No. 047


T. R. Young
The Red Feather Institute

April, 1979




Distributed as part of the TRANSFORMING SOCIOLOGY SERIES of The Red Feather Institute, 8085 Essex, Weidman, Michigan, 48893.




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T. R. Young

Introduction: Human beings do not discover knowledge of the social world: they constitute it in their practical everyday activity. More precisely, human beings constitute knowledge if practical activity (praxis) is possible. There are, in capitalist, elitist, and/or bureaucratic societies several important obstacles to the knowledge constitutive activities of human beings. In spite of these obstacles, human beings continue to make an effort to establish social meanings, social identities, social role relations, social occasions, social processes, social institutions and, as well, whole societies. These social facts do not exist apart from the practical (praxical) activities of those persons whose behavior is mutually interpreted as an instance of a particular kind of social reality: a peculiar act, friendliness; save a particular process, decision; or a particular role, for example, that of an employee/employer. This is the real labor of distinctly human beings: the creation of social realities within a socio-cultural context.

People use whatever resources available, in conventional terms to create meaning and to communicate understanding. People use voiced sounds, body positions, facial muscles, clothing sets, material objects, as well as complex behavioral activity extending over time and space to constitute meaning. They do this, that is, if these resources are available. Sometimes they are not.

It is important to understand that social knowledge is a collective process; not a private act or personal possession. Knowledge of a role, of a group, of a society exists only in the shared interaction between persons. mead (1938) said it nicely: mind, self, and society is a collective process: not three different things. A mother has no authentic knowledge of herself as a mother except in the interaction of parent and child. A word has no meaning apart from its concrete usage. The word calls forth shared understanding in two persons or a million persons else it is not a word; it is, in technical terms, noise. It is also very important to understand that the human process involves the production of meaning. Persons excluded from the production of meaning (the knowledge constitutive process) a--e excluded, in that degree from the human process. People are human beings to the extent they create a symbolic universe. It is the active, continuing creation of a symbolic universe which constitutes the animal as a human.

There are several instituted arrangements which interfere with the knowledge constitutive activity of people. The class system channels the material wealth of the productive process to a class elite and to the functionaries who act as agent for that class elite. The power system gives unequal control to a Dower elite and their agents over the rules to produce meaning. The status system gives a status elite great control over the means to produce meaning. Other stratification systems interact and exacerbate the obstacles to human knowledge: racism, sexism, ageism, as well as pride of nation, of region, or of physical appearance.

These structures oppose the common human interest in creating the forms of social reality thought to be appropriate for the culture in which they appear. The central tasks of the marxian methodologist are: 1) to destroy the obstacles to collective knowledge constitutive activity; 2) to help establish the procedures by which the knowledge constitutive process may proceed without distortion, and 3) to help clarify the practical ends toward which the human process points. There are any number of passages in the text of marxian writings which ground this interest for marxian methodology.

In his first theses on Feuerbach, Marx wrote in 1845: "The chief defect of all previous materialism is that things, reality, the world we can sense, are falsely conceived in the form of objects of observation ... but should be conceived as human sense activity, praxis; not as subjectively known events. The political consequence of this false reification is immense: it leads to the easy division of labor in which some people claim a monopoly over the knowledge process since knowledge is thought to exist independently of human activity. The political impact of this can be seen in the medical process which treats the patient as a passive, germ infested object. It can be seen in the educational process which treats the student as a massive vessel. it is most clearly seen in the political process which sees the social world as an object to be managed through the technical means of law, police, science and persuasion rather than as discourse, argument, and collective decision.

Central to marxian theory are the concepts of praxis and its opposite, alienation; the negation of alienation; social revolution and the hard, challenging, difficult prelude to social revolution, critique, demystification, repoliticization, and agitation. Marx began with a critique of existing views of alienation. Many people said alienation involved a Fall from Grace and separation from God. Some said that alienation was an inability to reach perfect knowledge of objective, eternal reality while Marx said alienation was separation from the means to produce oneself, collectively, as fully human. Marx devoted his life to the political task of negating those social practices which negate the human enterprise. The point is not to study the world in order to end one's own alienation from perfect knowledge of eternal truth as Hegel would have it. Eternal Truth does not exist in human affairs. In Marx, the real point of scientific study is change the world. In the famous eleventh thesis, Marx said that while philosophers have only studied the world in various ways, the point is to change it if one is interested in ending alienation. The end of alienation comes as a collective matter not as a private matter.

