Modernity’s Other and the Transformation of the University – II


Howard Richards – TRANSCEND Media Service

Short Answers to Simple Questions

I want to make this as simple as possible.   I know you are the smartest people in the world.    If you were not the smartest people in the world you would not be here.  But I do not want to make you prove you are smart.   I do not want to ask you to figure out something complicated.

I will give short answers to four simple questions:

Who are we?

Where are we going?

How will we get there?

What are some next steps?

Here are the short answers:

We are the species whose ecological niche is the creation of culture.

We are going to a global mosaic of green and open societies.

We will get there by liberating ourselves from domination by capitalism.

Some next steps are teaching social entrepreneurship and selling lifelong education for the good life.

These ideas are not complicated.  What I mean is easily explained.

Just give me a few minutes to explain.  For anyone who wants to go into greater depth, I will gladly provide longer texts with footnotes documenting my sources.

If you think you understand and do not agree, please tell me why.   I will be grateful to anyone who calls my attention to any errors there may be in my reasoning.

Immediately I have to qualify my brave claim that I will make this clear and simple, for I already fear I have said something confusing.    I am making a double use of the pronoun “we.”

On the one hand, I am using the pronoun “we” as a stand   in referring generally to all human beings.  “We” is all humanity and when I ask “Who are we?” I ask what it means to be human.   But on the other hand the pronoun “we” names specifically all us professors.  “We” are the academics, and when I ask “What are some next steps?” I mean what are next steps in the transformation of the university.

There is a connection implied by my using “we” both to name all humans and to name all professors.  I am implying that universities have a special role to play in working for the flourishing and indeed for the survival of humanity.

My platform today is provided by a very large university that defines itself as the African university in the service of humanity.   But a case can be made that in principle all universities are in the service of all humanity.  The very word “university” in its etymology refers to something universal.  An original and central purpose of the university is to prepare people to practice professions, and the word “profession” in its etymology implies commitment to an ideal of service.

This afternoon you will hear an ideal of service to humanity expressed in terms of two exciting concepts:  The first is the concept of two enterprise planes.   Any enterprise, whether or not it is a university, has its own particular goals.  It also can align itself with the societal enterprise, the enterprise of all of us, the societal enterprise that has general overall goals like ending poverty and making the biosphere sustainable.

A second exciting concept you will hear this afternoon deepening my work with the pronoun “we” this morning is “unbounded organization.”[i]  Let me for now just tantalize you with the poetry of juxtaposing these two words “unbounded” and “organization.”   To be continued.

And let me now ask a question about my first question:  “What am I seeking when I ask the question ´who are we? ´”

Here is the answer to my question about my question:  “I am seeking a metanarrative with cognitive justice.”

Don’t panic.  The concept of metanarrative is not hard to understand.

I picked up the word “metanarrative” from the book The Postmodern Condition by Jean-François Lyotard.[ii]  A metanarrative is a big story.  It is a comprehensive story about our world and who we are in our world.   Examples are Christianity, Marxism, and liberal economics.  If we go out to non-western societies and back to pre-modern societies we find that metanarratives have invariably played an organizing role wherever large numbers of humans have lived together.   Sometimes human beings have organized themselves telling stories about Gods, sometimes they use stories about ancestors, sometimes they use stories about military heroes.   What Lyotard calls a metanarrative is sometimes called a cosmology or a founding myth or a worldview.

The need for a metanarrative to organize human life led the cultural historian Thomas Berry to say there is no community without a community story.

The claim that Jean-François Lyotard makes, however, is that people do not believe metanarratives anymore.   Lyotard says that our post-modern age is an age of incredulity toward metanarratives.  Putting Berry and Lyotard together, it would follow that when we have no metanarrative we have no community.

No doubt Lyotard is partly right to say we live in a time of incredulity toward metannaratives.   There is a growing trend among intellectuals, among young people, and among depressed people of all ages to believe in nothing.  I mean to believe in nothing big.

Nevertheless, Lyotard exaggerates.   Today there are still many people who believe in a metanarrative.  One metanarrative, liberal economics, is ruling the world.

