Upcoming Talks

Excited to be giving the following upcoming talks:

‘Reification, Crisis and Critical Social Theory’, CSE Trans-Pennine Working Group, University of Leeds, Beech Grove House seminar room at 1400 on the 25th of April.

“The Central, Structural Problem of Capitalist Society in All its Aspects”: Commodity Fetishism and Social Theory in Georg Lukács , Theodor W. Adorno and Henri Lefebvre, Filozofska fakulteta, University of Ljubljana, predavalnica 15 at 18:00 on 29 of April.

‘The specific social characters that the social production process stamps on individuals’; On The constitution of Classes in Capital as ‘products of these specific social relations of production’, as part of a conference on Class Composition at the Workers and Punks University, at 12:30 on April 30.

‘The Rationalization of Isolated activity and the Irrational Whole’: Reification and Crisis, 7th Annual Rome Conference in Rome at 14:30 on the 8th of May.

‘Reification, Crisis and Critical Social Theory’, Centre for Social and Political Thought Research Seminar at the University of Sussex on the 14th of May.







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Althusser on Abstraction

‘Can we draw some provisional conclusions from this long analysis of abstraction?

First of all, we can say that human beings live in abstraction, under abstract relations, which control all their practices. Next, we can say that abstraction in general does not exist but that there exist different types and different levels of abstraction, depending on the different practices and their different types. We can even say that if there exists no abstraction in general, there exist general abstractions, which control the totality of different practices and more or less profoundly influence their own abstractions. These general abstractions are social relations: relations of production, circulation, distribution; political relations; and ideological relations—all linked to class relations and class struggle.

Finally, we can say that all these abstract relations are only abstract in as much as they are and remain rooted in the materiality of social practices and that they are abstract only to the extent that they permit the final production of the concrete, whether the production of objects of consumption, the transformation of political relations, ideological relations, fantasy relations, the production of works of art, etc.

This entire gigantic cycle of social production, in the rhythms of its different rotations, in its complex networks, operates under the primacy of the concrete-real over the abstract, therefore, under the primacy of practice over theory. But at any moment of the cycle one observes no pure distinction, on the one hand, between practice, or the concrete, and, on the other hand, theory, or abstraction. At each moment, every practice exists only under abstract relations, which can be brought to the level of theory. At each moment, all abstract relations, including theoretical relations, exist only under the condition of being rooted in practice, in the concrete. They are the contradictions of this immense cycle that produce, under the form of the class struggle, what one calls human history, and make this history human, that is to say, not a disembodied history but a history heavy with gravity, materiality and finitude, with human suffering, discoveries, and joys.’

Translated by Ted Stolze

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Method and Social Theory in Critical Theory.

I think the following passage from Horkheimer’s Traditional and Critical Theory serves as a good postscript to my earlier post on Value-Form Theory and Critical Social Theory. This is because I think it does a good job of showing how Backhaus and Reciehelt were influenced by the first generation of critical theory as well as indicating how their early attempt at reconstruction attempted to resolve some of its methodological blind spots:

“In critical theory, as in traditional theory, more specific ele­ments must be introduced in order to move from fundamental structure to concrete reality. But such an intercalation of more detailed factors—for example the existence of large money re­serves, the diffusion of these in sectors of society that are still precapitalist, foreign trade—is not accomplished by simple deduction as in theory that has been simplified for specialized use. Instead, every step rests on knowledge of man and nature which is stored up in the sciences and in historical experience. This is obvious, of course, for the theory of industrial technol­ogy. But in other areas too a detailed knowledge of how men react is applied throughout the doctrinal developments to which we have been referring. For example, the statement that under certain conditions the lowest strata of society have the most children plays an important role in explaining how the bour­geois society built on exchange necessarily leads to capitalism with its army of industrial reserves and its crises. To give the psychological reasons behind the observed fact about the lower classes is left to traditional science.

Thus the critical theory of society begins with the idea of the simple exchange of commodities and defines the idea with the help of relatively universal concepts. It then moves further, using all knowledge available and taking suitable material from the research of others as well as from specialized research. Without denying its own principles as established by the special discipline of political economy, the theory shows how an ex­change economy, given the condition of men (which, of course, changes under the very influence of such an economy), must necessarily lead to a heightening of those social tensions which in the present historical era lead in turn to wars and revolutions.” (Critical Theory and Socciety, pp. 225-6.)

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Heinrich on the State

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Heinrich in Discussion

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Lukacs, Reification and Crisis.

Preparing to write a long overdue article on Lukacs. I say long overdue because its been in planning since last summer and described in the hundred-odd cover letters I have sent out which have generally kept me too busy to write what they describe.

The motives that underlie the paper are perverse in a double sense. In the first, I am trying to be highly opportunistic by jumping into the debate about how to revive reification that involves some schmancy names as well the seeming inability of contemporary critical theory to address the crisis. (Last I checked Nancy Fraser was the contemporary critical theorist to even try to address the crisis in a coherent manner) In the second, my proposal to revive reification will take the opposite tact of these schmancy names; rather than moving away from the Marxian element of Lukacs’ theory by drawing on one aspect of it and generalizing it into a theory of intersubjectivity, technology or political passivity — ironically mirroring the criticisms of Lukacs’ method that these revivals rely on — I am going to argue that it can be revived by focusing in on his comments on crisis which can be rendered more rigorous by drawing on Marx’s account crisis as inherent to the capitalist mode of production.

Some of the former can be seen below:

‘This rationalisation of the world appears to be complete, it seems to penetrate the very depths of man’s physical and psychic nature. It is limited, however, by its own formalism. That is to say, the rationalisation of isolated aspects of life results in the creation of formal laws. All these things do join together into what seems to the superficial observer to constitute a unified system of general ‘laws’. But the disregard of the concrete aspects of the subject matter of these laws, upon which disregard their authority as laws is based, makes itself felt in the incoherence of the system in fact. This incoherence becomes particularly egregious in periods of crisis. At such times we can see how the immediate continuity between two partial systems is disrupted and their independence from and adventitious connection with each other is suddenly forced into the consciousness of everyone. It is for this reason that Engels is able to define the ‘natural laws’ of capitalist society as the laws of chance. [26]

‘On closer examination the structure of a crisis is seen to be no more than a heightening of the degree and intensity of the daily life of bourgeois society. In its unthinking, mundane reality that life seems firmly held together by ‘natural laws’; yet it can experience a sudden dislocation because the bonds uniting its various elements and partial systems are a chance affair even at their most normal. So that the pretence that society is regulated by ‘eternal, iron’ laws which branch off into the different special laws applying to particular areas is finally revealed for what it is: a pretence. The true structure of society appears rather in the independent, rationalised and formal partial laws whose links with each other are of necessity purely formal (i.e. their formal interdependence can be formally systematised), while as far as concrete realities are concerned they can only establish fortuitous connections.’

‘The proletariat is, then, at one and the same time the product of the permanent crisis in capitalism and the instrument of those tendencies which drive capitalism towards crisis. ‘



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Posted in Commodity fetishism, fetish character of money, Heinrich, Value | Leave a comment