Understanding the
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Post-structuralism is a subset of the postmodern, whose adherents share a central conviction: an incredulity toward metanarratives.1 The meta in metanarrative means comprehensive, therefore, postmodernist and post-structuralist writers might accept small or local narratives if they accept a narrative at all. They would, however, call it —taking a position and would not call it —accepting.

For both the post-structuralist and the postmodern writers, it has been several decades since the social sciences tested hypotheses, models, or theories by assembling data (the given: data derives from the Latin dare: to give). The context of incredulity toward metanarratives assumes an intellectual climate in which discourse is no longer transparent. Had the post-structuralists not embraced the postmodern incredulity they might have hugged structuralism. Two 20th century Marxist philosophers, Louis Althusser and Michael Foucault have largely created the bridge between structuralism and post-structuralism.

The two underlying principles of post-structuralism that form the break with structuralism are 1) anti-essentialism, which is the point of departure by post-structuralism from the classical essentialist paradigm of truth as defined by Aristotle and 2) overdetermination, which postulates that multiple influences contribute to the observed effects. These two principles are the primary reasons why post-structuralist writers do not explain in the classical essentialist sense.

Structuralism is the analysis of culture using the holistic tenets of linguistics largely from Jean Piaget, Noam Chomsky and especially de Saussure (see pp 186-195). Instead of studying isolated material things, structuralists use signs that are linked via culture to reconstruct relationships.2

Within this pivotal discussion, I will examine two books: Encountering Development by Arturo Escobar,3 and The End of Capitalism (as we knew it): a Feminist Critique of Political Economy, by J. K. Gibson-Graham.4 First, however, using the work of Richard Wolf, I will now discuss the broader context of these two books, which is the impact of post-structuralism.

IIX.i. The disintegration of social science

Richard Wolff, author and professor of economics, spoke for many when he wrote:

    The word explain is just too implicated in essentialist thought. It connotes fullness, completeness, fixity, closure and the image of a statement about an object of interest that is not contradictory, particular and evanescent. It should be displaced in favor of intervention, position, or story.5

(Wolff qualifies his position with nuances, which I discuss later.)

A few pages earlier in the same article Wolff, interpreting Althusser, gave another reason for eschewing what was the main aim of science, namely, explanation in terms of cause and effect.

    That concept [Althusser’s concept of history as a dense network of overdetermination, a process without a subject] holds that every aspect of history—an individual, an event, a social movement and the like—is constituted by all the other aspects of the social and natural totality within which it occurs. It has its existence and each specific quality of that existence, only insofar as it is overdetermined constituted by the relations that bind it to them all. The logic of the overdetermined constitutive relations displaces that of causes and their effects.6

Wolff lists some motives that inspire anti-essentialism, writing that

    Many of the contributors to anti-essentialism, including Althusser, rejected the sorts of essentialist thinking that they associated with existing social conditions, capitalist and other exploitative class structures, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. to which they were deeply opposed.7 The essentialists perceive that 1) capitalism and the patriarchal family are reinforced by their claim that capitalism alone conforms to human nature, 2) market incentives alone could make the economy work and 3) the patriarchal family alone could produce healthy children.

With evils attributed to essentialism and the hopes for the liberation from oppression that anti-essentialism brings, it is no wonder that many social scientists want anti-essentialism to be true. The anti-essentialists have, as do all the economists considered in these pages, the best of intentions.

Essence, what anti-essentialists refute, is defined in a standard dictionary as that which makes a thing what it is. It derives from the Latin word esse, which means to be. Its current and philosophical meanings trace back to esse and to ousia: Gk substance or being, which was the central term Aristotle sought to define in his book, Metaphysics.8 Essentialist claims are universalist claims because if if a thing has an essence, then it is that essence always and everywhere.

Richard Wolff proposes that social scientists stop using the words explain, cause and cause and effect because of their close to link to essentialism. He lists some of the connotations of the word essence that anti-essentialists find false and undesirable, which include: fullness, completeness, fixity and closure. Furthermore, anti-essentialist writers accuse the word essence of obscuring what they want to bring to their reader’s attention, which is contradiction, particulars and the evanescent. Whether, in fact, philosophers and scientists err when they employ the term essence and related terms such as substance reality, cause, explain and cause and effect has been debated for over two thousand years. At circa the year 500 BC, Heraclitus stated the case for anti-essentialism, saying, “All is flux” (Panta rei).

It is well known that, by its nature and structure, language compels humans to speak and write as if the world and their experience were more complete, fixed and closed—but less contradictory, particular and evanescent than they are. Realists, however, have held up their end of the debate, through the centuries. A realist, as applied here, is one who makes the sorts of conceptual moves that anti-essentialists criticize by calling it essentialism. The lineage of realists extends from Plato and Aristotle through Jung,9 van Orman Quine,10 Mies, Jameson,11 Lacan,12 Bunge,13 and Harre.14 The trend among anti-essentialists, such as Jacques Derrida, author Of Grammatology (a metaphysics of presence), is to attribute to essentialists an implausible view and then deconstruct it.15

Therefore, people do not, as a rule, call themselves essentialists who 1) advance philosophies of science where explanation and cause and effect play important roles and 2) even now, talk about nature or the real as something for which the social constructions of culture need to make allowances and adjustments. Their essentialisms are, however, more plausible than those that anti-essentialists identify as their targets. Without adopting the essentialist label as a self-description, they nevertheless, hold views incompatible with radical anti-essentialism. They are more likely to self-identify as critical realists, materialists, deep ecologists, or advocates of a naturalized epistemology. Such more plausible views include:

  • Harre’s view that things have causal power
  • Jameson (and others) use of Spinoza’s idea of an absent cause, which is at work in history, even though, in the nature of things, human reason cannot fully grasp it and
  • Lacan’s philosophy of psychoanalysis in which, in addition to the symbolic and the imaginary, the real exists in its rejection of the symbolic imaginary.

I doubt that Derrida, Foucault, or any other recent anti-essentialist has an argument proving that, after all these centuries, the heirs of the nominalists and skeptics have won and the heirs of the ancient and medieval realists have lost. Anti-essentialists have shown that there is no truth with a capital ‘T’ and have shown, in detail, that hidden platonic unities, ideologies and machinations of power have often deluded people into seeing socially constructed realities as natural realities. The anti-essentialists have, however, no decisive arguments for the proposition that all reality is socially constructed reality. On the contrary, in academic epistemology, critical realism has not lost ground in recent decades, if anything, it has gained ground.16 The mechanical Cartesian, Newtonian, or statistical versions of cause and effect reasoning have, nonetheless gained ground, too. Indeed, advocates of realism (include me) are allies of the anti-essentialists when it comes to criticizing the excessive, often devious, use of mechanical root metaphors.

In its strong form, anti-essentialism abandons scientific explanation as a goal of social science. Therefore, scientific explanation is not a requisite epistemological stance for the contemporary social scientist. The rejection of causal models of any kind is not a rejection imposed by the outcome of debates in which essentialism is refuted, deconstructed, shown as unsupported and, thus, exposed as an ideological distortion of reality. Radical anti-essentialism is an effective political strategy.17 The aspects of its merits follow in section VII.ii and VII.iii.

The other premise of post-structuralist thought is that of overdetermination, which contends that social effects have various causal factors. In Contradiction and Overdetermination, Louis Althusser uses the idea of overdetermination in order to decline to explain historical events using the paradigmatic Enlightenment notion of an explanation that the post-structuralists want to deconstruct. The explanation was that of the Newtonian X causes Y as the mechanical relationship wherein the impact of force X produces the fact of Y. Applied to international trade theory and economics in general, this paradigm suggests that the aggregate factors of economic self-interests will produce predictable results. Applied to Marxist economics, this paradigm suggests that accumulation will lead to revolution.

Overdetermination originates with the work of Freud to denote a confluence of subconscious representations, which condense in a single dream image (or neurotic symptom) governed by an emotion. The first use of the term was Freud's analysis of his dream known as Irma's Injection. Irma appears first as Irma, a patient who had frustrated Freud by refusing to accept his analysis to diagnose the causes of her hysteria. The dream is complex and many faceted. Irma represents a second woman who was never Freud's patient, he wanted to analyze and he supposed was more willing to accept his analysis. Irma represents yet a third woman and, as a group, the children at a children's hospital where Freud had worked. In the dream, a Dr. M' was both Freud and a stand-in for several persons Freud knew. The emotion that is wish fulfillment (Freud's term) driving the dream was frustration, which Freud felt due to the rejection of his analysis by Irma. An incident the day before the dream had reminded him of the rejection, which triggered his enmity. The synthesis of the dream was that the frustration about Irma flowed together with frustration about other failures and resentment about his colleagues regarding him as a quack. Therefore, as Freud perceived, it was the confluence and convolution of many elements that made the dream an experience of overdetermination.18

The historical event examined in Althusser's book, Contradiction and Overdetermination 19 is the Russian Revolution in 1917. When he borrowed the idea of overdetermination from Freud, Althusser declined to explain the revolution in the paradigmatic Newtonian sense of the word explain. The economy did not determine the coming of the revolution, nor did a quasi-machine analogous to an economy, not even in the last instance. The revolution was overdetermined.