So we have a problem:  Nothing authorizes us to believe that humanity today is so different from humanity in the past that today we can get our act together and act in concert to solve our problems without sharing a metanarrative that tells us who we are and what our role is in the great scheme of things.  But the closest thing we have to a shared metanarrative defining the first person plural is a toxic brew.  It shreds community more than it builds it.  At the same time it smothers diversity and imposes the crudest and most violent forms of cognitive injustice.  Its growth imperative and its systematic demand to create conditions for capital accumulation and ever more capital accumulation are killing the biosphere very rapidly, so rapidly that if we think in a perspective of geological time the end of life on this planet is the equivalent of only a few seconds away.

A Hobson’s choice: either no metanarrative or a toxic metanarrative.   Either civil wars of mutually incompatible ethnic fundamentalisms which in principle can share no common ground, or else a secular state imposing certain death by economics on one and all.

In this context, which is our context today, some of us are proposing a metanarrative that has the simple virtue of being true.  We, humanity, are creators of cultures.  We have always been creators of cultures.   We are biologically coded to be culturally coded.

We have the capacity to invent cultural codes that can be passed on to the next generation by upbringing and education.  This capacity has given us an evolutionary advantage over species that can only adapt to changing environments by genetic mutation and natural selection.

My point here is easily proved.  All of anthropology, all of archaeology, all of biology proves it.   I do not believe that anyone who understands it will disagree with it.

It implies that the intellectuals of today are called on to do the same thing that cultural creatives have been doing ever since our common matrilineal ancestor the Mitochondrial Eve was giving birth to children and bringing them up to be humans somewhere in Africa some 200,000 years ago.  Namely, in the words of Antonio Gramsci, we are adjusting culture to its physical functions.

Who are we?  We are creators of cultures.  I offer this as a simple answer to a simple question.

My second simple question is:  “Where are we going?”

The beginning of a simple answer is:  We are going to a green future.

The simple reason why we are going to a green future is that we cannot possibly go to any other future.   Either we go green or we go nowhere.

A human culture whose constitutive rules and basic norms are incompatible with the laws of physics, the laws of chemistry, and the facts of biology is not sustainable.  This is the simple proof that we are going to a green future if we are going anywhere at all.

But my simple answer to the question “Where are we going?” includes another key word.   The key word is “open.”   Where are we going?  We are going green and we are going open.   There is no place else to go.

What do I mean by “open” and why do I say an “open society” is our only possible future?

The phrase “open society” was coined by the philosopher Karl Popper.[iii]  Popper meant several things by the phrase.  Three of them I mean too:

  1. Democracy
  2. Science
  3. Unbounded organization[iv]

Democracy – In an open society people have the power to choose the leaders and the institutions that work best for them, provided that they do so in an orderly way and not in a revolutionary way.   Popper regards revolution as in principle irrational because it changes the values of so many variables at once that it is impossible to trace which effects are due to which causes.

Science – In an open society the results achieved by the leaders and the institutions are constantly studied and evaluated by independent scholars responsible in principle only to participate sincerely in the search for truth.[v]

Unbounded organization – In an open society (unlike the societies Popper calls “closed” because their principles are –falsely—taken to be immutable) there are no limits constraining science or social innovation.  Society, like science in Popper’s philosophy of science, is never perfected.  Both science and society consist of hypotheses that so far have withstood the tests of experience.[vi]

Is this clear?   I hope it is clear that if we lived in an open society its leaders and its institutions would be working for the benefit of all of us.   I hope it is clear that if we lived in an open society we would be constantly improving our institutions to make them work for all of us better.  I hope it is clear that if we lived in an open society science would be monitoring our successes and our failures.  Science would be systematically helping us to make society work better for all.

I hope it is clear that we do not live in an open society.

So why do I say that where we are going is both green and open because there is no place else for us to go?   My argument has two parts:

1. Part one:   We are necessarily going for a green society, because if we are not going there we are not going anywhere at all.

2. Part two:  We are necessarily going for an open society, because without it we cannot make the necessary transition to a green society.

Part one I think I already proved.   If you will grant me a premise, I will offer you a proof of part two.

