Theoretical Approach and Historical Overview

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					Introduction to Part I

Theoretical Approach and Historical Overview
In a time of globalisation the analysis of cooperatives enabled us to question two components of the political scene, the economic and the social. As constituents of the cooperative system, these are seen as evident by conventional sociology: the social is expected to counter the dysfunctions caused by the economic and is defined as related to an economic ‘reality’ as a term of reference. By highlighting their ‘double nature’, made up of the economic and the social as two distinct – and originally separated – realities to be articulated and/or integrated, cooperatives raise a problem. According to conventional sociology, it would be enough to seek a balanced dose of ‘social’ to be ‘injected’ into the economic to achieve a state of ‘embeddedness’ (Polanyi, 1957). The social is seen as the repairer of the damages caused by the economic, as well as an alternative to capitalism (see Part II). On the other hand, from an anthropological-linguistic perspective, the economic is not considered as a ‘reality’ or a ‘nature’ but rather as one way, typical of modernity, to shape reality. The social, equally seen as one such way of shaping, is seen here as a symptom, a metaphor of the economic dysfunctions. The issue is not how to try to relate these two ‘realities’, but to find the means, the categories of thought that made it possible to shape reality in terms of social and economic. Which are these means and categories? The means: language as act The philosophy (or linguistic) of the ‘Acts of Language’ teaches us that language is not, as commonly believed, a means of representation, expression etc. but an act of shaping the real by a subject who, at the same time, thinks, talks and does. Doing Things with Words (Austin, 1962) defines it as to perform, to shape the real, that is to categorise the world (Benveniste, 1966), to ‘take a place’ and ‘act’ in it (Austin, ibid.), according to immanent, common, hence public, rules (Searle, 1972). Far from having only a meaning, language appears, on the one hand, to be equipped with strength (it performs the real) and, on the other, to allow for referring to a symbolic field constituted by the rules of language that are common and immanent to this field. That’s why we say that these are ‘constituent’ of it (Searle, 1996). This offers the possibility of avoiding any kind of essentialism or substantialism (see the two ‘natures’ of cooperatives, without necessarily incurring a constructivist relativism, according to which ‘everything is language’.


The ‘Social’ as Metaphor: The Case of Cooperatives

Central to our concern are the categories of thought used to enunciate, perform or shape the real (the Greek kora, a shapeless matter as improperly translated): in fact, before the founding act of language, the real does not make sense, that is, it does not turn into ‘reality’ for us. One could die of hunger along a river with fish, according to Lévi-Strauss, if the latter were not classified or performed as edible (‘performing’ here meaning neither ‘seeing’, nor ‘representing’, nor ‘interpreting’). The imaginary categories of completeness Coming back to the economic and the social as possible shapes of the real, these are related to how we use certain categories of thought that the interrelation realimaginary-symbolic enables to identify. As earlier mentioned the matter is about the categories of imaginary completeness, characteristic of modernity and highlighting the individual and its domain. In time, the economy became the economic, or the disembedded economy (Polanyi, 1957) in search of completeness, add-on and accumulation. The categories of modernity, indeed, shape the figure of the ‘undivided’ individual, that is one, complete being, regarded (by Western standards) as independent, autonomous, endowed with ‘rational awareness and will’ and ‘owner of his life and property’ (Locke, 1955). He is due to turn into an economic agent and a sociological actor, quite different from a subject that, according to the symbolic register, thinks of himself as ‘incomplete’ and ‘divided’. On the same level, the subject considers him/herself ‘interdependent’ and ‘anchored’ in the symbolic field of language on which he depends and to whose change, at the same time, he contributes. Here, freedom is not opposed to ‘(inter)dependence’, nor secular thinking to what derives from the ‘sacred’, or the ‘spiritual’. Two myths Two myths epitomise the two above figures: the free individual and the dependant subject. Let us look at the myth of Prometheus, the Greek hero, and that of Don Juan, a modern hero; the first challenging the Gods and the second enjoying an unbridled freedom, as far as braving the law. Since the individual thinks of him/herself as free and autonomous (etymologically free to give himself his laws) as soon as there is a loss, albeit minimal, of mastery and independence, an inevitable feeling of frustration and ‘alienation’ results. Loss is unacceptable, once it is enunciated by the categories of imaginary incompleteness; hence the appropriateness of enunciating these myths by means of the symbolic register of incompleteness, thus emphasising the deserved punishment. Indeed, by the Greek tradition, taking the place of Gods means to commit the sin of excess, of hubris, we would say of ‘inelegance’. On the same level of symbolic incompleteness, we present the Maori myth of the ‘hau’ as narrated by Mauss (1966). Here the exchange of the gift between the A, B and C parties symbolises the idea of people ‘anchored’ in an order that exceeds