It is important, however, to acknowledge that neither Althusser nor anyone else needs the idea of overdetermination to make the point that for any social phenomenon many factors contribute to its cause. Mainstream social science research predominates even today, while debates about postmodernism preoccupy the avant garde as it uses statistical regression analysis to quantify the many factors associated with the phenomenon under study. For example, a study of violent acts committed by children might find these variances of explanation that 15% by children seeing violence on television, 25% learning violence from parents at home, 5% learning violence from video games, 10% learning stereotyped gender roles and machismo, with a 45% error variance not explained yet, although I assume further research would reveal the rest of the explanation.

Therefore, in reality many factors, variables and forces are at work and advanced scientific tools might be able to organize them. It is not a proposition that requires dissent from the metaphysics of the Enlightenment because complexity alone does not require abandonment of the sorts of explanations that rationalists and empiricists have been refining, amending, affirming and denying throughout the last several centuries. Freud likely did not intend to abandon the Newtonian paradigm even though, as Jacques Lacan has shown, he did. The Enlightenment metaphysics and, thus, its subset: the economic metaphysics ought to remain intact because complexity alone should not require the demise of them. What the post-structuralists needed to have deposed was the approval of the role that the capitalist ethical premises play in its economic explanation.

Althusser believed that economics does not determine the course of history. Why then did he not choose the older metaphysical traditions of the West (from Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas and Hegel), which characterize human action as choice within an ethical context? He chose, instead, to borrow the idea of overdetermination from his contemporary, Freud. Althusser answers my question by writing that

    I am not taken by this term overdetermination as borrowed from another discipline, yet I shall use it in the absence of anything better as an index and as a problem and that it enables us to see why we are dealing with something quite different than the Hegelian contradiction.19b

Althusser's essay and his work shows that he wanted to serve the cause of Marxism and, therefore, of materialism by rejecting idealism. Althusser believed that when Marx praised the rational kernel in Hegel, Marx did not intend to endorse a dialectic in which ideals function as causes in history. Those of us who think that ideals do function as causes in history can, in this light, see why Althusser does not agree with us. We can see why Freud's concept of overdetermination served Althusser's purpose because overdetermination does not function within:

  • chosen ideals (such as capitalism)
  • the cultivation of agreements
  • cooperative action and
  • the ego (the integrating factor of the personality).
  • Overdetermination functions at night in the rapid-eye-movement periods of sleep when the emotions assemble images. When seen as the indicator of a problem in the social sciences, overdetermination (many overlapping causes, no particular cause) reaffirms that we do not know why history happens as it does. However, whatever the course of history, overdetermination is the rationale for remaining loyal to materialism and rejecting the ancient metaphysical hierarchies.

    VII.ii. Escobar's ethics

      The global economy has to be understood as a de-centered system with manifold apparatuses of capture, which are symbolic, economic and political. It matters to investigate the particular ways in which each local group participates in this complex machinelike process and how they can avoid the most exploitative mechanisms of capture by the capitalist mega-machines.20

    Escobar refers to his perspective as post-structuralist, which is affirmed throughout his excellent book that at once progresses within the levels of

    1. The ground or foundation in which Escobar describes particular programs and projects carried out by development professionals in the third-world. He thoroughly documents the anti-hunger programs, the foremost of which is the Integrated Rural Development DRI of his country, Colombia and

    2. The global network of programs like DRI that exist within the context of development discourse, which came into practice by way of the challenges that the United States. faced after WW II. Development discourse was the creature of a few senior government officials, academics and bankers, all of whom were white males from the first-world. Most all were economists backed by the power of the World Bank and allied institutions. Therefore, development discourse became a language that the third world had to learn and

    3. The proactive philosophy in which Escobar treats development discourse as a knowledge that is power and as power that takes the form of knowledge. He calls for a reformed social science in which a reformed post-structuralist anthropology, rather than economics, would set the tone. The leading role of the new anthropology, however, does not involve creating an alternative theoretical hegemony, which would vie to replace development discourse in particular or economics in general. Escobar wrote:

      To think about alternatives in the manner of sustainable development, for instance, is to remain within the same model of thought that produced development and kept it in place. One then has to resist the desire to formulate alternatives at an abstract macro-level. One must resist the idea that the formulation of alternatives will take place in intellectual and academic circles, without meaning by this that academic knowledge has no role in a politics of alternative thinking.21

    I believe that Escobar's choices at the philosophical level reflect his wish to contribute toward decreasing the vast and endless suffering at the ground level. Escobar's post-economic deconstruction of development is, like postmodernism in general, an epistemology motivated by an ethics.

    The earliest of Escobar's ground-level Colombian development stories is about rice. In the early 20th century, the Colombian elite realized that in order to compete in the international market it would have to exploit, as its comparative advantage, access to cheap labor. The people, who would become the cheap labor, for whom the entrepreneurial elite and their financial backers would have access, had to move from the countryside to the sites of industry. Then, the labor needed cheap food, without which they could not survive on low wages. The government subsidized and protected the rice agribusiness because it had the potential to produce a low cost, high-energy food for the workers at low unit cost.22

    Why are we not surprised? I will answer without paraphrasing Escobar, though in full accord with Escobar and his awareness of the issues. First,  the rice story in Colombia is similar to many stories we have heard. It repeats an oft-told tale with a variant, stated in the early 19th century. It was Ricardo's argument that the British Corn Laws should be repealed in order to decrease the price of food and, thus, reduce labor costs and increase profits.23 Colombia's rice tariff was imposed to launch and protect the rice agribusiness. In the British Corn Laws case, a tariff was repealed to serve a similar end. What makes these two cases as variations of the same story is that food policy was a function of the profit imperative. Second, the basic ethical structure of modern society implies that such dealings will repeat given that

  • private ownership controls the means of production
  • the incentive for production is the expectation of profit and
  • profit can only be realized by the sale of the product, which is best facilitated, other things being equal, by bringing the product to market at a price that beats the competition.
  • Therefore, capitalists will seek profits by lowering the costs of production and, other things being equal, by cutting labor costs. Escobar's Colombian rice story bears telling, in some form, many times. The latest of Escobar's ground-level stories from Colombia appears to be the one about the women who pack shrimp in the port city of Tumaco. About this, Escobar wrote:

      The feminization of the labor force in some industries continues and is linked to development schemes. Such is the case, for instance, with women in shrimp packaging plants in the port of Tumaco in Colombia. The vast majority of women working in these plants come from rural families who have lost their lands and now work under precarious conditions.24

    We are not surprised, first, because the feminization of labor and the feminization of the labor poverty are well known aspects of the trend of global neoliberalism and its mode, which is flexible accumulation. 25 These current trends are similar to what Andre Frank, in the 1960s, called the development of underdevelopment,26 which, in turn, is similar to the

  • accounts of the destruction of African cultures by the slave trade and forced incorporation of Africans into European economies of money and of speculative market 27
  • history of driving peasants off the land, which Engels wrote of in The Progressive Impoverishment of the English,28 and
  • descriptions of the enclosure movement in England given by, among others, Marx in Das Kapital.
  • Second, we are not surprised because the basic cultural structures of modern society set the stage for market behavior and for the enlargement of markets. Markets and, above all, larger markets imply a drive toward more efficient profit seeking. For this reason, a systemic bias exists in favor of creating classes of easily exploited workers. Therefore, a systemic bias exists that is opposed to a modicum of security for small farmers and, indeed, anyone else.

    The centerpiece of Escobar's ground level series is a pair of Colombian programs, the PAN and DRI. They flourished in the heyday of development discourse, which was the post-WW II period after the invention and imposition of development discourse and before the recent disillusionment, which has led to a decline of classical development discourse, partly replaced by new forms of power, namely, knowledge and grassroots consensus.

    PAN was a program for alleviating hunger largely by giving away food and other components including education about nutrition. PAN was a structural trap, given the basic cultural and ethical structure of modern society. It was predictable that free food would depress food prices and discourage food production.

    The DRI companion program proposed spending public money provided by the World Bank and allied institutions with the principal objective of increasing food production. That achievement happened mainly by introducing advanced scientific farming techniques. In the abstract, the increase in production due to DRI might be seen as compensating for the decrease in production due to PAN. In reality, a complex series of political struggles, structural constraints, economic forces, illusions and errors produced some net winners, net losers and no overall significant alleviation of hunger in Colombia.

