Towards a history of use-value.

Another point of interest that has cropped up in my studies is the way use-value has been variously interpreted in Marxist social and cultural theories. While it seems to me that what is important and brilliant about the category of use-value in Marx’s own theory is that it is left open so that anything can be subsumed by capitalist valorization. However,in the 20th century many humanist Hegelian-Marxists weighed the category down by equating it with conceptions of what is ‘good.’ By this I mean the tedious opposition in theorists such as Lukacs, Lefebvre etc. between quantitative exchange value and qualitative use-value which forms the basis of their conception of capitalist society as the quantified world of reification taking hold of and veiling the qualitative world of use-value which also becomes associated with human essence. This strikes me as an unhelpful, counterproductive and simplistic way to conceive of capitalism and also contributes to tedious theories about false needs, criticisms of consumption and debates about the normative standpoint of such theories, which do little to consider the coherence of these theories themselves.

At the moment I can’t recall how other schools of 20th century Marxism conceive of use-value. But i think it would be interesting and worthwhile to map the concepts use.


About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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3 Responses to Towards a history of use-value.

    • HR says:

      Looks interesting. Have you read it?

      • Yeah, I like Wolfgang Pohrt’s topical essays, but I’m not a fan of that book (his only “theoretical” work), standard Frankfurter “totally administered world” kind of stuff, positing the disappearance of use-value in late capitalism. Basically “One-Dimensional Man” using the categories of value-theory.

        Looking back from the neo-liberal, post-Fordist era, it’s strange to see how many theorists at the time regarded Fordism as some epochal shift in the nature of capitalism, rather than being a temporary interlude.

        Still kind of an interesting read, I suppose, from the perspective of intellectual history. As Robert Kurz correctly pointed out, that book is kind of the (tacitly acknowledged) Bible of the “value critical” wing of the Anti-German milieu, before they became racist shitheads and bog standard neo-cons.

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