The premise:  An open society just is a society organized to pursue rationally the best interests of all.  [vii]

The offer of proof:   If we can govern ourselves in ways that rationally pursue the best interests of all, then we can make the necessary transition to a green society.  And if not, not.[viii]

So we need an open society.  In other words, we need a society designed to act rationally for the good of all.

My next simple question:  How will we get there?  How will we get to a green and open society?

My simple answer is:  We will get there by liberating ourselves from domination by capitalism.

Let me define capitalism:  A short definition is that capitalism is the production of goods and services for profit.  A slightly longer definition is that capitalism is the production of goods for sale, where the sale in turn is for the sake of profit.[ix]

Let me say why we are dominated by it:  Because production is for profit, if there is no profit there is no production.   Therefore everything about society, including wage rates, labour supply, education, taxes, government, culture, science, and so on must be geared to complying with a single imperative:  There must be profit.  There must be accumulation of capital.   Without profit, nothing moves.   I am simplifying to make the point.  To simplify a little less:  to the extent that the livelihood of everybody depends on capital making profit, everybody is dominated by capitalism.[x]

Here we see a key reason why we do not have an open society.  Democracy is truncated because the first thing governments must do, before they can do anything else, is to make sure the wheels of capitalism keep turning.  Profit comes first because everything else depends on it.  Any other goals can be pursued only to the extent that they do not interfere with this systemic imperative.[xi]

So how do we get to liberation?   Here I will take Amartya Sen as my guide.  Sen emphasizes the goal of human development.  I believe that his ideas on how to tame capitalism can be taken both as advice on how to pave the way for human development and as advice on how to pave the way for the necessary transition to a green and open society.

Sen writes:  “Capitalism can generate mean streets and strained lives unless it is restrained and supplemented by other –often nonmarket—institutions.” [xii]

Sen here offers a two part formula for liberation.    The first part is restraining capitalism, more commonly known as regulating it.  The second is supplementing capitalism, often by nonmarket institutions.  Let us consider the two parts one at a time.

First, regulation.

When we regulate or restrain we impose conditions.

We decree for example that firms must either pay at least the legal minimum wage or cease to do business.

Or we require that a factory must either cease to dump toxic waste into a nearby river or close.

Or we pass a law that all shops  must install ramps to accommodate handicapped people in wheelchairs.  If they do not install the ramps they lose their licenses and must shut their shops.

You get the picture. Restraint and regulation gives business a choice.  Obey or quit.

Both logic and the historic failures of social democracy teach us that businesses often choose option two.   They quit.   They stop doing business.  Or they move somewhere else.  Their workers lose their jobs.  Whatever they were going to produce is either not produced at all, or it is produced somewhere else where there is less regulation.

My simple conclusion is that imposing restraints on capitalism will not by itself  liberate us from domination by it.

That leaves the second part of Amartya Sen´s  formula: supplementing.  It leaves what Catherine Hoppers calls transformation by enlargement.    Indeed, the more we restrain and regulate, the more we need to enlarge and supplement.   This is true because the more businesses choose option two and close, the more we need to create supplementary livelihoods for the unemployed. And the more we need supplementary ways to supply the goods and services that the closed businesses are no longer supplying.

Is this clear?  I am saying that we have to accomplish in some other way whatever it may be that needs to be accomplished that capitalism cannot get accomplished on terms that are socially and ecologically acceptable.

Back to Sen: Sen calls for supplementing capitalism, often with nonmarket institutions.

What could those nonmarket institutions be?[xiii]  From the economic historian Michael Polanyi and others we learn that for most of the time human beings have lived on this planet their economies have not been market economies.  There is such a thing as traditional economy.  There are non-capitalist traditional livelihoods that have existed for thousands of years and still exist.

Therefore if we are looking for ways to supplement capitalism, to make it governable by breaking free of a system where either production happens because of the profit motive or it does not happen at all, we do not need to create the new socialist man or woman psychologically capable of working for love instead of money.    We can turn to the old African man and woman.[xiv]    He and she have an advantage over any proposal to create humanity anew.   Their advantage is that they already exist and do not need to be created.  They have existed for thousands of years and they still exist.

