Psychoanalytic theory in the context of a transformative politics
University of British Columbia
Master of Laws - LLM
In contemplating social change in the context of policy development and legal decision-making we are necessarily led to consider what the limits are to such change. And it is not surprising to find this issue gaining widespread currency in contemporary legal and political debates, especially when viewed against the background of the growing number of new social movements: feminism, critical race, anti-poverty, environmentalism, and so on. Our thesis suggests that a psychoanalytic approach can successfully contribute to this critical discussion. In a first approach, our thesis develops some basic psychoanalytic categories, such as ‘fantasy’ and ‘identification,’ to show how Lacan’s view of the subject as a lack yields some surprisingly fruitful insights. What we have in mind here is his view that the subject is not a fully-formed individual with a clear and undisputed will. Rather, I.acan suggests that it is the very absence of a concrete will which defmes the human subject. These insights are further developed in relation to the standard theoretical categories of ‘power relations’ and ‘structural constraint’. We thus demonstrate, for example, how psychoanalytic ideas can further the debates over ideological critique and ‘false-consciousness’. Now, in making our analysis relevant to contemporary political and legal scholarship, we have applied our theoretical framework to the discussion of the rights discourse. We find that many of the impasses centering on the public-private issue; on the formal versus substantive opposition; on the question of whether rights reproduce the capitalist mode of production; can be usefully portrayed in terms of the assumptions that underlie legal positivism and legal postmodernism; and we show how Lacan can provide us with a much-needed alternative account of the rights phenomenon. In this new formulation, rights users are tied directly to the subject-as-lack. And, contrary to a reactionary interpretation of this new formulation which might point to an apparent pessimism and apathy, we find that our narrative opens up the way to a highly productive and passionate ethics. We immediately see the relevance of such contemplations to political and legal strategists. We argue that Justice is impossible in the strictest sense of the term, and that our proposed ethics provides us with a means to cope with this knowledge. We suggest adopting a paradoxical stance in which Justice is conceivable, and in this sense possible, on the basis of a constitutive impossibility. Our thesis demonstrates how the work of Slavoj Zizek, Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, Joan Copjec, and Renata Saleci, provide us with a panoply of remarkably sophisticated (Lacanian) theoretical tools for the purposes of presenting this paradoxical relationship.
Law, Peter A. Allard School of