John Cage
J-S Bach
John Zorn


Post-structuralist Social Theory

[1] Deconstructive sociology. An offshoot, a branch, a side road. Not only considered from standpoint of mainstream sociology (if 'mainstream sociology' exists), but also from the perspective of this site about deconstruction in music. On the side. A 'hors d'oeuvre'. Although the links with music and thinking on music are hardly made, this page on sociology can offer some insight into musicology, music theory and music analysis as well. Most sociological practices are conceived of as a representation of the real, of social reality. This implies that there is a distinction between social reality and the representation of social reality. Texts and language are somehow less real than social reality, which remains as extra-discursive context.
There is a clear analogy with this and thinking on music. Musicology, music theory and music analysis deal with a specific part of this social reality, music; in one way or another, they represent the real, in this case, musical reality. On this page the relationship between reality and representation is rethought.

[2] In Undoing the Social. Towards a Deconstructive Sociology, Australian sociologist Ann Game attempts to break away from the typical sociological distinctions between representation and the real, text and context, theory and practice. She calls these (hierarchical) oppositions 'sociological fictions'. A sociology as advocated by Game deconstructs the (hierarchical) difference between the real and the representation of the real. Before taking a closer look at her thoughts, I want to make two short comments on reality, representation and their hierarchical relation.
First, the real needs a representation in order to appear. We need signs to refer to reality. The real cannot present itself; it requires a vehicle in the form of a representation, a sign. In his text, 'La différance', Derrida demonstrates that the presence of the real without a representation is an impossible and unattainable ideal for us. This means that (from the inside) the real is always already permeated with a deficit, a shortage. However, if the real cannot exist without its representation, if the latter is established as the precondition for the presence of the real, then representation should become the point of departure.
On the other hand, representation also prevents the real from appearing; it defers the real. Representation disables an immediate connection to the real. Derrida describes this using the word différance, which is derived from Latin 'differre', denoting a movement both of differing and deferring. Différance at work within sociology could be the play of difference (between a social presence and its (supplemental) representation) and deferral (the postponement of any presence) (cf. supplement) .
Second, a theory of representation that seeks to establish foundations must assume the presence of that which accurate representations represent. However, there is always the question of the extent to which any supposed given, any supposed reality, might in fact be a construct or product of a theory that it purports to support. In one way or another, reality is always discursive reality (cf. Culler, p.152).

[3] A deconstructive sociology. Which is also a deconstruction of sociology. Game opts for a form of analysis that is understood as a reading and writing of texts that breaks with the reality-fiction opposition. She assumes that reality or the social is written; there is no extra-discursive real outside cultural systems. The social world does not consist of ready-made objects that are put into representation; there is no extra-textual ground on which social analysis clings (cf. Game, p.4).
What does it mean that the real is written, that the real is a text? First, we experience reality as a connection between events, a heterogeneous network, a textile. Second, as Derrida states, '... all reality has the structure of a differential trace [différance], and one cannot refer to this 'real' except in an interpretative experience', (Limited Inc., p.148). Any experience is a practice that is both culturally embedded and historically situated. The real is constituted in and by cultural systems. In this sense, the real is written only as reflections on the real. Applied to music: to experience something as music means that one needs a certain schematic (representing) understanding of the concept 'music'. It is always already a matter of an interpretative forming of meaning. Music appears in a certain way in one's consciousness. The reality of music can only come to us in the form of an interpretative experience. And the music 'itself'? It is part of a broad and complex textile of connections, of a web without a center, of ever changing assemblages: lines of flight to the composer, memories evoked by the music, circumstances in which the music is played, etc. Thus music, as a text, becomes an intertextual (intermusical) network. As a result, there is not one privileged meaning, but many meanings.
The converse of the reality-fiction opposition is that texts are real; there is no 'deep' reality below the surface of texts. Game does not understand textual analysis as representation. She radically departs from the conception of knowledge as a correspondence between sociology and social reality, drawing critical attention to sociology as a discursive practice in which the real or the social is produced. The idea that the social is written shifts the ground of representation: there is no pre-social real to be represented in writings. Both fact and fiction are representations (cf. Game, p.5-7).
(In The Postmodern Turn. New Perspectives on Social Theory, Richard Harvey Brown offers a similar textualist approach to society and sociology. According to Brown, knowledge is less a matter of correspondence of word and world than conformity to specific authorized practices of reading and writing. Social reality and the social sciences themselves are textual constructions. Theories can be regarded as the practices through which things take on meaning and value, and not merely as representations of a reality that is entirely exterior to them. Brown states that insofar as theoretical representation is thought to be objectively true, it is because its methods of construction have become so familiar that they operate transparently (cf. Seidman, p.229).)

[4] 'Sociological discourse claims to be a science of modern society, the mirror of modern society or the social. 'The mirror' refers to a conception of knowledge as correspondence or as adequate reflection' (Game, p.20). But what are the mechanisms by which sociological discourse produces a mirroring relationship between itself and the social? Looking at it from a different standpoint, if we think of social reality as being discursively produced, as a product of sociological practice and labor, we must then ask how it is produced as a mirror to sociology. Game's contention is that the discipline assumes the self-identity of the social that it discursively presupposes. 'What is not acknowledged is the significance of the fact that sociological concepts are necessarily used to account for sociology. 'The development of modern society', 'class struggle', 'rationalization' are discursively produced by the discipline' (cf. Game, p.23). When sociologists speak of 'critically locating' their theory, they do so with reference to, for example, class location or specific location in history, that is, 'the real' that they have produced themselves in their texts first. A project of undoing, of deconstruction, consists in destabilizing the givenness of the social, in shifting the sociological rules and premises. Deconstruction is a strategy of transformation, a positive strategy: it is simultaneously an unmaking and a making. But it is a process without an end; it is a becoming (cf. Game, p.x).