For thousands of years people have been accomplishing production and distribution in non-capitalist ways.  Polanyi as well as other historians and anthropologists identify two main categories of pre-capitalist non-market economics.[xv]  Both are still alive and well today.   The first great traditional category is “reciprocity” or “reciprocal obligation.”   Reciprocity is the principle that organizes families, clans, and tribes.[xvi]   It is a generic category including what is known in the Bantu languages as ubuntu.  Reciprocity was typical of the societies Emile Durkheim called “archaic” to which he attributed high levels of social integration and solidarité.[xvii]  The second big generic category identified by Polanyi is redistribution.   It was typical of the empires of Africa before European conquest.   The classic example is Egypt where the agents of the pharaohs gathered up the harvests,  stored them, and from their granaries distributed grain in the seasons between harvests.

From Polanyi and other scholars we learn that we do not need to begin from scratch to find non-market supplements.  We can rely on tried and true cultural resources that have functioned in practice for thousands of years to tame capitalism and to make it governable.   The principle of ubuntu or “I am because you are” is old not new.  The principle of meeting basic needs from collective resources already existed three thousand years ago.  It existed in Africa and you can read about it in the Bible.

Of course cultural creativity did not end in the year zero, even though by then it had made a good beginning.  In more recent times we have invented cooperatives, non-profit foundations,  public-private joint ventures,  worker-owned enterprises, permaculture,  community currencies, neighbourhood food banks, asset based community development, monasteries, and among many other non-capitalist livelihoods something I will particularly recommend, social entrepreneurship.

Remember my simple question:  How will we get there?  Get where?  Get to green and open societies. We need an open society to get to a green society.  We need supplements to capitalism to get to an open society.      Liberation from domination by capitalism will happen when we are in a position to say:   Whatever may be the livelihoods that capitalism cannot generate with social and ecological responsibility, we will generate some other way.     Then we will be able to make the rules for capitalism instead of capitalism making the rules for us.

My fourth and last simple question is, “What are some next steps?” In particular, I mean next steps for universities.  I would like to say along with Edgar Morin and along with Catherine Hoppers and myself in our book Rethinking Thinking: Modernity’s Other and the Transformation of the University that the next step is to transform what is meant by thinking, by knowing, and by the production of knowledge.   We should start by transforming thinking in the faculties of law, and then move on to bring cognitive justice and the embedding of the commons to economics and management, to education, and to natural science.   Reforming those four key faculties would shift the centre of gravity of the university away from bankrupt paradigms that are part and parcel of humanity’s descent into social chaos and ecological disaster.    If we could assume that thinking is at the core of the university’s identity, then we could also assume that we could transform the university with cognitive justice.

That is what I would like to assume    However, I do not think these assumptions are valid when the question is “What are some next steps?”   Next steps have to be within what we can call following Lev Vygotsky the university’s “zone of proximal development.”  I do not believe I can safely assume what I want to assume. Next steps in the zone of proximal development have to start where the university is and lead to where it is ready to go.

I am afraid that Henry Johnson Jr. was not entirely mistaken when he wrote, “In theory the university is in need of ontological, epistemological, and axiological rescue, but in fact it is uninterested  in being redeemed.  Its ontology is that of the business world, its axiology that of the account book, and the only truths it seeks are saleable truths.  Worst of all, most of its members are by and large relatively happy with the way things are.” [xviii]   Surely Johnson exaggerates.  I still believe that service to humanity and pursuit of truth are essential to the very idea of a university, and I am still working for an epistemology of hope.    Nevertheless, thoughts like those of Henry Johnson ring true enough to but move me to caution.  I think that to be in the ZOPD I have to propose next steps that make business sense.  I have thought of two.

I start from the business  premises that universities are interested in employment opportunities for their graduates, and that employment opportunities are scarce and getting scarcer as worldwide millions of new university graduates flood the labour markets.

My first suggestion for a next step is to promote social entrepreneurship.  Harvard already led the way generically by communicating the message to its undergraduates that instead of hoping somebody would hire them upon graduation they should go entrepreneurial and start their own enterprises.  Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, is Harvard’s biggest success so far.   It happens that there is a growing field within the generic concept of going entrepreneurial called social entrepreneurship.  It is  sometimes called social enterprise.   In social entrepreneurship people learn and invent innovative ways to mobilize resources to meet needs.   They both get jobs and create jobs.  They create jobs in ways that supplement the standard logic of capitalism.[xix]

I suggest that social entrepreneurship may well be within the zone of proximal development of the university today.  Social entrepreneurship with cognitive justice and embedding of the commons would be even better.   A grounding in IKS would differentiate the product of UNISA or whatever university gets there first by creating not just another diploma in the booming field of social entrepreneurship but one different from any other diploma in that booming field.

