Structure / Agency

October 4, 2010

This probably isn’t something I should bother people with – but I’m going to express passing frustration anyway at the ‘opposition’ between structure and agency sometimes discussed in the social theoretic literature. Presumably I’ll be able to articulate this point more rigorously at some later date; but since it seems pretty clearly true there doesn’t seem much harm in saying it this way:

Social structures only exist as persistent patterns of action by agents. There is no opposition between structure and agency. If you are talking about structure, you are already talking about agency.

Glad to get that off my chest. If there are any other perennial issues in social theory that I can resolve in a short blog post, please let me know.

Value Theory Project

October 1, 2010

I mostly seem to be using the blog to commit myself to long term projects lately. Here’s one more. I’ve mentioned a few times before wanting to do a systematic study of theories of economic value across different economic traditions. (Classical; Marxian; Marginalist; etc.) I’m going to promote this inchoate desire to definite project status. If the world were arranged for my pleasure, I’d get a PhD scholarship to pursue it. Regardless, I won’t start on it for a couple years, I don’t think. My hope is that this project will serve as a useful clarificatory and orienting device, as I try to work my way in to formal economic theory.

To sum up, I have a three-pronged attack at the moment:
1) Social theoretic foundations.
2) History of capitalism.
3) Value theory.

The first two take explanatory priority over the third: the operating historical materialist framework (to be elaborated in (1)) assumes that economic value is a phenomenon produced by specific socio-historical conditions and dynamics (to be elaborated in (2)). (3) will argue that most economic theory reifies economic value, in ways that obscure its real socio-historical content, and the socio-historical dynamics that produce it. This critique will then be leveraged, in a putative (4), (5), and so on, to a discussion of contemporary economic theory and reality.

This all sounds enormously banal and commonplace, stated at this level of abstraction. And indeed my aim is accuracy, not originality: if the output of these projects entirely replicates others’ work, that will be just fine by me. Still, there may be some originality of synthesis by the time the whole lot’s done.

I’ll also probably continue to write some philosophical material, partly because it interests me, but also because an important claim of (1) is that a lot of philosophical questions are resolvable from a perspective that is social-theoretic rather than metaphysical: elaborating this will probably involve some philosophical discussion.

It’s taken me a great deal lot of work to get to this point, where I can clearly state the structure and trajectory of the larger project: I started blogging three and a half years ago. But I think that work has been useful. There are, I should add, plenty of things I need to do that don’t directly fall into any of the categories mentioned: for example, I need to get my head around the mathematics of econometrics and equilibrium modelling before I can begin (3) properly. But as I say, these are all long term projects.