    Predictably, the absence of a major surge in effective demand for food, i.e. purchasing power did little to increase the food supply. Furthermore, treating food production as a scientific, physical problem resulted in favoring some farmers while hurting others. It had negative environmental and social side effects. That is what happened and, by the 1990s, DRI had largely ceased to function, which restated the obvious that is producing food for sale to people who have no money brings no profit.

    I have highlighted Escobar's stories about the ground-level development projects in order to clarify the operations of the economic quasi-mechanisms. Escobar however, merely alludes to that explanation because from his perspective explanation in terms of economic quasi-mechanisms is a universalizing, essentialist ploy. His scholarly project is to show that a post-structuralist anthropological approach is more adequate than one that relies on a theory of political economy and that it is supposed to be applicable worldwide. His achievement consists of making the local constructions visible side-by-side with the analysis of global forces, so that the ground-level facts are seen from a new perspective and in a new light after having been seen for decades in the light of economics in general and development discourse in particular. About this, he wrote:

      From the classical political economists to the current neoliberals at the World Bank, economists have monopolized the power of speech.29

    Now, with Escobar's help, the actions of development agents in remote third world hamlets are revealed as mere dramatic performances scripted by local discourses—in turn shaped by the powerful texts of the development discourse—as promoted by the World Bank and its allies. The discourse creates the objects and the actors who exist by powers they do not understand or in some cases do, yet, are compelled to pretend not to understand just to keep their jobs.

    Escobar does not offer explanations in the traditional sense because he does not detect cause and effect mechanisms and relationships. However, he does use the word explain in the context of discussing why development discourse arose. An example is the famous speech by United States President Harry Truman in 1948 wherein he proposed to lift the poor of the world up from poverty by sharing United States know-how by sending United States technical experts everywhere to teach everyone else how to solve their problems.

    In retrospect, Truman's Point 4 Speech was naive and arrogant. What needs and has to have explanation is why the content of his speech made sense to his audience at the time. What explains this divide is the fact of development discourse. It is a quasi-explanation, which partly explains why Truman and many others thought as they did. Escobar's explanation of why and how development discourse arose looks more like a genealogy via Foucault, than a particular phenomenon brought under a general causal law, via Newton. Furthermore, it is important for Escobar's argument to insist that the rise of development discourse did not occur predictably. Although it was an understandable response of the first world elite to the challenges of the times, it was not a result destined to happen by factors that caused it. About this, Escobar wrote:

      The free enterprise system was in peril after the WW II. To save such a system, the U.S. faced various imperatives to keep the core nations of the capitalist system together and operable. It required:
      • continuous expansion and efforts to avoid the spread of communism
      • ways to invest U.S. surplus capital that accumulated during the war, particularly abroad, where the largest profits could be made
      • finding markets overseas for U.S. goods, given that the productive capacity of U.S. industry had doubled during the war
      • securing control over the sources of raw materials in order to meet world competition and
      • establishing of a global network of unchallenged military power as a way to secure access to raw materials, markets, and consumers.30

    In such a context, development economics was an idea whose time had come. After WW II, it emerged as a sub-science of economics building on theories of economic growth written earlier in the century, some of which used the word development. It offered a general scientific theory showing how to create a desired world and how to avoid an undesired world. As often advocated in the 1950s, its major prescriptions were capital accumulation, deliberate industrialization, development planning and external aid.31 Development discourse had been 1) launched, "force-fed and fattened" after WW II by a clique, 2) regarded as a normative framework for public policy and 3) supported by development economics as its academic legitimating factor and theoretical backup.

    Escobar names names and gives the dates and places of the meetings where the language of development discourse took form and where institutions that would play key roles in spreading the discourse emerged. Development, as many conceived it, was a companion to the Marshall Plan, which had saved Western Europe from communism by rebuilding its economies. Similarly, development would spare the rest of the world from communism.

    Created in the first world, the ABCs of development formed a curriculum that the third world had to learn. In every field—health, education, agriculture, industry, water, electricity, transportation and women's rights—new programs and projects were touted as the keys to progress, all of which, however, required funding. The principal sources of funding communicated only with people who spoke their language.

    Power begat a cosmology that was the development discourse, which oriented the human spirit in space and time, toward objects and ideals. Spatially, the planet split into divisions of developed and underdeveloped regions. The arrow of time pointed from less development to more development. The poor majority of humanity was invited to see its own future of high paying union jobs in the United States and in Western Europe's welfare states. The physical objects of the world were objects to be manipulated by engineers applying science to produce. It took about two decades of bitter experience for development, as Truman and the founders of the World Bank conceived it, to lose its charm. By 1970, the World Bank, USAID and the other funding monopolies were sponsoring a basic needs approach, growth with equity, integral development, grassroots development and later, sustainable development.

    To remain credible, development discourse had to be reformed in order to focus on extreme poverty, environmental degradation, the loss of cultural identity, the violence against women and therefore, the struggle against oppression. During the 1980s, Latin American countries endured the harshest social and economic conditions since the conquest.32 The countries of Africa had endured nearly the same.33 Therefore, a number of voices, one of which was Escobar's, called for the rejection of the term development altogether. They regarded it as a concept fatally flawed from its outset and irredeemable by its lack of an ethical sense of social justice.

    The rise and decline of development discourse illustrates, yet again, the absurd tragedy of humans. As Fuller wrote—There is no reason why the Earth's resources cannot meet the needs of every member of the human species when we live in harmony with all living systems.34 At this point, however, humanity has not invented the cultural structures and the ecological practices necessary to enjoy the Earth's gifts. The gap between our potential and our reality is our tragedy, regardless of whatever consolation one might derive from comparing the relative magnitudes of the sorrows of today to those of yesterday.

    It is important to assert the reasons why development has done little to ease human suffering. If Escobar is right in saying that a basic sin of development discourse was that it was essentialist and universalist, then the last thing we will want is a post-development era and another essentialist discourse guiding it. Furthermore, if Escobar is right, then we will expect major improvements to flow from the growing influence of the post-structuralist perspectives. Yet, what if he is wrong or within the context has made the word right irrelevant?

    In any case, Escobar is compelled to make judgments about causes and effects. If the widespread adoption of Escobar's post-structuralist position causes life to become harsher, then the results will inflict (not just inscribe) upon bodies. It is unclear whether the trend toward post-structuralist scholarship like Escobar's will succeed. It may prove to be a deception and another "nail in the coffin" of hope. The results, I believe, will not be the optimal ones for two main reasons.

    First, Escobar's post-structuralist approach puts him in an awkward position in regards to non-Western cultures and traditional Western values. Therefore, one might expect that a book calling for the empowerment of people in the third world would have included more than passing references to liberation theology, which Escobar mentions in a mere two footnotes, to Islam and to Gandhi. Absent is any discussion of progressive Buddhism, for example the
    Sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka. Although there are post-structuralists who have written at length on religion, Escobar's neglect of religion is typical and symptomatic of an inherent conflict between the ultramodern philosophy of post-structuralism and traditional societies, which, in their splendid variety are at once religious collectivist, hierarchical patriarchal with carefully differentiated gender roles, homophobic, puritanical, xenophobic and superstitious. Those terms are pejorative in the West used to describe others. The people who hold such views describe their views in their terms and not in terms of the extremism, which, for them, describes the views of others.

    Escobar cites, with approval, authors such as, Foucault, Eugene Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Michel Taussig, Garcia Canclini, Dorothy Smith and others. Their writings and Escobar's show their shared values to be secular,  individualist in the positive sense of favoring personal autonomy—what Jung called individuation, democratic, feminist tending toward gender equality, opposed to mandated heterosexuality, sensual, internationalist and critical. 35

    Post-structuralism is, therefore, in an awkward position, which is not a problem if it just a matter of 1) criticizing mainstream modernist liberal thought for pretending to be universal and ever rational, or merely 2) listing the attractive examples of which there are many in Encountering Development, of small and obscure cultures that have their ways of seeing and doing things, which are more in harmony with nature than are the ways of the modern West. 36

    Escobar and post-structuralists, in general, do not accept that whatever the oppressed say must be right. The problem, though, is that their approach makes it hard to see the fine-tuning criteria needed for telling the difference between values to be rescued (valores de rescate) and themes best left behind (temas superables). Therefore, it is hard to reconcile that 1) no one should have a right to define another's reality, 2) it is time for the voices of the silenced to speak and speak with 3) the freedom to reject many of the things Western and nontraditional people say when they speak. The awkward mixed message is not an incidental feature of postmodernism, which rectifies easily by noting its oversights. For example, as Escobar wrote:

      Those intellectuals from the university insist on our right to name our reality as long as we agree with their corrupt, individualistic, materialistic, permissive and effeminate values.

