RE: [xmca] déjatel¹ nost¹

From: Michael Glassman <MGlassman who-is-at>
Date: Thu Sep 04 2008 - 08:07:59 PDT

This is a real interesting quote. I have always been a little bit confused by the phrase "rising to the concrete." Do you think what it means, at least for Marx, is the development of an inductive logic of relations, where you start with the pieces but don't really have a scientific understandings (and therefore concrete understanding) until you see the relationships of these parts as a functioning whole? It is the recognition of the functioning logic of relations of the whole that makes it concerte and scientific rather than anecdotal and ethereal.
I was actually having a discussion about an issue with some students this morning, and this idea really struck a chord. We were talking about homeless youth and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA). RHYA is the national policy initiative for this issue/problem. The trouble is that RHYA is narrow and very limited and does not meet the needs of the most most marginalized segments of this population (in many ways seems more geard towards runaways from middle class families). We were talking about how this policy and the definitions we have for homeless youth trickles down in to the way these youth are treated and the types of interventions available to them. One of the students asked if it is better to approach the issue from street corner to shelter, in other words concentrate on micro-system solutions. Thinking about these quotes and the discussion I suggested that helping on the micro-level, while satisfying and perhaps offering a sense of immediacy, may not change the way that the general youth population is treated. It is the web of social relationships (of production) which generate the problem on a scientific level and that is how the problem should be approached. If you want a real solution, a concrete solution you have to understand and find some way to change these social relationships. A very different definition of concrete for me, but one that makes sense.
If you want a person to eat for a day give him a fish, if you want a person to eat forever give him a fish, but if you want the population to have food to meet their needs, figure out what the hell is going on with fishing in this community.


From: on behalf of Andy Blunden
Sent: Wed 9/3/2008 8:25 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] déjatel¹ nost¹

Michael (and Martin as well on further thought) in the
famous passage from the Grundrisse, Marx begins by observing:

"It seems to be correct to begin with the real and the
concrete, with the real precondition, thus to begin, in
economics, with e.g. the population, which is the foundation
and the subject of the entire social act of production.
However, on closer examination this proves false."

The "germ" (Begriff) actually appears about halfway through
the Logic; half the work of creating a new science is done
when you get to it. "Activity," as he said in _The German
Ideology_, is the "real precondition."

Marx again:

"Thus, if I were to begin with the population, this would be
a chaotic conception [Vorstellung] of the whole, and I would
then, by means of further determination, move analytically
towards ever more simple concepts [Begriff], from the
imagined concrete towards ever thinner abstractions until I
had arrived at the simplest determinations. From there the
journey would have to be retraced until I had finally
arrived at the population again, but this time not as the
chaotic conception of a whole, but as a rich totality of
many determinations and relations. ...

"As soon as these individual moments had been more or less
firmly established and abstracted, there began the economic
systems, which ascended from the simple relations, such as
labour, division of labour, need, exchange value, to the
level of the state, exchange between nations and the world
market. The latter is obviously the scientifically correct
method. The concrete is concrete because it is the
concentration of many determinations, hence unity of the
diverse. It appears in the process of thinking, therefore,
as a process of concentration, as a result, not as a point
of departure, even though it is the point of departure in
reality and hence also the point of departure for
observation [Anschauung] and conception. Along the first
path the full conception was evaporated to yield an abstract
determination; along the second, the abstract determinations
lead towards a reproduction of the concrete by way of thought."


