Why Is the Single Mother ‘Typical’?
In the rejection of the social welfare system by the New Right in the
,for example, the universal notion of the welfare system as inefficient is
sustained by the pseudo-concrete representation of the notorious African-
American single mother, as if, in the last resort, social welfare is a pro-
gramme for black single mothers—the particular case of the ‘single black
mother’ is silently conceived as ‘typical’ of social welfare and of what is
wrong with it. In the case of the anti-abortion campaign, the ‘typical’ case
is the exact opposite: a sexually promiscuous professional woman who
values her career over her ‘natural’ assignment of motherhood—although
this characterization is in blatant contradiction to the fact that the greatmajority of abortions occur in lower-class families with a lot of children.This specific twist, a particular content which is promulgated as ‘typical’of the universal notion, is the element of fantasy, of the phantasmaticbackground/support of the universal ideological notion. To put it inKantian terms, it plays the role of ‘transcendental schematism’, translat-ing the empty universal concept into a notion which directly relates andapplies to our ‘actual experience’. As such, this phantasmatic specifica-tion is by no means an insignificant illustration or exemplification: it isat this level that ideological battles are won or lost—the moment weperceive as ‘typical’ the case of abortion in a large lower-class familyunable to cope with another child, the perspective changes radically.
This example makes clear in what sense ‘the universal results from a con-stitutive split in which the negation of a particular identity transformsthis identity in the symbol of identity and fullness as such’:
theUniversal acquires concrete existence when some particular contentstarts to function as its stand-in. A couple of years ago, the English yel-low press focused on single mothers as the source of all evils in modernsociety, from budget crises to juvenile delinquency. In this ideologicalspace, the universality of ‘modern social Evil’ was operative only throughthe split of the figure of ‘single mother’ into itself in its particularity anditself as the stand-in for ‘modern social Evil’. The fact that this linkbetween the Universal and the particular content which functions as itsstand-in is
means precisely that it is the outcome of a
struggle for ideological hegemony. However, the dialectic of this strug-gle is more complex than in its standard Marxist version—of particularinterests assuming the form of universality: ‘universal human rights areeffectively the rights of white male property owners...’ To work, the rul-ing ideology has to incorporate a series of features in which the exploitedmajority will be able to recognize its authentic longings. In other words,each hegemonic universality has to incorporate
at least two
particularcontents, the authentic popular content as well as its distortion bythe relations of domination and exploitation. Of course, fascist ideology‘manipulates’ authentic popular longing for true community and socialsolidarity against fierce competition and exploitation; of course, it ‘dis-torts’ the expression of this longing in order to legitimize the contin-uation of the relations of social domination and exploitation. However,
Another name for this short-circuit between the Universal and the Particular is, of course,
‘suture’: the operation of hegemony ‘sutures’ the empty Universal to a particular content.
, Verso, London