My second suggestion for a next step starts from the same premise: employment opportunities are scarce and getting scarcer.   But it takes it in a different direction.  Sooner or later we (we being humanity) have to realize that the labour market will never generate jobs for everyone.   More.  The labour market will never generate jobs for all university graduates.  More.  The labour market plus opportunities for self-employment through entrepreneurship social or otherwise will never employ everyone.   Some people realize things already.   The more people who come to these realizations and the sooner they come to them the better off we (humanity) will be.

These things said we face some choices: we can let the chronically unemployed simmer on in misery, delinquency, addiction, depression, and mental illness; or else we can put them on the dole and pay them a minimum wage for doing nothing or for doing some make-work tasks that could more easily and quickly be done by a few real workers using up-to-date technology; or else we can frankly put an end to the nonsense that in order to have a right to life with decency and dignity in this world you have to find customers who are able and willing to buy what you have to sell.  We have to separate livelihood from sales.  We have to get back to the first principle.  The first principle is that the economy should be serving humanity, not the other way about.  Now we are no longer talking just about how to give our students the competencies that fit the profiles industries look for when they hire.   Now we are talking about what Karl Marx called “the full and free development of all.”

Now we are reversing the present status of education.  Instead of education being the servant of the economy, we are talking about the economy becoming the servant of education.

Now we (we being the university professors) should be talking about life-long education for self-realization, for the good life.  Everybody needs it: the busy executive, the overworked professional, the bored plodder in a dead end job, the stay-at-home house-wife or house-husband, the prisoner in the jail, the immigrant to the city who is losing touch with her rural roots and wants to study the traditions of her people, the recovering alcoholics and addicts ….everyone.   But education for the good life is especially needed for that fraction of the population that constitutes an oversupply of manpower that is not needed by today’s economy and will not be needed by tomorrow’s economy.    They will live at public expense one way or another, even if they have to prey on the public by resorting to theft and assault and dealing drugs.   The best option, I suggest, is that while living at public expense they develop their talents in the arts, in athletics, in the sciences, in gardening, in construction,  in languages and literature, in the practical skills required to live green, in the health sciences,  in short in  one or another branch of self-improvement that has intrinsic value in itself whether or not it has exchange value in the labour market.  Subsidized lifelong learning will take the pressure off the labour market since the labour market will no longer have the impossible task of trying and failing to provide jobs for everyone.  It will take the pressure off capitalism by supplementing it in a very concrete way.  It will provide constructive activities for people capitalism has no slots for.  It will help free us from domination by capitalism because we will have an alternative to the vain hope that if we give business enough tax breaks investors will find it profitable to take the dangerous classes off the streets by  hiring them.

Sure it will be expensive to subsidize lifelong self-improvement for everybody.   I suspect it will cost no more and probably less than the increased budgets for jails, mental hospitals,  drug rehabs, and  armed security that will be needed if society falls deeper and deeper into chaos and decadence.

So my second suggestion for a next step is that the university devote itself to selling lifelong education for the good life.     It is an old idea.   Plato already thought of it nearly two thousand four hundred years ago when he founded his Academy.   Universities and technical schools have the resources on their faculties to deliver the product.  Society needs it.   If society is smart, it will pay for it.

This is all I have time to say now.    Let me repeat that if you think you understand and do not agree, please tell me why.   I will be grateful to anyone who calls my attention to any errors there may be in my reasoning.


[i] Unbounded Organization: Embracing the Societal Enterprise  is the title of a book by Gavin Andersson forthcoming in 2013.

[ii] Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

[iii] Sometimes I agree with Popper and sometimes I do not.   See Chapter Nine “Karl Popper’s Vienna” in Howard Richards and Joanna Swanger, The Dilemmas of Social Democracies.  Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006.  I find little or nothing to agree with in Karl Popper, The Poverty of Historicism.  London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957.

