[OPE-L] When is Bob your uncle?

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Jan 04 2006 - 15:09:42 EST

Antonio argues that if nobody knows that Bob's your uncle, he is not your
uncle. My argument is, he is your uncle, two individuals are objectively
related as uncle and nephew, regardless of what anyone might think.

The claim then is that this is only a genetic relation, that uncle and
nephew are not *socially* related in that way, since they don't even know
that they are related, in the given case. It is, I claim, a hidden kinship
structure we are dealing with. Uncle and nephew are socially and legally
related anyway, insofar as they are part of the same group or community of
people from the same source, and we distinguish between an objective
relation and an intersubjective relation.

Suppose Bill is Bob's nephew and Bob is Bill's uncle, but they don't known
that, but I as indefatigable Mormon scientist have discovered through
tedious genealogical research they are related, and I tell Bill my proof
that Bob is his uncle. Suppose Bill says, "Bob's not my uncle, because I do
not even know Bob and I have never met him, there is no relation whatever
between us except maybe a genetic relation or a juridical relation". Does
this really make sense? I suppose it depends on your definition, but there
is no doubt that Bill and Bob are human beings who are related whether they
like it or not. Should Bob die and leave Bill an entitlement to an
inheritance, it is likely Bob would have a change of heart, and acknowledge
the relationship that exists by law.

Or maybe an example closer to home - in my workplace I mediate
communications by some colleagues that I've never met, maybe I just know
their name. I argue, that objectively we are socially related, although
there may be no intersubjective contact between us whatsoever. It seems to
me absurd to want to argue that we are not socially related at all, and at a
certain point we might practically recognise that there is an
interdependency between us, in that if I don't do my job or they don't do
theirs, we get a big problem. The hidden or obscured relation could thus
suddenly becomes visible, and we acknowledge practically that, after all, we
are socially related.

Seems to me that a hallmark of alienation is that we think we are not
socially related, although we are, even whether we like it or not. In fact,
we are related in so many ways, that we use the concept of a structure to
describe the basic ordered pattern that exists in that web of relations. The
important question then is how we arrive at that concept. I could of course
intuit a structure, or derive a concept of structure by spinning out words.
But I could also do experiential research to discover what that structure
is, including studying what people have perceived that structure to be in
the course of time.

Althusser seems to argue that the superstructure (helps) reproduce(s) the
economic base. But to my knowledge this is not what Marx argues - he argues
the economic base objectively reproduces itself, to the extent that workers
produce output as capital with their necessary and surplus labour. At most
you could argue, that a society based on universalised market relations
requires an enforcible legal framework, and thus, that the full unfolding of
the law of value in economic life is inconceivable without supporting state
structures regulating social behaviour (cf. Geoff Kay and James Mott, Public
Order and the Law of Labour (MacMillan, 1982)). Of course, we should
distinguish between the reproduction of a total society and the reproduction
of its economic relations, but Marx's argument is precisely that the
reproduction of the economic structure is the condition for the reproduction
of all the other structures based on it, and that the economic structure -
i.e. the social and technical relations of production governing the
production and reproduction of material life -  is the basis of the social
order, even if this is obscured or distorted in social consciousness (cf.
also Perry Anderson, Arguments within English Marxism, Verso).

It seems to me Althusser wanted the concept of structure to do too much work
and too little. Too much (overextension of the concept) because he thought
that he could neatly collapse the social totality into a few structures. Too
little (lack of content), because he just philosophizes about these
structures, instead of investigating them systematically through observation
and experiment.

There is also some merit in clarifying whate we mean by social anyway, as
I've tried to do in my wikipedia contribution to the article "social" (see
esp. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social#Some_different_definitions ).


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