[OPE] Question to Marxologists: Mode of production

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date: Sat Sep 06 2008 - 18:12:54 EDT

>From my point of view, whether concepts such as "society" or "culture" are perceived as vague is itself very much an effect of the shape that a community of people is in. If you are a historian, you know that in particular epochs people were very definite about those things, they knew very clearly what it meant to be cultured and what the structure of their society was. This is the case particularly where a form of society was very stable, and did not change much for a long time.

I think that these days we live in an epoch of very rapid social change, in which the new generation faces conditions which the older generation just didn't have to deal with, and in which power relations are no longer clearly defined or stable. There is a sense in which there is now a - seemingly interminable - controversy about what the norms of society should be, without any definite procedure being available to resolve the controversy, which often has the effect that people retreat to a group of people who are "like themselves". It creates a lot of uncertainties.

Pope Benedict complains about "moral relativism" but in reality most people aren't so relativistic, and they all have to deal practically with a bunch of absolutes in their lives that they cannot ignore. It is just that it is no longer very clear why some lifestyles are better or preferable to others, there is not just a lack of consensus about that, but also it is no clear how you would reach such a consensus, how you would unify the people. It's sort of like, your word against mine, and those with the most power, the most money or the biggest mouth often hold sway. In a vibrant democracy there would be an ongoing public discussion about "what kind of society we want" between groups with different articulated visions, but in reality the debate is more about "the limits of what you can tolerate" and why you might endorse certain lifestyles and disapprove of others.

I think that sociologically speaking there are very good reasons for that development, but the point here is that in such a situation it is hardly surprising if people cannot even agree anymore about very basic concepts such as what a society is, or what culture is, or why one concept of it is more valid than another. A "dialogue" presumes that participants in it share some common assumptions or premises guiding evaluation of the issues, but if that sort of thing is largely absent, it is very difficult to have any kind of dialogue - all you get in that case is different groups asserting the validity of their own views and values.

I think for Marx the central question was by what process a social theory is actually formed, what the source of the categories is that we use to understand things. Generally, I think his method was to look at the actual categorisations that people use, and then, through a critical analysis, rationally reconstruct those categories, in order to show how a particular world of ideas originates out of the real life circumstances of people, why they pose problems in a certain way, and what is really behind such problem formulations. The problem these days is that the very process of theory formation, the methods by which we might find out the truth, is often in dispute. There seem to be epochs in history which are conducive to good theory formation, and some which are not.

In postmodern thought, it is believed that it is not possible to arrive at any objective understanding of the totality of things, because the world is too big and any "grand narrative" is ultimately subjective; human understandings are just too limited. But that is rather superficial, the real question is by what methods our theories are formed in the first place. Marx spent twelve years studying political economy to create a theory which captured world attention for a hundred years. But this is a very different approach than that of our own time, in which everything has to be "instant" and anyone can concoct a snazzy metaphor.


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Received on Sat Sep 6 18:15:24 2008

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