    Another example is that of Islamic fundamentalists who have the right to speak because they share the birthright to it according to a radical ethic of autonomy. Nevertheless, when fundamentalists speak, those who hear them learn that Islam means submission, not autonomy. Therefore, the fundamentalists Muslims speak to spread the teachings of the Holy Qu'ran, rather than to name their reality.

    The ethics of autonomy in turn, which is the source of the awkwardness, links right to Foucault and Escobar's central concept of power. Since the 17th century, power remains the core root metaphor with which Western philosophy has erected secular alternatives to the traditional religious worldview of the West. Autonomy is yours when power does not oppress you, as Kant wrote:

      Autonomy is the principle of all genuine morality. Heteronomy is the principle of all spurious morality. [Kant´s autonomy is similar to what the isolationist calls sovereignty, i.e. being self-governed, not subject to control by anyone else.]37

    Escobar's story of the rise of development discourse is a story about power and speech, so it is a story about oppression and silencing. Therefore, it leads to the conclusion that the oppressed should speak, yet, when they do, they speak in confusion.

    The second reason that the results will not be the optimal results is that taking a post-structuralist philosophical position makes it needlessly tricky to talk about objective physical reality. In principle, there is supposed to be no such thing because the discourse defines the objects. This principle sometimes seems to be a philosophical opinion of no consequence because post-structuralists are able to cope with objective physical reality in life the same as everyone else, nevertheless sometimes it does have consequences.

    It makes a difference when Escobar criticizes Samir Amin who sees no hope for his continent, Africa, without major capital investments in agriculture. For Amin and economists in general, it is obvious that no serious decrease in poverty can occur without capital accumulation. The comfortable people of the first-world enjoy comforts because of the work of people in past generations whose savings and investments made it possible to create advanced technology, install it and build infrastructure. That happens whether capital is accumulated by

  • the Puritan ethic
  • exploiting colonies
  • extracting surplus value from workers, or
  • forced industrialization as with Stalin or Mao in which no one emerges from poverty without somebody postponing present consumption for the sake of investing in future productive capacity.
  • Therefore, Amin has devoted his time to enlarging proposals for what he calls auto-centric accumulation. Given that

  • Africa will prosper only after Africa makes capital investments in agriculture and industry
  • capital-poor Africa has for the last several centuries been to a great extent at the mercy of capital-rich foreign powers and
  • the processes of capital accumulation have, to date, been cruel, destructive and unjust; therefore, he wants to put the process of accumulation
  • within the parameters of humanity and ecological sensitivity,
  • democratic control for Africans (and all people) of their destinies
  • appropriate technology use to achieve shortcuts that will make the tooling-up process less painful than it was in the 19th century and
  • distributed burdens to be shared equitably by all, especially within the imbalances between the urban and rural and the ethnic, racial and tribal groups.38
  • Amin's project would appear to be a laudable one, nevertheless, Escobar raises an objection to it in principle, as he wrote — It is necessary to emphasize, however, that Amin's prescriptions are written in a universalistic mode and a realist epistemology, precisely the kinds of thinking criticized here.39 Why does Escobar care so much about the issue of realist epistemology versus post-structuralism that he finds it necessary to criticize Amin's constructive project on philosophical grounds? The likely answer is that Escobar has written a 250-page book berating the development discourse for its bias of realist epistemology.

    Foucault showed that prisons have served their real purpose of extending their power, even though it was clear from the beginning that they would not serve their declared purpose of rehabilitating criminals.40 Similarly, Escobar was able to show that development discourse has served its real purpose of extending power, even though it was clear from the beginning that it would not serve its declared purpose of lifting the suffering masses of the third world beyond poverty. Development discourse pulled off the sleight-of-hand trick necessary to disguise its real purpose and pulled it off in such a way that it was able to de-politicize poverty. What had been a conflict of interest between the exploiters and exploited became a technical problem solvable by experts. All of the problems were allegedly about objective physical reality. A realist epistemology guaranteed the credentials of the development economists and the other technical experts employed to solve, for example, the problem of hunger because development discourse had defined that problem into existence.

    Amin draws Escobar's ire because Amin agrees with his professional colleagues that the need to accumulate capital is indeed an objective physical problem. As a concept, accumulation bifurcates into 1) another name for exploiting colonies and workers and for the machinelike global extension of capitalism and 2) the name for the tooling up process, which is central to prosperity. In its second identity, it represents a fact of nature. A lack of accumulation is a fact too—a brutal one. It is like the swarms of locusts that God sent to devour the grain of the Egyptians.

    None of the priests of Egypt—with all their syntax and semantics, their synchrony and diachrony, their breaks and sutures, story and ritual, texts and subtexts, semiotics and grammatology, genealogy and deconstruction—could stop the locusts from eating the grain.

    In Africa today, the need to bring water to the land — before the seeds will germinate, grow and produce edible fruit — represents the irreducible resistance of nature against the hegemony of meaning. It represents the revolt of objects that refuse to allow discourse to define them out of existence. Amin offers an alternative physical solution to a physical problem and his realist epistemology does humanity and him no harm.

    Ultimately, Escobar and Amin are kin of the democratic left. Escobar recognizes the merit of Amin's work, although Escobar thinks it must be constantly destabilized.41 Moreover, Escobar's criticism of Amin's realism overshoots the mark. Showing that mainline development discourse rests on false realist epistemologies does not rule out the possibility that the work of Samir Amin and many others might rest on true realist epistemologies.

    I appreciate and laud the spirit of post-structural approach, while pointing out that result is likely to be less than optimal. The result will 1) impede distinguishing the better traditions from the worse traditions, 2) overemphasize discourse and 3) de-emphasize facts. I do mean to suggest that the achievements of the post-structural mode do not need approval at the expense of discernment and realism.

    VII.iii. Gibson-Graham's metaphysics

    The tradition that takes its name from Aristotle's Metaphysics constructs what Aristotle termed first principles (his archai). It inquiries into the first principles and causes of all things concerned, above all, being or substance (ousia).

    Explanations of the global economy assume that the global economy has being and exists. Even the best explanation is stultified if the phenomenon that it claims to accurately explain, in fact, does not exist. The criteria for distinguishing being from non-being and existence from nonexistence become crucial when somebody thinks it important to deny the existence of something whose existence somebody else thinks it important to affirm. In the history of metaphysics, the first principles governing the concept of being have been invoked to prove, or to disprove, the existence of God. The present question, however, concerns not whether God exists, but whether the global economy exists. In The End of Capitalism (as we knew it): a Feminist Critique of Political Economy, the author argues that the global economy is a fiction. About this the author writes:

      Like many political economists, I had theorized the United States social formation and the global economy as sites of capitalist dominance located squarely in the social or economic field. Of late, however, a theoretical option emerged that could make a (revolutionary) difference, which is to depict economic discourse as hegemonic while rendering the socioeconomic world as differentiated and complex.42

    It is crucial to ask what sorts of reasons would count for or against the theoretical option that Gibson-Graham embraces, which includes denying (or declining to assert or observe) that global capitalism or the global economy exist. Metaphysics is the standard means to discern whether to attribute being to a concept that is contested, such as God, capitalism, or the global economy. Aristotle is the source and a representative of the mainstream ancient and medieval metaphysics of the West. Therefore, a salient divide exists between the traditional metaphysics and the postmodern metaphysics of Gibson-Graham as outlined here:

    I. Aristotle tends to attribute being to generalities. Gibson-Graham tends to attribute being to particulars. Aristotle wrote:

      If there is nothing apart from individuals, there will be no object of thought, but all things will be objects of sense. There will be no knowledge of anything, unless we say that sensation is knowledge.43

    Aristotle often used a characteristic substance or being as a seed, which has intrinsic to it the plant form or animal it will become, or as a product made by an artisan who had in mind the form before making it, or as a person with a continuing soul self-identical through its passing states (his favorite example is that of Socrates).

      We say that Hermes is in the stone and the half of the line is in the line and we say of that which is not yet ripe is corn.44 Ousia finally has two senses 1) the ultimate substratum, which no longer predicates of anything else and 2) that, which being a this, is also separable and of this nature is the shape or form of each thing.45

    Gibson-Graham wrote:

      A capitalist site is an irreducible specificity. We may no more assume that a capitalist firm is interested in maximizing profits or exploitation than we may assume that a woman wants to bear and raise children or that a U.S. resident is interested in making money. When capitalism gives way to an array of capitalist differences, its non-capitalist other is released from singularity and subjection, potentially visible as a differentiated multiplicity. 46

    Gibson-Graham depicts generalities such as the global economy and capitalism as false and oppressive. A discourse that celebrates variety and the proliferation of differences serves to make visible many things that ought to have been seen long ago, were it not that the hegemonic discourse about global capitalism has made them invisible.

