Tag Archive: Marxism


First I would like to apologise for holding up the reading group on Manuel DeLanda”s A New Philosophy of Society. Completing my PhD corrections and preparing for job interviews have consumed my time. As normal, the material conditions of life come before philosophy.

In this post I will dicuss the second section of chapter 4: Orgnaisations and Government and then proceed to put forward some critical remarks about the chapter. I hope my critical remarks can provide stimulus for further discussion of the chapter and I invite comments. My first post on the chapter is here.

Organisations interacting with other Organisations:

After providing a brief analysis of organisations that share an authority structure from a Weberian perspective, DeLanda moves up the scale in his social ontology of assemblages to examine the interactions between organisations as a different type of assemblages.  DeLanda writes:

‘beside an authority structure organisations also possess an external identity as enduring, goal-directed entities. As such organisations exist as parts of populations of other organisations with which they interact, and in these interactions they will exercise capacities that belong to them as social actors, capacities that cannot be reduced to those persons or interpersonal networks. The question now is, when organisations exercise their own capacities within a population of other corporate actors hierarchies and networks of organisations with properties and capacities of their own?’ (p75).

As we later find in the chapter, DeLanda ‘s answer to the above question is yes. According to DeLanda, the interaction between corporate organisations produces an emergent whole/assemblage, where different singularities are actualised that are not evident in assemblages of persons or social networks. To examine the emergent assemblage of interacting assemblages DeLanda concentrates on how hierarchical and network organisations cope with resource dependencies. The reason is that a hierarchical or network assemblage of interacting organisations represent two extremes on the continuum and display different strategies for coping with resource dependencies.  Of course, in reality, an assemblage of interacting organisations is usually a mixture, rather than being hierarchical or networked. DeLanda defines the two different coping strategies:

‘The first coping strategy involves the elimination of dependencies by the direct absorption of organisations through vertical integration, that is, by the acquisition or organisations that either supply inputs to, or handle outputs from, the absorbing firm. This strategy yields large organisations that are relatively self-sufficient and that can use economies of scale to become dominant nodes in their network…

…The second coping strategy involves not avoiding but benefiting from resource interdependencies. This strategy yields networks of relatively small firms in which no organisations is clearly dominant and in which  the lack of economies of scale is compensated for by economies of agglomeration: many small firms agglomerated in the same geographical region tend to attract talented people who can find a variety of jobs ‘ (p77-78)

Although not explicitly stated, the influence of Fernand Braudel is detectable in this part of the chapter and enables DeLanda to differentiate between the two extreme forms of interacting organisations. In both DeLanda’s A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History and his article ‘Deleuze, Materialism and Politics’, DeLanda replaces Deleuze and Guattari with Fernand Braudel to understand economic interactions. DeLanda argues that Braudel is able to differentiate between market and anti-market economies, where the former is small-scale industry and the later is large-scale industry.  The point is that DeLanda wants to argue that concepts like ‘capitalism’ fail to acknowledge the difference between market and anti-market economies/industries.  I will return to this point later in my critical comments, but it is fair to say that assemblage theory argues against the existence of one economic model and instead puts forward the argument that different types of economies exist that are dependent on scale.

To illustrate the difference between organisational markets an hierarchies, DeLanda discusses two empirical examples from the USA: Silicon Valley in California and Route 128 in Boston.  The former representing a network of organisations where economic of agglomeration is practiced and the later is a hierarchical assemblage of organisations. In Silicon Valley there are a high density of small-scale firms where firms compete and learn from one another, and in Boston 128 a few relatively integrated corporations dominate the region. A key argument that DeLanda makes in his analysis of Silican Valley and Boston 128 is one about geography. According to DeLanda, assemblages of small-scale firms are ‘married to a geographical region where the organisations and skilled workforce agglomerate’ and the large-scale hierarchical firms ‘having internalized a large number of economic functions, have for that reason acquired a certain freedom from geographical location’ (p81). I do not want to tread too much on the content of the next chapter (i.e. cities and nations), but DeLanda’s point about geographical ties implies that large-corporations are geographically more deterritorialised than small-scale firms. In A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, DeLanda discusses the capacity of large-firms on specific geographical areas when they decide to relocate. In particular, DeLanda discusses the notion of city-killing, and how large-firms relocating have the capacity to cause economy decay in that region. An example we could use is the experience of Detriot, which is still attempting to recover from an economy based on large-scale firms.

The last section of the chapter moves towards an assemblage theory of government. I am running out of time, so I will only say one thing about DeLanda’s analysis. The key point is that assemblage theory would make it impossible to speak about the ‘state.’ As a concept the ‘state’ is too monolithic and would neglect to examine the heterogeneity of government with different and competing organisations.

