The theme of this book is self-constitution in the writings of (inter alia) Kant, Hegel, Marx, Simmel, Weber, Lukács, Habermas and Honneth and, in particular, the relationship between selfconstitution and labour in their work. My aim in this is to correct an assumption embedded in critical theory from the outset — namely, the assumption that human labour is an 'instrumental' activity devoid of normative content. To this extent, critical theory tends to abstract labour from the intersubjective relationships that constitute it, in favour of a purely subject-object relationship whereby human 'subjects' purposively transform natural 'objects' in the production process. Labour is thus regarded as a transhistorical activity through which human beings directly commune with their natural environment. Contrary to this proposition, I argue that labour acquires its instrumental character from the way it is socially organized and applied under capitalism. Thus, rather than viewing labour in an essentialist fashion — common to and independent of all modes of production — I view it as a product of a specific social formation, one in which labour is abstracted from the complex network of social, cultural, political, aesthetic and, above all, ethical relationships that it once occupied. Having sundered 'workers' from their wider social context, their activities are then reduced to a narrow range of utilitarian practices governed by the criteria of efficiency.
To this extent, critical theory regards this historically specific form of 'abstract labour' as the primordial form of labour per se. Modernity is credited with revealing the true essence of labour, formerly lost beneath a morass of extraneous social relations, thereby conferring
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: Rethinking the Normative Content of Critical Theory: Marx, Habermas, and beyond. Contributors: Bob Cannon - Author. Publisher: Palgrave. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2001. Page number: 1.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.