    II. Aristotle thinks of his inquiries as a quest for truth. Gibson-Graham sees inquiry as invoking the performative force, which is constitutive of economic representation.47 About this, Gibson-Graham wrote:

      The global economy is an economic representation constituted by other people's performances, the acts in which they performed and speaking and writing. The global economy was called into being by discourse.

    Her performance, the writing of the book The End of Capitalism, intends to constitute a different discourse. About this, she wrote:

      In the hierarchical relation of capitalism to non-capitalism lies (entrapped) the possibility of theorizing economic difference of supplanting the discourse of capitalist hegemony with a plurality and heterogeneity of economic forms. Liberating that possibility is an anti-essentialist project and perhaps the principal aim of this book.48

    Gibson-Graham's aim is similar to that of most writers on the topics of capitalism and the global economy: she seeks to understand the way the world works in order to change the way it works. She takes the view, however, that the concepts most often employed, which are capitalism and the global economy have backfired. By attributing to the capitalist global economy an essence that is a monolithic nature, they have contributed to its strength. It seems all-powerful because the theories of left political economists tell us it is all-powerful. Gibson-Graham writes that

      If capitalism's identity is even partly immobile or fixed, if it is the site of an inevitability like the logic of profitability or accumulation, then by necessity it will be seen to operate as a constraint or a limit. It becomes that to which other more mutable entities must adapt. We see this today in both mainstream and left discussions of social and economic policy, where we are told that we may have democracy, or a pared-down welfare state, or prosperity, but only in the context of the global capitalist economy and what it will permit.49

    Gibson-Graham proposes a new anti-capitalist strategy, which is to deconstruct the concept of capitalism and reject that it exists as we knew it, i.e. as it has been conceived. This theoretical move serves to refocus vision and, thus, make what was invisible visible and what was impossible possible. About this, she wrote: — Theorizing capitalism itself as different than itself, as having no essential or coherent identity, multiplies the possibilities of change.50

    She cites from the writings of other feminists and from queer theorists the tactics for discourse analysis that deconstruct stereotypes. To refute the existence of capitalism and the global economy, she deploys some philosophical arguments that disprove the idea of the typical woman and the idea struggle against compulsory heterosexuality by disproving the conventional stereotypes of gays.

    Hazel Henderson and others point out that the majority of the work done in the world is either 1) unpaid household labor and childcare, 2) nonprofit or public sector, or 3) production for direct use (e.g. gardening, do-it-yourself home improvement); only a minority of the world's work is wage or salary labor done for capitalist corporations. Gibson-Graham cites the same facts and counts self-employment as non- capitalist. The middle level business executive who loses her job to downsizing and ekes out a living as a consultant and those who sell chewing gum on the streets of third world cities—counts as part of the non-capitalist total. The informal sector, which Marx characterized as the industrial reserve army of the unemployed, is seen in a different light because it produces a series of instances of economic diversity as do the elements of feudal agriculture, household slavery and patriarchal sweatshops, which are found throughout our diverse world. Gibson-Graham is not in favor of that various misery, though she does use it to buttress her case that any general thesis that postulates a world capitalist economy must be wrong.

    A considerable part of her book is about the blokes who work in Australian coalmines. Highly mechanized Australian mines are able to deliver coal to the world market at competitive prices. The workers organize in militant unions with left ideologies. The blokes make good money, their wives, who may be nurses or teachers, sometimes make good money too, they may own several houses and they are likely to fly to Europe for vacations. Gibson-Graham's ethnographic account of bloke-land reinforces her image of the world as a crazy quilt of diverse economic forms. It does not at all resemble the world portrayed by Marx in his book Capital in which capital grew and accumulated through extracting surplus value from workers who were paid an absolute survival wage.

    Disclaimer—The following imaginary dialogue with J. K. Gibson-Graham runs the risk that the words that I attribute to her may be different than what she would say.

    Critic: Do you mean that capitalism is such a minor component among the variety of economic forms found in the world that if it were to crash again, as it did in the 1930s, that would not be a problem, because humanity with its variety of non-capitalist forms could get along without it?

    Gibson-Graham: Of course not.

    Critic: So, do you recognize that capitalism is an important institution in the world as it exists today?

    Gibson-Graham: If I did not, I would not be writing a book about how to change it.

    Critic: You do not mean, either, that the economic policies of the world's governments are mistaken when they seek to

  • attract investment
  • foster a favorable business climate
  • provide incentives and security for investors
  • build confidence in the economic stability and profit potential of whatever part of the world they govern and
  • work to keep up profits so that capitalism will succeed.
  • Gibson-Graham: I think that profits could be much lower without the dire consequences that even supposed leftist economists threaten will follow if workers and governments do not cave in to all the demands of capital.

    Critic: Even so, you do recognize that capitalism requires some rate of profit on order for it to function

    Gibson-Graham: Yes.

    Critic: So, do you recognize that, as a rule, entrepreneurs will seek the highest profits they can get? Do you also recognize that other economic actors, such as workers and bankers, seek to maximize their returns?

    Gibson-Graham: No.

    Critic: Why not?

    Gibson-Graham: You do not understand me well. I am writing about political economy as discourse. I am not conducting an inquiry within that discourse about the phenomena of economics and how to explain them. I am not saying that Ricardo, or Marx, or Samuelson understood the laws of profit wrong. I am analyzing the discourse that constructs profit as a category, defines an economic actor as an entity seeking to maximize something and makes it meaningful to talk about laws of profit.

    Critic: So, you think that economists should not even try to write general laws that explain and predict that under X conditions profits will be Y?

    Gibson-Graham: It is disempowering.

    Critic: What do you mean by that?

    Gibson-Graham: Social reality is constantly being contested and renegotiated. If we think that some supposed scientific laws determine workers pay and how much profit capital has to get, then we will accept social reality as defined by someone else, instead of participating in creating social reality.

    Critic: The laws of economics may be disempowering, but I cannot help thinking that they are to some extent true. Does it help the victims of the system when intellectuals convince them they have power that they, in fact, do not have? So, that like the rooster Chanticleer who thought he could make the sun rise by crowing, they think that if they talk tough and go on strike they will get high wages and benefits?

    Gibson-Graham: I do not deny that it is, to some extent, true that capital has power. The question, however, is to what extent. If you write economics as if the world economy were a monolithic system governed by inexorable laws of capital accumulation, then you create a myth that capital is all-powerful, the rest of us are powerless.

    Critic: It seems, correct me if wrong, that you advance two types of reasons for concluding that capital is less powerful than most people think. First, you attack the concept of a monolithic global economy governed by inexorable laws, saying that the idea of a capitalist global economy makes invisible the world's diversity of economic forms. This is a sort of negative proof of your thesis because you are telling us that believing is seeing. All the evidence we think we see is filtered through the lens of an essentialist discourse, so that if it were true, as you think it is, that the social world is infinitely diverse and constantly under renegotiation and reconstruction, people would not see the truth.

    Gibson-Graham: I recognize that in my book I attack a straw man, although not a straw man I have constructed alone. Probably no one holds that the capitalist global economy is as monolithic and powerful as it is in the image of it that I attack.51

    Critic: Your straw man, however, resembles the views of Jameson, Harvey, Wallerstein, others and even your former views in your writing about the global economy.

    Gibson-Graham: I simplify my theoretical target in order to make my point, nevertheless, it is relevant to what ordinary people and social scientists actually say and think.

    Critic: So, part of your argument is that any theory as general as the straw man you attack must be wrong. You, nevertheless, do not refute a thesis advanced by anyone per se.

    Gibson-Graham: I would not put it that way. It is true that I do not refute any of what Jameson, for example, affirms, as if it were a matter of scoring points in macho-intellectual combat, or a matter of one mathematician finding an error in another mathematician's proof. I, nevertheless, do elaborate an alternative to a Jameson vision. If you go back and read Jameson again after reading my book, you will find him less persuasive.

    Critic: Your work is illuminating: it makes real-live facts visible that could not possibly happen according to the straw man who thinks everything happens according to simple laws of capitalist accumulation. Your straw man's discourse is similar enough to discourses that are employed, indeed are dominant, by helping the reader to see its flaws, you help the reader to see flaws in discourses that exist, such as Jameson's.

    Gibson-Graham: I would not have put it quite that way, but I won't object either.

    Critic: Apart from saying that the straw man must be wrong because, in principle, essentialism is always wrong, you fill your book with anecdotes.

    Gibson-Graham: You mean factual cases.