The basic assumption in Marxism methodology is that, through labor, people appropriate nature and turn it into human culture. A special form of labor, praxis, is the way in which people appropriate their own biological nature to produce Life Worlds of symbolic meaning which are interpreted, again using biological capacities, as particular forms of social reality. Anything which interferes with the process by which people appropriate nature, including their own nature, is alienating. Capitalism is particularly vicious in this regard since it calls forth a class which has to bear all the burdens of production without enjoying the full humanity such production implies. In capitalism the point of production is profit and accumulation; not that of producing humanity as the larger project.

For social scientist, the production of knowledge has come to be a commodity sold on the market to those with cash enough to satisfy the profit motive. In medicine, in engineering, in physics and chemistry as well, the same process is apparent. For the marxian methodologist, the purpose of producing knowledge is to enable people to grasp it, understand it, use it and transform the social order from whence it came and by doing so create new, situationally relevant forms of society--which in the creative process, are thereby known better than mere sociological treatises.

The division of labor in the production of knowledge such that some people who call themselves professionals have a monopoly over the means to produce information this creates, itself, an obstacle to the practical activity of people in constituting knowledge. If a social scientist creates and sells information about the political process to a client, that client has more control over the production of political culture than have the persons from whom the information is withheld. Since everyone must live within the social form, reconstituted by that political culture, and since everyone is not/was not part of the knowledge constitutive process, the social life world thus re-organized is strange, unknown to those so excluded: the term we use to refer to this object, this situation is alienation. The division of labor in the production of knowledge produces alienation--it does not repair it. Despite the sincere hopes of liberal bourgeois scientists, giving information to the state to manage and manipulate people in order to "re-articulate" social life neither re-articulates society or repairs alienation.

Morris Janowitz (1978:556) urges that division of labor between masses and professional social scientists be formalized in a coalition between sociologists and politicians. Such a division reflects ignorance of the human project--or, perhaps, indifference to it if not concern with one's own career. But Janowitz merely represents the central tendency of contemporary bourgeois sociology. He is tossed up out of the common lot since he best embodies the world view and central assumptions of commodity, clientistic sociology--one need not adduce special malice or psychopathy used to account for this position.

One must understand that the problem is not with objective knowledge. The problem is with objectified knowledge, knowledge pried out of intending human beings and then used against them in various ways to defeat the process by which they, the persons concerned, constitute knowledge. In this respect, knowledge is objective in the fullest sense when it is commonly known; publicly shared. When "knowledge" is privately held within a profession or a corporation or an advisory elite, it is not objectively known. More subtly, knowledge is not really knowledge in its public form but rather thought. One must not confuse a psychological process with a social process. I think, therefore I have psychological capacity; I know, therefore I am partner to the social process.

When a bourgeois scientist studies consumer behavior and sells that information to a client, say General Foods, what is produced is not human knowledge but rather technical information. The Advertising person, the sales manager has no way of knowing the meaning assigned to the use of food by those using it; s/he only understands, psychologically, that such knowledge can be used against the consumer to dispose of production for purposes of profit.

In contrast to the bourgeois methodologist, in the everyday practice of the marxian methodologist, s/he pursues the method of "immanent critique" in which the validity claims of a society are detailed and confronted with what is. The claims with which a society legitimates itself and is practices are compared to what actually happens within that society (Weiner: 1979). It is the particular concern of the marxian methodologist that a society not exculpate itself from moral responsibility for what occurs within it by a strategy of research, theory and analysis which separates the negativity of a society from its ongoing rules of organization or its processes of production. If there is crime, child abuse, or poverty in a society, it is the special L--ask of the conflict methodologist to make visible the 1"n,"age between the organization of a society and those negative effects.

is well advanced by such publications as Crime and Social Justice, Socialist Review, the Insurgent Sociologist, Pluto Press, Monthly Review, Antipode, Radical Geography, the Socialist Register, Marxist Perspectives, the Berkeley Journal of Sociology, Popular Economics Press, and many more. The number of persons dedicated to immanent critique is too numerous to mention. They can be found in the pages of the journals and publications mentioned.

