Unformatted text preview: find a process which would not overturn the binary, but undermine the logic which gives the binary itself any authority. Figure 15. Subject, object, and the privileged binary 5. Causation, power, and agency 22 Good social science explanation is supposed to explicate the root causes of a problem. For example, among the root causes of poverty cited in the literature are: lack of economic growth, lack of free markets, lack of capital, lack of resources, overpopulation, social discrimination, capitalist exploitation, human greed, and a culture of poverty. These may be all plausible explanations, but they are not free from the rules of signification—the semiotic principles, attributes of signs, and the levels of construction in social science. These grand theories— or metanarratives as Lyotard (1979) called them—are not false, but the stubborn persistence of poverty after sixty years of this dominant discourse and its attendant policy and practice tells us that this knowledge and analysis is not working. I submit that its major flaw, whether we recognized it or not, is that our dominant poverty discourse has robbed people of their agency. Objects of social science scrutiny such as the poor, the criminal, the under‐class, and the deviant do not exist independent of the discourses we have constructed about them—
knowledge defines the objects, diagnoses causes of the problem, recommends what to do, and, as a consequence, sanctions who has the power to act. The micro‐analytical tools I have described—three semiotic principles, attributes of signs, and three levels of discursive construction in social science—permit us to understand social problems such as poverty, discrimination, unemployment, and ecological degradation in new ways that are more creative than what social science has given us so far. By re‐theorizing poverty poststructurally through different selections, different levels of aggregation, and different differentiations we can in fact multiply sites of agency, and therefo...
View Full Document
- Winter '14
- Poverty, discourse theory, discursive aggregation, Discursive selection