Archive for the 'Philosophy' Category



Postcolonial Hybridity and Economics

Eiman O. Zein-Elabdin and S. Charusheela argue for a melding of postcolonial theory and economics in order to smash the disciplinary dividing walls that currently separate them as disciplines:

The strength of postcolonial theory lies in its emphasis on the problems of cultural hegemony/subalternity and identity formation, which has generated a number of key concepts that provide potentially rich applications in the realm of economy.  The contributions in this volume show that the notions of orientalism, ambivalence, and transmigrancy can all be productively deployed in a critique of Economics.  Even the beleaguered concept of hybridity – if understood as an indication of advanced cultural mixing and instability, instead of being dismissed as a playful, perhaps even politically irresponsible, celebration of migrancy and transnationalism – can provide a powerful resource for troubling the homogenizing epistemology of economics.  A concrete example of the significance of taking on board such insights can be given by the case of post-development literature which could benefit tremendously from the more complex theoretical rendering of culture and contemporary life, and the nonessentialist understanding of subalternity offered by postcolonial theory.

Economics, on the other hand, regardless of all its ailments, affords the central concern with understanding the organization of material life.  However, this organization cannot be assumed a priori as a manifestation of a universal economic truth.  Postcolonial sensibility is antithetical to the common epistemological urge in Economics to strip all social/cultural phenomena down to a calculable quantum, and, in effect, occlude heterogeneity.  But, several perspectives in Economics – their modernist limitations notwithstanding – offer important insights for catachrestic postcolonial appropriation.  For example, building on the Veblenian institutionalist emphasis on culture and path dependence, a non-modernist position can argue for an economic approach that theorizes postcolonial societies as contemporary cultural constructions, with coeval modes of being and provisioning, rather than ‘less developed’ or ‘pre-modern,’ without disputing either the instrumental value of technological improvement or instrumental valuing as an aspect of human behavior.  Placing the valuation of instrumental value itself within cultural context opens up more space for truly substantive economic analysis.  Similarly, the Marxian preoccupation with exploitation and class continues to have tremendous relevance although it can no longer be sustained within the theoretical framework of classical Marxism.  A postcolonial reappropriation may dispose of these elements and reconceptualize class relations on the basis of their specific, indeterminate contemporary formations, with no presumption of a particular historical trajectory (8-9).

It would be interesting for the editors to expound on “classical Marxism” and what that means as well as why a class analysis “can no longer be sustained within” its theoretical framework.  Especially because they are arguing for sustaining the theoretical framework(s) of postcolonial theory(ies) by having it subsume (but not displace) contemporary economic theory.  Through this line of thinking one could also argue for a Marxism(s) that is essentially sustained but through complementing and subsuming parts of postcolonial and contemporary economic theories.  This leads to continuous fluidity between all theories which lead to more than just the sustaining of (simply) postcolonial theory.

Source

Zein-Elabdin, Eiman O. and S. Charusheela.  2004.  Introduction: Economics and postcolonial thought.  In Postcolonialism Meets Economics.  Eds. Eiman O. Zein-Elabdin and S. Charusheela, 1-18.  New York: Routledge.

Negri & Hardt on Lenin and “Empire”

Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt‘s concept of “Empire” is “in contrast to imperialism, Empire establishes no territorial center of power and does not rely on fixed boundaries or barriers…Empire manages hybrid identities, flesible hierarchies, and plurarl exchanges through modulating networks of communication” (xii-xiii).  While I’m not convinced, one of its most important turns in their argument happens here:

Lenin recognized finally that, although imperialism and the monopoly phase were indeed expressions of the global expansion of capital, the imperialist practices and the colonial administrations through which they were often pursed had come to be obstacles to the further development of capital.  He emphasized the fact, noted by many critics of imperialism, that competition, essential for the functioning and expansion of capital, declines necessarily in the imperialist phase in proportion to the growth of monopolies.  Imperialism, with its trade exclusive and protective tariffs, its national and colonial territories, is continually posing and reinforcing fixed boundaries, blocking or channeling economic, social, and cultural flows…Luxemburg argues in economic terms, imperialism rests heavily on these fixed boundaries and the distinction between inside and outside.  Imperialism actually creates a straightjacket for capital–or, more precisely, at a certain point the boundaries created by imperialist practices obstruct capitalist development and the full realization of its world market.  Capital must eventually overcome imperialism and destroy the barriers between inside and outside.