Critical Remarks:

  1. The issue of time, and control of time, is a key element in DeLanda’s assemblage theory analysis of organisations. DeLanda does mention that the specific use of physical time is related to coercive procedures (p72). For example, an organisation could impose a strict timetable to forbid the wasting of time (p73). Another example, is that academics are being required to record research diaries so that the university has a record of how their workforce is organising their time. I want to make the point that DeLanda’s focus on time does bring him close to Marx’s analysis of the working day in Capital. Unlike a lot of organisational studies and theories of political economy, both DeLanda and Marx regard the organisation of time as a key element. In addition, both DeLanda and Marx have the capacity to understand time as a form of discipline and as a potential source of struggle.  I would also like to add that the control of time within an organisation is further complicated when we consider the issue of consent and volunteering. For example, seminars and conferences that are held at university are usually consensual, and members of the organisation decide if they like’d to turn up. However, if members do not attend then this could be viewed as unprofessional and their position could be at risk.
  2. I would have liked DeLanda to put a more comprehensive defense of him selecting Weber to examine organisations. Organisations studies is a large scholarly activity and I am sure there is a lot of competing theories.
  3. Although DeLanda is not a naive complexity theorist, there seems to be an implicit preference for market economics where small-scale firms interact through an economy of agglomeration, rather than economies of scale. Although DeLanda regards himself as being part of the ‘left’, I feel his economics is more similar to that of Fredrick Hayek. Both speak about self-organisation and critique large monopolies. Personally, I am not ready to reject the concept of capitalism. Could we not think of capitalism as a virtual/external object with different potentialities that can be manifested? I fear that DeLanda’s political economy only wants to estbalish a market economy with no dominant actors/corporations.
  4. Is the question between external relations and internal relations a relative one and scale dependent? In other words, the internal elements of an object and external relations is determined from which scale we are examining. For example, if i am examining an assemblage of interacting organisations then the internal elements would the interior of the specific organisations and the exterior would be how that organisation is relating to other organisations in that assemblage.
2nd Call for Papers:
Examining the Relevance of Marx and Marxism to Contemporary Global Society
Newcastle University, 29th and 30th of January 2011

Rationale, Outline and Aims

The 21st century has so far seen US-led military interventions, global
financial crises, identity conflicts, terrorism on a grand scale,
environmental disasters and fraught industrial/labour relations. These
dramatic events have challenged the notion of an ‘end to history’ and the
widespread belief that the collapse of the Soviet Union has made Marx and
Marxism irrelevant. With growing instability in the social, political and
economic functioning of human societies, we wish to examine the relevance
of Marx to contemporary global society.

In order to do this, Global Discourse (http://global-discourse.com) is
organising a two-day conference at Newcastle University on Saturday 29th
and Sunday 30th of January 2011.

The aims of the event are:

-to examine the relevance and application of Marxian, Marxist,
Neo-Marxist and Post-Marxist thought to contemporary issues.
-to reassess scriptural and doctrinal commitments within various ‘Marxisms’.
-to facilitate interdisciplinary, inter-paradigmatic discourse on a range
of contemporary issues.

Papers from this event will form the basis of a special issue of Global
Discourse to be released in February 2011.

Keynote Papers

The keynote talks will be given by Prof Norman Geras, author of Marx and
Human Nature, whose paper will relate to the general theme, ‘What does it
mean to be Marxist?’, and Prof Stuart Sim, author of Post-Marxism: An
Intellectual History, who will be examining the achievements of
Post-Marxism.

Topics, Deadlines and Publishing Process

We are currently soliciting papers addressing the two topics covered by
the keynote speakers, namely: ‘What does it mean to be Marxist?’ and
‘Post-Marxism and its discontents’.

We invite the submission of abstracts on these topics by November 15th.
Authors whose abstracts are accepted will then be invited to submit full
papers by December 17th. This will enable refereeing priori to publication
of the special issue of Global Discourse in February 2011.

We aim, subsequently, to publish a collected edition in print based on
these papers.

Please submit all abstracts, papers and panel proposals to the editors at
editor@global-discourse.com.

Costs

There will be no conference fee.

A lunch buffet and refreshments will be provided free of charge.

An optional evening conference meal on Saturday 29th of January will be
held at a nearby restaurant. We will seek to organise a special rate for
the meal and will circulate details in due course. Participants shall bear
the cost of their meal.

Places

There will be space for 40 paper-givers and 20 non-paper-giving participants.

Please address all queries and submit all papers to Matthew Johnson and
Mark Edward at editor@global-discourse.com.

With best wishes,

Matthew Johnson.

I recently came across this lecture from David Harvey. I admire his Marxism, which seems to avoid reductionism. His thesis puts forward the convincing argument that change cannot be brought about from focusing on one singular relation. For example, the relation between man and technology. Change requires that we focus on changing a multitude of different relations in order to produce a new assemblage (e.g. communism).

Here is a presentation from Marxist economist from Richard Wolff. In it he proposes bottom-up socialist solution that aims for collective ownership of companies that is a departure from hierarchical structures in society and corporations.

thanks to Lumpenproferssoriat for the video link.