Michael Glassman wrote:
> I wonder if the word commodity, even though Marx obviously uses it, is too narrow a term for the larger theory, especially when considering the current discussion. I have always thought Engels On the Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man (Part of the Dialectics of Nature) had a rather large influence on Activity Theory. This piece of work might suggest that it is social relations in the production of some desired and necessary material good necessary for development/survival, rather than simple commodity relations. How this sort of fits in to the Activity Action issue is that selling a bottle of Coke in order to get money to buy food can be viewed as an Activity. Or finding a Coke bottle to return to five cents in order to buy food can be seen as an Activity. But actually buying a Coke is really only an action, or even an ideologically based operation (we buy a Coke based on the commercial telling us that Coke is the real thing).
> Michael
> -----Original Message-----
> From: [] On Behalf Of Andy Blunden
> Sent: Wednesday, September 03, 2008 9:57 AM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [xmca] déjatel¹ nost¹
> I agree with Michael's response. For Goethe, who founded the
> science of morphology as well as the idea of a "unit of
> analysis", "cell" was the Urphanomenon, and Hegel frequently
> referred to der Begriff as "the cell" or "germ." Marx only
> repeated what his teachers had said.
> I think the main problem with what you are saying Martin is
> that you are accepting the reification of the commodity
> relation as a kind of "thing." Marx began with the
> phenomenon, that is, a "mass of commodities" but he
> discloses the fact that the commodity is "really" (in
> essence) a relation between human beings.
> So the coke bottle cannot be a commodity when taken out of a
> market economy, but it can cease to be a commodity even
> within a market economy if there is a glut on the market and
> it can't be sold, or the producer decides that they like it
> so much they're going to keep for themselves.
> So the cell of bourgeois society and its "unit of analysis"
> is *not* a commodity, but the commodity relation.
> Andy
> Martin Packer wrote:
>> Yes, that's true. But isn't it the simplest form of the whole only because
>> it is part of the whole? A bottle of coke isn't a commodity if it is removed
>> from the economy of which it is a part. (The Gods Must Be Crazy was a
>> terrible movie but at least it made that point well.) Marx was, I think,
>> using the analysis of the commodity in order to expore the *constitution* of
>> the commodity.
>> Vygotsky takes this up in The History of the Genesis of the Higher Mental
>> Functions, where the unit of analysis is "fossilized" forms: tossing a dice,
>> tying a knot, counting on fingers. Vygotsky writes that:
>> "All ties connecting these formations with the system that once generated
>> them have died off, the ground on which they appeared has vanished, the
>> background of their activity has changed, they have been torn from their
>> system and transported in a flood of historical development to a completely
>> different sphere."
>> He then goes on to argue that despite these problems, such fossils are an
>> appropriate unit to study. I'm not sure whether his argument is convincing.
>> The point I want to emphasize here is that he sees it necessary to attempt
>> the argument, and this would not be the case if one could study the unit
>> independent of its ties to the system.
>> Martin
>> On 9/3/08 10:16 AM, "Andy Blunden" <> wrote:
>>> What we demand of the unit of analysis (or cell) is not that
>>> it is a part of the whole, but rather that it is the
>>> simplest form *of* the whole.
>>> Andy
>>> Martin Packer wrote:
>>>> Andy,
>>>> But to pursue the cell metaphor a bit, while the cell is certainly a unit
>>>> that contains the life processes that animate the body, its functioning
>>>> depends on its place within the body, which Marx also calls "an organic
>>>> whole." I'm not suggesting that there are or should be two units - I agree
>>>> that's the wrong way to go. It seems to me more that the unit itself has to
>>>> be considered as an aspect of a larger whole, with which it has a relation
>>>> of mutual constitution. No cells, no body. No body, no cells.
>>>> It always takes me forever to read and process your excerpts from Hegel! But
>>>> I'll give it a try. :)
>>>> Martin
>>>> On 9/3/08 9:44 AM, "Andy Blunden" <> wrote:
>>>>> Martin Packer wrote:
>>>>>> examine units in relation. This seems to me to suggest that although a unit
>>>>>> has the characteristics of the whole, this is the case only when the unit
>>>>>> is
>>>>>> examined *in* the whole. We need to study a commodity *in* capitalist
>>>>>> society. ...
>>>>> Martin, this doesn't quite figure because to do as you
>>>>> suggest, we have to begin with *two* units of analysis, the
>>>>> commodity relation and "capitalist society", which of course
>>>>> presumes what is to be proved. It's a cell; it *generates*
>>>>> the whole.
>>>>> Certainly, Marx has already told us that "The prerequisites
>>>>> with which we begin are ... the actual individuals, their
>>>>> activity and the material conditions of their lives," and
>>>>> this is the necessary foundation.
>>>>> You really can't say it better than Hegel (here describing
>>>>> how the concept of "right" acts as a "unit of analysis" for
>>>>> "objective spirit":
>>>>> "The science of right is a part of philosophy. Hence it must
>>>>> develop the idea, which is the reason of an object, out of
>>>>> the conception. It is the same thing to say that it must
>>>>> regard the peculiar internal development of the thing
>>>>> itself. Since it is a part [of philosophy], it has a
>>>>> definite beginning, which is the result and truth of what
>>>>> goes before, and this, that goes before, constitutes its
>>>>> so-called proof. Hence the origin of the conception of right
>>>>> falls outside of the science of right. ...
>>>>> "In philosophic knowledge the necessity of a conception is
>>>>> the main thing, and the process, by which it, as a result,
>>>>> has come into being is the proof and deduction. After the
>>>>> content is seen to be necessary independently, the second
>>>>> point is to look about for that which corresponds to it in
>>>>> existing ideas and modes of speech." (Introduction to the
>>>>> Philosophy of Right §2)
>>>>> So what Marx is doing in rising from the abstract to the
>>>>> concrete is unfolding out of the value relation a whole
>>>>> series of concepts which flow from it. It is a kind of
>>>>> thought experiment which is constantly checked against
>>>>> historical reality. In fact of course there never has been
>>>>> and never will be a society in which the commodity relation
>>>>> is "absolute."
>>>>> Andy
>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>> _______________________________________________
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Received on Thu Sep 4 08:10 PDT 2008

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