It would be an exaggeration to say that, on the basis of these intuitions, Lenin’s analysis of imperialism and its crisis leads directly to the theory of Empire.  It is true, nonetheless, that his revolutionary standpoint revealed the fundamental node of capitalist development…either world communist revolution or Empire and there is a profound analogy between the two choices (Negri and Hardt, 233-234).

I would still argue that we live in a time of imperialism and that, while it could be true that we are in Empire (or that we are headed toward Empire), the increasing militarization of the world by the U.S. and its continued use of “hard” and “soft” power to further extract more variable capital is a counterpoint to this.  However, it could be noted that this over stretch of U.S. power is due to it trying to stem the “tide of Empire.”  I’m assuming Multitude has an answer to these questions.

Source

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri.  2000.  Empire.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Sartre and Contemporary Philosophy

Photo by James Andanson (Apis/Sygma/Corbis).

Christina Howell‘s writes about Sartre‘s place in contemporary philosophy:

Not only did Sartre’s critics of the sixties and seventies attempt, unwittingly perhaps, to fossilize him in the classical works he had himself by then outgrown, but they did not accord those works themselves a fair reading.  The decentered subject, the rejection of a metaphysics of presence, the critique of bourgeois humanism and individualism, the conception of the reader as producer of the text’s multiple meaning, the recognition of language and thought structures as masters rather than mastered in most acts of discourse and thinking, a materialist philosophy of history as detotalized and fragmented, these are not the inventions of Lacan, Foucault, Levi-Strauss and Derrida; nor are they to be found merely in Sartre’s latter works such as the Critique (1960), Words (1966) or the Idiot of the Family (1971-1972) where it could be argued that they should be attributed to his receptivity to the major trends of his age (though the Critique of Dialectical Reason would still predate most of the French Structuralists’ major works).  The notions are, rather, present from the outset: in the Transcendence of the Ego (1936), in Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions (1940), in Nausea (1941), in Being and Nothingness (1943), and even in his most polemical theoretical work, What is Literature? (1948).  This preoccupation with the deconstruction as well as the reconstruction of the human is also to be found in the posthumously published works…(Howells, 2)

I cover some of these early writings by Sartre in a podcast with xmabaitx.

Source

Howells, Christina.  “Introdcution.”  In The Cambridge Companion to Sartre, edited by Christina Howells, 1-9.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Marx’s Contribution to Political Economy

Lego Marx (photo by Dunechaser).

Ken C. Kawashima writes:

One of the abiding insights made by Marx in Capital is that in the colonies of capitalist nation-states the illusions of the capitalist law of supply and demand of labor are shattered.  In the home country, the great beauty of capitalist production consists in being able to reproduce the wage worker by periodically setting him free, i.e., firing him, and producing a surplus population that stands in relative exteriority to capitalist production as the precondition for the commodification of labor power.  Periodically treating labor power as a disposable commodity is thus the way capitalist production can ensure that its most indispensable commodity–labor power–is always already there when capitalist production experiences so-called labor shortages during times of industrial expansion.  It is this reproductive mechanism that allows for the smug deceitfulness of the political economist, not to mention the Japanese colonial policy maker, to think, and to formalize into naturalized axioms of economic movement, that owners of labor power–who are in fact compelled to enter into a relation of dependence with the wage form–can enter into a free contract between sellers and buyers, between owners of the commodity labor power, on one side, and owners of capital, on the other.  In the colonies, however, “this beautiful illusion is torn aside” because the conditions for the appearance of owners of labor power on the stage of the capitalist market do not originally exist there.  The dependence on wages must therefore be “created by artificial means,” and until that happens, the law of supply and demand of labor is torn aside.  In this way, this artificial and historical process in the colonies represents that which originally took place in the home country, but which has long since been repressed and disavowed there.  The political and economic unconsciousness of the home country dwells in the artificial processes in the colonies (Kawashima, 25).

Source

Ken C. Kawashima.  The Proletarian Gamble: Korean Workers in Interwar Japan.  Durham, USA: Duke University Press, 2009.

The Popular Front and Feminism

Report on Congress of American Women (LexusNexus).