    Critic: Yes, for example, in the 1990s, after a protracted struggle, the USWA (United Steelworkers of America), Local 5668 won a three year contract with Ravenswood Aluminum Company, in spite of the company's use of its bargaining advantage as a multinational company to break the union by locking the workers out. The union's researchers established that the new owner of Ravenswood was a global commodity trader indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on tax fraud and racketeering. The union's tactic, which you call a nonstandard response, was to portray the company as an international outlaw, damaging its public image and launching investigations by government agencies. "Terrier-like," the USWA pursued the company around the globe yanking and pulling at it until it ceded. This one case refutes the straw man (or perhaps a straw man even simpler than the one you construct) because if labor defeats capital just once, as it did, then it is not true that capital always wins.

    Gibson-Graham: This is one of the stories that show the value of my anti-essentialist approach to social theory. If the steelworkers union had believed the myth of the global economy, they might have given up without trying. As it turned out, the workers faced-down internationalism with worker's internationalism and won.

    Critic: You do not, however, attempt to use a significant statistical sample of similar cases. You don't test a hypothesis about how often and for what reasons labor wins. You do not propose a causal mechanism, or a model, to explain the observed facts. You do not design tests that compel your theory to run the risk that it might be shown to be false. You do nothing that mainstream social scientists do to test their theories.

    Gibson-Graham: Correct.

    Critic: You do not even use descriptive statistics, nor do you tell us how often the sorts of cases you describe occur.

    Gibson-Graham: I do think social reality is overdetermined and I do not believe in causal models. Descriptive statistics are less objectionable, although they are often misleading because they mask differences among the cases grouped together. Anyway, quite apart from what I think about what positivist social scientists do or not, what I do is something different. I show how the dominant discourse about the global economy has defined capital as powerful, labor as weak and, therefore, has made invisible many things that happen.

    Critic: So, the point of your discourse analysis is not to define a causal mechanism other than the mechanism of accumulation, which can be expected to regularly produce similar results. The point is not to claim that the cases you cite are typical, or even numerous. The point is not to identify the objective conditions under which labor's chances of winning improve. The great advantage of your post-structuralist post-Marxism is that victims of oppression who accept your approach see more possibilities and have more confidence. Your theory is like a pep-talk: Don't just assume that capital can move production wherever it wants! Don't just assume that it is impractical for labor to organize internationally! Look at X! Look at Y! They had courage, fought back and won!

    Gibson-Graham: Pep-talk is a shallow way to describe what I do. A better way to describe the process of encouraging people to try what Paulo Freire called the untested feasibility is to think in terms of changing scripts. The global economy is not just a false generalization, it is a script, like the script for a play or a motion picture, it defines the roles of the actors. My book attempts to rewrite the script, so that people will transgress the present rules and act in nonstandard ways, which will lead to new standard ways: new scripts.

    Critic: Do the nonstandard transgressions exercise power that people really have, but which the hegemonic script of the capitalist global economy leads them to believe they do not have?

    Gibson-Graham: I will answer that with an example. I compare the rape script to the script of the global economy.52 There is a standard script about men raping women in which the role of women is defined as passive and powerless. The woman is a victim who allows the rape in order to save her life. By analogy, a similar script governs the rape of the third world by the multinational corporations.

    Critic: Before we discuss the analogy, tell me why you know that rape is governed by a rape script. Have you interviewed a significant sample of rapists and rape victims and coded the interview data?

    Gibson-Graham: I borrowed the concept of the rape script from other feminist writers. It is a concept that rings true to me, though not because there is much empirical data verifying its hypotheses. Instead, it rings an accurate interpretation of meanings that prevail in our culture. I think the rape script concept resonates with my readers for the same reason. We are all participating members of our culture and we all know that defines man as strong, woman as weak.

    Critic: You cite an example of a woman who refused to play the role assigned to her by the rape script. She grabbed the penis of her would-be rapist while he was hitting her head. He lost his erection and ran away.53

    Gibson-Graham: Similarly, there is a prevailing script, which defines multinational corporations as strong and third world people as weak.

    Critic: Are you implying that if people in the third world, or poor people as a rule, would follow a different script, then they would be powerful?

    Gibson-Graham: I don't want to be backed into a position where I am obliged to defend the absurd thesis that all victims are more powerful than they think they are. Some victims are less powerful than they think they are. My point is that certain essentialist scripts define roles in which people are defined as powerless regardless of the facts. The script itself has a performative force because it makes people less powerful than they otherwise would be.

    The imaginary dialogue above illustrates that J. K. Gibson-Graham and post-structuralists, in general, have an awkward relationship to the age-old question — Why do things happen as they do? Their ill at ease is due to rejecting mainstream and Marxist paradigms of scientific inquiry, without developing new, or reviving old ways to answer the why questions. I had stated that the idea of overdetermination is, when applied to conscious waking social life, not so much a way to answer the why question as a way to justify not answering it. I suggest now (and will develop later) that ideas like constitutivity, script and performative performance are more promising. Their diagnoses and prescriptions are unclear, although they do allude to the sources of problems and their grounds for believing that the conceptual reforms and the courses of action they advocate will solve problems.

    Aristotle conceived of four main types of principles or cause (the archai), as his four main ways to respond to the question that is — why:

    1. material cause: what the thing is made of a vase made of bronze.
    2. efficient cause: the source of motion: the vase-maker who makes the vase, or as love or desire considered as a principle that initiates the motion
    3. formal cause: the form, shape, pattern, definition, or essence, which makes a thing what it is, which causes a shaped bronze to be defined as a vase and
    4. final cause: that for the sake of which a thing is made, the end as objective that the vase-maker serves in making the vase.

    By the time Althusser and the post-structuralists took up the critical examination of science, Aristotle had become linked to traditions that were erroneous and undesirable. The idea of final cause was thought to attribute false human purposes to nature. The idea of formal cause was thought (rightly) to give the status of natural facts on social conventions by treating accepted definitions as hallmarks of true being. Therefore, being-as-form favored aristocracy, divinity and masculine privilege. Efficient causes were what mechanistic science was all about: the forces, impressions, effects and variables to which it attributed (efficient) causal efficacy and or explanatory significance. They were not, however, the sorts of sources of which Aristotle had in mind.

    Gibson-Graham likely will not, nor can we expect her to, sympathize with Aristotle's treatment of social conventions as if they were natural essences. She might, however, have sympathy in regard to human action as a praxis and as a paradigm for explanation. Aristotle's vase-maker is not making a revolution, though at least he is making something.

      Cause means the form or pattern [and that] from which the change or the resting from change first begins, e.g. the adviser is a cause of the action and the father a cause of the child and in general the maker a cause of the thing made and the change-producing of the changing. Beginning means that from which change naturally first begins, as a child comes from its mother and father and a fight from abusive language that at whose will that which is moved is moved that which changes does change. For example: magistracies in cities, oligarchies and monarchies and tyrannies are called archai. So too are the arts because all causes are beginnings.54

    Some 2500 years ago, in his primitive, patriarchal and naive way, Aristotle expressed some observations about why things happen the way they do. All his citations are in accord with Gibson-Graham's desire to encourage victims to become activists and, thus, not to be misled and discouraged by mechanistic causal models. A number of contemporary approaches to social science are reviving Aristotelian notions of deliberate action as praxis. Once again, a choice is a source of movement that explains an action. Formal causes and the patterns and implicit definitions built into language and accepted by common sense as the framework of action in everyday life have returned, for example as

    • constitutive rules *
    • institutional facts
    • symbolic interaction
    • emic viewpoints
    • dramaturgic social analysis
    • performatives
    • plans
    • phenomenology
    • language-games *
    • scripts
    • ethno-methodology
    • act/action structures,and
    • cognitive structures.

    Therefore, meanings are causes again.55

    Gibson-Graham is among the social scientists offering explanations in terms of the causes that Aristotle would have classed as formal. Alternatively, Aristotle might class her explanations as efficient causes in the sense that later centuries deleted from the idea of efficient cause as when one makes a decision to be a source of movement. Examples might be, when a raid triggers a decision to go to war,56 or in The End of Capitalism, a woman's submission to rape is explained by a rape script, which defines her as powerless. Gibson-Graham is not in dialogue with 1) contemporary neo-Aristotelians such as Martha Nussbaum, Alasdair MacIntyre, 2) mainstream positivist economists such as Milton Friedman, nor with 3) social scientists influenced by recent mainstream Anglo-american analytic philosophy like Carol Gilligan, Nel Noddings and Rom Harre.

    Gibson-Graham is in dialogue with other feminists, with Althusserians and with Marxist political economists. She stands in a tradition shaped by Marx and for that reason encounters a special conceptual impediment standing in the way of accepting a neo-Aristotelian model of human action. Marx begins Capital by writing that he is about to analyze, in his words, that form of society where wealth appears as a vast collection of commodities.

