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Date: Thu, 4 Jan 2001 00:16:55 +0000
From: Chris Burford <cburford@GN.APC.ORG>
Subject: Re: class as process
In-Reply-To: <200012311701.MAA08680@hartford-hwp.com>
X-UIDL: $)o!!~]4"!ndW!!UkB!!

Class as process (Chris Burford's initial response)

By Chris Burford, 4 Jan 2001

At 12:01 31/12/00 -0500, you wrote:


>It is simple enough: What distinguishes a Marxist (in the sense of a
>distinctively modern working-class view) notion of "class" is that it
>represents a "process" rather than a bundle of empirical traits.

It is a feature

>A philosophical axiom:
>I assume that to represent something as a process, it entails defining
>it as being essentially causally connected. That is, rather than
>define things simply as a set of properties, the properties are
>defined from the start as standing in a causal relation. So, causal
>relations are not inferred from empirical change, but have an
>ontological status equal to empirical features.

Good. A realist rather than an empiricist approach.

>I do not believe this axiom to be adventurous. For example, in terms
>of thermodynamics, all things are in fact causally connected

Everything is connected with everything else.


>I further assume that the initial (inherited; historical) structures
>that can mediate the relation of a process and its (dissipative;
>positively entropic) environment constrain the probability
>distribution of its possible outcomes, and this _necessarily_ causes
>the process to be emergent (negentropic).

I like the emphasis on emergent properties.

The formulations here however talk about inherited and historical
structures. What could be added is the contradictory nature of the
processes that are self-sustaining enough to exist.

>I find this reading of a "thermodynamic engine" to be very useful. It
>is borrowed from cosmology (explaination of how empirical qualities or
>structures arise). It explains why almost half of the processes we see
>are emergent rather than dissipative,

I would welcome this but what is the basis for saying "almost half" of the processes we see are emergent rather than dissipative?

>why creativity (in the sense of
>improbable outcomes) is so embedded in natural processes, etc.

Why "improbable"? There are a range of probabilities for all outcomes. Improbable ones are part of the range of probable ones.

>However, I've not been able to get any critical feedback from folks in
>physics about this.

I am surprised. One of the earliest experiments on chaos theory was done on thermodynamics. I am thinking of Gleick's chapter in "Chaos" on Libchaber's experiment.

>I think it receives some warrant from cosmology,
>where dissipation of the original Big Bang gives rise to structures
>(empirical qualities) rather than result from them. However, it seems
>the receiption originally given this idea was polite rather than
>either negative or positive, perhaps because it was a philosophical
>perspective more than scientifically operational.

You mean because it was not purely empiricist. They are very dogmatic about being empiricist.


>Another example. The means of production, inherited from the past,
>constrain labor so that it gives rise to emergent value, offering a
>solution to the value problem in classical political economy.

This is a very condensed proposition. Could you explain in what sense you mean it?

From a marxian point of view exchange value could be seen as an emergent property of commodity exchange, but I see this as emerging at the level of the overall economy.

>And, of
>course, the difference between this emergent value and the market
>value of labor (its costs of reproduction) offer the basis of economic

I am not at all sure that is how most marxists would understand exploitation. They would accept the argument that fundamentally the capitalist gets more exchange value from the hire of labour power than the value needed to provide that quantity of labour power itself. There are some forms of relative surplus value that depend on technical advantages in an economy with means of production at changing levels of productivity.

Although I agree that emergent properties is a modern scientific idea that is compatible with some marxist approaches, the connection needs to be argued through.

Do you want to go ahead?

>Haines Brown