Sunday, December 12, 2021

Ten years ago: Dylan Riley on Tony Judt. 

2020, on Erik Olin Wright, 

In ‘a Tale of Two Marxisms’, his stimulating critique of the life-work of Erik Olin Wright, Michael Burawoy raises a crucial question for the left. What is the relationship between capitalist development and the project of socialism? In the classical Marxist schema, the competitive and unplanned nature of capitalist investment meant that manufacturing overproduction would result in periodic, and perhaps worsening, crises. At the same time, capitalism was producing a new class, the industrial proletariat, with the capacity to establish another form of social production based on democratic planning—and with a keen interest in so doing. The scientific analysis of capitalist development was thus intimately linked to the socialist political project. The factory and, later, the large corporation contained the cell form of the planned society to come, while the working class provided the social muscle for its achievement.

The strong point in this account has always been its explanation of the rhythms of capitalist production; its weak point was its sociology of class formation. As Bernstein observed in 1899, capitalist society does not simply produce class polarizations, but a host of intermediate positions as well. Subsequent thinkers, from Sorel to Wright and Burawoy’s ‘sociological Marxism’ and beyond, have pondered whether these layers could unite in an anticapitalist coalition.2 Yet as Burawoy points out, Wright’s interventions in this discussion were somewhat paradoxical. Rather than producing a new synthesis of class analysis and socialist politics, the two demarcated different phases of his intellectual career: class theories and empirical investigations of increasing scale and complexity preoccupied Wright through the seventies and eighties; the ambitious international project of Envisioning Real Utopias and its satellite volumes consumed his energies over the next thirty years. In this cursus, class analysis and real utopias seemed to have little to do with one another.

This poses what Burawoy correctly identifies here as the central conundrum of Wright’s work: the move 'from a class analysis without utopia to utopia without class analysis.'

2017, on Bourdieu

Given this intellectual and political profile, it is quite understandable that Bourdieu would be an unavoidable point of reference for the contemporary intellectual left: a brilliant and indefatigable sociologist who combines the intellectual sophistication of Lévi-Strauss or Jean-Paul Sartre with the empirical rigor of Anglo-American survey research and ethnography while also carrying on the venerable French tradition of the engaged intellectual, especially toward the end of his life. Indeed, the social theory that he has singlehandedly created is to the contemporary intellectual left what neo-Marxism was to the students of the 1960s.

Distinctively, however, Bourdieu, while attractive to the avant-garde, also appeals to the stolid mainstream of American social science, whose tolerance for French imports is usually quite limited. What explains this strikingly broad appeal? This essay will consider two accounts: the view that Bourdieu’s is a grand sociological theory (or what I will refer to hereafter as a macrosociological theory) like those of Marx, Weber, or Durkheim, and a contrasting view that Bourdieu’s sociology resonates with the social conditions that char- acterize elite academics, especially in the United States.

Macrosociological theories are distinguished by their explanatory ambition. In particular they have three characteristics: They link structural divisions in society to observable behaviors; they develop explanations for why, given those divisions, societies can reproduce themselves; and they sketch the processes through which societies change. When successful, these theories thus offer some account of stratification, reproduction, and social change. Marx’s theories of class conflict and mode of production, Weber’s sociology of domination, and Durkheim’s accounts of the division of labor, anomie, and social solidarity are all macrosociological theories in this sense. Bourdieu’s work also presents itself as just such a theory, but a close examination of his work reveals that his explanations are often tautological or weak. Indeed, this essay strongly endorses Philip Gorski’s recent claim that “Bourdieu’s oeuvre does not contain a general theory of social change.” This, I argue, poses a puzzle: If Bourdieu’s sociology is largely nonexplanatory, his current popularity cannot be accounted for by the power of its macrosociology.

I then turn to a second account suggesting that Bourdieu’s appeal is based on the unmatched ability of his work to articulate the experiences and political hopes of elite academics in the contemporary period. 

 The last paragraph on Olin Wright. 

This brings us to a simple question. What is the purpose of re-describing the socialist project in terms that confusingly equate it with a variety of patently non-socialist institutions and outcomes, just because these seem to be in some way tangible? The problem of socialism doesn’t strike me as a lack of vision; the goal is human emancipation in every dimension, as it has been from the start. The problem is political: the need for a collective will. Re-describing present-day institutions as if they were ‘partly socialist’ has only a soporific function. Socialists would be better served, in my view, by a comprehensive investigation of their opponents’ resources and an unremitting analysis of the system’s weak links. This, it seems to me, is the most useful way of honouring the memory of Erik Olin Wright.

"the goal is human emancipation in every dimension,..."  After all the clear analysis, it's a pity.

The simplest reminder that I know that utopian bullshit does nothing but undermine the fight for actual existing human decency: Harry Brighouse's sincere belief that Beyoncé Knowles would be a good running mate for Hillary Clinton.

Fallen Rock Stars of the 70s. It should be a tag.

"the goal..." The other option would be to read it as an explication of conflicts within religious doctrine, with no claims made for the beliefs themselves. But given the source...

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