always-already given

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1. (givenness) Broadly, in cultural theory, a key abstract concept that is taken for granted as an essential starting-point for any theory—often inexplicit but nevertheless the philosophical foundation on which subsequent theorizing is built (see also foundationalism). For instance, structuralists give priority and determining power to language—which pre-exists all individuals and determines the consciousness of human subjects.

2. In Marxist theory, a term coined by Althusser [French toujours-déjà-donné] and used by those influenced by his inflection of Marxism. For him, it referred to the way in which ideology is a determining force shaping consciousness. He claimed that an individual is always-already a subject, because their gender identity, their place in a family, and their roles and responsibilities as ‘free citizens’ are ideologically determined even before they are born. See also cultural determinism; ideological state apparatus.

3. In phenomenology, the irreducible essence of a thing. Phenomenologists claim that being is always-already given: i.e. that thought (in the form of an awareness of our being) comes before language. Husserl argued that the study of that which was already given was a method of bypassing metaphysics by focusing on the essence of things rather than on ideas about them.

4. The ontological foundationalism that Derrida criticized as being at the heart of all metaphysics. See also deconstruction; transcendent signified.

Subjects: Media Studies.

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