definitional exercise in identity politics, in expanding cultural and semiotic discourse, and reinterpreting the continuing the literary effort of the 20th and 21st century to deconstruct human life and society
Postmodernism, the literary buzzword of the past century, is often considered to be a 'liberal' form of hermeneutics, in the sense that rather than attempting to define what makes the canon great, it attempts to expand the notion of what is a literary canon, what is great literature in general. However, many liberal political activists have accused the deconstructionit movement and the postmodern aesthetic for its tendency towards reductionism and relativism. In other words, by stressing that everything, including identity, is a construction, there is little ground for feminist and Marxist critics to stand on, politically, speaking, to make a material critique of oppressive structures within a society. If all definitions are contextually based, how are political alliances based upon gender, social, class, economic, and ethnic interests possible?
One possible answer to this conundrum is the philosophical rubric of post-positivism. Unlike postmodernism, post-positivism is not a discursive definition and modality that has had, until recently, a great deal of popularity in contemporary discourse of feminist identity and identity politics. Post-positivist thought is often assumed to draw on a specific and scientific conception of truth, a "form of foundationalism," remaining "within a specifically positivist conception of objectivity and knowledge," and assuming "that the only kind of objective knowledge we can have is one that "we can see," feel, and touch in empiricist germs. (Moya & Hames-Garcia 84)
However, Paula Moya & Michael R. Hames-Garcia and the various authors chronicled in their anthology on postmodern constructions of identity, would define what they call post-positivism not as a mere reaffirmation of scientific discourse, nor empiricist assertions of the real but as a creative interpretation of identity politics for the 21st century. The authors state that they seek "objective knowledge" formally confined to the sciences as "social practice," in other words they seek what is real in political terms and also what is constructed in social terms simultaneously, marrying the best of materialist Marxist and scientific thought with post modern's fluidity of gender and identity. (28)
Ideally post-positivism, the editors of Learning from Experience: Minority Identities, Multicultural Struggles would say, as opposed to mere post modernism, affirms the notion that oppression is a real and material experience, while still allowing for some of postmodernism's destabilization of common sense of what it means to be of a particular gender or race. Post-positivism thus provides an ideal bridge for individuals of color and women to both affirm that their social marginality and the difficulties this cause are 'really' experienced, and not simply a constructions of ideology, in the modern workplace. But it also allows them to deny the 'common sense' norms that stereotypes about women and minorities are true, and must be accepted as valid.
As an aesthetic as well, post-positivist thought denies some of the playfulness of identity inherent to postmodern cultural artistic constructions of the truth. At one point in their introduction to Alcoff, they echo this author's critique of postmodernism, noting that she has identified postmodernism's problematic "epistemological denial" in its "unwillingness (with few exceptions) to acknowledge, take responsibility for, or indeed, to interrogate its own concern" with the implications of the political and identity inequities it chronicles. (80)
Post-positivism, in contrast, is not only epistemological, but is material and economic in its focus as well. Aesthetically in its focus, is cloaked in the language of science and seriousness, and has an epistemological weight that is satisfying to those who would highlight issues such as racial and sexual oppression. It is "context sensitive and empirically based," as well as interested in literary and artistic implications like postmodernism. (28) Moreover, post-positivism as an ideology does not take delight, but also despairs in the fabric of modern culture that would reduce femininity to a mere text along the line of parody and surfaces, like Warhol's soup can reduced the art of advertising. For the 'surfaces' or skins of women and minorities whom are made cultural and ideological capital in modern society, the playfulness of postmodernism towards gender bending and performative displays of excess can be frustrating rather than liberating. In contrast, post-positivism chronicles the serious struggles that must be waged to combat such oppression, materially as well as aesthetically. But post-positivism, like post-modernism also stresses that what is immediately observed and felt as common sense along the lines of science is not necessarily intrinsically valid, either.
Post-positivism thus like the natural sciences and the economics that is at its core is materialist, one that "that foregrounds the material aspects of the interpretive process itself." (177) It is also more overtly and avowedly Marxist in its interpretation, rather than economically neutral, as it is materially based in a discourse of oppression, rather than discourse that merely reaffirms one is constructed in a context of which oppression is a category amongst many used to define gender, race, and ethnicity. Post-positivist ideology's stress upon materialism has a weight, the weight of the life that denies individuals a full range of cultural opportunities to express themselves and to enjoy their existences. But post-positivist theory and critiques also acknowledge the emotional and psychological effects of oppression in a way that science does not. Many feminists think "they can transgress every boundary, call into question every category, and work in the "interstice/interface of (existentialist) 'identity politics' and 'postmodernism'" and achieve liberation through merely questioning cultural, rather than economic norms. (77) But this reaps little immediate material benefits or political rewards as are necessary for women of color. It also makes it difficult for individuals to bind together politically in alliances of gender, class, and other forms of political alliances.
For instance, theorists of performative gender like Judith Butler, whom the authors of Learning from Experience: Minority Identities, Multicultural Struggles see as fundamentally misinterpreting much of the social realist critiques of women of color to substantiate texts that are merely interested with the play of sexuality and gender, rather than of the effects of economics. "Butler extracts one sentence from Moraga, buries it in a footnote, and then misreads it." (34) Judith Butler's texts attempt to deconstruct the constructivist approach women of color's analysis of the specific economic oppression of Latinas, by denying that 'women' and 'Latina' are real categories at all. However, such stress of playfulness of gender and racial construction loses the fact that oppression is anything but playful for those who must survive in the often-torturous world of the marketplace. Even if such identities as femaleness and Hispanic-ness are indeed constructed, they are treated as real by the world, and in the post-positivist mindset that stresses the need for accepting a positive reality as well as a constructed societal identity, there is an acknowledgement that the 'reality' of living in a body gendered as female and identified as an ethnic identity can provide a core for activism as well as a source of discomfort.
In other words, when they "speak of a post-positivist realism" they are referring "to an epistemological position" against the reductionist forms of identity definition so common in the postmodern political discourse today, says the authors of Reclaiming Identity: Realist Theory and the Predicament of Postmodernism. (27) Postmodernist denials of identity can be just as oppressive and just as much a predicament, in other words, as essentialist conceptions of femaleness and identify. For Moya and Hames-Garcia the search for a definition of third-world or minority identity feminism that is not purely culturally constructed in nature, but has some basis in the reality of social oppression must lead to post-positivism. (26) Too long, postmodernism has seen transgression and liberation in the denial of the real. When realists say something is…