    The word commodity is derived from the original German word: waren.57 The English cognate is the word wares, which is things offered for sale. In his first sentence, Marx outlines the structure of his discourse, writing that: —Capitalist common sense is an illusory discourse. Wealth only appears as commodities and it appears in what Marx later calls commodity form. However, the commodity form is not, for Marx, what Aristotle would have called a formal cause. For Marx commodity form, i.e. exchange, is not the pattern of what truly is and not the source of movement, but rather an illusion masking the deeper reality. The essence of the commodity is not on the surface of society, it is the quantity of labor embodied in it and, therefore, its value. Marx' analysis asserts that as long as we remain at the formal level: at the level of circulation, we will never understand capitalism. Capitalism occurs beneath the surface at the level of production where business exploits labor to produce surplus value.

    For this reason, the anti-essentialist left continues within the Marxist tradition only with great difficulty. Anti-essentialism cannot follow Marx in his moves from surface to depth, circulation to production and formal appearance to material essence. If the anti-essentialist left intellectuals would take just one more step they could at once undo (1) the demotion of Marx' circulation to the level of mere appearance and (2) modernity, for example that of Descartes and Locke's, in its downgrading of appearance to mere secondary qualities. The anti-essentialist sometimes take this step in practice, e.g. in Gibson-Graham's recognition that the rape script has causal powers. Culture shapes the perspective of society so that one person appears as strong and, thus, is the powerful man. Another appears as weak and, therefore, is seen as the weak woman. Therefore, meanings are causes. Perhaps the anti-essentialist would consider recognizing in theory that the commodity form, which is the meanings at work in the ritual of exchange, functions as an explanatory principle, which is a cause.

    It would follow that a capitalist global economy is the operative basis at large today. If you came from a Marxist tradition, likely you define capitalism in terms of the production relationships between owners and workers. The variety of production relationships in the world might have you more impressed by the differences than by the similarities. As a result, you might insist that there is no worldwide capitalism, but many forms of capitalism alongside many non-capitalist forms. If, however, Aristotle was right by assigning being to forms, then money, accounts, debts, investments, wares (commodities) offered for sale, exchange relationships, markets and all that appears at the level of circulation exist among the things that are. The global market and the worldwide use of money do not constitute a universal truth valid in every circumstance, but it does constitute a major feature of the world in which we live. Therefore, it is justifiable to say that the capitalist world economy exists, even if that means capitalism is not defined as Marx defined it.

    It does not, however, follow that we are powerless victims of a monolithic system governed by inexorable laws. If by placing Aristotle in agreement with Gibson-Graham, we see forms as social constructions, then it follows that the capitalist global economy is a social construct, which we can socially reconstruct.

    Resources

    1. Jean Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: a Report on Knowledge, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984; first edition 1979, French, p. 24. Lyotard wrote:

      Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as the incredulity toward metanarratives. The incredulity is no doubt a product of the sciences, however, that progress in turn presupposes it.

    2. Jean Piaget, Structuralism (New York: Harper Collins 1958) Noam Chomsky, The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985; Claude Levi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology (New York: Basic Books 1963, translated from French by Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest as, Anthropologie Structurale.

    3. Arturo Escobar, Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World, Princeton University Press, 1995

    4. J. K. Gibson-Graham, The End of Capitalism (as we knew it): a Feminist Critique of Political Economy, Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Blackwell, 1996

    5. Richard Wolff, "Althusser and Hegel: Making Marxist Explanations Anti-Essentialist and Dialectical" in the Callari and Ruccio, eds., Postmodern Materialism and the Future of Marxist Theory, Hanover and London: Wesleyan University Press, 1996, p. 166

    6. Ibid. p. 153

    7. Ibid. p. 151

    8. Aristotle, Metaphysics, Books III and VI-XI (various editions)

    9. Jungians affirm the existence of archetypes in the myths and dreams of the species, which are common across classes and across cultures. Jungian thought is alive, well and able to hold its own in post-Foucault intellectual life as shown, for example by Andrew Samuels, The Political Psyche, London: Routledge, 1993, p. 8

    10. As I read Quine's views, they propose to combine a resolute logic with a firm realism. For example:

      Our talk of external things, our notion of things, is just a conceptual apparatus that helps us foresee and control the triggering of our sensory receptors in the light of previous triggering of our sensory receptors. The triggering, first and last, is all we have to go on. In saying this, I am talking also of external things: people and their nerve endings. What I am saying, thus, applies in a particular to what I am saying; I do not intend it to be skeptical. Nothing exists that we can be more confident of than external things, (some of them anyway) other people and sticks and stones. Nonetheless, there remains the fact, a fact of science itself, that science is a conceptual bridge of our own making, linking sensory stimulation to sensory stimulation.

    Willard van Orman Quine, Theories and Things, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981, p. 1-2

    11. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Durham: Duke University Press, 1991. As with David Harvey, cited in note 23 to Part VI.i above, Jameson turns the tables on postmodernism. Instead of admitting that historical materialism is no longer believable because it is a metanarrative, Jameson, as does Harvey, argues that historical materialism is a metanarrative capable of explaining the general course of history and the recent cultural phenomena known as postmodernism, as well.

    12. Jacques Lacan, "The Function of Language in Psychoanalysis" in The Language of the Self, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1968, translation, notes and comment by Anthony Wilden. Lacan wrote:

      Its [the psychoanalytic method's] means are those of the Word, insofar as the Word confers a meaning on the functions of the individual. Its domain is that of the concrete discourse, insofar as this is the field of the trans-individual reality of the subject. Its operations are those of history, insofar as history constitutes the emergence of Truth in the Real.

    13. Mario Bunge, Causality and Modern Science, New York: by Dover, 1979

    14. Rom Harre, Causal Powers: a Theory of Natural Necessity, Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1978; Jerrold Aronson, Rom Harre and Eileen Way, Realism Rescued: How Scientific Progress is Chicago: Open Court, 1995

    15. For example, Derrida attributes to Jean-Jacques Rousseau the view: presence is always the presence of pleasure. The full pleasure (jouissance) is a fictive instantaneity compared to which, for Derrida's Rousseau, all articulation is superficial and likely to be deceptive and corrupting and, therefore, dangerous. Language is a mere ersatz for the living self-presence—wrote Jacques Derrida in Of Grammatology, corrected edition, translated by Gayatri Spivak, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997) p. 280. Derrida is correct to find in Rousseau (and in early modern thinkers in general) a tendency to see articulated language as an artificial add-on, not regarded as part of reality per se. The inverse, however, has not been proven: humanity is left with nothing but its own articulated signifiers and is devoid of nature.

    16. See, for example, John R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality (New York: Free Press, 1995) and works there cited.

    17. Terry Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism, Oxford: Blackwell, 1996, p. 34, Eagleton wrote:

      The political differences that matter are not between those who historicize and those who do not. Instead, it is between different conceptions of history. Some believe that, overall, history is a tale of progress, mainly a story of scarcity, struggle and exploitation and, like many a postmodern text it has no plot.

    18. Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams: Part 1, in The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud IV, London: The Hogarth Press, 1958, p. 106-121, 292-96, 306-8

    19. Louis Althusser, Contradiction et sur Determination in pour Marx, Paris: Francois Maspero, 1980, p. 100. In French, his passage reads:

    Je ne tiens pas expressement a ce terme de surdetermination (emprunte a d'autres disciplines), mais je l'emploie faute de mieux a la fois comme un indice et un probleme, et aussi parce qu'il permet assez bien de voir pourquoi nous avons affaire de toute autre chose que la contradiction hegelienne.

    20. Arturo Escobar, Encountering Development, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995, p. 130

    21. Ibid., op. cit. p. 22

    22. Ibid., op. cit. p. 127-9

    23. David Ricardo, The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, Chapter VI, "On Profits" (various editions) Ricardo wrote:

    The whole value of their [the farmer and the manufacturer's] commodities is divided into two portions only: one constitutes the profits of stock, the other the wages of labor. Suppose that corn and manufactured goods always sell at the same price. Profits would be high or low in proportion as wages were low or high. If, however, as is certain, wages rise with rise of corn prices, their profits must fall in all countries and at all times. Profits depend on the quantity of labor requisite to produce the commodities of the laborers.

    Ricardo makes a further point, though not germane here:

      The rate of profit is determined by the labor needed to produce commodities on the marginal land that produces no rents.