[iv] “Unbounded organization” is not a phrase Popper uses.  I take his railing against Plato, Hegel, Marx, and others he calls enemies of the open society to be railing against bounded thought, and his praise of an open-minded and  fallibilist scientific method to be an endorsement of unbounded thought, albeit one flawed by his (in the opinions of some of us) mistaken views on scientific method.  See Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies.  London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1945.   It is to be noted that the only example praised in that book as an open society was social democratic Sweden.

[v] “In principle” scholars are accountable only to truth-seeking, but since truth-seeking has no e mail or postal address and no telephone number, in practice it is represented by such surrogates as peer reviewers, dissertation examiners, and accreditation panels.  Popper himself might well have wanted scholars to be required to accept his version of the scientific method, and to agree with him that although truth is always sought it is strictly speaking never found.

[vi] By using the concept “democracy” I mean (and I think Popper means) to import into the open society concept the many safeguards against the tyranny of the majority that democratic theorists have built into the democratic concept.  “Unbounded” is not intended to mean “anything can happen” in the sense Hannah Arendt employs when she uses the phrase “anything can happen” to describe the totalitarian abolition of the rule of law.   On the other hand, I obviously do not agree with those who severely restrict the meaning of democracy (or, more honestly, oppose democracy) in order to make economic institutions and property rights untouchable and not subject to any legitimate modifications.

[vii] You have to grant me this premise because it can be argued that a command society, say the former Soviet Union or China could go green because its rulers could command it to go green.  I do not believe this, but I do not have time to make the argument, so I have to beg you to grant that democratic rationality can make the green transition while authoritarian rationality cannot.  Of course even if both were capable of making the green transition, there are many reasons why the democratic route would be preferable.   Amartya Sen makes the argument for democratic and against authoritarian rationality in several works. He makes extended comparisons of India and China, arguing that India is better off with freedom even though it is somewhat behind China on some economic and social measures.

[viii] I omit some premises that are in strict logic required, but which should be non-controversial, for example the premise that if we can reach our goals at all we can do so by pursuing them rationally, but we cannot do so either by pursuing them irrationally or by not pursuing them at all.

[ix] This definition traces pretty closely the meaning given to the term by the man who coined it, Karl Marx.  I need the definition to avoid the meaning given to the term by anti-socialists like Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich van Hayek, and Francis Fukayama.   They define capitalism as competitive pricing and socialism as central planning.  It follows from their definitions that both by logic and by historical experience it can be shown that socialism is unworkable.   Fukayama for example holds that socialism was an option for basic industrialization, but that in today’s knowledge society where flexible response to constant change is the name of the game, socialism is a non-starter.   I also need the definition to avoid the meaning given to the term by writers like Peter Drucker and David Korten who define it in such a way that capitalism is already over.   From their viewpoint I am wasting my time discussing the role of capitalism in a mixed economy because we already live in a post-capitalist society.  Drucker and Korten are right that in several senses capitalism no longer exists (for example, in the knowledge society capital is no longer the key factor for production that it once was), but their being right does not eliminate the question what role to assign to production to profit, i.e. to capitalism as (roughly speaking) Marx defined it.   I say “roughly speaking” because Marx can also be read as making the exploitation of “free” labour part of the definition of “production of commodities” (Waren) and therefore part of the definition of capitalism defined as “production of commodities.”

[x] I am relying here on the theory of “regimes of accumulation” developed by the Grenoble school of “regulationist” economists in France.   David Harvey relies on this theory and further develops it by showing how culture is shaped by the requirements of capital accumulation in his The Condition of Postmodernity.  Oxford: Blackwell, 1987.

[xi] The need to escape the systemic imperatives of capitalism to make democracy real is discussed in detail in Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, Democracy and Capitalism.  New York: Basic Books, 1986, Ellen Meiksins Wood, Empire of Capital.  London: Zed Books, 2003; and by the same author Democracy Against Capitalism Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.  I focus on the key problem of achieving an open society by making capitalism governable, but of course many other things can be done to make societies more open, for example increasing citizen participation.  For example, promoting media and universities that are not controlled by economic interests.

