital upon Human Subjects

In Louis Althusser's Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses, he elaborates upon modern forms of power, building on Marx. Drawing a bifurcation of modern power perpetuation, Althusser calls political governance the "repressive state apparatus" (RSA) whose power comes mainly through violence and repression. (6) The "ideological state apparatus" (ISA), on the other hand, is made up of private institutions like the religious ISA, educational ISA, family ISA, and others, and gains power primarily through ideology propagation. Althusser defines ideology as the "imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence." In addition, Althusser contends that ideology functions to create a subject-object relationship through a process he calls "interpellation." (7) The process of interpellation, as imagined by Althusser, is the perpetuation of ideology. Interpellation calls out into the world, and those who respond are thus defined. Any response is an acknowledgment that the interpellator not only recognizes the object but may also compel that object to respond in certain ways. Althusser's example is that of a police officer calling out to a person, and that person responding. Through the call and response, both parties solidify the nature of their identities and legitimize the structures within which they exist. This is the process of interpellation, an exercise of power. The process of interpellation makes the imaginary feel real, in a way acting as the Lacanian "suture" between the "real conditions of existence" (8) and that which is imagined--ideology formation.

Althusser sees the source of societal ideology as coming from Ideological State Apparatuses. Interestingly, he does not include the economy, or mode of production itself, as an ISA. His list of ISAs includes the "trade-union ISA" but he does not name a "capitalist ISA" or a "market ISA." In the West, it is plausible not only that there exists an "electronically-mediated market ISA," but that the market has become a substantial, irresistible, if not the dominating source of ideology.

While it is interesting to consider whether Althusser's theory should recognize the globalist-capitalist market as an ISA in its own right, such an analysis has few consequences beyond theoretical distinctions. What is more interesting, and likely of greater practical importance, is whether electronic technology plays a role in interpellation. What are the consequences of new forms of capital transfer and production that occur in the digital realm? Is it possible that capital itself engages in the process of interpellation, in a way partially disconnected from the user of the capital? Althusser notes that interpellation is one of the "rituals of ideological recognition, which guarantee for us that we are indeed concrete, individual, distinguishable and...

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