    24. Escobar, op. cit. p. 175-176

    25. See the collected studies edited by Lourdes Benaria and Shelley Feldman, Unequal Burden: Economic Crises, Persistent Poverty and Women's Work, Boulder: Westview Press 1992

    26. Andre Gunder Frank, Latin America: Underdevelopment or Revolution: Essays on the Development of Underdevelopment, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970

    27. A. A. Boahen, General History of Africa: VII Africa under Colonial Domination, Berkeley: University of California Press and UNESCO, 1990)

    28. Engels, Friedrich, The Condition of the Working Class, New York: Macmillan, 1958 (first edition in Deutsch, 1854) p. 296, Engels wrote:

      We have seen how the growth of large farms forced the peasants off their holdings, turned them into wage-earners and then, in some cases, drove them into the towns.

    Ibid. p. 88

    29. Escobar, op. cit. p. 100

    30. Ibid. op. cit. p. 71

    31. Ibid. op. cit. p. 74

    32. Ibid. op. cit. p. 217

    33. Catherine A. Odora Hoppers, Structural Violence as a Constraint on African Policy Formation, Stockholm: Institute for International Education, 1998. See also Kaplan, op. note 4 of the Introduction.

    34. R. Buckminster Fuller, Utopia or Oblivion, New York: Bantam Books 1969, p. 182 Fuller wrote:

      It is eminently feasible to design to triple the mechanical efficiency level and, thus, care for 100% of humanity. We are committed to the design science revolution by which it is possible, without bloodshed, to raise the standard of living of all humanity to a higher level of physical satisfaction than ever experienced or dreamed.

    Ibid., Earth Inc., Garden City, NY: Anchor/Doubleday, 1973, p. 175; Frances Moore Lappé and Joseph Collins, Food First, beyond the Myth of Scarcity, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1977

    35. In support of the claim that postmodernism has values and that they are, in the end, those of modernity, see Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 1991; Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe in, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: toward a Radical Democratic Politics, London: Verso, 1985, attempt to articulate a socialist politics synchronized with anti-essentialist postmodern thinking, among other things, by utilizing chains of equivalence linking democracy as a political ideal with infusing democracy into: economics, the family, workplace and so forth. The result is a postmodern modernitymore radical.

    36. Howard Richards, "The Construction of the Metaphysics of Economic Society" in A Philosophy of Peace and Justice: ... letter 21, San Francisco and London: International Scholars Press, 1995

    37. Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, translated by H. J. Paton, New York: Harper and Row, 1964, first edition 1785, German, p. 108, Kant wrote:

      Autonomy of the Will as the Supreme Principle of Morality: Autonomy of the will is the property the will has of being a law independent of every property belonging to the objects of volition. Everything in nature works in accordance with laws [e.g., Newton's laws of force and, thus, power]. Only a rational being has the power to act in accordance with his idea of laws that is, in accordance with principles and, only so, has the being: a will.

    Ibid. p. 80. See also Gideon Freudenthal, note 46 in Part IV.iii.

    38. Samir Amin, Maldevelopment: the Anatomy of a Global Failure, Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 1990

    39. Escobar, op. cit. p. 100

    40. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, New York: Pantheon Books, 1977, from the French, Surveiller et Punir

    41. Escobar, Ibid.

    VII.iii Gibson-Graham's metaphysics

    42. J. K. Gibson-Graham, The End of Capitalism: a Feminist Critique of Political Economy, Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Blackwell, 1996 p. x-xi

    43. Aristotle, Metaphysics 999b (various editions). The words quoted are from W. D. Ross's translation, which itself has various editions.

    44. Ibid. 101 7b

    45. Ibid.

    46. Gibson-Graham, op. cit. p. 16

    47. Ibid. p. 7, Ibid. p. 11

    48. Ibid. p. 14

    49. Ibid. p. 15

    50. Ibid. p. 5-9

    51. Ibid. p. 120-144

    52. Ibid. p. 129

    53. Ibid. p. 130

    54. Aristotle,op. cit. 1013a.

    55. For further discussion of these points, see Part IX: Scientific Conclusions, herein

    56. Aristotle, Physics 198a (various editions) I quote W. D. Ross' translation.

    57. It is worth noting that waren in German is related to wares, the English counterpart, though I recognize that, via Ricardo, Marx adopted the English word commodities. Hence waren is the German word that Marx used to translate the English term commodities just as much as commodities is an English word that Marx' translators use to convert waren.

    Review

    1. The underlying essentialist classical model of truth is absent in the metaphysics of the global economy. p. 74 This gains support via the post-Structuralist incredulity toward metanarratives, anti-essentialism and, emphasis on overdetermination. What conclusions would you draw about this trend of modern thought as part of modernity, its ethics and economics?  p. 122p. 124, p. 125

    2. As you see it, why and how did the pre-modern essentialist philosophy become the culprit blamed for the evils that generated from the market system?  p. 123

    3. Arturo Escobar describes the global economy as "a de-centered system with manifold apparatuses of capture: symbolic, economic and political.       

    Escobar's statement as an explanation is similar and/or differs from the author's thesis that—The global economy conforms to an ideology that has abandoned final causes in favor of a system of efficient causes with a legal structure and ideology that defends it in such a way that the global economy has no objective at all. p. 128 As you see it, how are the two views of the global economy similar and/or different?  p. 74,  p. 75

    4. In your view of it, both in and out the context presented in the book, what might the development of underdevelopment mean?

    b. Do you think it sums up what Escobar and Amin saw in the development upon their continents?  
    p. 129,  p. 130

    c. Escobar's' experience and account of the dominant economics thrust upon Latin America shows it as a preordained and predefined economic destiny. What is your sense of this as the metaphysics, the base that gives the dominant economic its impetus?

    d. In your view, does this mean that those who by habit exploit others and the Earth need an intellectual basis for their agenda?   p. 131

    e. The West imposed its Marshall Plan of development on the Global South in the context of post-WWII, postcolonial and/ or imperialist havoc and the perceived need of the West to replenish its inventories of resources and wage labor. In your sense of it, does the jocular misuse of the term Marshall Plan add proof to the actual agenda—more development for the developed?   p. 132

    5. Escobar and Samir Amin share largely the same sociopolitical goals for their respective continents. What however, do you see as the substantive difference in their means toward the goals?  p. 138

    b. Do you think the stark difference between their ideologies: the realist approach of Amin and Escobar's rejection of it—would have existed if somehow they could have experienced the other's context of development? p. 134 through p. 136

    c. If you see it, describe the value of Amin's approach in the short term and its potential for the long-term?  p. 136,  p. 137

    6. Gibson-Graham rejects the existence of capitalism as false and oppressive. Her declaration is an effort to deconstruct capitalism as it has been conceived. If you see it, describe the value of her statement, especially in terms of the scripts that she urges us to rewrite to re-empower our thinking and, hence, our action. p. 140

    7. The research of Hazel Henderson shows that most work is non-capitalist in its transaction. Her work may add support to Gibson-Graham's premise that rejects the existence of capitalism. If you see the study as a step toward diminishing the relevance of capitalism, do you think it might convince enough others and, thus, further diminish capitalism?

    b. Do you have a conclusive view based on the idea as you see it, or do you see a relative condition?

    c. Does both Gibson-Graham's premise and Henderson's study lead you to see the impact of capitalism as more profound (a lean, yet, mean-machine) or less so?

    b. Instead, do you realize that its impact depends more on your relationship to it [capitalism]? p. 141

    8. The Gibson-Graham approach to capitalism is that of formal cause whereby it [capitalism] starts and ends with an objective. What similarity and difference do you see with this approach and Marx' depiction of capitalism?   p. 141

    9. Gibson-Graham and Aristotle share an affinity through their expression of praxis toward green growth vs. market growth. What similarities do you see in their two means to the same end?  p. 148

    b. What difference and similarity do you see in the epistemology of Gibson-Graham and that of Aristotle? p. 148

    c. Do you see the difference as the pivotal factor that makes the conclusions that they reach differ?
    p. 148

    * appendix B: Letter of solidarity for workers in China sent to a U.S. manufacturer in China.

    Keywords: accumulation, anti-essentialism, autonomy, capital, capitalism, circulation (of commodities), commodities, commodity form, development, development discourse, discourse, economics, epistemology, essentialism, ethics, feminization of labor, flexible accumulation, Hendersonian social scientists, human action, international trade theory, labor, liberation theology, markets, Marxist, Marshall plan, materialismmetanarrative, metaphysics, modernity, neoliberalism, overdetermination, political economy, postmodern, post-structuralism, profit, property, realist epistemology, structuralism, surplus value, tariff, wages, World Bank

    Description: Do the post-Marxist and post-structuralist theories explain the rise and current rule of global capitalist economics? This is the main question examined in Part VII as the next step in Understanding the Global Economy, an expose of global capitalism and a new economic paradigm, which will replace the economic rule of free trade as enforced by trade laws in pacts between corporations and central governments.

     

    Part VIII: How to work for justice in the global economyTOCcover page top

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