File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_2003/bhaskar.0302, message 11

Subject: BHA: RE: Help on structuralism
Date: Sun, 23 Feb 2003 18:10:06 -0500


Here's my shot at a brief reply.

1. Although the "old marxist structuralism" has been characterized as
"static and rigid" (notably by Thompson), I think it's a bit of a bum rap.
Some of the most dynamic theoretical and empirical work over the past two
decades has its roots in Althusserian structuralism. See, for example:

	Lipietz, Alain. 1993. From Althusserianism to "Regulation Theory". In The
Althusserian Legacy, edited by M. Sprinker. 	London: Verso.

Regulation theory, as you may know, can hardly be said to present a "static
and rigid view" of capitalist economies. Regulation theory itself has a
close connection to CR. See:

	Jessop, Bob. 2001. Capitalism, the Regulation Approach, and Critical
Realism [Web Page]. Department of Sociology, 	Lancaster University, 10 May
2001. Available from

2. Nonetheless, CR differs from the older structuralism in many ways. One is
realism itself. Althusser emphasized "theoretical practice" and is one of
those most responsible for the "interpretive turn," social science's turning
inward from a world outside narratives to the narratives themselves, and
ultimately postmodernism. CR, in contrast, insists on a reality outside our
narratives, making the important distinction between transitive and
intransitive scientific objects. Second, Althusser just asserted his
ontology, often justifying it with scholastic references to Marx. He argued
for three structures: political, economic, ideological. CR only argues for a
depth ontology, delimiting the real, actual, and empirical, and it does so
by transcendental argument building from actually existing scientific
practice. CR is much more open to recognizing other structures, such as
gender relations. Third, and perhaps most important, CR allows for these
structures to be dynamic in multiple senses. They can have their own
internal dynamics, arising from their structures and causal powers, so that
they change and "mutate" of their own accord. Since they exist in open
systems, they are always subject to modification caused by other structures.
Moreover, since humans are embedded in social structures, conscious human
action can transform them. Although Bhaskar and Archer criticize Giddens for
ignoring time and for failing to distinguish structure and agency
adequately, Giddens ideas of double hermeneutics and the active reproduction
(and change) of structure (structuration) nonetheless survive (or can
survive in principle) in CR. Fourth, CR respects Marx but doesn't fawn at
his every word and assume that something is so simply because the great man
said it. Fifth, whereas Althusserian structuralism saw the structures as
having inevitable effects, CR sees them merely as having causal tendencies
that can be triggered, countered, or modified by other structures in open
systems. Sixth, whereas Althusser's brand of structuralism was rather
holistic, treating everything as internally related (see: Ollman, Bertell.
1976. Alienation : Marx's conception of man in capitalist society. 2d ed.
Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press), CR is much more agnostic
on the issue of holism and atomism. In other words, CR argues there are real
structures, but it sees them as possibly discrete and separate rather than
each being the condition of existence of the other.

I'll be interested in what others say.

	Marsh Feldman
	The University of Rhode Island

> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> []On Behalf Of
> Sent: Sunday, February 23, 2003 4:32 PM
> To:
> Subject: BHA: Help on structuralism
> Hi all
> Its clear to me that the focus of critical realism is on structures,
> mechanisms, causal powers and so on.
> Can anyone tell me what is the difference between this conception and
> the old marxist structuralism like Althusser? Because as far as I
> understand, that kind of structuralism lead to a static and rigid view
> of society.
> Thanks
> Luis Riffo P.
> Department of Territorial Statistics
> National Statistics Institute
> Santiago, Chile
>      --- from list ---

     --- from list ---


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