A second task for the marxian methodologist is to pursue the method of "transcendent critique." In transcendent critique, the researcher goes beyond a critique of the truth claims of a particular society to a critique of existing society in terms of values which transcend any given society and which ground a critique of all societies: even those which do not claim to be just, to be democratic, to be pacific, to respect the integrity of the environment, to encourage praxis, to ensure community or to protect the weak and innocent. Some societies do not promise to replace retributive justice with distributive justice. Some societies openly scorn and mock the aspirations of oppressed peoples. Some societies treat it as proper to appropriate the wealth of third-world countries and to subvert the socialist or religious liberation movements newly organized to oppose such exploitation.

That task is discharged with skill and perseverance by such publications as NACLA, MERIP Reports, the Catalyst, Praxis, Politics and Society, Science and Society, Telos, Dissent, Zed Press, Dollars and Sense, and many more journals published in Great Britain, Europe, U.S., Australia, South America and in Canada.

A third task for marxist methodologists is that of criticism/self criticism of social science itself. In economics, in psychology, in political science, in sociology and in history the controlling paradigms mystify and occlude the quest for collective knowledge. In these same disciplines, the methods of quantification and positive assertions about that-which-is tend to transform a cultural enterprise to a technical enterprise. Horkheimer, Habermas, Marcuse, and others have explained in detail how the technicized research of bourgeois science works to subvert the idiographic world of intending, acting, changing human beings on behalf of the nomological world of management, control and predictability on behalf of corporate science.

This important task of marxian methodology is not well cared for in American social science. There are several structural problems involved. In the first instance there is the ideological hegemony of corporate-oriented science which precludes the publication of articles critical of existing paradigms. In sociology, the pages of the professional journals are firmly under the control of the positivistic-systemic-nomothetical (P.S.N.) paradigm from which one must work if one is to pursue a career. There has been some small, grudging concession made to critical theory in the annual meetings of various professional groups, most notably in the Society for the Study of Social Problems, the Humanist Sociology Society and, perhaps, the Midwest Sociological Society. However, the model of science presently used precludes critique. One minor instance of this paradigmatic closure is seen in the difficulty of obtaining cooperation from the staff of the Footnotes, the house organ of the American Sociological Association in printing announcements of the Red Feather Institute. The Institute publishes the transforming Sociology Series which is oriented to the critical self-knowledge of sociology as a discipline. Another instances of the refusal of the various regional societies, especially the Pacific Sociological Society, to make it difficult to distribute marxist publications. It is not that a conspiracy to defeat the critical process exists; rather, I believe, the officers of the A.S.A. or the P.S.A. do not regard criticism as very important. What is important to Footnotes are government funding areas, promotions of friends and/or notables in the profession, essays by established sociologists as well as liberal reform safe enough to the existing paradigms. These reforms: sexism, racism, and teaching as well as the problems of jobs for sociology graduates, these are very important concerns but there is much omitted which comprises the substance of change and renewal in the profession.

The poverty of American sociology is examined in detail by Antonio and Piran (1978). They note that there is a limited appreciation of historical and developmental phases in current work. The sources and political consequences of this inadequacy are explored. Miley (1979) has explored the conservative biases in Human Ecology. He argues with considerable force, that the existing practice of human ecology has contributed to the welfare of corporate capitalism by its concepts, notions of problems to research, and its models of community structure. Weiner (1978) claims that the practice and purpose of sociological work is more oriented toward control than toward emancipation. Heiple and Possuto (1975) have given us a point by point critique of Blalock's work which makes visible its unintentional animosity toward human mastery over their own social forms in the model of causality he uses. Goldman (1976) has critiqued the study of bureaucracy by conservative, elitist sociologists in American sociology. All of these critiques, valuable as they are, failed to find a place in the "major" journals of American sociology. This conservative bias in referring and publishing articles in critical theory aborts the critical process and thus the capacity of a society to know itself and perhaps, to change itself.

