Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology

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Volume 16 Issue 3 (May/June 2006), Pages 171-245

‘Pre‐discursive’ racism (pages 207-232)


This paper makes the case that discourse analytic approaches in social psychology are not adequate to the task of apprehending racism in its bodily, affective and pre‐symbolic dimensions. We are hence faced with a dilemma: if discursive psychology is inadequate when it comes to theorizing ‘pre‐discursive’ forms of racism, then any attempts to develop an anti‐racist strategy from such a basis will presumably exhibit the same limitations. Suggesting a rapprochement of discursive and psychoanalytic modes of analysis, I argue that Kristeva's theory of abjection provides a means of understanding racism as both historically/socially constructed and as existing at powerfully embodied, visceral and subliminal dimensions of subjectivity. Kristeva's theory of abjection provides us with an account of a ‘pre‐discursive’ (that is, a bodily, affective, pre‐symbolic) racism, a form of racism that ‘comes before words’, and that is routed through the logics of the body and its anxieties of distinction, separation and survival. This theory enables us, moreover, to join together the expulsive reactions of a racism of the body to both the personal racism of the ego and the broader discursive racisms of the prevailing social order. Moreover, it directs our attention to the fact that discourses of racism are always locked into a relationship with ‘pre‐discursive’ processes which condition and augment every discursive action, which escape the codifications of discourse and which drive the urgency of its attempts at containment. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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