Varities of neo-marxian theory economic determinism


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Criticisms of Critical Theory
A number of criticisms have been leveled at critical theory (Bottomore, 1984). First, critical theory has been accused of being largely ahistorical, of examining a variety of events without paying much attention to their historical and comparative contexts (for example, Nazism in the 1930s, anti-Semitism in the 1940s, student revolts in the 1960s). This is a damning criticism of any Marxian theory, which should be inherently histori­cal and comparative. Second, the critical school, as we have seen already, generally has ignored the economy. Finally, and relatedly, critical theorists have tended to argue that the working class has disappeared as a revolutionary force, a position decidedly in opposition to traditional Marxian analysis.

Criticisms such as these led traditional Marxists such as Bottomore to conclude, "The Frankfurt School, in its original form, and as a school of Marxism or sociology, is dead" (1984:76). Similar sentiments have been expressed by Greisman, who labels critical the­ory "the paradigm that failed" (1986:273). If it is dead as a distinctive school, that is because many of its basic ideas have found their way into Marxism, neo-Marxian soci­ology, and even mainstream sociology. Thus, as Bottomore himself concludes in the case of Habermas, the critical school has undergone a rapprochement with Marxism and sociology, and "at the same time some of the distinctive ideas of the Frankfurt School are conserved and developed" (1984:76).

The Ideas of Jurgen Habermas

Although critical theory may be on the decline, Jurgen Habermas3 and his theories are very much alive (Bernstein, 1995; Brown and Goodman, 2001; Outhwaite, 1994). We touched on a few of his ideas earlier in this chapter, but we close this section on critical theory with a more detailed look at his theory (still other aspects of his thinking will be covered in Chapters 11 and 12).

Differences with Marx Habermas contends that his goal has been "to develop a theoretical program that I understand as a reconstruction of historical materialism" (1979:95). Habermas takes Marx's starting point (human potential, species-being, "sen­suous human activity") as his own. However, Habermas (1971) argues that Marx failed to distinguish between two analytically distinct components of species-being--work (or labor, purposive-rational action) and social (or symbolic) interaction (or communicative action). In Habermas's view, Marx tended to ignore the latter and to reduce it to work. As Habermas put it, the problem in Marx's work is the "reduction of the self-generative act of the human species to labor" (1971:42). Thus, Habetmas says: "I take as my start­ing point the fundamental distinction between work and interaction" (1970:91). Throughout his writings, Habermas's work is informed by this distinction, although he is most prone to use the terms purposive-rational action (work) and communicative action (interaction).

Under the heading "purposive-rational action." Hubermas distinguishes between instrumental action and strategic action. Both involve the calculated pursuit of self­-interest.

3 Habermas began as Theodor Adorno's research assistant in 1995 (Wiggershaus, 1994:537).


Instrumental action involves a single actor rationally calculating the best means to a given goal. Strategic action involves two or more individuals coordinating purposive-rational action in the pursuit of a goal. The objective of both instrumental and strategic action is instrumental mastery.

Habermas is most interested in communicative action, in which

the actions of the agents involved are coordinated not through egocentric calculations of suc­cess but through acts of reaching understanding. In communicative action participants are not primarily oriented to their own successes; they pursue their individual goals under the condi­tion that they can harmonize their plans of action on the basis of common situation definitions.

(Habermas, 1984:286; italics added)

Whereas the end of purposive-rational action is to achieve a goal, the objective of comunicative action is to achieve communicative understanding (Stryker, 1998). Clearly, there is an important speech component in communicative action. However, such action is broader than that encompassing "speech acts or equivalent nonverbal ex­pressions" (Habermas, 1984:278).

Habermas's key point of departure from Marx is to argue that communicative action, not purposive-rational action (work), is the most distinctive and most pervasive human phenomenon. It (not work) is the foundation of all sociocultural life as well as all the hu­man sciences. Whereas Marx was led to focus on work, Habermas is led to focus on communication.

Not only did Marx focus on work, he took free and creative work (species-being) as his baseline for critically analyzing work in various historical epochs, especially capi­talism. Habermas, too, adopts a baseline, but in the realm of communicative rather than in that of purposive-rational action. Habermas's baseline is undistorted communication, communication without compulsion. With this baseline, Habermas is able to critically analyze distorted communication. Habermas is concerned with those social structures that distort communication, just as Marx examined the structural sources of the distor­tion of work. Although they have different baselines, both Habermas and Marx have baselines, and these permit them to escape relativism and render judgments about vari­ous historical phenomena. Habermas is critical of those theorists, especially Weber and previous critical theorists, for their lack of such a baseline and their lapse into relativism.

There is still another parallel between Marx and Habermas and their baselines. For both, these baselines represent not only their analytical starting points but also their po­litical objectives. That is, whereas for Marx the goal was a communist society in which undistorted work (species-being) would exist for the first time, for Habermas the polit­ical goal is a society of undistorted communication (communicative action). In terms of immediate goals, Marx seeks the elimination of (capitalist) barriers to undistorted work and Habermas is interested in the elimination of barriers to free communication.

Here Habermas (1973; see also, Habermas, 1994:101), like other critical theorists, draws on Freud and sees many parallels between what psychoanalysts do at the individ­ual level and what he thinks needs to be done at the societal level. Habermas sees psy­choanalysis as a theory of distorted communication and as being preoccupied with allowing individuals to communicate in an undistorted way. The psychoanalyst seeks to find the sources of distortions in individual communication, that is, repressed blocks to communication. Through reflection, the


psychoanalyst attempts to help the individual overcome these blocks. Similarly, through therapeutic critique, "a form of argumenta­tion that serves to clarify systematic self-deception" (Habermas, 1984:21), the critical theorist attempts to aid people in general to overcome social barriers to undistorted com­munication. There is, then, an analogy (many critics think an illegitimate analogy) be­tween psychoanalysis and critical theory. The psychoanalyst aids the patient in much the same way that the social critic helps those unable to communicate adequately to become "undisabled" (Habermas, 1994:112).

