The thesis investigates the implications flowing from the adoption of certain
conceptions of language within contemporary political and social theory. It also
examines the impact which this has had upon some of the influential accounts given
of concrete political phenomena such as Thatcherism. A chief aim of the study is to
re- establish the irreducibly social nature of language, a crucial dimension which, it is
argued, has been lost in contemporary poststructuralist and postmodernist
formulations of the language /politics relationship.
Section 1 places the central topic of the thesis in context by examining the role
which certain dominant generative metaphors from the field of linguistics have
played in undermining the notion of language as a truly social and political
phenomenon. This involves an examination of the political implications which stem
from the poststructuralist and postmodernist appropriations of Saussure's theoretical
legacy; in particular, the insistence upon the notion of a language `system' and upon
the `arbitrary' nature of the relation between the signifier and signified.
In contrast to the poststructuralist and postmodernist views, a Wittgensteinian
conception of language is set out in section II which views the latter not in purely
semiotic terms as an autonomous and radically indeterminate structure, but as a
socially-embedded network of rule- governed linguistic and practical activities; a
conception which is encapsulated in Wittgenstein's notion of a `form of life'. In the
course of this, an immanent critique of the poststructuralist /postmodernist conception
of language is developed through a focus upon the writings of Lyotard and Rorty,
both of whom claim allegiance to a Wittgensteinian perspective, but whose chief
failings, it is argued, stem from an unwarranted universalisation of such notions as
`difference', the `arbitrary' nature of the signifier /signified relation, and the
'contingency' of language. In contrast, a line of argument is developed via the later
writings of Wittgenstein that re- establishes the varied and socially embedded uses of
language, one of which is to represent states of affairs in the socio- political world.
All of this, it is argued, reveals a number of important parallels between a
Wittgensteinian perspective on the language /politics relationship and the views of
other writers on the topic such as Aristotle, Marx, and Bourdieu.
In order to defend and deepen the alternative conception of language advanced in
section II, section III examines the frequently voiced claim that a Wittgensteinian
approach to the socio-political is inherently conservative in outcome. The study
counters the central misconceptions involved in the latter interpretation, and develops
the basis of an alternative reading of Wittgenstein's later writings by employing some
of their frequently ignored conceptual resources. The interpretation offered does not,
however, merely accept uncritically Wittgenstein's writings as they stand, but argues,
where appropriate, for the necessity of going beyond a Wittgensteinian approach as
traditionally conceived. This is achieved by developing and extending the underlying
logic of such key Wittgensteinian themes as `ordinary language', `grammar' and
`description', and by arguing against the conflation of the concepts of `language
game' and `form of life'.
The significance of the issues pursued for our understanding of the role of
language in concrete political developments is highlighted in section IV, which
provides a Wittgensteinian account of the failure of Thatcherism as a `hegemonic
project'. The section concentrates upon some weaknesses in Hall's influential
analysis and traces these to an underlying conception of language drawn from the
writings of Laclau and Mouffe. In this way the study attempts to bring together and
to illustrate within the area of a single case study the theoretical and political
dimensions of the linguistic turn which have been pursued throughout the thesis.
In conclusion, it is argued that the linguistic turn as conceived and theorised from a
Wittgensteinian - as opposed to a poststructuralist or postmodernist perspective - is
also a turn towards a more adequate recognition of the irreducibly social and political
nature of language.