A third structural condition which defeats the critical endeavor in sociology itself is the "old boy" recruiting network. In order to get into sociology, the graduate student must reproduce the consciousness of his (80%) or her (20%) mentor. One must, in the graduate program, demonstrate that one grasps, embraces and cam improve the teachings of the mentor in perfecting the PSN paradigm mentioned above. In the 60's and early 70's, the Johnson administration sought to buy political legitimacy by pouring billions into education and other public works. In that period, hundreds of persons not in the old-boy network filtered into academia as faculties expanded rapidly. Now, with those monies shut off by the Nixon-Ford-Carter policies, the Blacks, Chicanos, women and/or radicals who managed to secure a niche in the ecology of the profession are being pruned by process of natural selection--natural in terms of the old-boy network of Michigan, Chicago, Berkeley, Columbia, Cornell, and Ohio State.

A fourth important impediment to criticism/self-criticism in the profession of sociology which the marxist methodologist must consider is the narrow and self-enclosing character of marxist social science. Marxists have thinly hidden contempt for bourgeois social science and, as a result, do not make the effort necessary to transform the various parts of the discipline. Content to talk among themselves, publish in the same journals, hold separate meetings and caucuses, marxist social scientists help defeat the critical enterprise in social science. The work of Ted Goertzal, Al Szymanski and others to found a separate section for marxist/critical theorists in the A.S.A. has made it more difficult to find a place in the traditional sessions. When one submits a paper to session chairpersons at the annual meetings, they reject it with the comment that it belongs in the marxist session. Michael Bodemann (1978) has listed some of the problems entailed in getting marxists to do good field work. Young (1977) has, on the other hand, explored the reasons why marxism has been as well received as it has, if on a limited scale so far. Young lists 30 intractable problems of capitalism which fuels the interest in marxian sociology.

And finally, the capacity of American sociology to co-opt, absorb, depoliticize and to neutralize critical theory seems inexhaustible. Chaser has made conflict theory a tool of structural-functional theory; in Chaser, conflict is reduced to a means to prevent revolution since 'over-lapping cleavages' destroy the necessary unity of workers, women, and other oppressed minorities. As Young (1975) notes, Tumin's critique of the Davis-Moore approach to stratification theory is so weak as to be safe to the continued hegemony of the theory, itself an apology for oppression. Two important papers, one by Wenger (1978) and one by Messner (1978) report on the efforts by Lenski, Dahrendorf, Van den Berghe, Ossowski, and others to contain and depoliticize conflict theory with a false synthesis with -Functional theory. Malhotra (1975) has shown how George Herbert Mead was stripped of his emancipatory meaning by bourgeois interpreters of his theory. She also notes the conservative tendencies implicit in Meadian social psychology.

Marxian research does present a problem to professional sociology as the problems of late corporate capitalism increase and structural functional theory becomes more twisted and distorted in the effort to make it fit the data. he only workable way to save structural functional is to reduce to psychological and physiological theories to account for the "dis-articulation" of the system--this approach requires sociology itself be sacrificed to other disciplines.

In addition to the other tasks presented the conflict methodologist directly engages the task of social revolution. The particular modes of revolutionary activity vary with time and place but the conflict methodologist is not a passive spectator of the human scene. At the same time, the conflict methodologist does not usurp the revolutionary process. To do so would be hostile to the necessary knowledge constitutive activities of workers, students, and other oppressed peoples. As Horkheimer put it, the conflict methodologist and his/her object of study form a dynamic unity with the oppressed class so that research is not merely a copy of the concrete historical situation but a force for change.

The central revolutionary goal of the critical sociologist is to liberate the means to produce meaning and knowledge; the liberation of the means to produce material wealth is central to hat goal but is bracketed

*In all fairness to Moore, it should be noted that he, himself, has abandoned the views expressed in that article. Still it does its mischief as it is widely taught in traditional texts as the scientific theory of social inequality by that goal. The transformation to socialist production of material goods is pointless outside of the larger and prior revolutionary goal, that goal is nothing less than the liberation of the means to produce collective meaning.

