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RE: [xmca] Jones on Learning under capitalism


I originally read a draft of Peter Jones paper a long while ago - and came back to it just now expecting to have to defend my thesis. In fact Peter's review is friendly to both Lave&McDermott and my paper, and recognises what i was trying to add to L&M's perspective on alienation. But it then goes on to make new points that deserve appreciation/comment, some not too friendly to my paper perhaps: here are a few starters to add to Andy's (I think Andy's main thrust relates to my point 2:

1. Peter points to dangers in Vygotsky's work, or of modern interpretations of it, that might fail to recognise the political-economic context  which shapes schooling and hence classroom learning-teachnig activity. I agree this is a theoretical problem: it is even more a practical problem for those of us who work in educational contexts. I think this ( para 3, 368) could be usefully expanded on....

2.  Peter works with the distinction between learning and 'learning' etc: he suggests there is some 'essential' underlying value/vitality in work, play, learning etc that is distorted and perverted by capitalism, commodification, and the filthy monetary valuation that poisons everything (it feels like an oil sklick on the beautiful seabird choking beneath). Peter goes to reimer (I havent read him since the 1970s... I must go back there). My question is then, is this 'vitality' or 'life force' connected with the 'use value' of labour (etc)? 
In his last paragraph on 370 Peter suggests "it is difficult to be satisfied..." So, "No", then! But Peter needs to offer us an alternative... historically, according to Engels, the subsistence farmer produces only use values, there is no exchange, and there is no surplus for a ruling class to alienate. Maybe we should start from there and work forward historically ... ? 

3. I view Peter's turn to Marx's writings on education (p 371) partly as a historical exercise: its conclusion recalls Vygotsky's own view about bringing together hand-and-brain in the Soviet polytechnic system...  In this view then it is essential for education to be 'alienated' from production (which he says was its historical starting point)  because it is as much about inculcating values and a compliant disposition to labour (reproduction of a compliant workforce) as it is about producing skills and knowledge (eg learning to read). The result is a dystopia in which the majority learn to read, but read like robots. And yet life springs eternal, and the robots revolt!


From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] on behalf of Andy Blunden [ablunden@mira.net]
Sent: 01 November 2011 06:23
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [xmca] Jones on Learning under capitalism

I appreciated Peter Jones' review. It comes to a point with Peter's
concluding remarks which cut across everything that had gone before:

    "But wouldn't it be true to say that these [positive] experiences,
    so vivid by contrast, are not a vindication of formal schooling but
    simply proof that learning as a /vital activity/ - as opposed to
    "learning" - is going on whatever obstaces and artificial boundaries
    we put in its way, however adverse conditions may be?"

Peter allows us a sigh of relief from the suffocating experience of an
entire social formation characterised by a single system of social
relationships and all the institutions to be found within this "society"
are to be understood functionally (furthering the needs of maintenance
of these social relations and the interests of the ruling class in that
social formation) and in every corner of it, dominated by theories and
"values" derived from the same essential relation. Williams had moved to
a more concrete consideration of schooling, by looking at the actual
relations at work, rather than taking them to be copies of
worker-capitalist relations, but even with Peter Jones' nuanced review,
we remained within the conception of an integral, homogeneous unbounded
social formation. The contradictory experiences which Peter mentioned in
the finale, then, appear as accidental, as an escape from exhaustive
determination by the all-pervasive subject-obect of capital, an
actuality which perhaps only imperfectly matches the ideal.

But rather I think what is needed is a methodological approach which
does not reify capital as an all-emracing form of life in which all
relations are those of exchange of commodities based on the separation
of the labourer from their means of production as the private property
of an alien class. These relations are dominant. No question about it.
But they are not exhaustive and exclusive, and the forms of
consciousness and activity at work in a world dominated by capital are
not exclusively those functionally in the service of capital. In fact,
if ever this came to be the case, human life on Earth would no longer be
possible. Human life under the rule of capital is possible only because
there are other forms of activity, other projects and other
relationships. Consequently, a functional analysis of institutions based
on the presumption of maintenance of capitalist social relations
produces unnecessarily pessmistic conclusions.

So I think Peter's surprising conclusions are correct, but we really
need to go back to the beginning and see what has to be posited
methodologically so that these conclusions can be found to be rational,
and not anomalous.