James R. Barrett writes about the Communist Party USA’s strategy of the Popular Front during the Great Depression and the Second World War:

[M]any of the roots of modern feminist movement are located in the Popular Front organizations of the postwar period. Throughout the 1930s and early 1940s, as women poured into the Party, they organized national and state commissions on the status of women, raised the issue of women’s rights, and joined with liberal middle- and working-class women in consumer and feminist organizations. The creative thinking of Mary Inman, a theorist whom the feminists of the 1970s often invoked as a mother of the new movement, outlived her 1943 expulsion from the CPUSA. Communist women built on her ideas regarding the special exploitation of women, going beyond the Party’s usual language of class. By the late 1940s, such activity had pushed the CPUSA beyond its narrowly economic interpretation of women’s oppression and produced a campaign within the Party against what came to be called “male chauvinism.” The Party launched the Congress of American Women (CAW) in 1947, which was deeply influenced by Communists but also included many prominent and many anonymous early feminists. Born in the midst of political reaction, the organization was short-lived, but what survived of Popular Front-era women’s activism brought the issues of feminism into the labor movement and a variety of consumer and community groups. The Party’s activities also drew African American women to feminism, highlighting their tripple oppression, and laid the roots for Black feminist theory…The tragedy of these Popular Front women activists, as Landon Storrs (2003) has shown, was that while the Communist party provoked and to some degree nurtured this early feminism this same political link, in the context of postwar political repression and CPUSA sectarianism, helped to isolate them and limit their potential to create a mass feminist movement. The effect of such repression was severe enough that left-wing feminists covered up their close contacts with the CPUSA and their early feminist work in unions, consumer groups, and other Popular Front organizations even as they pioneered “second-wave feminism” in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (Barrett, 544)

Source:

Barrett, James R. “Rethinking the Popular Front.”  Rethinking Marxism 21, no. 4 (Oct. 2009): 531-550.

Review of “Latin America and Global Capitalism”

Serra Pelada gold mine, Brazil (Photo by Sebastiao Salgado).

Jeffery R. Webber, of University of Regina, reviews the book Latin America and Global Capitalism: A Critical Globalization Perspective by William I. Robinson in the October edition of the Monthly Review:

In chapter two, one of the most powerful and persuasive, Robinson charts the crisis of developmental capitalism, or import-substitution industrialization, in the 1960s and 1970s, and then shifts to neoliberalism, or export-led development, in the 1980s and 1990s across Latin America. Drawing on the historical materialist categories of proletarianization and primitive accumulation, he examines the contours of the new economic model through a focused exploration of nontraditional exports and services. He offers a penetrating look at the cut flowers industry in Ecuador and Colombia, the explosive growth of the fruits and wines sector in Chile, soy production in Argentina and the rest of the Southern Cone, and winter fruits and vegetable production in Central America. He demonstrates how there has been an “accelerated replacement of noncapitalist by capitalist forms of agricultural development” and a “concomitant displacement of the peasantry and its conversion into a rural proletariat. This has occurred along with an increase in rural to urban and transnational migration”; promotion of “flexible…work in the new agro-export platforms”; a move to “predominance of female workers in these platforms”; and “the articulation of local agricultural systems…to global agricultural and industrial food production and distribution chains.”

The main weakness in this otherwise compelling portrait of the political economy of the Latin American countryside today is the one-sided structural power allotted to capital. Opportunities for increases in agricultural workers’ bargaining power under certain conditions, such as those examined by Ben Selwyn in his important study of export grape production in North East Brazil, are elided.

Simone de Beauvoir and Phenomenology

Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Barbara S. Andrew writes about Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) and her phenomenology and views of what it is to be a woman in a male-supremacist society:

For phenomenologists, “the world” usually denotes a combination of the natural world and human relationships.  A key aspect of phenomenology is the interaction between self and world, and The Second Sex may be best understood as a work of phenomenlogy in which Beauvior examines the interaction between the gendered self and the gendered world.  The Second Sex looks at how social ideas of femininity shape women’s experiences of self.  One of the most significant aspects of The Second Sex is its encyclopedic indexing of women’s lived experience: biology, psychology, the experience of living in a female body and developing and living with a feminine mind-set.  Many contemporary women’s first reaction to reading it is that they do not experience themselves in the way Beauvior describes.  But this is to miss the point.  Most of The Second Sex is a phenomenological, descriptive analysis.  Beauvoir is not claiming that there is one way that we who are women experience ourselves, our bodies or our minds.  Instead, she describes, and argues against taking as perspective, literary representations of femininity, biological sciences’ accounts of femininity, psychoanalytic theories about femininity, and so on.  It is easy, initially, to confuse her work as participating in negative stereotypes of femininity, rather than cataloging them and analyzing their effect.  Although Beauvoir’s descriptions of women’s bodies may seem negative, Arp argues that she is describing women’s experience of bodily alienation in understanding their social bodies, that is, the body as known through the experience of a sexist world. (Andrew, 30)

Source

Barbara S. Andrew.  “Beauvior’s place in philosophical thought.”  In The Cambridge Companion to Simone de Beauvoir edited by Claudia Card, 24-44.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.


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