Introduction to Part I


them and on which they depend. This kind of exchange is far from that of symmetrical reciprocity whereby the exchange is made according to the do ut des rule: I give, in order that you return to me the same thing, the same value. By this logic, the risk of loss, even of death, is measured and controlled by payment. Contrary to this, asymmetrical reciprocity pertains to a symbolic field. In this way, the categories of the symbolic highlight a ‘homo reciprocus’ (Pulcini, 2001) and not a ‘homo oeconomicus’, that is a ‘no-all’ instead of ‘all’ (totality, unity) notion. This offers the possibility of shaping a society by means other than imaginary symmetry and going beyond the opposition dependence/freedom as well as private/public and of relations of force and mastery, always imaginary (Chapters 1 and 2). The ‘social’ and the social sciences The need to analyse the inconveniences ensuing from an enunciation only based on the imaginary register, is particularly felt whenever this is the consequence of an economy performed by the categories of reciprocity exactly symmetrically. In this case it becomes inevitable to resort to an instance called social, to fill the gap that inexorably accompanies the imaginary alleged pretension to return exactly what has been given. In the same vein, the resort to the ‘social’ becomes necessary when, the social and the economic having been enunciated as two distinct entities, the need arises to fill the separation between them, be it by means of remedies (the social as metaphor) or alternatives (cooperatives as paradoxes). It’s worth noting that the adjective, and mainly the noun ‘social’, are actually unrelated to its significance of ‘society’ (from the Latin ‘socius’, ‘societas’) but rather to the problems posed by it: when we speak of the ‘social’ and the ‘social bond’ we mean that these are missing, the ‘social’ thus becoming the symptom, the metaphor of whatever is lacking, missing or severed. The ‘ruses’ used by the social sciences to make up for these shortcomings don’t seem to be of help. Born out of industrial modernity, they necessarily resort to the categories of the time, aiming to an imaginary completeness of symmetry, of unity. Thus, they are due to ‘fill’ what appears to be ‘incomplete’ and to ‘integrate’ what is ‘marginal’ or opposed to the economic. So, for instance, there is an ongoing integration (to which centre?) of populations that, classified by the category of imaginary completeness, are described in the negative as ‘inactive’, ‘non-affiliated’, ‘miserable’, subject of ‘shame’ to themselves and objects of ‘pity’, for they lack the ‘control’ over their situation and themselves (that others are thus due to hold?). This is why we invite to revisit, in the light of what has been done in ethnology and anthropology, the ‘social sciences’ (Chapter 3). Historical overviews and categories of enunciation Different historical perspectives have been taken with a view to highlighting the impact, the performative strength, of the acts of language (how to do things with words) according to whether enunciation is made through the categories of the


The ‘Social’ as Metaphor: The Case of Cooperatives

imaginary, or the symbolic register, emphasising completeness or incompleteness, respectively. In Part II the overview is undertaken in the domain of cooperatives, largely appreciated for realising embeddedness between two instances, or ‘natures’, the economic and the ‘social’, in turn ‘measured’ by varying extents of impact of imaginary or symbolic elements. On the other hand, in the Part I the very enunciation of the social signifier is revisited: it appears that it has not always made sense, neither had an existence on its own, its birth being concurrent with the birth of the notion of the individual and the categories of incompleteness. The notion of ‘social’ has thus become inescapable, a sort of metaphor of all that individuals have done to counter whatever they consider as incomplete, a loss, a want, an absence. Let us now look at some examples. An overview of the registers by which populations are enunciated This is the case of the wanderers of the Middle Ages, seen as ‘weak’, yet not as ‘poor’ at the mercy of shame and objects of what today would be termed ‘the social’. They were rather part of society, endowed with a real status deriving from what they lacked, that is a shelter. Identity was not at all related to a sedentary lifestyle. Their life could be well carried out along their routes, by way of knowing how to wander, on the one hand, and the obligation to welcome them, on the other, according to the symbolic categories of interdependence, oblation and debt. However, as the categories of the imaginary prevailed over the symbolic ones, new populations entered the scene, like the ‘poor’ and those later denoted as ‘brigands’, or ‘vagabonds’. Characterised as ‘without a place’, ‘lawless’ (hence, to be ‘integrated’ into an institution), they were to turn, in time, into the ‘dangerous working classes’ of industrial modernity. In conclusion, what is particularly highlighted here is the need for the categories of interdependence of the symbolic register (Chapter 4). An overview of how bonds are formed Bonds are formalised by the ‘contract’ that is expected to link them at the level of the imaginary of individuals. As such, these consider themselves as autonomous, free and independent. Being outside any reference to a ‘third’ protagonist, they reject the categories of the symbolic, such as delimitation, in this case symbolised by ‘the third person’ or C of the Maori myth who cuts the arbitrariness of the A and B duality. If the categories of the symbolic appear in certain texts as ‘the right to work’, lamentably, later on, the imaginary of completeness reappears in such social regulations as social security, health and old age insurance systems. Further on, actually in France, these regulations underwent a painful revision, for it’s difficult to part from an imaginary total protection of the individual. In conclusion, what is particularly highlighted here is the need for the categories of separation and delimitation of the symbolic register (Chapter 5).