As for Marx, the basis of Habermas's ideal future society exists in the contemporary world. That is, for Marx elements of species-being are found in work in capitalist soci­ety. For Habermas, elements of undistorted communication are found in every act of contemporary communication.

Rationalization This brings us to the central issue of rationalization in Habermas's work. Here Habermas is influenced not only by Marx's work but by Weber's as well. Most prior work, in Habermas's view, has focused on the rationalization of purposive-­rational action, which has led to a growth of productive forces and an increase in tech­nological control over life (Habermas, 1970). This form of rationalization, as it was to Weber and Marx, is a major, perhaps the major, problem in the modern world. However, the problem is rationalization of purposive-rational action, not rationalization in general. In fact, for Habermas, the antidote to the problem of the rationalization of purposive­-rational action lies in the rationalization of communicative action. The rationalization of communicative action leads to communication free from domination, free and open communication. Rationalization here involves emancipation, "removing restrictions on communication" (Habermas, 1970:118; see also Habermas, 1979). This is where Habermas's previously mentioned work on legitimations and, more generally, ideology fits in. That is, these are two of the main causes of distorted communication, causes that must be eliminated if we are to have free and open communication.

At the level of social norms, such rationalization would involve decreases in norma­tive repressiveness and rigidity leading to increases in individual flexibility and reflec­tivity. The development of this new, less-restrictive or nonrestrictive normative system lies at the heart of Habermas's theory of social evolution. Instead of a new productive system, rationalization for Habermas (1979) leads to a new, less-distorting normative system. Although he regards it as a misunderstanding of his position, many have ac­cused Habermas of cutting his Marxian roots in this shift from the material level to the normative level.

The end point of this evolution for Habermas is a rational society (Delanty, 1997). Rationality here means removal of the barriers that distort communication, but more generally it means a communication system in which ideas are openly presented and de­fended against criticism; unconstrained agreement develops during argumentation. To understand this better, we need more details of Hubermus's communication theory.

Communication Habermas distinguishes between the previously discussed com­municative action and discourse. Whereas communicative action occurs in everyday life, discourse is


that form of communication that is removed from contexts of experience and action and whose structure assures us: that the bracketed validity claims of assertions, recommendations,, -or warnings are the exclusive object of discussion; that participants, themes, and contributions are not restricted except with reference to the goal of testing the validity claims in questions; that no force except that of the better argument is exercised; and that all motives except that of the cooperative search for truth are excluded.

(Habermas, 1975:107-108)

In the theoretical world of discourse, but also hidden and underlying the world of com­municative actions, is the "ideal speech situation," in which force or power does not determine which arguments win out; instead the better argument emerges victorious. The weight of evidence and argumentation determine what is considered valid or true. The arguments that emerge from such a discourse (and that the participants agree on) are true (Hesse, 1995). Thus Habermas adopts a consensus theory of truth (rather than a copy [or "reality"] theory of truth [Outhwaite, 1994:41]). This truth is part of all com­munication, and its full expression is the goal of Habermas's evolutionary theory. As Thomas McCarthy says, "The idea of truth points ultimately to a form of interaction that is free from all distorting influences. The `good and true life' that is the goal of critical theory is inherent in the notion of truth; it is anticipated in every act of speech" (1982:308).

Consensus arises theoretically in discourse (and pretheoretically in communicative action) when four types of validity claims are raised and recognized by interactants. First, the speaker's utterances are seen as understandable, comprehensible. Second, the propositions offered by the speaker are true; that is, the speaker is offering reliable knowledge. Third, the speaker is being truthful (veracious) and sincere in offering the propositions; the speaker is reliable. Fourth, it is right and proper for the speaker to ut­ter such propositions; he or she has the normative basis to do so. Consensus arises when all these validity claims are raised and accepted; it breaks down when one or more are questioned. Returning to an earlier point, there are forces in the modern world that dis­tort this process, prevent the emergence of a consensus, and would have to be overcome for Habermas's ideal society to come about (Morris, 2001).

Critical Theory Today

While Habermas is the most prominent of today's social thinkers, he is not alone in struggling to develop a critical theory that is better adapted to contemporary realities (see, for example, the various essays in Wexler, 1991; Antonio and Kellner, 1994). Castells (1996) has made the case for the need for a critical theory of the new "infor­mation society." To illustrate these continuing efforts, a brief discussion follows of Kell­ner's (1989c) effort to develop a critical theory of what he labels "techno-capitalism."

Techno-Capitalism Kellner's theory is based on the premise that we have not moved into a postmodern, or postindustrial, age, but rather that capitalism continues to reign supreme, as it did in the heyday of critical theory. Thus, he feels that the basic con­cepts developed to analyze capitalism (for example, reification, alienation) continue to be relevant in the analysis of techno-cupitulism. Kellner defines techno-capitalism as


a configuration of capitalist society in which technical and scientific knowledge, automation, computers and advanced technology play a role in the process of production parallel to the role of human labor power, mechanization and machines in earlier eras of capitalism, while pro­ducing as well new modes of societal organization and forms of culture and everyday life.

(Kellner, 1989c:178)

In technical Marxian terms, in techno-capitalism "constant capital progressively comes to replace variable capital, as the ratio between technology and labor increases at the ex­pense of the input of human labor power" (Kellner, 1989c:179). Yet we should not lose sight of the fact that techno-capitalism remains a form of capitalism, albeit one in which technology is of far greater importance than ever before.

Kellner has learned from the failures of other Marxists. Thus, for example, he resists the idea that technology determines the "superstructure" of society. The state and cul­ture are seen as at least partially autonomous in techno-capitalism. He also refuses to see techno-capitalism as a new stage in history, but views it as a new configuration, or con­stellation, within capitalism. Kellner does not simply focus on the problems caused by techno-capitalism, but also sees in it new possibilities for social progress and the eman­cipation of society. In fact, a key role for critical theory, in Kellner's view, is not just to criticize it, but to "attempt to analyze the emancipatory possibilities unleashed by techno-capitalism" (1989c:215). Kellner also refuses to return to the old class politics, but sees great potential in the various social movements (women, the environment) that have arisen in the last few decades.