In this final section, I would like to summarize, in outline form, what I believe to be the immediate objectives of marxian methodology. Some of these objectives are negations of earlier negations which have arisen in contemporary sociology and social science. However, many are positive directives to help organize the knowledge process. The time has come, if not long since past, when marxian social science must transcend its negative, negating period. The central problematic we now face is to venture new forms of science to replace bourgeois science. There is considerable risk in so doing but two imperatives dictate we take that risk. The first is the distorted forms of socialism found in Eastern Europe. Marxist theorists there did not help the knowledge process--collective control over the means to produce material, ideological and political culture. The second, more pressing imperative is the terrible fate of children in third world countries which grows worse as developed countries transfer more and more of the problems of capitalism abroad. Christian charity may save thousands of these children, but the system of transnational corporate capitalism immiserates these children in the millions. To do one one-thousandth of what is necessary is to do positive evil in that the trivial displaces the necessary.

Tasks of the marxist methodologist:

to advance social revolution in all oppressive societies including both capitalist and bureaucratic "socialist" societies.
to learn how human knowledge is constituted.
to make visible the structural obstacles to the collective production of knowledge, through concrete field research.
to destroy the false consciousness and those existing ideologies which reproduce structures of domination.
to reunite the production and use of knowledge by a human collective. (which implies the necessity to oppose the division of labor in the production of knowledge into "professionals" and "consumers" who purchase knowledge as a commodity.)
to help establish a public sphere in which human knowledge is collectively produced.
to facilitate the knowledge process means that marxist field research of both immanent and transcendent modes must enter into the various media in a flood: television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and the university rather than privatized journals are the proper media for critical analysis-
to use the means of production of knowledge in such a way that:
a) a society is aware of its own interests as a collective and
b) a society understands the necessary constraints on its modes of production: biological, psychological, ecological and social and
c) a society exercises collective choice within these constraints and
d) can recognize the effects of poor choice on significant indicators of life quality: drop-out rates, suicide, drug abuse, environmental degradation, child abuse, poverty, and apathy.
to oppose the displacement of history by theory. All statements about social life must be qualified by and bracketed by the existing historical totality. Efforts to produce statements which go beyond time and space to eternal truth are opposed as mystifications.
to oppose the displacement of the cultural by the technical. Cultural activity requires practical reason which involves deliberation, choice and public discourse on the conditions of the good life for human beings while instrumental reason is central to the unreflexive technical control of nature. When social issues are conceived to be problems and susceptible to external control by virtue of social engineering on public administration, practical reason suffers.

these tasks is difficult and requires one place his/her career in jeopardy to the extent one accepts the charge. However, the marxist methodologist embraces that risk the very moment s/he comes to appreciate the validity of the central propositions in marxian theory of knowledge. The concept of alienation is not value-free; it demands by its inner logic, commitment to humanity and to the struggle required to oppose the structures of domination ... there is no easy way to do marxian social science.

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Antonio, Robert and Parvin Piran 1978 "The Poverty of American Sociology." Red Feather: The Red Feather Institute.

Bodemann, Y. Michael 1978 "Problems of Field Work 4-n Marxist Social Science." Red Feather: The Red Feather Institute.

Goldman, Paul 1976 "Sociologists and the Study of Bureaucracy." Red Feather: The Red Feather Institute.

Heiple, Phil and Richard Possuto 1975 Gramsci on Blalock." Red Feather: The Red Feather Institute.

Janowitz, Morris 1978 The Last Half Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Malhotra, Valerie 1975 "Critical Dimensions in Social Psychology: Mead and Habermas." Red Feather: The Red Feather Institute.

Marx, Karl 1977 Selected Writings. (McLellan, ed.) Oxford: Oxford Press. (p. 156).

Messner, Michael 1978 Conflict Theory and Functionalism: Orwell on Lenski." Red Feather: The Red Feather Institute.

Wiley, James 1979 "Critical Dimensions in Human Ecology." Red Feather: The Red Feather Institute.

Weiner, Richard 1978 "Practice and Purpose for Sociological Theorizing: Emancipation vs. Control." Red Feather: The Red Feather institute.

Weiner, Richard 1979 "A Brief History of the Critical School." Red Feather: The Red Feather Institute.

Wenger, Morton 1978 "On The Possibility of Synthesis in Stratification Theory." Red Feather: The Red Feather Institute.

Young, T. R. 1975 "Stratification Theory." Red Feather: The Red Feather Institute.

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