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Re: [xmca] Lave and McDermott

The current MCA article for discussion is aPeter Jones' commentary on an earlier MCA article by Julian Williams, which in turns develops the ideas of Lave & McDermott's reading of Marx's 1844 immanent critique of (Adam Smith's 1776) theory of political economy. A long thread! I will confine my comments here to Lave and McDermott's article, by way of background to the issues taken up by Williams and Jones in successive issues of MCA.

About 30 years ago, I was interested in the foundations of mathematics, in particular Marx' study of mathematics, and I tried an exercise somwhat like Lave & McDermott's. I took the first page of Marx's /Capital /and made a word substitution in it (basically making the commodity relation a metaphor for a mathematical equation) and was very pleased with the result. Fortunately, the idea went no further than a discussion over coffee with Cyril Smith, and I never tried it again. Nonetheless, I learnt from the exercise, in much the same way I think people learn by writing a haiku or putting their ideas in verse. By subjecting an idea to some extraneous but rigid discipline, one forces oneself to more closely examine the idea, and in an objectified kind of way, which can give fresh insights. In this sense, I can see that the group that read Marx's 1844 essay "Estranged Labour" and substituted "labour" with schoolwork, a.k.a. "learning," would have learnt a great deal about Marx's approach and deepened their already-sophisticated critique of modern schooling. But I think the result, when written out, carries as much confusion as clarity, and at worst could promote a very formal and superificial understanding of Marx's approach and serve to undermine the very deep critique of formal education that these writers have produced. Because (as I see it) confusion only gets compounded as the paper goes on, I will confine myself to one metaphor from early in the paper. After that, the mixture of profound understanding and radical confusion I found too much to cope with.

But before beginning, Marx did also have ideas about public education, and http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/subject/education/index.htm has some of these.

Early on, the authors refer to a section in /Capital /which is often cited in this context. The point Marx is making is that a teacher in a private for-profit school is in exactly the same position as a wage-worker in a for-profit factory. In this context, the schoolkids are the consumers of their services, not the labourers. But Lave and McDermott see that when Marx says it makes no difference whether it is a school or a sausage factory, that this shows somehow that the students are "like" wage workers. Later the authors say that "production in education might be more akin to what Marx calls distribution in political economy." I tend to agree with the authors that a central function of public education is the sorting of youth into well-credentialed future-productive workers and failures destined to low-value labouring. That is how labour power is produced. But making the analogy of this to the separation of the labourers from their means of labour and the sundering of society into two classes, wage labourer and capitalist, is perverse. Bourdieu had a good theory of "educaional capital" but in fact the word "capital" is a misnomer in Bourdieu's work, or at least it has a different meaning than it had for Marx, and cannot be derived by metaphor or generalisation.

I have written too much already, and must stop. Dialectics means taking relations *concretely*. So when Marx began /Capital /with an analysis of the commodity relation, he was able to unfold the whole of economic life out of the commodity relation because of contradictions inherent in *that* relation. If we abstract the *form *of the argument and insert materially different terms, as if we were looking at a theorem of Boolean symbolic logic, in which the indiuvidual terms are utterly without content, then what results may be pleasing to Alain Badiou, but not to any Marxist or serious educationalist, I think.

Metaphors work because the source and target domains are homologous in some respects but *not iin others*. Care must be taken in using transformations of this kind. The student-teacher relationship is *not *a /customer-service provider relation/. A school is a place for the production of labour power (inclusive of all the social relations presupposed by labour power, not just know-how!), not accumulation of capital, except in the case of the private education factories, which are incidentally also profit making enterprises.

These comments were by way of introduction. Julian Williams took his inspiration (I believe) from Lave and McDermott's study, and the MCA paper which results tackles the question concretely.


mike cole wrote:
Here is the Outlines article that starts the sequence leading to Jones. I
believe the Williams piece has been posted.
*Andy Blunden*
Joint Editor MCA: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hmca20/18/1
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=34857

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