Introduction to Part I


An overview of ‘work’ as signifier It can be shown that ‘work’ is exalted, or despised, according to whether it is enunciated by the categories of the imaginary, or the symbolic. The Greek provide an example of seeing ‘work’ as a punishment and pain (see the Greek ponos and the Latin tripalium, tool of torture) i.e., enunciated on the imaginary level of completeness. This is where the individual considers himself the master of nature, thus committing the sin of hubris, arrogant pride, or overdoing. On the contrary, the performance of work is honoured when the categories of the symbolic are used, as when Hesiod praises the ‘works of agriculture’. 1 Here men are given the possibility of taking part in a ‘higher order’ of activity, at the same time a ‘divine and natural’ one, by means of acting with – and not over – nature, in debt to it and to the Gods. Activity of work is not due to enjoy prestige in the following epochs, as shown by our references to Smith, Say, Marx, Pareto, Baudrillard, and others. This seems to continue until today, with work esteemed as a source of independence and a means of identification, though not as a ‘valuable action’. Work will find a chance for a new sense in what, later on, will be called ‘immaterial’ activities, to mean action with the other, in an ‘ad personam’ relation. Based on the anthropological category of debt, work, no longer performed according to the imaginary categories, will cease to be defined as a service of the tertiary sector, in favour of a novel production of the ‘quaternary’. In conclusion, what is particularly emphasised here is the need for the category of debt of the symbolic register (Chapter 6). An overview of what are now called ‘economic activities’ Although nowadays recognised and undisputed, economic activities were once upon a time devoted to subsistence only. The pursuit of riches (kremata) was condemned by Aristotle and consequently kept away from the public arena. According to the Greek, the ‘private’ and the ‘public’ spheres were seen as different and separated. The universal order of the word-reason-action was opposed to the particular and individual interest, which was thus ‘private from the public’. So, figures whose behaviours are today highly esteemed, were in the past far from a ‘glorious’ position in society: the serfs of the Middle Ages were kept apart from the fiefs of the lord; the first capitalists who, in the 17th century, decided to see their riches as a capital to bear fruit and not destined for sumptuous expense, were considered as shiveringly turned in on themselves. It was due to the incapacity to lose, or to share, that the activities aimed at accumulation and the private interest often posed a problem of legitimacy. The imaginary completeness, which was esteemed unreasonable by the Greeks (the hubris), was later on, in modern society, identified with the economic rationale. In this way, we witness a reversal of situations: oblation, as well as the capacity to share and to lose

‘Works’ is always used in the plural by Hesiod, as the notion of ‘work’ did not make sense at his time.


The ‘Social’ as Metaphor: The Case of Cooperatives

(consumation, from the Latin consumere) is now denoted as ‘irrational’, whereas the economic reason and consumption are seen as rational behaviours. In our modern time loss has no sense, hence the resort to social arrangements, or to alternative measures. As Arendt (1961) explains, the ‘social’ is necessary to enable the shift from the ‘private’ to the ‘public’ and the taking care – by the public authorities – of people deprived of the private wealth. However, the social has to be questioned the moment it is enunciated at the register of imaginary completeness, thus denying any kind of incompleteness. In conclusion, a particular emphasis is laid here on the resort to the category of oblation at the symbolic register (Chapter 7). To conclude The ‘social bond’ cannot sustain itself except through what seems to be its contradiction, that is the categories of the symbolic-separation-delimitation (Chapter 5). Similarly, the activities of work are sustained by the categories of the symbolic debt (Chapter 6), and the acknowledgment of economic activities cannot be realised except through the symbolic categories of oblation and the readiness to lose. The latter is clearly distinct from the aims of imaginary completeness of the individual, namely consumption, accumulation and the ‘add-on’ syndrome. Being a source of work and production, these are actually imagined as sufficient to produce the ‘good citizen’, that is the good consumer (Chapter 7). Providing that the enunciation can be made according to the symbolic register of anchorage and interdependence (Chapter 4), the notion of ‘valuable action’ may regain the significance attributed to it by Arendt, while ‘making money’, valued by the imaginary, will return to its original meaning, i.e., very little. This may return to such anthropological values as sacrifice, the gift, the potlatch and the debt, in the place they deserve. By so doing we can highlight the possibility of realising our aspirations on the plane of symbolic incompleteness, thus benefiting by the pleasure related to it. The signifier of ‘sacrifice’ regains here its ethymological sense of sacer, sacred, quite away from the negative significance attributed to it on the imaginary plane.

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