A Tentative Research Plan

Apologies once again for my slow posting.  I wrote about half of a review of Leo T. S. Ching’s Becoming ‘Japanese’ but was interrupted by the exam period.  Suffice it to say that I think it is an excellent book, that does a superb job of situating hermeneutic cultural studies work in a transnational framework that is able to account for both the mutuality and distinctiveness of identity formation WITHIN the historical movement of the capitalist totality.  Ching’s book deserves to be called a truly “all-sided” analysis, and despite its ultimate inability to overcome the dilemma of essentialism versus deconstruction on the question of identity (which in any case I believe to be beyond the capacity of human thought) it is a monumental scholarly achievement.  Ching’s work is mainly one of cultural studies, but it does not ignore the importance of political economy to historical developments.  While I can appreciate that some works that ignore either one of these two poles of historical materialist research may have some merit, it is the works that combine both in a fluid dialectical movement that truly seize my interest and admiration as a reader. 

What follows is an outline of what I would like to accomplish in my next year of study. I will be following this post shortly with a paper on Ralph Ellison’s criticisms of Marxism in his 1952 novel Invisible Man.

I have spent the last year researching two main topics.  The first is that of alternatives to capitalism, and the second is that of crisis theory.  While the various ideas for post-capitalist, communist, or socialist social forms are of considerable interest, in order to avoid writing “recipes for the cook-shops of the future” it is important to recognize that any transition to socialism will be path-dependent, and therefore that the crisis that precipitates the transition will be of great importance in determining the character of that socialism.  For this reason I intend to focus mainly on crisis theory in the coming year.  In particular I will focus on something which, judging from the questions at the theory session of the recently concluded Marxism 2012, has become a bit of a burning question: “What is the relationship of the secular trend toward increasing automation and the recurring cycles of crisis formation?”  The cyclical factors I have in mind are the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (TRPF), the problem of underconsumption, and the formation of financial crises (as an expression of deeper contradictions of capitalism).  While I briefly addressed this problem in my MA thesis, I scarcely understood what the various theories of capitalist crisis were at that time.  Indeed, addressing this problem is made most difficult by the fact that Marxist economics remains an anemic and scattered discipline, subject to effective censorship by bourgeois economics faculties (See Richard Wolff’s comments here), and lacking the critical mass necessary for a dense network of scholars to form which would be capable of engaging with it in a sustained and properly dialectical manner.  Fortunately one “benefit” of the sustained misery of the current crisis has been to stimulate engagement with crisis theory, which has lead to at least some degree of convergence in interpretations of the crisis.  I will try to build on this convergence in my work.

Accordingly my plan is to:

-Finish reading volumes II and III of Capital

-Read Hardt and Negri’s work on automation

-Conduct a close reading of the “Fragment on Machines”

-Read some of the recent mainstream literature on automation

-Read those accounts of the current crisis which I have not yet read

-Construct a preliminary model of crises and consider what factors automation influences in that model

-Write a paper based on this model

The likelihood that anything resulting from this will be published as an academic paper seems exceedingly slim, but perhaps the readers of this blog  will enjoy the results of the project.

Hic Rhodus, hic salta!


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