Andy Blunden wrote:
> Thanks Julian.
> I have attached the Peter Jones response to your article. It is I
> think a very supportive response to your article, but perhaps you
> could set things going by giving us your response to Peter Jones?
> Andy
> Julian Williams wrote:
>> Andy, Larry
>> I was indeed 'inspired' by the Lave and McDermott article: the
>> methodology is seductive, and generative metaphor is a powerful means
>> sometimes to gain insights.
>> But what took me to that article and forced me to work with it was in
>> the end the need to understand learners' alienation from learning
>> (and so themselves) in schooling. L&M say that schools take (by
>> force) everything from the learner -  in the same way that capital
>> takes everything from labour, and gives back nothing -  and so the
>> analogy begins...
>> Let me tell a story - I talked to a student from a well-to-do
>> stock-broker background (where expectations on him seemed high)  who
>> got into a university Physics course ... I asked him where/how he got
>> his interest in Physics... he said he wasnt really interested in
>> Physics, but he chose it because 'it would look good' on his CV/
>> resume and 'especially from a top university like this'. This is the
>> kind of extreme case of alienation in schooling/academe that
>> interested me.
>> But the L&M analogy is not - I found -  theoretically satisfactory:
>> hence my journey back to Marx from 1844 to 1867... If I am right then
>> the use/exchange contradiction arises not JUST (and not essentially)
>> from the forced conditions of learning in school, and the
>> 'competition' between learners etc., but from the fact that the
>> learner is preparing themselves to labour, and so they are working on
>> developing themselves as 'labour power' for the labour market, i.e.
>> to sell themselves to capital ('labour power' is the
>> commodity-proper).  This is not just consumtpion, it is a particular
>> kind of consumption of education for a future role as exploited (also
>> exploiter) ... . I am still working on this and expect to still be
>> plodding away until ... well, for a while...
>> In the MCA paper I told how I began to find Bourdieu's work useful in
>> fleshing out the notion of 'educational/cultural capital' in the
>> analysis of schooling: I am still at this idea. I think that this
>> 'educational capital' may also have a kind of 'educational
>> use/exchange value' type of contradiction. Of course here we have a
>> problem of terminology and it is important to distinguish between
>> Marx's analysis of commodity proper and the terms Bourdieu uses for
>> 'capital' in the cultural fields....
>> Larry - I agree that 'values' is what is at stake here ...
>> julian
>> ________________________________________
>> From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] on
>> behalf of Larry Purss [lpscholar2@gmail.com]
>> Sent: 30 October 2011 16:55
>> To: ablunden@mira.net; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>> Subject: Re: [xmca] Lave and McDermott
>> I want to address one particular aspect of the article from page 282
>> on the
>> "methodology" that Lave & McDermott engaged in their analysis of
>> schooling.
>> Williams wrote,
>> "This is a pure metaphoric analysis with the economy as the SOURCE and
>> education as the TARGET domain.... L & M call it a GENRE of translation,
>> but GENERATIVE metaphor is also close. Generative metaphor generally
>> benefits from a dialectic between source and target domains and is by no
>> means a one - way transfer of meaning."
>> L & M's  methodology therefore is a genre of translation or text
>> analysis.
>> A hermeneutical process of interpretation of economic objects from one
>> domain transferred into another object domain of learning. This
>> translation
>> process is attempting to generate insight into the contradictions
>> between
>> two distinct aspects of economic narratives within the source domain
>> and translating this economic contradiction into  the narratives of
>> USE and
>> the narratives of EXCHANGE [currency, credentials, grades, MEASUREMENTS,
>> etc] within educational discourse. This process of translation does
>> point
>> to the DOMINANT metaphor [and myth] that has colonized our current
>> intersubjective relationships and generates a particular FORM of
>> valuation
>> that alientates the person from their own needs [yearnings] and also
>> puts
>> the person in a PARTICULAR form of COMPETITIVE intersubjectivity with
>> others. The fundamental value questions
>> "What do I owe the other?" &
>> "What do we owe the other?"
>> IS fundamentally a question OF VALUES. Epistemology and practice
>> [knowledgeability] become colonized by a single  mono LOGIC of EXCHANGE
>> VALUES that is like a black hole that gravitationally pulls all
>> alternative VALUE genres into its orbit.
