Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Latour on Marx

 I agree with larvalsubjects that 

In CapitalMarx does not appeal to either the social or class as an explanatory force. Indeed, class only appears very late in Capital. Rather, it seems to me that Marx practices an exemplary form of actor-network analysis throughout both Capital and Grundrisse. Marx seeks to explain society in the manner of a sociologist of associations rather than appeal to society to explain the world around us. The actants that Marx appeals to in this story are wage-labor, the money form, factories, trade routes, the availability of resources, various technologies, etc. Here class does not serve an explanatory function, but rather is an emergent effect of how wage labor functions. Class is something that comes into being through a variety of different processes.
This concisely expresses a point Jessop and the Cultural Political Economy crowd have been attuned to for some time in trying to navigate between ‘soft economic sociology’ and positivist economics.  Referring to factories and trade routes as ‘actants’ nicely encapsulates one of the crucial material aspects to Marx’s thought, the other being the labour process itself:
In this respect, we can think of wage-labor in much the same way that DeLanda– who is bafflingly ferocious in his critiques of Marx –thinks about how seashells of fairly consistent shapes and sizes come to be distributed on a beach. Here the average power of the waves and the extent that water comes up on the beach distribute sea-shells of particular shapes and sizes along a narrow band on the beach. Likewise with wage labor and capital. And where the pursuit of capital goes largely unregulated, we witness, over time, a massive disparity in wealth where the lion share of wealth comes to be concentrated in the hands of a few. In other words, we get the formation oremergence of class. When class comes into being, certain additional consequences follow. If the machine of capital is to continue running, not only is it necessary for goods to be produced, but it is also necessary for goods to be consumed so that the production of additional capital can take place. How can that occur, however, when such a system is prone to depressions and recessions that limit the amount of available money for consumers? And so on.
I’d also encourage you to read the comments on the larvalsubjects post.  Jeffrey Bell pops up with a useful comparison between Marx and Marxism on one hand and ‘Latour’s distinction between science in the making and ready-made science (or ‘textbook science’)

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