Global Discourse
An interdisciplinary journal of current affairs

The limits of post-Marxism: the (dis)function of political theory in film and cultural studies

Author: Paul Bowman1
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  • 1 School of Journalism, Media and Culture, Cardiff University, UK
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This article first sets out the value of the political discourse theory of Laclau and Mouffe. It argues that this work was central to the development of cultural studies, in its theorisation of social and cultural practices as being part of ‘political discourse’. This confers a dignity, status, value and political importance on cultural practices of all kinds. However, the article seeks to probe the limits of this approach to cultural politics, and it does so through a necessarily unusual exploration. First, it takes an example of something ostensibly trivial from the realms of film and popular culture and explores it in terms of Laclau and Mouffe's categories, in two different ways. The ‘trivial’/pop cultural example is Bruce Lee. Could Bruce Lee be regarded as ‘politically’ significant or consequential? He was certainly an enormously influential film and popular cultural icon of the 1970s, one who arguably ignited a global ‘kung fu craze’. Moreover, Bruce Lee also had his own ‘hegemonic project’, seeking to transform and unify martial arts practices. In this paper, Bruce Lee's own ‘project’ is first examined in the terms of Laclauian categories. These are shown to be extremely useful for grasping both the project and the reasons for its failure. Then the article moves into a wider consideration of the emergence of globally popular cultural discourses of martial arts. However, Laclau and Mouffe's approach is shown to be somewhat less than satisfactory for perceiving at least some of the ‘political’ dimensions entailed in the spread martial arts culture and practices, from contexts of the global south into affluent contexts such as Hollywood film and Euro-American cultural practices. The paper argues that this is because Laclau and Mouffe's approach is logocentric, which leads it to look for and to perceive a very limited range of factors: specifically, political identities formed through political demands. However, to more fully perceive the political dimensions of culture, the paper argues that different kinds of perspective, paradigms and analysis are required. Adopting or developing some of these would enrich the field of political studies.

  • 1 School of Journalism, Media and Culture, Cardiff University, UK

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