File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1996/96-05-20.182, message 65


Date: Sat, 3 Feb 1996 22:07:03 GMT-700
Subject: Re: the importance of mechanisms


My apologies to Bwanika (and others) i have been working on a post to 
defend my position on ontological priority, but perhaps i am still a 
bit confussed myself (anyone want to offer some help?).  Thus, i am 
below instead addressing the metaphor's of 'class' and 'mechanism'

As i have given the issue of the metaphor more thought, it does 
seem this issue is of the utmost importance.  And i still want to 
maintain that there are *good reasons* for using this metaphor in 
social theory, without necessarily falling victim to reification.  

I.P. Wright (or 'E') suggests that mechanism can be understood to be 
something less than deterministic.  Moreover, it seems to me that we 
both agree that the term mechanism is quite useful in social science. 

However, i would like to disagree that reification tendencies are 
less serious than relative tendencies as suggested by I.P. Wright.  i 
would have this the other way around [perhaps we could further 
discuss this, but i will not pursue it here].

Heikki in a previous post suggested we might want to sometime discuss 
the metaphor of 'class'.   i would like to suggest that 'class' 
itself is a very good metaphor to also discuss the use of mechanism.
Let me offer an example...

Marx describes 'class' in the broadest sense in two categories, 
i.e. capitalists and wage-labor.  With this notion of class the 
metaphor mechanism seems very mis-leading (in most cases) to employ to 
capture or describe the (master-slave) dialectic between these (real) 
categories.

However, for example, J.M. Keynes uses the metaphor class to 
specifically differentiate between debtors and creditors.  With the 
Keynesian model of class, the metaphor of mechanism is much more 
useful.  That is we "merely" need to know things like inflation (or 
general level of prices) or interest rates (or activity of the Fed) 
to know in sort of a mechanical way what will be the effect on these 
classes.

But there does seem to me some very significant consequences in 
subscribing to a notion of class were the metaphor mechanism readily 
applies (e.g. Keynesian) and one where it does not (e.g. Marx).

Likewise A. Smith "invisible hand" metaphor is quite accomedating to 
the metaphor of mechanism.  However, this applicability is very much 
related to one's notion of the efficacy of markets.  Thus, mechanism 
is more applicable to those (economic) traditions that have a strong 
"faith" in the efficacy of markets.  Whereby, for the Keynesian and 
Marxian traditions the metaphor of mechanism may be quite misleading.

A further example against the metaphor mechanism is especially 
provided by Charles Smith's (intriguing) work on *Auctions*.  It is 
especially in auctions that one would believe the metaphor mechanism 
to be the most applicable, but i believe that Smith's work suggests 
that this can be especially misleading in understanding how auctions 
really function.

Smith's work on auctions (imo) is not un-like Marx's commitment to 
the Value-form of capitalism.  That is there are certain underlying 
and usually unacknowledged social relations that are actually 
the (or 'a') driving force of markets, auctions and prices, which 
certainly cannot be described as mechanical.  However, the 
concequences themselves sometimes can be.

hans despain
University of Utah
despain-AT-econ.sbs.utah.edu 



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