>> I agree that this genre of USE and EXCHANGE contradictions does
>> express the
>> DOMINANT genre of globalization, but is it monolithic?  Are there
>> alternative genres with alternative metaphors that can escape the
>> orbit of
>> metaphors of exchange and explore alternative notions of value that
>> answer
>> the question "What do I {we} owe  the other?" in ways that explore
>> that speak more directly to the yearnings of the heart as expressed by
>> Bellah in his book "Habits of the Heart". A value narrative that
>> re-visions
>> the public sphere and "common ground" and needing to be VALUED in our
>> humanity as central to our notions of what we owe the other.
>> Williams article, in my reading, does capture the centrality of our
>> current
>> arrangements of alienated labour but I want to explore alternative
>> narratives that IMAGINE relationships and a SOCIAL ETHIC that calls for
>> answers and responses in genres of dialogical communication [speech and
>> text and artifacts] that call for deepening our narratives of
>> instrumental
>> USE values and EXCHANGE values into genres of dialogue and communication
>> within common ground.
>> I hope the Occupy Wall Street movement,  does not get locked into the
>> exchange genre of redistributing the 1% wealth to be more equally
>> distributive. This leaves the narrative in the realm of exchange values.
>> Can we possibly move the conversation to notions of "common ground" as a
>> fundamental re-visioning of the question "What do we owe the other?"
>> Schools are only one activity institution that needs to engage with this
>> re-visioning our SOCIAL ETHIC to move beyond exchange values. William's
>> article points to the challenges of moving beyond debt narratives
>> [that is
>> now global] and may require vision [and "faith" as meaning making in a
>> future alternative] where we answer that what we owe the other is to
>> build
>> places where the person's yearnings for fellowship and security are
>> recognized as best expressed within a radically new value genre.
>> Larry
>> On Sun, Oct 30, 2011 at 6:36 AM, Larry Purss <lpscholar2@gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>>> Andy
>>> I appreciate these opening comments on this months article for
>>> discussion.
>>> You wrote,
>>> "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"
>>> Your cautionary tale or comment on metaphors as images that
>>> "capture" the
>>> imagination.
>>>  I wonder if these metaphorical images may then expand and develop and
>>> transform into a single mono logic which colonizes our actual concrete
>>> social relations into its mytho-logical orbit. Mytho logic as
>>> hermeneutical
>>> narratives [traditions, texts]  that constitute or in*form our actual
>>> social relations.  Metaphors as "vehicles" for a particular mytho
>>> logic. Capital and debt hermeneutical notions colonizing the multiple
>>> dialectical productions of labour power under a single mytho logic.
>>> Terms
>>> such as human "capital" which are meant to critique the "debt" mytho
>>> logic
>>> becoming captured within the orbit of this one particular mono logic.
>>> Andy, your experiment of taking Marx's  "depth" analysis within
>>> social relations of commodification and then ABSTRACTING the FORM but
>>> altering the metaphorical CONTENT as having unintended consequences.
>>> This is a way of glancing back to our earlier discussion of the "debt"
>>> mytho logic and the occupy wall street movement as expressing a
>>> yearning
>>> [motivation] for a new mytho logic that no longer has the debt
>>> "exchange
>>> VALUE" mono logic as a single pervasive text. Our "personalities"
>>> express
>>> MIXED motives that can no longer be subjugated to a single mono logical
>>> Larry
>>>   On Sun, Oct 30, 2011 at 2:46 AM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
>>> wrote:
>>>>  And attached is Episode 2, Julian Williams' article.
>>>> "Toward a Political Economic Theory of Education: Use and Exchange
>>>> Values
>>>> of Enhanced Labor Power"
>>>> Andy
>>>> Andy Blunden wrote:
>>>>> 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<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.
>>>>> Andy
>>>>> mike cole wrote:
>>>>>> Here is the Outlines article that starts the sequence leading to
>>>>>> Jones.
>>>>>> I
>>>>>> believe the Williams piece has been posted.
>>>>>> mike
>>>> --
>>>> ------------------------------**------------------------------**
>>>> ------------
>>>> *Andy Blunden*
>>>> Joint Editor MCA:
>>>> http://www.tandfonline.com/**toc/hmca20/18/1<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<http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=34857>
>>>> __________________________________________
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*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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