Signification and political economy in Baudrillard.

HORSFIELD, Antony E. (1999). Signification and political economy in Baudrillard. Masters, Sheffield Hallam University (United Kingdom)..

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Abstract

This thesis presents a critical assessment of the relation between signification and political economy in the work of Jean Baudrillard. It argues that Baudrillard's work should be read as an important but flawed contribution to critical theory rather than as an exemplar of a postmodern semiotic nihilism. Expositions of Baudrillard's position in relation to political economy and the development of his thought are contrasted with other, Marxist inspired accounts of political economy and signification. Baudrillard's account of commodity capitalism is shown to be an attempt to develop a radical political position within the camp of the left, which, however, rejects the fundamental tenets of Marxism. In putting forward this critique of commodity capitalism, Baudrillard argues that the structure of the sign is essential to the commodity form and the thesis considers the merits and limitations of his notion of 'symbolic exchange' which he puts forward as an alternative to commodity production and exchange for profit accumulation. While it is recognised that Baudrillard's critique of capitalism is in some ways trenchant, it is argued that it cannot support and direct radical political action. The thesis then focusses on Baudrillard's attempt to construct an alternative account of the development of capitalism as three distinct 'orders of simulacra' or regimes of signification. Baudrillard's genealogy, and his notion of postmodern capitalism as being the latest order of simulacra, is then contrasted with David Harvey's Marxist aetiology of contemporary capitalism. The thesis discusses Baudrillard's contention, based on his particular account of capitalism as a social and cultural formation, that capitalism has shifted from being based on the production of commodities to being based on the reproduction and circulation of signs. This discussion is illustrated by referring to concrete examples of simulation derived from conservation and the heritage industry. The thesis argues that Baudrillard's main theoretical strength is his avoidance of reductionism but that he effectively replaces economonistic reductionism with a 'semiotic' reductionism. This critique of Baudrillard's genealogy of simulacra forms the basis of a 'case study' of Baudrillard's writings on fashion. Ranging from Baudrillard's early neo-Marxist to his later work, the discussion of fashion demonstrates that, for Baudrillard, fashion is a privileged locus within capitalism, an exemplar of the relation between commodity exchange and signification. Baudrillard's mature conception of fashion as a pure combinatory of signs without referent to an anterior reality is then contrasted with the Marxist influenced work of Dick Hebdige and Angela McRobbie's writings on fashion and identity. It is argued that Baudrillard's depiction, although powerful, results in a dismissal of human agency which effectively places him in a quietist political position. It is also argued that Baudrillard's overly totalising later work on fashion should be read as that of reductionist structuralist rather than that of a postmodern nihilist. In concluding, the thesis argues that Baudrillard is a critical thinker who is worthy of serious consideration. It will contended that Baudrillard's work should not be read as a fundamental challenge to Marxism but as an adjunct to its critical project, and that Baudrillard's critique of political economy and orthodox Marxism can be absorbed into the Marxist tradition as a corrective to economistic reductionism. It is suggested that this is an opportunity to demonstrate how signification is, in fact, essential to capitalist exchange and profit accumulation. Finally, the thesis suggests that Baudrillard's critique offers Marxism an opportunity to develop its critical categories by accepting that forms and modes of signification are as fundamental to continuing production of human societies as purely economic practices.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Additional Information: Thesis (M.Phil.)--Sheffield Hallam University (United Kingdom), 1999.
Research Institute, Centre or Group: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Depositing User: EPrints Services
Date Deposited: 10 Apr 2018 17:20
Last Modified: 15 May 2018 08:07
URI: http://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/19832

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