Kellner does not endeavor to develop a full-scale theory of techno-capitalism. His main point is that although it has changed dramatically, capitalism remains predominant in the contemporary world. Thus, the tools provided by the critical school, and Marxian theory more generally, continue to be relevant in today's world. We close this section with Kellner's description of "techno-culture," since a concern with culture was so cen­tral to critical theory in its prime:
Techno-culture represents a configuration of mass culture and the consumer society in which consumer goods, film, television, mass images and computerized information become a dom­inant form of culture throughout the developed world [and] which increasingly penetrate de­veloping countries as well. In this techno-culture, image, spectacle, and aestheticized commodification, or "commodity aesthetics," come to constitute new forms of culture which colonize everyday life and transform politics, economics and social relations. In all these do­mains, technology plays an increasingly fundamental role.

(Kellner, 1989c:181)

There is much here to be explored by future critical theorists, such as the nature of techno-culture itself, its commodification, its colonization of the life-world, and its di­alectical impact on the economy and other sectors of society. There is much that is new here, but there is also much that is based on the fundamental ideas of critical theory.


Many neo-Marxists (for example, critical theorists) have made relatively few comments on the economic institution, at least in part as a reaction against the excesses of the economic

determinists. However, these reactions have set in motion a series of counter­reactions. In this section we will deal with the work of some of the Marxists who have returned

to a focus on the economic realm. Their work constitutes an effort to adapt Marxian theory to the realities of modern capitalist society (Lash and Urry, 1987; Meszaros, 1995).

We will deal with two bodies of work in this section. The first focuses on the broad issue of capital and labor. The second comprises the narrower, and more contemporary, work on the transition from Fordism to post-Fordism.

Capital and Labor

Marx's original insights into economic structures and processes were based on his analysis of the capitalism of his time--what we can think of as competitive capitalism. Capitalist industries were comparatively small, with the result that no single industry, or small group of industries, could gain complete and uncontested control over a market. Much of Marx's economic work was based on the premise, accurate for his time, that capitalism is a competitive system. To be sure, Marx foresaw the possibility of future monopolies, but he commented only briefly on them. Many later Marxian theorists con­tinued to operate as if capitalism remained much as it had been in Marx's time.

Monopoly Capital It is in this context that we must examine the work of Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy (1966). They began with a criticism of Marxian social science for repeating familiar formulations and failing to explain important recent developments in capitalistic society. They accused Marxian theory of stagnating because it continued to rest on the assumption of a competitive economy. A modern Marxian theory must, in their view, recognize that competitive capitalism largely has been replaced by monop­oly capitalism.

In monopoly capitalism one or a few capitalists control a given sector of the econ­omy. Clearly, there is far less competition in monopoly capitalism than in competitive capitalism. In competitive capitalism, organizations competed on a price basis; that is, capitalists tried to sell more goods by offering lower prices. In monopoly capitalism, firms no longer have to compete in this way because one or a few firms control a mar­ket; competition shifts to the sales domain. Advertising, packaging, and other methods of appealing to potential consumers are the main areas of competition.

The movement from price to sales competition is part of another process characteris­tic of monopoly capitalism progressive rationalization. Price competition comes to be seen as highly irrational. That is, from the monopoly capitalist's point of view, offering lower and lower prices can lead only to chaos in the marketplace, to say nothing of lower profits and perhaps even bankruptcy. Sales competition, in contrast, is not a cut­throat system; in fact, it even provides work for the advertising industry. Furthermore, prices can be kept high, with the costs of the sales and promotion simply added to the price. Thus sales competition is also far less risky than price competition.

Another crucial aspect of monopoly capitalism is the rise of the giant corporation, with u few large corporations controlling most sectors of the economy. In competitive capitalism, the organization was controlled almost single-handedly by an entrepreneur.


The modern corporation is owned by a large number of stockholders, but a few large stockholders own most of the stock. Although stockholders "own" the corporation, managers exercise the actual day-to-day control. The managers are crucial in monopoly capitalism, whereas the entrepreneurs were central in competitive capitalism. Managers have considerable power, which they seek to maintain. They even seek financial inde­pendence for their firms by trying, as much as possible, to generate whatever funds they need internally rather than relying on external sources of funding.

Baran and Sweezy commented extensively on the central position of the corporate manager in modern capitalist society. Managers are viewed as a highly rational group oriented to maximizing the profits of the organization. Therefore, they are not inclined to take the risks that were characteristic of the early entrepreneurs. They have a longer time perspective than the entrepreneurs did. Whereas the early capitalist was interested in maximizing profits in the short run, modern managers are aware that such efforts may well lead to chaotic price competition that might adversely affect the long-term prof­itability of the firm. The manager will thus forgo some profits in the short run to maxi­mize long-term profitability.

Baran and Sweezy have been criticized on various grounds. For example, they overemphasize the rationality of managers. Herbert Simon (1957), for example, would argue that managers are more interested in finding (and are only able to find) minimally satisfactory solutions than they are in finding the most rational and most profitable so­lutions. Another issue is whether managers are, in fact, the pivotal figures in modern capitalism. Many would argue that it is the large stockholders who really control the capitalistic system.

Labor and Monopoly Capital Harry Braverman (1974) considered the labor process and the exploitation of the worker the heart of Marxian theory. He intended not only to update Marx's interest in manual workers but also to examine what has hap­pened to white-collar and service workers.

Toward the goal of extending Marx's analysis, Braverman argued that the concept "working class" does not describe a specific group of people or occupations but is rather an expression of a process of buying and selling labor power. In modern capitalism, vir­tually no one owns the means of production; therefore, the many, including most white­collar and service workers, are forced to sell their labor power to the few who do. In his view, capitalist control and exploitation, as well as the derivative processes of mecha­nization and rationalization, are being extended to white-collar and service occupations.

