transcending managerialism

by Sebastian Benthall

What motivates my interest in managerialism?

It may be a bleak topic to study, but recent traffic to this post on Marcuse has reminded me of the terms to explain my intention.

For Marcuse, a purpose of scholarship is the transcendent project, whereby an earlier form of rationality and social totality are superseded by a new one that offers “a greater chance for the free development of human needs and faculties.” In order to accomplish this, it has to first “define[] the established totality in its very structure, basic tendencies, and relations”.

Managerialism, I propose, is a way of defining and articulating the established totality: they way everything in our social world (the totality) has been established. Once this is understood, it may be possible to identify a way of transcending that totality. But, the claim is, you can’t transcend what you don’t understand.

Marx had a deeply insightful analysis of capitalism and then used that to develop an idea of socialism. The subsequent century indeed saw the introduction of many socialistic ideas into the mainstream, including labor organizing and the welfare state. Now it is inadequate to consider the established totality through a traditional or orthodox Marxist lens. It doesn’t grasp how things are today.

Arguably, critiques of neoliberalism, enshrined in academic discourse since the 80’s, have the same problem. The world is different from how it was in the 80’s, and civil society has already given what it can to resist neoliberalism. So a critical perspective that uses the same tropes as those used in the 80’s is going to be part of the established totality, but not definitive of it. Hence, it will fail to live up to the demands of the transcendent project.

So we need a new theory of the totality that is adequate to the world today. It can’t look exactly like the old views.

Gilman’s theory of plutocratic insurgency is a good example of the kind of theorizing I’m talking about, but this obviously leaves a lot out. Indeed, the biggest challenge to defining the established totality is the complexity of the totality; this complexity could makes the transcendent project literally impossible. But to stop there is a tremendous cop out.

Rather, what’s needed is an explicit theorization of the way societal complexity, and society’s response to it, shape the totality in systematic ways. “Complexity” can’t be used in a fuzzy way for this to work. It has to be defined in the mathematically precise ways that the institutions that manage and create this complexity think about it. That means–and this is the hardest thing for a political or social theorist to swallow–that computer science and statistics have to be included as part of the definition of totality. Which brings us back to the promise of computational social science if and when it includes its mathematical methodological concepts into its own vocabulary of theorization.

References

Benthall, Sebastian. “Philosophy of computational social science.” Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy 12.2 (2016): 13-30.

Gilman, Nils. “The twin insurgency.” American Interest 15 (2014).

Marcuse, Herbert. One-dimensional man: Studies in the ideology of advanced industrial society. Routledge, 2013.

Advertisements