Vol 1 No 1 (2010)

Articulating a Post-Marxist Politics of Autobiography: Reclaiming Coherence, Referentiality, and Representation in a Poststructural World

John A. Shuve
Athabasca University, MAIS
Published April 8, 2010


There is empirical evidence for the progressive political possibilities of autobiography in the observed social influence of texts such as I, Rigoberta Menchú, a work that significantly affected Euro-American attitudes and policies toward South-Central America. However, a theoretical account of an effective politics of autobiography requires more than empirical observation; rather, it rests heavily on three conjectures: first, that autobiography is a coherent category distinct from other genres; second, that authorial referentiality, the claim that the author, narrator, and protagonist of an autobiography are the same person, is legitimate; and third, that autobiography can represent asymmetric, meaningful difference between autobiographic subjects. In recent years, these foundational characteristics of autobiography have been undermined by the radical poststructuralist argument that meaning is entirely unstable, a position that results in the elision of autobiography with other genres, the annihilation of the author/narrator/protagonist equation, and the collapse of meaningful differences between autobiographic subjects. Drawing on Stuart Hall’s post-Marxist concept of articulation, which stabilizes meaning through arbitrary closures tied to contingent socio-historic circumstances, this paper proposes a theoretical framework for autobiographical politics that respects legitimate poststructural concerns without weakening autobiographic coherence, authorial referentiality, and meaningful difference. Post-Marxist articulation is shown to provide a robust justification for each of the three foundational conjectures, once socio-historic particularities are properly accounted for; however, the theoretical and practical limitations of articulation are also considered in each case. Future possibilities for the politics of autobiography are briefly discussed at the end of the paper.