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Re: [xmca] fetishism
If I may insert myself into your conversation with Martin ... My
answer to your question, Andy, is that up to a restricted point, you
are correct in your implication, and so the answer is no, no social
formation can be anything other than actions or activities. For
exactly the same reason, however, it is equally true to say that no
social formation can be anything other than matter and energy.
The problem with using the "activity" framework - or in my more absurd
example, a framework based on physics - is that we can lose sight of
the specific laws of motion and development relevant to psychological
processes when we reduce these processes to the laws of motion and
development of less complex and more general processes, such as
This does not at all mean that the activity framework, activity
theory, is not very useful. I see it as a potent way of grasping
human biological, social and psychological processes in a given
situation all at once by keeping track of external aspects of motives,
subjects, objects, and contexts.
But activity theory and its units of analysis (for example, the act)
are not necessarily adequate for studying specifically psychological
processes. So statements like "concepts are acts," and "concepts are
made from matter and energy" are technically true, but not necessarily
adequate for trying to understand concepts psychologically.
At the same time, concepts, like everything else, do simultaneously
exist on many levels of existence, and therefore must "obey" the
various laws of motion and development specific to multiple realms of
reality - such as matter and energy, neurobiology, human history and
activity, and individual psychology. This is part of what makes
psychology so complex - with its object of study being under the sway
of so many levels of reality at once, it is, arguably, the most
complex science in the known universe.
A great deal of debate that takes place among scientists, philosophers
and theorists seems to pertain to examining the various sciences,
disciplines, sub-disciplines and theories that investigate the many
realms and sub-realms of reality - while **counterposing** them
against one another.
The trick, in my view, is to see them all as necessary (at least at
some point in history), and all having something to contribute - while
remembering to keep track of their limitations. We need to learn how
to coordinate all these perspectives like an orchestra - and not see
them as a perpetual brawl or war zone.
Vygotsky, in my view was a genius at understanding this, which is one
of the many things I get out of studying him.
On Apr 23, 2011, at 12:16 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:
"There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes,
in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In
order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the
mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the
productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed
with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the
human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products
of men’s hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to
the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities,
and which is therefore inseparable from the production of
It seems to me that if meaning is not an act carried out using an
artefact such as a word or gesture, which is then "endowed" with
meaning, then, like linguistists we must assume that the word
"contains" or "has" meaning, just as a commodity "has" value.
(Thanks to good old Moses Hess for this insight.) Then, to use
Marx's phrase, we "make language into an independent realm."
In your book, Martin, you do a passably good job of explaining this.
When you say that "Marx's method was to take a single but central
unit of the society of his time, the commodity form. ..." you seem,
like me, to be taking the "commodity form" as a /unit of a social
formation/, not of a thing. Can a unit of any social formation be
anything other than actions or activities?
Martin Packer wrote:
I'm still not seeing your argument, Andy. A word is not a natural
object, of course. No more than is a commodity. I haven't claimed
that, nor does Vygotsky. I thought you were trying to argue that
word-meaning must be an act. Are you suggesting that the commodity-
form is an act?
Think about it this way. We accept Marx's analysis of the
commodity, including the fact that it has a form, and an internal
contradiction between two kinds of value. It has these
characteristics, of course, by virtue of its constitution in human
society, in social practices. But a newborn baby recognizes none of
these characteristics. Marx doesn't tell us how a child comes to
grasp them. That remains an untold developmental story. To tell
that story we don't to rehash what Marx's analysis has already made
clear. We focus instead on the child.
LSV, similarly, is not directly interested in how human language
evolved, or how a language is maintained by a community of
speakers. In other words, he does not analyze how words have come
to have inner form, or how that form changes historically. He tells
us enough to establish the fact that the form does exist, and that
it does change. He is focused, rather, on the ways in which a child
comes to be a full participant in the world of human language and,
in consequence, of human thought.
On Apr 22, 2011, at 7:56 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
You demonstrate my point exactly, Martin.
The commodity form is a relationship between people mediated by an
artifact., not a thing.
Martin Packer wrote:
I don't see the logic of your argument. In Capital, the unit of
analysis was the commodity, or to be more accurate the 'commodity
form.' The commodity is a unit of production, and a unit of
consumption. One might say that in it one finds the 'unity' of
production and consumption. Production is an activity (leaving
aside questions of the definition of that term). Consumption is
an activity. But a commodity is not an activity. So how does the
fact that LSV read Capital provide a basis for arguing that word-
meaning is an act?
On Apr 21, 2011, at 11:38 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:
It's 2:30am here so I will be brief and alas leave the
discussion for a few hours.
"LSV nowhere suggests that word meaning is an act."
I really don't know where to go with this. Is speaking an
activity, is thinking an activity? Is meaningful speech an
activity? Is "word meaning" a unit of verbal thought and
meaningful speech? I think all of the conundrums of Kant and
Frege and Saussure and everyone else you mention will fade away
if you say instead that word meaning is an act (or action). LSV
was not a Kantian or a French Structuralist, but a Marxist. You
know, he had read "Theses on Feuerbach" and "Capital." I am
reminded of the point Anna Sfard mentioned about reification.
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