Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Becoming Theory

I’m still drowning, with no time for substantive posting, but I wanted to put up a pointer to a post over at Larval Subjects. Sinthome picks up on some of the themes from our longstanding conversation around what difference it might make, for understanding the process of social reproduction and the possibility for transformation, when “the social” is reconceptualised as immanently conflictual – in the vocabulary that has sedimented out from this conversation, when the social is seen as a form of assemblage or constellation whose component parts generate divergent possibilities from one another and from the current whole. Sinthome writes:

N.Pepperell once told me that she does not believe assemblage theory is a theory. I got irritated at the time as is my custom when I’m enthusiastic about something, but in this I think she’s right insofar as the concept of assemblage is not yet a theory or an explanation of a particular field of individuation, of a particular individuation or phenomenon, but rather an ontological concept that precedes a theory. For example, Marx’s historical materialism stipulates that there are no essences of the human or society. This is a general ontological claim, not yet a theory. We have not yet proposed a theory until we engage in the arduous work of accounting for the specific regularities governing a particular socio-historical moment. Marx becomes a theory when he explains why the historical moment takes the particular form it does (i.e., when he articulates all the processes and contingencies by which particular subjects were formed, particular social relations came into being, and particular tensions or antagonisms developed) and when he envisions the immanent processes by which these historical moments are undergoing transformation. In short, what is required is not logos but immanent logoi, immanent patterns of (re)production internal to a phenomena, absolute specific to situations and their organization.

I’m also remiss in not pointing to the discussion immediately prior, which began by picking up on some issues related to the cross-blog discussion about “difficult styles”, but (appropriately enough) speciated mid-discussion into a conversation focussed more on how the introduction of new social practices into an existing context could react back on that context itself. I’ll archive here part of my comment from that discussion, just to preserve its juxtaposition to Sinthome’s comments above. I suggested:

In terms of examples (and I’m thinking here of the type of argument being made, rather than whether the substance of the example I’m about to use is itself correct): Marx presents the introduction of a new social practice – the exchange of labour power on the market – as a novelty that was both conditioned by the existing environment (in order for this novel practice to arise, you need a whole set of prior historical developments, such that you have markets and production for markets, a developed social division of labour, certain cultural and political formations, a coercive process of “primitive accumulation”, and many other things, without which the new practice would not have become “socially plausible”). So the emergence of this new practice is “conditioned” by the milieu in which it emerges. The practice itself, however, is presented as something that reacts back on the milieu in which it emerged, differentiating capitalism in fundamental respects from other social forms, even where those social forms contain many of the same components (money, production for exchange, developed divisions of labour, etc.) that remain central to the reproduction of capitalism. In Sinthome’s terms, a sort of social speciation or branching off took place, without this meaning that this process was in any sense an ex nihilo event.

The issue here, again, is not whether the specific example is correct – it can be debated whether Marx is correct about which shift releases the cascade of unintended social consequences that effects a “speciation”, but I would take this to be the sort of argument suggested here.

I’d like to say much more – and I am attempting to say (a very little bit) more in the piece on Lukács, which I’ll toss onto the blog eventually. Unfortunately, I have to submerge again… Readers should take a look at the original posts and discussions at Larval Subjects for the full context.

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