Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday, March 21, 2014


I'm not sure how regular publication of this journal is going to be, or even if it is going to be anything other an an online project, but the University of Wollongong in Australia has a link to the Review of Capital as Power.

There's a list of articles here and you can download the individual pdfs. I note only that Volume 1, Issue 1 for 2012 had only one article and that Volume 1, Issue 1 for 2013 has carried over to 2014. It is clearly a work in (slow) progress. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Interstitial Emergence

Human beings are social, not societal
A theoretical assumption lies at the base of the unitary conception: Because people are social animals, they have a need to create a society, a bounded and patterned social totality. But this is false. Human beings need to enter into social power relations, but they do not need social totalities. They are social, but not societal, animals.

Let us consider some of their needs again. As they desire sexual fulfillment, they seek sexual relations, usually with only a few members of the opposite sex; as they desire to reproduce themselves, these sexual relations usually combine with relations between adults and children. For these (and other purposes), a family emerges, enjoying patterned interaction with other family units from which sexual partners might be found. As humans need material subsistence, they develop economic relationships, cooperating in production and exchange with others. There is no necessity that these economic networks be identical to family or sexual networks, and in most cases, they are not. As humans explore the ultimate meaning of the universe, they discuss beliefs and perhaps participate with others similarly inclined in rituals and worship in a church. As humans defend whatever they have obtained, and as they pillage others, they form armed bands, probably of younger men, and they require relations with nonfighters who feed and equip them. As humans settle disputes without constant recourse to force, they set up judicial organizations with a specified area of competence. Where is the necessity for all these social requirements to generate identical sociospatial interaction networks and form a unitary society?

Tendencies toward forming a singular network derive from the emergent need to institutionalize social relations. Questions of economic production, of meaning, of armed defense, and of judicial settlement are not fully independent of one another. The character of each is likely to be influenced by the character of all, and all are necessary for each. A given set of production relations will require common ideological and normative understandings, and it will require defense and judicial regulation. The more institutionalized these interrelations, the more the various power networks converge toward one unitary society.

But we must recall the original dynamic. The driving force of human society is not institutionalization. History derives from restless drives that generate various networks of extensive and intensive power relations. These networks have a more direct relation to goal attainment than institutionalization has. In pursuit of their goals, humans further develop these networks, outrunning the existing level of institutionalization. This may happen as a direct challenge to existing institutions, or it may happen unintentionally and “interstitially” – between their interstices and around their edges – creating new relations and institutions that have unanticipated consequences for the old.

This is reinforced by the most permanent feature of institutionalization, the division of labor. Those involved in economic subsistence, ideology, military defense and aggression, and political regulation possess a degree of autonomous control over their means of power that then further develops relatively autonomously. Marx saw that the forces of economic production continuously outdistance institutionalized class relations and throw up emergent social classes. The model was extended by writers like Pareto and Mosca: The power of “elites” could also rest on noneconomic power resources. Mosca summarized the result:

If a new source of wealth develops in a society, if the practical importance of knowledge grows, if an old religion declines or a new one is born, if a new current of ideas spreads, then, simultaneously, far-reaching dislocations occur in the ruling class. One might say, indeed, that the whole history of civilised mankind comes down to a conflict between the tendency of dominant elements to monopolise political power and transmit possession of it by inheritance and the tendency toward a dislocation of old forces and an insurgence of new forces; and this conflict produces an unending ferment of endosmosis and exosmosis between the upper classes and certain portions of the lower.

Mosca's model, like Marx's, ostensibly shares the unitary view of society: Elites rise and fall within the same social space. But when Marx actually described the rise of the bourgeoisie (his paradigm case of a revolution in the forces of production), it was not like that. The bourgeoisie rose “interstitially”; it emerged between the “pores” of feudal society, he said. The bourgeoisie, centered on the towns, linked up with landowners, tenant farmers, and rich peasants, treating their economic resources as commodities to create new networks of economic interaction, capitalist ones. Actually, as we see in Chapters 14 and 15, it helped create two different overlapping networks, one bounded by the territory of the medium-sized state and one much more extensive, labeled by Wallerstein (1974) the “world system.” The bourgeois revolution did not change the character of an existing society; it created new societies.

I term such processes interstitial emergence. They are the outcome of the translation of human goals into organizational means. Societies have never been sufficiently institutionalized to prevent interstitial emergence. Human beings do not create unitary societies but a diversity of intersecting networks of social interaction. The most important of these networks form relatively stably around the four power sources in any given social space. But underneath, human beings are tunneling ahead to achieve their goals, forming new networks, extending old ones, and emerging most clearly into our view with rival configurations of one or more of the principal power networks.

Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power: Volume 1, A History of Power from the Beginning to AD 1760, pp. 14-16.