Re: [OPE-L] Derrida's ghosts

From: ajit sinha (sinha_a99@YAHOO.COM)
Date: Sat Nov 05 2005 - 06:00:34 EST

--- Stephen Cullenberg <stephen.cullenberg@UCR.EDU>


"Complex structures" in political economy have to
temporally and spatially.  Within that more concrete
context (of,for
example, an individual social formation during a
specific timeperiod),
it is often not possible to layer all of the causal
variables "allthe
way up" and in the same direction.  That is, variables
whichmight be
of minor importance at a more abstract level may have
power within a particular, more concrete context.
which are important in a more abstract context may
have little
explanatory power for understanding a particular

It's too bad our postmodern Marxists aren't taking
part in this
conversation now.  This thread might be seen as an
a  "postmodern moment", a "learningmoment."


Sorry for not replying sooner, but life gets very busy
at times, as itdoes for us all.  Let me just raise a
couple of issues that I seefrom your comment above,
which perhaps will reply to Howard in part aswell.  I
see your point in your example above, but I am bit
cautiousof your use of "minor importance" and "great
explanatorypower".  If you work with the idea of
overdetermination orconstitutive causality (as I do
and I recognize most others don't), thenthe ranking,
layering, or creating a hierarchy of causes,
whetherdeterministic or stochastic, is problematic.
Causality is a matterof qualitative difference, and to
say something is more or less causallyimportant is a
category mistake, from the POV I am working with.

If I might, I have excerpted some paragraphs that go
to this issue in anarticle I published in the Journal
of Economic Issues in December1989.  I was looking at
certain similarities between some stands ofMarxian
theory and some types of institutionalism.


Overdetermination is a theory of existence that states
thatnothing exists in and of itself, prior to and
independent from everythingelse, and therefore all
aspects of a society exist only as the result ofthe
constitution (mutual determination) of all of
society's otheraspects. Overdetermination implies,
then, a theory of causality, onewhere everything
constitutively determines everything else. This
theoryof causality is clearly not the dominant notion
of causality today, whichinstead is one where a
billiard ball metaphor of mechanistic
causalityapplies, where some things come first and
others follow. It is not atheory where you can single
out a prime mover(s) and argue that"X" is the cause of
"Y," or even that "X"explains, say 46 percent of Y.
Obviously, there is an implicit critiquehere of
classical statistical inference. The emphasis is on
qualitativeanalysis, by which I mean non-reductive
differences and a refusal tocharacterize events by
formally comparable metrics, whether that
impliesscalar or vector dominance.

Another way of thinking about this is that
overdetermination is acritique of "depth models" of
social explanation-a critique ofessentialism if you
want-where one level of analysis is explained by
adifferent level and is somehow thought to be prior to
and independentfrom the first. Classic Hegelian
causality of essence and appearance isan example;
neoclassical utility analysis grounded in
uncausedpreferences is another. In this sense, then,
overdetermination implies asort of relativism--a
relativism of existence. As nothing exists exceptas
the result of everything else, or nothing is assumed
to"underlie" anything else, then there is no
meaningful way toargue that something is more
important than something else, which wouldrequire a
metric that is unavailable in this analysis. Of
course, onecould choose a metric like weight,
labor-time, money, height, etc., andargue that along
that dimension something is greater than something
else(but you run into an immediate problem when you do
not have vectordominance). Simply put,
overdetermination is an appeal to qualitativeanalysis
similar to the institutionalist insistence on the
unique contextof each analysis.

Let me give a couple of examples, very briefly, that
might elucidatefurther the idea of overdetermination
as causal method. These examplesemphasize the
institutionalist notion of emergence.

1. Consider the simple example of baking a cake. The
ingredients wouldlikely consist of sugar, flour, milk,
eggs, water, and chocolate. In thecombining, or
overdetermination, of the ingredients of the cake, the
cakeemerges. But it would be folly to argue that the
cake is primarily theresult of such and such an
individual ingredient, or that 40 percent ofthe cake
is due to its flour content, and 20 percent is due to
its sugarcontent, etc. You might want to say that 40
percent of the weight of theingredients is due to the
flour, but that is a different question thatpresumes
one metric (weight) among the many. The point is that
the cakeemerges as the result of all of its conditions
of existence (ingredients)and is qualitatively
different from its constituent parts, and it wouldbe a
category mistake to reduce the cake's existence to any
one, or apercentage of any, ingredient.
But Steve, in your example the ingredients of the cake
exists prior to the existence of the cake and the cake
is CAUSED by the ingredients put through a baking
process. I'm not sure to what extent this example
serves your case. Even if you apply it as a critique
of empirical quantitative analysis such as regression
analysis, I don't find it making a compelling case.
Let us suppose you have a cake and you don't know the
ingredients of it or at least what were the
proportions in which they were mixed in the cake. Now
if some kind of empirical analysis tells you what the
ingrediants were or at lest in what proportion they
were mixed to create the cake, wouldn't you agree that
this would amount to knowledge and a knowledge worth

I think, to argue for Althusserian notion of
"overdetermined structure" it is better to use the
example of a family. In a family structure, father,
mother, husband, wife, brothers, sisters, etc. do not
exist prior to or independent of the family. The
interesting part of Althusserian notion of structure,
in my opinion, is that the elements of the structure
do not have any prior and independent existence of
their own outside of the structure. Even though they
constitute the structure, they themselves are
constituted by the structure itself. Hence the
structure is  not CAUSED but OVERDETERMINED. We need
to get away from the idea that "every thing is
determined by every thing" as overdetermination. Such
a proposition is a tautology and void of all knowledge
content. Cheers, ajit sinha

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