[OPE-L:6241] research objectives

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Tue, 3 Mar 1998 15:11:36 -0500 (est)

Re Jurriaan's message on "mice and cats":

I agree that trying to measure the rate of profit in "feet per second" is
not the most worthwhile research objective. But, who is trying to do

I am certainly sympathetic to your desire to discuss issues that are more
concrete and less hermenuetic. I would also say that too much research by
Marxists in the past has been driven by the Marx critics, like
Bortkiewicz. I.e. it seems to me that many research objectives are
_defensive_ in orientation. This list, for those of you who were here to
recall, was intended in large part to attempt to overcome that previous
defensive agenda.

Nonetheless, there is certainly a place for the more abstract
discussions (or, at least, there _should be_ a place for that research).
A good question to discuss might be: "what _is_ that place"?

Is it oversimplified to portray this situation for the last few decades in
the following terms?

a) one group of Marxists have been dealing with questions related to
"value theory", e.g. the transformation, the Okishio Theorem, the LTFRP,

b) another group of Marxists have been investigating more concrete
questions, e.g. conjunctural analyses, class analysis, etc.

c) there has been relatively little real intellectual communication
between those in a) and those in b).

d) increasingly, the journals that Marxists publish articles in orientate
themselves more to the research objectives of b) than a). I.e. journals
like the _Review of Radical Political Economy_ and _Capital & Class_ have
less "theoretical" articles now than in the past.

We have also heard, e.g. on other Internet lists, snide comments made
about those who investigate issues in value theory. Sometimes these
anti-theory (and, often, anti-intellectual) broadsides are leveled by
so-called "activists."

The upshot of this is both that it helps to further marginalize the
Marxist "theory" people in the profession of economics and elsewhere and
-- most importantly -- it reinforces a false dichotomy between research on
theoretical questions and research on more concrete subjects. It seems to
me that what is really needed is a recognition that there should be a
(two-way) _bridge_ between these two related and inter-connected fields of
investigation. I.e. instead of "theory people" doing theory but not more
concrete and empirical investigations and more "concrete" comrades doing
more concrete investigations without really inquiring into the theoretical
underpinings of their research ... what should happen is that there should
both be the recognition that both fields of inquiry are required (and,
thereby, legitimate) and there should be more of an open intellectual
exchange between the different groups.

So I agree that the issues you suggested for research _should_ be
investigated (and I would hope that we could do more of that on this
list). I also share your admiration for the late Ernest Mandel, even if
our accessment of him may be somewhat different. But, I don't think that
the space for a discussion of theory should be replaced by these other
investigations. Both are needed.

There are also methodological questions here that need to be interrogated.
E.g. to what extent do more concrete investigations rely on particular
interpretations of value and capital? Can we simply take the theory as a
"given" and proceed to more concrete investigations or do we recognize
that the theory (or theories) must be questioned. Similarly, how can
empirical (and historical) investigations inform theoretical research?

In solidarity, Jerry