Deconstruction and Reasonable Value

By Chasse, J. Dennis | Journal of Economic Issues, December 1998 | Go to article overview

Deconstruction and Reasonable Value


Chasse, J. Dennis, Journal of Economic Issues


Is this unfair? Yes, No. But what about later? Here is a prediction and a hope: Without ever forgetting the journalist, people will learn to read "all" of the work . . . toward that which opens itself up there.

- Derrida [1988b, 591].

It means they haven't read the text.

- Derrida [1995, 129].

"The rigged-in-advance aspect of deconstruction has bothered a number of critics," wrote one such critic, Gerald Graff [1980, 416]. Graff was referring to a theoretical superstructure that determines in advance what a deconstructionist will find in a text no matter what the author intended to say or what the simplest meaning of the text implies. The fairness of this blanket critique is debatable, but it seems beyond debate that Mark Covaleski, Mark Dirsmith, and Sajay Samuel created a case study of the rigged-in-advance aspect of deconstruction. They nicely summarized deconstruction as practiced in Anglo-American academic circles over the past 30 years, and they raised interesting questions about public utility regulation. But then, blinded by the need to fit Commons into a set of rigid categories, they overlooked the unique nature of his intentions as a writer, erroneously portrayed him as an advocate of bureacracy, and in the process raised serious questions about the value of deconstruction for institutional analysis.

The nature of deconstruction is such that any attempt to correct erroneous portrayals must highlight omissions at every step of the argument. This paper, therefore, follows the Covaleski, Dirsmith, and Samuel outline (hereafter CD&S). It starts where they started, with a consideration of deconstruction in general, focusing, however, on the advanced rigging that predetermines the outcome of a deconstruction. Next, it argues that this advanced rigging prevented CD&S from grasping the unique way in which Commons interacted with the intellectual currents of his age. Similar predeterminations led them to wrongly assert that Commons advocated bureaucracy because of its formal impersonal properties and because it empowered allegedly neutral experts. A final section argues that though institutionalists can learn from the philosopher Jacques Derrida, they should think twice, or maybe 10 times, before jumping on the deconstruction bandwagon.

The Advanced Rigging

Derrida started deconstruction in the course of questioning the Cartesian assumptions supporting as an ideal the modernization familiar to economists from the writings of Gunnar Myrdal and Max Weber [Myrdal 1968, 57-68; Habermas 1987, 2-11; Weber 1958, 25]. Derrida almost always developed his arguments as commentaries on texts written by others. American literary critics adapted his methods to their own textual criticism, and academics in other fields gradually followed the lead of the critics. The rigged-in-advance nature of deconstruction follows from Derrida's terminology, from his latent intellectual assumptions, and from terminology developed by his followers.

Derrida developed his terminology using metaphor and analogy, rather than strict definition, and he usually developed this terminology in the framework of polar opposites. For example, after noting that Jean-Jacques Rousseau applied the term "dangerous supplement" to masturbation as opposed to cohabitation with women, Derrida showed how cohabitation can be considered the "dangerous supplement" to masturbation. He then applied this analogy to writing as being the "dangerous supplement" to speech [Derrida 1976, 149-157]. In a similar fashion, he developed a number of terms such as logocentrism, presentism, pharmakon, inside/outside, and so forth.(1) Because they emerge in a context of criticism and metaphor, and because postmodern philosophers reject any pretense of rigid scientific definition, the terms tend to expand, shed their skins, and slip through one's fingers. The need to use all these terms creates the most obvious rigging of deconstruction.

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