Managerial Control Braverman recognized economic exploitation, which was Marx's focus, but concentrated on the issue of control. He asked the question: How do the capitalists control the labor power they employ? One answer is that they exercise such control through managers. In fact, Braverman defined management as "a labor process conducted for the purpose of control within the corporation" (1974:267).

Braverman concentrated on the more impersonal means employed by managers to control workers. One of his central concerns was the utilization of specialization to con­trol workers. Here he carefully differentiated between the division of labor in society as u whole and specialization of work within the organization. All known societies have had a division of labor (for example, between men and women, farmers and artisans, and so forth), but the

specialization of work within the organization is a special development of capitalism. Braverman believed that the division of labor at the societal level may enhance the individual, whereas specialization in the workplace has the disastrous effect of subdividing human capabilities: "The subdivision of the individual, when carried on without regard to human capabilities and needs, is a crime against the person and against humanity" (1974:73).

Specialization in the workplace involves the continual division and subdivision o tasks or operations into minute and highly specialized activities, each of which is then likely to be assigned to a different worker. This process constitutes the creation of what Braverman calls "detail workers." Out of the range of abilities any individual possesses capitalists select a small number that the worker is to use on the job. As Braverman put it, the capitalist first breaks down the work process and then "dismembers the worker as well" (1974:78) by requiring the worker to use only a small proportion of his or he: skills and abilities. In Braverman's terms, the worker "never voluntarily converts him self into a lifelong detail worker. This is the contribution of the capitalist" (1974:78).

Why does the capitalist do this? First, it increases the control of management. It is easier to control a worker doing a specified task than it is to control one employing a wide range of skills. Second, it increases productivity. That is, a group of workers per­forming highly specialized tasks can produce more than can the same number of crafts­people, each of whom has all the skills and performs all the production activities. For instance, workers on an automobile assembly line produce more cars than would a cor­responding number of skilled craftspeople, each of whom produces his or her own car Third, specialization allows the capitalist to pay the least for the labor power needed. In­stead of highly paid, skilled craftspeople, the capitalist can employ lower-paid, unskilled workers. Following the logic of capitalism, employers seek to progressively cheapen the labor of workers, and this results in a virtually undifferentiated mass of what Braverman called "simple labor."

Specialization is not a sufficient means of control for capitalists and the managers in their employ. Another important means is scientific technique, including such efforts as scientific management, which is an attempt to apply science to the control of labor on the behalf of management. To Braverman, scientific management is the science of "how best to control alienated labor" (1974:90). Scientific management is found in a series of stages aimed at the control of labor-gathering many workers in one workshop, dictat­ing the length of the workday, supervising workers directly to ensure diligence, enforc­ing rules against distractions (for example, talking), and setting minimum acceptable production levels. Overall scientific management contributed to control through "the dictation to the worker of the precise manner in which work is to be performed" (Braverman, 1974:90). For example, Braverman discussed F. W Taylor's (Kanigel, 1997) early work on the shoveling of coal, which led him to develop rules about the kind of shovel to use, the way to stand, the angle at which the shovel should enter the coal pile, and how much coal to pick up in each motion. In other words, Taylor devel­oped methods that ensured almost total control over the labor process. Workers were to be left with as few independent decisions as possible; thus, a separation of the mental and the manual was accomplished. Management used its monopoly over work-related knowledge to control each step of the labor process. In the end, the work itself was left without any meaningful skill,


content, or knowledge. Craftsmanship was utterly destroyed.

Braverman also saw machinery as a means of control over workers. Modern ma­chinery comes into existence "when the tool and/or the work are given a fixed motion path by the structure of the machine itself" (Braverman, 1974:188). The skill is built into the machine rather than being left for the worker to acquire. Instead of controlling the work process, workers come to be controlled by the machine. Furthermore, it is far eas­ier for management to control machines than to control workers.

Braverman argued that through mechanisms such as the specialization of work, sci­entific management, and machines, management has been able to extend its control over its manual workers. Although this is a useful insight, especially the emphasis on control, Braverman's distinctive contribution has been his effort to extend this kind of analysis to sectors of the labor force that were not included in Marx's original analysis of the labor process. Braverman argued that white-collar and service workers are now being subjected to the same processes of control that were used on manual workers in the nineteenth century (Schmutz, 1996).

One of Braverman's examples is white-collar clerical workers. At one time such workers were considered to be a group distinguished from manual workers by such things as their dress, skills, training, and career prospects (Lockwood, 1956). However, today both groups are being subjected to the same means of control. Thus it has become more difficult to differentiate between the factory and the modern factorylike office, as the workers in the latter are progressively proletarianized. For one thing, the work of the clerical worker has grown more and more specialized. This means, among other things, that the mental and manual aspects of office work have been separated. Office man­agers, engineers, and technicians now perform the mental work, whereas the "line" cler­ical workers do little more than manual tasks such as keypunching. As a result, the level of skills needed for these jobs has been lowered, and the jobs require little or no special training.

Scientific management also is seen as invading the office. Clerical tasks have been scientifically studied and, as a result of that research, have been simplified, routinized, and standardized. Finally, mechanization has made significant inroads into the office, primarily through the computer and computer-related equipment.

By applying these mechanisms to clerical work, managers find it much easier to con­trol such workers. It is unlikely that such control mechanisms are as strong and effective in the office as they are in the factory; still, the trend is toward the development of the white-collar "factory."4

Several obvious criticisms can be leveled at Braverman. For one thing, he probably has overestimated the degree of similarity between manual work and clerical work. For another, his preoccupation with control has led him to devote relatively little attention to the dynamics of economic exploitation in capitalism. Nonetheless, he has enriched our understanding of the labor process in modern capitalist society (Foster, 1994; Meiksins, 1994).

