Productive Hypostatization and Productive Strawmen.

These week I’ve been preparing a lecture on consumer culture. While I find much of the stuff by Adam Arvidsson and Roberta Sassatelli interesting, some of their criticism has got me to thinking about the productive roles that hypostatization and strawmen play in setting up new academic discourses.

In the field of consumer culture this target of criticism seems to be ‘productivism.’ Productivism is treated as a theory that reduces everything to the role of production. Since some Marxists can be used as examples of such a conception of productivism, Marx and other Marxists are dismissed as productivsts. Opposed to this are various authors theories of A,B or C that overturn productivism by arguing that other elements such as culture etc. played a role in the development of consumption.

A similar account might be given of post-Marxism. Its been awhile, but I seem to remember, that Laclau’s critique of Marx Hegemony and Socialist Strategy was premised on a similar hypostatization of certain Marxist orientations with Marx all of which were reduced to the sort of boogeymen that ignored NSMs.

Can y’all think of other examples?

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3 Responses to Productive Hypostatization and Productive Strawmen.

  1. Robert says:

    “Opposed to this are various authors theories of A,B or C that overturn productivism by arguing that other elements such as culture etc. played a role in the development of consumption.” This seems to me a fairly good description of what Baudrillard was often up to, but I’m not sure if that’s what you’re asking for…

  2. Kambing says:

    Apart from the ritual denunciations of the Frankfurt School in media and cultural studies, which we discussed earlier, there is a similar attitude towards the Birmingham School’s earlier Althusserian and Gramscian approaches to the study of post-War subcultures within the field of ‘post-Subculture studies’. Interestingly, this includes several theorists misrepresenting and caricaturing their own earlier work. Still, it seems to me that the fact that they still need to constantly bring up the subcultural studies work from the 1970s demonstrates that, for all its flaws, this work had a core of valuable insight and political/social relevance which the later ‘pomo’ stuff cannot match. (Arguably the same can be said about the subcultures themselves).

    In a similar vein, a lot of ‘post-anarchist’ theorists straw-man Gramsci and the concept of hegemony in this way. So does the political anthropologist James C Scott (Everyday Resistance, Seeing Like a State, The Art of Not Being Governed,etc).

    Daniel Miller and Arjun Appadurai both attack a ‘productivist’ caricature as part of arguing for their own approaches to the anthropology of consumption and/or exchange. Miller explicitly does this as part of advocating for a ‘turn to consumption’, adopting a standpoint of a crusader against orthodoxy despite producing this work well into the neoliberal era. Though both are more sophisticated than a lot of consumption studies stuff, they still adopt a standpoint (drawing on Simmel) whereby ‘value’ is something ascribed to a commodity through the articulation of its singular ‘use-value’ within the exchange relation. (Appadurai at least acknowledges that this is a form of ‘methodological fetishism’).

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