From: Ian Wright (wrighti@ACM.ORG)
Date: Tue Dec 06 2005 - 12:27:41 EST
Hi Jerry This essay is very pertinent to our recent discussions. Some general observations. Ruccio's essay encourages my belief that "postmodern Marxism" is both anti-science, at least science as I understand it, and anti-Marxist. (These are not arguments against Ruccio's propositions, but I think it is helpful to categorise the postmodern current). Let me try to back that up with some "anti-science" examples from the essay. According to Ruccio >It makes no sense, then, to imagine or to specify a >relationship of approximation or correspondence between the product >of theorizing and the social reality that exists "out there," >outside theory. That's because, according to postmodernism, social ideas beget social ideas, and social reality is constituted by such ideas, and this hermeneutical circle is closed: we can think and imagine pretty much what we like. Perhaps if we think or try really hard and wish to think social reality differently -- then it will change! (That must be possible, after all, since no distinction can be made between social reality and the ideas we have about social reality). And so: >The postmodern way of handling this problem is to refer to the >discursive construction of social reality.8 Again, proceding at a >relatively general level, postmodernism emphasizes both the way >different social discourses produce different social realities and >the idea that social reality itself comprises social agents and >entities that use different discourses to construct the reality in >which they exist. Thus, there are two, different but related, senses >in which the economy can be said to be discursively constructed. >First, different economic theories—mainstream and heterodox, from >neoclassical to Marxian—produce different conceptions of economic >and social reality. Economists literally see and analyze different >economies, according to the discourses (or paradigms or theoretical >frameworks) they use. And such "economic realities" may be and often >are radically different and incommensurable, produced and elaborated >according to different concepts and conceptual strategies. Thus, to >choose but one example, neoclassical economists perceive an economic >reality characterized by rational choices, factor payments, and >equilibrium whereas Marxian economists see commodity fetishism, >exploitation, and contradiction. So there's no way of comparing theories -- all are relative, just different Nietzschean perspectives. Here comes an important bit: > And, from a postmodern perspective, >there is no transdiscursive or nondiscursive standard whereby such >different realities can be validated or adjudicated (although, of >course, such judgments often do take place within particular >discourses, leading to quite different conclusions). The collapse into relativism means that there is no way of judging whether a particular social theory is true or false, or whether a social theory is a better explanation of a particular phenomenon compared to another (truth or falsity, better and worse, are not words that are used much in postmodern texts, presumably because they are so vulgar and unsophisticated). For example, I think it is false, and can be shown to be false, that the profit that accrues to capitalist owners is quantitatively connected to the productive contribution of the capital they own. It is false because, in practice, within the capitalist firm, there are no mechanisms that attempt to measure such productive contribution and distribute the residual income accordingly. In this case, the ideas don't match the reality. Unless there is the possibility of distinguishing social theories according to objective criteria, and thereby separate ideology from science, then any critique of social reality loses all bite and purchase. To deny that possibility is to deny the possibility of social science. In that sense, I think this approach is essentially anti-science. -Ian.
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