4It is important to note that Braverman's book was written before the boom in computer technology in the office, especially the widespread use of the word processor. It may not be that such technology, requiring greater skill and training than do older office technologies, will increase worker autonomy (Zuboff, 1988).


Other Work on Labor and Capital The issue of control is even more central to Richard Edwards (1979). To Edwards, control lies at the heart of the twentieth-century transformation of the workplace. Following Marx, Edwards sees the workplace, both past and present, as an arena of class conflict, in his terms a "contested terrain." Within this arena, dramatic changes have taken place in the way in which those at the top con­trol those at the bottom. In nineteenth-century competitive capitalism, "simple" control was used, in which "bosses exercised power personally, intervening in the labor process often to exhort workers, bully and threaten them, reward good performance, hire and fire on the spot, favor loyal employees, and generally act as despots, benevolent or oth­erwise" (Edwards, 1979:19). Although this system of control continues in many small businesses, it has proved too crude for modern, large-scale organizations. In such orga­nizations, simple control has tended to be replaced by impersonal and more sophisti­cated technical and bureaucratic control. Modern workers can be controlled by the technologies with which they work. The classic example of this is the automobile as­sembly line, in which the workers' actions are determined by the incessant demands of the line. Another example is the modern computer, which can keep careful track of how much work an employee does and how many mistakes he or she makes. Modern work­ers also are controlled by the impersonal rules of bureaucracies rather than the personal control of supervisors. Capitalism is changing constantly, and with it the means by which workers are controlled.

Also of note is the work of Michael Burawoy (1979) and its interest in why workers in a capitalist system work so hard. He rejects Marx's explanation that such hard work is a result of coercion. The advent of labor unions and other changes largely eliminated the arbitrary power of management. "Coercion alone could no longer explain what workers did once they arrived on the shop floor" (Burawoy, 1979:xii). To Burawoy, workers, at least in part, consent to work hard in the capitalist system, and at least part of that consent is produced in the workplace.

We can illustrate Burawoy's approach with one aspect of his research, the games that workers play on the job and, more generally, the informal practices that they develop. Most analysts see these as workers' efforts to reduce alienation and other job-related dis­content. In addition, they usually have been seen as social mechanisms that workers de­velop to oppose management. In contrast, Burawoy concludes that these games "are usually neither independent nor in opposition to management" (1979:80). In fact, "man­agement, at least at the lower levels, actually participates not only in the organization of the game but in the enforcement of its rules" (1979:80). Rather than challenging man­agement, the organization, or, ultimately, the capitalist system, these games actually support them. For one thing, playing the game creates consent among the workers about the rules on which the game is based and, more generally, about the system of social re­lations (owner-manager-worker) that defines the rules of the game. For another, because managers and workers both are involved in the game, the system of antagonistic social relations to which the game was supposed to respond is obscured.

Burawoy argues that such methods of generating active cooperation and consent are far more effective in getting workers to cooperate in the pursuit of profit than is coercion (such as firing those who do not cooperate). In the end, Burawoy believes that games and other informal practices are all methods of getting workers to accept the system and of eliciting their contributions to ever higher profits.

Fordism and Post-Fordism

One of the most recent concerns of economically oriented Marxists is the issue of whether we have witnessed, or are witnessing, a transition from "Fordism" to "post­Fordism" (Amin, 1994; Kiely, 1998). This concern is related to the broader issue of whether we have undergone a transition from a modern to a postmodern society (Gartman, 1998). We will discuss this larger issue in general (Chapter 13), as well as the way in which it is addressed by contemporary Marxian theorists (later in this chapter). In general, Fordism is associated with the modern era, while post-Fordism is linked to the more recent, postmodern epoch. (The Marxian interest in Fordism is not new; Gramsci [1971] published an essay on it in 1931.)

Fordism, of course, refers to the ideas, principles, and systems spawned by Henry Ford. Ford generally is credited with the development of the modern mass-production system, primarily through the creation of the automobile assembly line. The following characteristics may be associated with Fordism:

  • The mass production of homogeneous products.

  • The use of inflexible technologies such as the assembly line.

  • The adoption of standardized work routines (Taylorism).

  • Increases in productivity derived from "economies of scale as well as the deskilling, intensification and homogenization of labor" (Clarke, 1990:73).

  • The resulting rise of the mass worker and bureaucratized unions.

  • The negotiation by unions of uniform wages tied to increases in profits and productivity.

  • The growth of a market for the homogenized products of mass-production indus­tries and the resulting homogenization of consumption patterns.

  • A rise in wages, caused by unionization, leading to a growing demand for the in­creasing supply of mass-produced products.

  • A market for products that is governed by Keynesian macroeconomic policies and a market for labor that is handled by collective bargaining overseen by the state.

  • Mass educational institutions providing the mass workers required by industry (Clarke, 1990:73).

While Fordism grew throughout the twentieth century, especially in the United States, it reached its peak and began to decline in the 1970s, especially after the oil cri­sis of 1973 and the subsequent decline of the American automobile industry and the rise of its Japanese counterpart. As a result, it is argued that we are witnessing the decline of Fordism and the rise of post-Fordism, characterized by the following:

  • A decline of interest in mass products is accompanied by a growth of interest in more specialized products, especially those high in style and quality.

  • More specialized products require shorter production runs, resulting in smaller and more productive systems.

  • More flexible production is made profitable by the advent of new technologies.

  • New technologies require that workers, in turn, have more diverse skills and bet­ter training, more responsibility and greater autonomy.

  • Production must be controlled through more flexible systems.


  • Huge, inflexible bureaucracies need to be altered dramatically in order to operate more flexibly.

  • Bureaucratized unions (and political parties) no longer adequately represent the in terests of the new, highly differentiated labor force.

  • Decentralized collective bargaining replaces centralized negotiations.

  • The workers become more differentiated as people and require more differentiated commodities, lifestyles, and cultural outlets.

  • The centralized welfare state no longer can meet the needs (for example, health welfare, education) of a diverse population, and differentiated, more flexible institutions are required (Clarke, 1990:73-74).