[5] Game attempts to abandon the idea that there could be a better or a worse theory to describe reality. 'If we take theorizing to be a writing practice, theory cannot be seen to operate as a model to be tested for adequacy to the real, and there can be no appeal to the real in refutations of theories' (Game, p.7). With that, she reacts against sociologist Anthony Giddens in particular, who takes the view that theories can always be evaluated in terms of observations generated by empirical research. Theories, understood as models, are modified or refuted in the light of the empirical; there is a demand for coherence to the real of the social world. Such sociologists as Giddens assume the existence of a 'real' world outside of theory. The world's reality is taken as the source of concrete empirical data. This idea of a freestanding reality as the source of empirical data partakes of the traditional distinction between the knowing subject and the world of objects; it relies on a belief in attainable knowledge as the arbiter of that distinction. This approach leans on research to investigate social facts; it aims at objectivity with respect to these facts and the reporting of findings in a transparent language that makes for a direct translation. Here, the distinction between theory and research methods reflects the distinction between representation and the real. Research is understood as empirical research while theory operates as a model or hypotheses that are to be tested through research.
Post-structuralist sociology and deconstruction criticize this view in several ways. Here are three of them. Three objections in three different directions. Game rethinks research. 'If research is understood as writing, critical attention is drawn to the process of textual production which is research, as opposed to a final writing up of research results' (Game, p.28). Agreeing with Roland Barthes, she states that it is an illusion that research is not written: from the moment research concerns the text research itself becomes text production. Thus, it becomes part of the writing, rather than 'the occasion for putting off writing until a result has been found'. Brown starts from another position, he formulates another criticism. 'There is always a 'surplus reality' because existence (potential experience) is always larger than actual experience', he writes (Seidman, p.234). There is too much, more than one can say. The infiniteness of a field cannot be covered by a finite discourse. Third, in Writing and Difference, Derrida adds to this that the problem is not only that of an inexhaustible field, of being too large. The problem has to do with language as well. Derrida calls this 'the movement of supplementarity' or 'the play of substitutions' (the linguistic representation that substitutes the real). One cannot determine the real and come to an exhaustive description because the signs that replace the real, that supplement it taking the real's place in its absence - these signs are added, occur as a surplus, as supplements. 'The movement of signification adds something, which results in the fact that there is always more, but this addition is a floating one because it comes to perform a vicarious function, to supplement a lack on the part of the signified [or of the referent, MC]' (Writing and Difference, p.289).
According to post-structuralist sociology, our understanding of how science and knowledge were constituted in the past relied upon an assumed polarity and hierarchy between truth and its medium of expression. Foundationalist epistemology and modern scientific method insisted that objective truth existed independently of any symbols that might be used to convey it. However, when Game and other post-structuralists take the real to be a writing practice, theory can no longer be seen as an adequate model for testing the real. There can be no reverting to reality in judging theories. In every research, social reality, i.e. social texts, is 'only' rewritten. Deconstructive sociology disrupts and displaces the traditionally bifurcated hierarchy of truth over expression, the opposition of reality vs. appearance. It does so by focusing on the how rather than on the what of sociological knowledge. As Jonathan Culler puts it, 'Deconstruction has no better theory for truth. It is a practice of reading and writing attuned to the aporias that arise in attempts to tell us the truth ... Deconstructive enquiry does not lead to new foundations. But ... it does lead to changes in assumptions, institutions, and practices' (Culler, p.154-5). Deconstructing sociology does not lead to a better or more complete sociology. It questions its rules and closures. (Again, an analogy to deconstruction in present-day musicology and music analysis can be made. By putting new questions on the agenda, one gains an insight into the strategies of closure and boundary defining of these disciplines. I elaborate on this in Of New Musicology.)

[6] A deconstructive sociology questions the rules and closures of the discipline. It does so by focusing on the how rather than on the what of sociological knowledge.
One more remark. About closure. About exclusions.
'Discursive social practices realize differences and distinctions; they define what is normal and deviant, and hence express and enact forms of domination. Thus, the processes of definition and exclusion are not only logical properties of discourse; they also are preconditions of intelligibility, sociation, social order, and social control', Brown writes (Seidman, p.234). Some versions of reality are legitimized at the expense of others. Brown calls this an operation of closure. That is, it protects certain interpretations by means of social sanctions that marginalize or silence different voices. Reciprocally, from such operations emerge (temporarily stable) social structures and institutions. Closure and legitimization involve repression of alternative realities, subjugated discourses that stand outside the regime of truth. Marginalizing the discursive practices through which they are constructed de-legitimizes these alternative realities. They become unofficial, extra-institutional. One effect is that it conceals the rhetorical construction of reality, of the social text. According to Brown, society comes to be seen as a natural fact rather than a cultural artifact (cf. Seidman, p.236).
What can these last statements teach us about musicology, music theory, music analysis? Just a few questions in closing. How exclusivating are these disciplines? How is the operation of closure at work within these disciplines? How are other stories, alternative views, different voices marginalized and de-legitimized? How are they marginalized and de-legitimized in music 'itself'? I ask you to keep these questions in mind while reading other texts on this site.