Ideological automatons

“On the one hand, design is determined by ideas and material conditions over which designers have no control, yet, on the other hand, designs are the result of designers exercising their creative autonomy and originality. To put the paradox in the most extreme terms, how can designers be said to be in command of what they do, but at the same time merely be the agents of ideology, with no more power to determine the outcome of their work than the ant or worker bee? There is no answer to this question: it is a fact that both conditions invariably co-exist, however uncomfortably, in the work of design. The same apparent paradox occurs in all manifestations of culture: any painting, film, book or building contains ideas about the nature of the world…” — Adrian Forty, Objects of Desire

More and more, when I read Marxists writing about ideologies and the material conditions that produce them, apparently automatically, with no trace of intellectual agency, especially not of a philosophical nature, I find myself reflecting on the ideologies and material conditions of academic life, especially in those fields where Marxism tends to flourish. What are the forces of academic production, and what is it about them that channels so much thinking into this odd Marxist materialist conclusion? As much as academics like to think of academia as a shelter from brutal commercial forces from which non-academic life can be studied, analyzed and reinterpreted, I’ve seen it up close, and the forces which shape the lives of academics are at least as brutal, and far more intellectually intrusive than any I have seen in out in the private world. If fact, if my only exposure to business were that of a social sciences professor reading newspapers and history books with the rigorously-trained eye of a Marxist, looking through the lens of my own first-hand experience of university committee politics and peer-juried journal submission, I can see myself becoming unable to see anything but materially-determined ideological mind-control behind individual efforts at autonomy.

I need to reread We Have Never Been Modern.

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