If one needed to sum up the shift from Fordism to post-Fordism, it would be de scribed as the transition from homogeneity to heterogeneity. There are two general is sues involved here. First, has a transition from Fordism to post-Fordism actually occurred (Pelaez and Holloway, 1990)? Second, does post-Fordism hold out the hope of solving the problems associated with Fordism?

First, of course, there has been no clear historical break between Fordism and post-Fordism (S. Hall, 1988). Even if we are willing to acknowledge that elements of post Fordism have emerged in the modern world, it is equally clear that elements of Fordism persist and show no signs of disappearing. For example, something we might call "McDonaldism," a phenomenon that has many things in common with Fordism, is growing at an astounding pace in contemporary society. On the basis of the model of the fast. food restaurant, more and more sectors of society are coming to utilize the principle: of McDonaldism (Ritzer, 2000a). McDonaldism shares many characteristics with Fordism-homogeneous products, rigid technologies, standardized work routines deskilling, homogenization of labor (and customer), the mass worker, homogenization of consumption, and so on. Thus, Fordism is alive and well in the modern world, al­though it has been transmogrified into McDonaldism. Furthermore, classic Fordism­ for example, in the form of the assembly line--retains a significant presence in the American economy.

Second, even if we accept the idea that post-Fordism is with us, does it represent a solution to the problems of modern capitalist society? Some neo-Marxists (and many supporters of the capitalist system [Womack, Jones, and Roos, 1990]) hold out great hope for it: "Post-Fordism is mainly an expression of hope that future capitalist devel­opment will be the salvation of social democracy" (Clarke, 1990:75). However, this is merely a hope, and in any case, there is already evidence that post-Fordism may not be the nirvana hoped for by some observers.

The Japanese model (tarnished by the precipitous decline of Japanese industry in the 1990s) is widely believed to be the basis of post-Fordism. However, research on Japan­ese industry (Satoshi, 1982) and on American industries utilizing Japanese management techniques (Parker and Slaughter, 1990) indicates that there are great problems with these systems and that they may even serve to heighten the level of exploitation of the worker. Parker and Slaughter label the Japanese system as it is employed in the United States (and it is probably worse in Japan) "management by stress": "The goal is to stretch the system like a rubber band on the point of


breaking" (1990:33). Among other things, work is speeded up even further than on traditional American assembly lines, putting enormous strain on the workers, who need to labor heroically just to keep up with the line. More generally, Levidow describes the new, post-Fordist workers as "relent­lessly pressurized to increase their productivity, often in return for lower real wages--be they factory workers, homeworkers in the rag trade, privatized service workers or even polytechnic lecturers" (1990:59). Thus, it may well be that rather than representing a so­lution to the problems of capitalism; post-Fordism may simply be merely a new, more in­sidious phase in the heightening of the exploitation of workers by capitalists.

Marxists oriented toward historical research argue that they are being true to the Marxian concern for historicity. The most notable of Marx's historical research was his study of precapitalist economic formations (1857-58/1964). There has been a good deal of subsequent historical work from a Marxian perspective (for example, Amin, 1977; Dobb, 1964; Hobsbawm, 1965). In this section, we deal with a body of work that re­flects a historical orientation-Immanuel Wallerstein's (1974, 1980, 1989, 1992, 1995; Chase-Dunn, 2001) research on the modern world-system.

The Modern World-System

Wallerstein chose a unit of analysis unlike those used by most Marxian thinkers. He did not look at workers, classes, or even states, because he found most of these too narrow for his purposes. Instead, he looked at a broad economic entity with a division of labor that is not circumscribed by political or cultural boundaries. He found that unit in his concept of the world-system, which is a largely self-contained social system with a set of boundaries and a definable life span; that is, it does not last forever. It is composed internally of a variety of social structures and member groups. However, Wallerstein was not inclined to define the system in terms of a consensus that holds it together. Rather, he saw the system as held together by a variety of forces that are in inherent ten­sion. These forces always have the potential for tearing the system apart.

Wallerstein argued that thus far we have had only two types of world-systems. One is the world empire, of which ancient Rome is an example. The other is the modern cap­italist world-economy. A world empire is based on political (and military) domination, whereas a capitalist world-economy relies on economic domination. A capitalist world­-economy is seen as more stable than a world empire for several reasons. For one thing, it has a broader base, because it encompasses many states. For another, it has a built-in process of economic stabilization. The separate political entities within the capitalist world-economy absorb whatever losses occur, while economic gain is distributed to pri­vate hands. Wallerstein foresaw the possibility of still a third world-system, a socialist world government. Whereas the capitalist world-economy separates the political sector from the economic sector, a socialist world-economy would reintegrate them.

The core geographical area dominates the capitalist world-economy and exploits the rest of the system. The periphery consists of those areas that provide raw materials to the core and are heavily exploited by it. The semiperiphery is a residual category that encompasses

a set of regions somewhere between the exploiting and the exploited. The key point is that to



Although Immanuel Wallerstein achieved recognition in the 1960s as an expert on Africa, his most important contribution to sociology is his book The Modern World­System (1974). That book was an instant success. It has received worldwide recogni­tion and has been translated into ten lan­guages and Braille.

Born on September 28, 1930, Wallerstein received all his degrees from Columbia University, including a doctorate in 1959. He next assumed a position on the faculty at Columbia; after many years there and a five-year stint at McGill University in Montreal, Wallerstein became, in 1976, distinguished professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

Wallerstein was awarded the prestigious Sorokin Award for the first volume of The Modern World-System in 1975. Since that time, he has continued to work on the topic and has produced a number of articles as well as two additional volumes, in which he takes his analysis of the world-system up to the 1840s. We can anticipate more work from Wallerstein on this issue in the coming years. He is in the process of producing a body of work that will attract attention for years to come.