[xii] Amartya Sen, “Sraffa, Wittgenstein,  and Gramsci,” Journal of Economic Literature.  Vol. 41 (2003) pp. 1240-1255. p.  1247.  I have varied Sen´s words slightly to disentangle them from a here irrelevant context.

[xiii] Sen also implies that sometimes we supplement capitalism with market institutions that are not capitalist.   What would be some examples of market institutions that employ people and produce goods and services but are not capitalist?   One example would be the work of  Matilda, the seamstress who lives in a house near mine and ekes out a living mending her neighbours´ garments.   Other examples would be the hawkers in South Africa around 1910 described by Mahatma Gandhi in his autobiography.  Gandhi writes about them because they were prohibited from hawking their wares on the streets of Johannesburg because of their race.   Such people are not capitalists and they are not employees of capitalists.  They are not in business for profit.  They are just using their labour power to generate enough cash to survive.  Most of them make less money than they would make if they were working for wages in a modern factory run by a multinational corporation.  In most Latin American and African countries they outnumber the people who find steady employment in the capitalist sector. Their sector is usually called the informal economy although some of us prefer to call it the labour economy (because labour rather than capital is the main factor) or the people’s economy.  It  sometimes happens as happened toward the end of apartheid in South Africa that, “Rising unemployment and the pressure of informal operators have forced policy-makers to move from suppressing to encouraging informal activities, often drawing ideas and proposals for action from academic work.”  Terence Moll, in a book review of South Africa’s Informal Economy by Eleanor Preston-Whyte and Christian Rogerson  in Africa: Journal of the International African Institute. Vol. 63 (1993) pp. 143-44.  More often government response to the informal economy is a mixed bag; sometimes it is treated as tax-evading illegal activity to be suppressed by the police; sometimes it is encouraged and supported, sometimes governments dream that it will end when the country becomes “developed”  and everybody has a steady job at good wages in the formal sector.  The Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto famously advocated making backing the informal economy the linchpin of development policy.  The Other Path: the Invisible Revolution in the Third World.  New York: Harper and Row, 1989.

[xiv] I do not mean to imply that the other continents do not have traditions worth cherishing.  They do.

[xv] Karl Polanyi et al, Trade and Market in the Early Empires.  Glencoe: Free Press, 1957.    See also Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.London: Bougle-L’Ouverture, 1972; Maria Mies in Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale chronicles the violent implantation of European institutions to all continents.  London: Zed Books, 1986.  For a more detailed review of anthropological and historical studies of African economic institutions prior to European contact see George Dalton, review of An Economic History of West Africa by A.G. Hopkins in African Economic History Vol. 1 (1976) pp. 51-101 and by the same author  “Traditional Production in Primitive African Economies,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics.  Vol 76 (1962)  pp. 360-378.  I side with Polanyi and the “substantivists” in the “substantivist/formalist” controversies.  As Peter Breiner remarks, “…capitalist culture selects out and cultivates the very behaviour that marginal utility [i.e. liberal economic theory] postulates as universal.”  [words in brackets added]   Peter Breiner, “The Political Logic of Economics and the Economic Logic of Modernity in Max Weber,” Political Theory.  Vol. 23 (1995).  pp. 25-47.  p. 31.

[xvi] Sir Henry Sumner Maine in his account of the transition from ancient to modern society called the principle of reciprocity in families “status.”  Everybody is born with a role and place in society, with a status, just because of being born a member of a certain family, clan, or tribe.  The transition from ancient to modern Maine called a transition from “status to contract.”  See his Ancient Law. London: OxfordUniversity Press, 1931.  (first edition 1861)   On reciprocity see for example besides Polanyi Alvin Gouldner, “The Norm of Reciprocity: a Preliminary Statement,” American Sociological Review.  Vol. 25 (1960) pp. 161-178.

[xvii] In Durkheim “integration sociale” and “solidarité” are synonyms.  He called their ancient forms “mechanical” and their modern forms “organic.”

[xviii] Henry Johnson Jr.,  review of Prescribing the Life of the Mind  by Charles Anderson, in The Review of Politics Vol. 56 (1994)  pp. 765-768. p.768.

[xix] See ,,


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