A Note on Deconstruction

By Samuels, Warren J. | Journal of Economic Issues, December 1998 | Go to article overview

A Note on Deconstruction


Samuels, Warren J., Journal of Economic Issues


The controversy over the deconstruction of John R. Commons's regulatory discourse has two parts: the nature and role of deconstruction and its application to Commons. In this Note, I address both topics.

Deconstruction

Deconstruction has been given many meanings, uses, and interpretations, not all of which readily, if at all, comport with each other. Some make sensible claims, others not. One must distinguish between soft and hard deconstruction, and between the theory and practice of deconstruction that have associated political agendas and those that do not. In what follows, I present my own view, stated broadly in conclusionary terms without going into detail.

1. A distinction must be made between deconstruction as a mode of analysis and the specific use and application of deconstruction to a particular topic of study.

2. Deconstruction is a mode of analysis as to meaning (verstehen) and is not necessarily a road to unequivocally true meaning or "Truth." Deconstruction enables the telling of a story, but not necessarily the correct story.

3. The same text or subject of deconstructionist study can be examined from multiple, different standpoints. These different standpoints constitute so many different "advance riggings" (story lines, design strategies). These different standpoints and advance riggings will produce different stories and different meanings. The central thrust of deconstruction is to elicit meaning. Meaning can be had from different standpoints.

4. The ability to do deconstruction does not obviate the ubiquitous problem of interpretation. Deconstruction by itself does not generate solutions to interpretive (and other) problems; deconstruction is a tool of analysis.

Deconstruction should be considered a self-referential tool of analysis. The techniques of deconstruction can and should be applied to both deconstruction and deconstructionist applications.

5. One is left with relativism (pluralism) - the coexistence of competing stories, meanings, deconstructions. Relativism here means two things: first, the rejection of any attempt to affirm the correctness or truth of a story or meaning on a priori terms; and second, the affirmation of a necessity to choose which story or meaning is preferred, and correlatively to identify the grounds on which it is established and preferred. One can consider all relevant interpretations without necessarily treating them as equals and without any a priori specification of acceptance or rejection. One can form a conceptual matrix of the different stories/meanings/interpretations and of the interpretative issues on which each takes a position and consider that meaning can be adduced to the entirety of the interpretive venture and not solely to the story emanating from one standpoint alone.

6. What is said above about deconstruction also applies to rational reconstruction in the fields of economic theory and the history of economic thought.

John R. Commons

1. Both Commons's career and work were very complex and are subject to multiple interpretations, between which each scholar must choose. …

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