In fact, in many ways the attention it al­ready has attracted and will continue to at­tract is more important than the body of work itself. The concept of the world-system has become the focus of thought and research in sociology, an accomplishment to which few scholars can lay claim. Many of the sociolo­gists now doing research and theorizing about the world-system are critical of Wallerstein in one way or another, but they all clearly recognize the important role he played in the genesis of their ideas.

Although the concept of the world­system is an important contribution, at least as significant has been the role Wallerstein played in the revival of theoretically informed historical research. The most important work in the early years of sociology, by people such as Marx, Weber, and Durkheim, was largely of this variety. However, in more re­cent years, most sociologists have turned away from doing this kind of research and toward using ahistorical methods such as questionnaires and interviews. These meth­ods are quicker and easier to use than his­torical methods, and the data produced are easier to analyze with a computer. Use of such methods tends to require a narrow range of technical knowledge rather than a wide range of historically oriented knowl­edge. Furthermore, theory plays a compara­tively minor role in research utilizing questionnaires and interviews. Wallerstein has been in the forefront of those involved in a revival of interest in historical research with a strong theoretical base.

Wallerstein the international division of exploitation is defined not by state borders but by the economic division of labor in the world.

In the first volume on the world-system, Wallerstein (1974) dealt with the origin of the world-system roughly between the years 1450 and 1640. The significance of this de­velopment was (he shift from political (and thus military) to economic dominance.

Wallerstein saw economics as a far more efficient and less primitive means of domina­tion than politics. Political structures are very cumbersome, whereas economic ex­ploitation "makes it possible to increase the flow of the surplus from the lower strata to the upper strata, from the periphery to the center, from the majority to the minority" (Wallerstein, 1974:15). In the modern era, capitalism provided a basis for the growth and development of a world-economy; this has been accomplished without the aid of a unified political structure. Capitalism can be seen as an economic alternative to politi­cal domination. It is better able to produce economic surpluses than are the more prim­itive techniques employed in political exploitation.

Wallerstein argued that three things were necessary for the rise of the capitalist world-economy out of the "ruins" of feudalism: geographical expansion through explo­ration and colonization, development of different methods of labor control for zones (for example, core, periphery) of the world-economy, and the development of strong states that were to become the core states of the emerging capitalist world-economy. Let us look at each of these in turn.

Geographical Expansion Wallerstein argued that geographical expansion by na­tions is a prerequisite for the other two stages. Portugal took the lead in overseas explo­ration, and other European nations followed. Wallerstein was wary of talking about specific countries or about Europe in general terms. He preferred to see overseas ex­pansion as caused by a group of people acting in their immediate interests. Elite groups, such as nobles, needed overseas expansion for various reasons. For one thing, they were confronted with a nascent class war brought on by the crumbling of the feudal economy. The slave trade provided them with a tractable labor force on which to build the capi­talist economy. The expansion also provided them with various commodities needed to develop it-gold bullion, food, and raw materials of various types.

Worldwide Division of Labor Once the world had undergone geographical ex­pansion, it was prepared for the next stage, the development of a worldwide division of labor. In the sixteenth century, capitalism replaced statism as the major mode of domi­nating the world, but capitalism did not develop uniformly around the world. In fact, Wallerstein argued, the solidarity of the capitalist system ultimately was based on its un­equal development. Given his Marxian orientation, Wallerstein did not think of this as a consensual equilibrium but rather as one that was laden with conflict from the begin­ning. Different parts of the capitalist world-system came to specialize in specific functions--breeding labor power, growing food, providing raw materials, and organiz­ing industry. Furthermore, different areas came to specialize in producing particular types of workers. For example, Africa produced slaves; western and southern Europe had many peasant tenant-farmers; western Europe was also the center of wage workers, the ruling classes, and other skilled and supervisory personnel.

More generally, each of the three parts of the international division of labor tended to differ in terms of mode of labor control. The core had free labor, the periphery was char­acterized by forced labor, and the semiperiphery was the heart of sharecropping, In fact, argued that the key


to capitalism lies in a core dominated by a free labor market for skilled workers and a coercive labor market for less skilled workers in peripheral areas. Such a combination is the essence of capitalism. If a free labor market should develop throughout the world, we would have socialism.

Some regions of the world begin with small initial advantages, which are used as the basis for developing greater advantages later on. The core area in the sixteenth century primarily western Europe, rapidly extended its advantages as towns flourished, indus­tries developed, and merchants became important. It also moved to extend its domain by developing a wider variety of activities. At the same time, each of its activities became more specialized in order to produce more efficiently. In contrast, the periphery stag­nated and moved more toward what Wallerstein called a "monoculture," or an undiffer­entiated, single-focus society.

Development of Core States The third stage of the development of the world­-system involved the political sector and how various economic groups used state struc­tures to protect and advance their interests. Absolute monarchies arose in western Europe at about the same time that capitalism developed. From the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, the states were the central economic actors in Europe, although the center later shifted to economic enterprises. The strong states in the core areas played a key role in the development of capitalism and ultimately provided the economic base for their own demise. The European states strengthened themselves in the sixteenth century by, among other things, developing and enlarging bureaucratic systems and creating a monopoly of force in society, primarily by developing armies and legitimizing their activities so that they were assured of internal stability. Whereas the states of the core zone developed strong political systems, the periphery developed correspondingly weak states.

Later Developments In The Modern World-System II, Wallerstein (1980) picked up the story of the consolidation of the world-economy between 1600 and 1750. This was not a period of a significant expansion of the European world-economy, but there were a number of significant changes within that system. For example, Wallerstein dis­cussed the rise and subsequent decline in the core of the Netherlands. Later, he analyzed the conflict between two core states, England and France, as well as the ultimate victory of England. In the periphery, Wallerstein's detailed descriptions include the cyclical for­tunes of Hispanic America. In the semiperiphery we witness, among other things, the decline of Spain and the rise of Sweden. Wallerstein continued his historical analysis from a Marxian viewpoint of the various roles played by different societies within the division of labor of the world-economy. Although Wallerstein paid close attention to po­litical and social factors, his main focus remained the role of economic factors in world history.

In a later work, Wallerstein (1989) brings his historical analysis up to the 1840s. Wallerstein looks at three great developments during the period from 1730 to the 1840s--the Industrial Revolution (primarily in England), the French Revolution, and the independence of the once-European colonies in America. In his view, none of these were fundamental challenges to the world capitalist system; instead, they represented its "further consolidation and entrenchment" (Wallerstein, 1989:256).

Wallerstein continues the story of the struggle between England and France for dom­inance of the core. Whereas the world-economy had been stagnant during the prior period of analysis,


it was now expanding, and Great Britain was able to industrialize more rapidly and come to dominate large-scale industries. This shift in domination to England occurred in spite of the fact that in the eighteenth century France had domi­nated in the industrial realm. The French Revolution played an important role in the de­velopment of the world capitalist system, especially by helping to bring the lingering cultural vestiges of feudalism to an end and by aligning the cultural-ideological system with economic and political realities. However, the revolution served to inhibit the in­dustrial development of France, as did the ensuing Napoleonic rules and wars. By the end of this period, "Britain was finally truly hegemonic in the world-system" (Wallerstein, 1989:122).

The period between 1750 and 1850 was marked by the incorporation of vast new zones (the subcontinent of India, the Ottoman and Russian empires, and West Africa) into the periphery of the world-economy. These zones had been part of what Wallerstein calls the "external area" of the world-system and thus had been linked to, but were not in, that system. External zones are those from which the capitalist world-economy wanted goods but which were able to resist the reciprocal importation of manufactured goods from the core nations. As a result of the incorporation of these external zones, countries adjacent to the once-external nations also were drawn into the world-system. Thus, the incorporation of India contributed to China's becoming part of the periphery. By the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, the pace of in­corporation had quickened, and "the entire globe, even those regions that had never been part even of the external area of the capitalist world-economy were pulled inside" (Wallerstein, 1989:129).

The pressure for incorporation into the world-economy comes not from the nations being incorporated but "rather from the need of the world-economy to expand its bound­aries, a need which was itself the outcome of pressures internal to the world-economy" (Wallerstein, 1989:129). Furthermore, the process of incorporation is not an abrupt process but one which occurs gradually.

Reflecting his Marxian focus on economics, Wallerstein (1989:170) argues that be­coming part of the world-economy "necessarily" means that the political structures of the involved nations must become part of the interstate system. Thus, states in incorpo­rated zones must transform themselves into part of that interstate political system, be re­placed by new political forms willing to accept this role, or be taken over by states that already are part of that political system. The states that emerge at the end of the process of incorporation not only must be part of the interstate system but also must be strong enough to protect their economies from external interference. However, they must not be too strong; that is, they must not become powerful enough to be able to refuse to act in accord with the dictates of the capitalist world-economy.

Finally, Wallerstein examines the decolonization of the Americas between 1750 and 1850. That is, he details the fact that the Americas freed themselves from the control of Great Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal. That decolonization, especially in the United States, was, of course, to have great consequences for later developments in the world capitalist system.

World-System Theory Today Marists have criticized the world-system perspective for its failure to emphasize relations between social classes adequately (Bergeson,1984). From their


point of view, Wallerstein focuses on the wrong issue. To Marxists the key is not the core-periphery international division of labor but rather class relationships within given societies. Bergeson seeks to reconcile these positions by arguing that there are strengths and weaknesses on both sides. His middle-ground position is that core-periphery relations are not only unequal exchange relations but also global class rela­tions. His key point is that core-periphery relations are important, not only as exchange relations, as Wallerstein argues, but also, and more importantly, as power-dependence relationships, that is, class relationships. More recently, world-system theorists have pushed the theory forward to deal with the world today and in the coming years (Chase­-Dunn, 2001; Wallerstein, 1992; Wallerstein, 1999) as well as backward to before the modern era (Chase-Dunn and Hall, 1994).


Categorization of neo-Marxian theories, indeed all theories, is somewhat arbitrary. That is made clear here by the fact that the work on world systems discussed in the previous section under the heading "Neo-Marxian Economic Sociology" also could be discussed in this section. For example, the idea of the world system is, among other things, inher­ently spatial, concerned with the global differentiation of the world economy. Work on the world-system is part of a broader body of work that involves a number of notable contributions by neo-Marxian theorists to our understanding of space and its role in the social world. And this is only part of a broader resurgence of interest in space in sociol­ogy (Gieryn, 2000) and social theory. In this section we will deal with several of the leading contributions to this area in which neo-Marxists have been in the forefront.5

A starting point for the growth in interest in space in neo-Marxian theory (and else­where) is the work of Michel Foucault (see Chapter 13), who pointed out that many the­ories, but especially Marxian theories, had privileged time over space: "This devaluation of space that has prevailed for generations.... Space was treated as the dead, the fixed, the undialectical, the immobile. Time, on the contrary, was richness, fecundity, life, di­alectic" (Foucault, 1980b:70). The implication is that space should, along with time, be given its due and treated as rich, fecund, alive, and dialectical. While the focus may have been on time (and history) in the past, Foucault (1986:22) contends, "The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space." In fact, as we will see in Chapter 13, Foucault offers a number of important insights into space in his discussion of such topics as the "carceral archipelago" and the Panopticon.
The Production of Space

The pathbreaking work in the neo-Marxian theory of space is Henri Lefebvre's (1974/1991) The Production of Space. Lefebvre argues for the need for Marxian theory to shift its focus from

5Reflective of categorization problems is the fact that at least one major contribution to the theory of space that can be seen as neo-Marxian--Fredric Jameson's (1984, 1991) work on "hyperspace"--is discussed else­where in this book under the heading of postmodern theory (see Chapter 13). Furthermore, additional important contributions an space have emanated from still other theoretical roots and will he- discussed at yet other points in this book. For example, Anthony Giddens's very important ideas on space (and time), distanciation, and so on, will be discussed in Chapter 12.

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