Keep an Open Mind      
Every morning, during breakfast, as a ritual, I watch Jon Stewart or Steven Colbert.  I find the guest portion of Jon Stewart somewhat uneven, but this morning, I was struck with interest by a writer named Paul Clemens who wrote a book "Punching Out, One Year in a Closing Auto Plant" ( I have not read the book, yet. Paul Clemens spent a year in a Detroit auto plant that went through the process of closing down, the dismantling and shipping of lines and laying-off of the workers. One of the things he said struck me: he did not try to demonstrate a thesis, but rather to describe what happened and how it happened.  I don't know if he said that with regret, but it struck a nerve, as I saw an intellectual go public with what he does best: observe, interpret, and analyze without without theorizing in the sense of proposing grand solutions or avenues of change.  Instead, he does what Clifford Geertz calls "thick description", observing the webs of significance and extracting meaning.

In the interview, Clemens talks about the plant, built according to the fordist tradition of efficiency, being dismantled line by line, the scrap metal being exported for disposal, the assembly lines being literally sent to other plants in Mexico and Brazil (and maybe somewhere else).  The company was breaking up a factory, and with it, changing fundamentally its whole social aspect: the workers, real people, were laid off while the once efficient production machine was disaggregated in pieces. From fordism to post-fordism, or another way of defining postmodernism and globalization: if one is to assume that the human life is regulated by its relation to production, than one can see that through this example, it is changing in very fundamental ways. It has been changing for decades, but now it is touching the last bastion of industrialism the way we knew it. And it affects not only the economy, but the social fibre of our being beings.

There are many lines of thought I want to follow after this interview, and first, I need to read the book.  But I want to make an argument against the structuralist foundationalists, or those who believe that there are underlying primary "rules" along which the human race is pursued; that we can, by theorizing in a scientific manner, extrapolate the functioning of society, forecast it and prescribe ways to approach it. If we learned anything from our short History of Humanity, some 5000 years of written knowledge, it is that the structure we live in is historically defined, that we can attempt to understand it, and eventually influence it.  But we cannot predict the behaviour of a complex system that is prone a mix of rationalism and irrationalism.

Paul Clemens, the way I understand the interview, has done some deep ethnography attempting to highlight the structure we live in.  In this sense, his understanding of theorization resembles what I believe is the most respectful of all. To go beyond and offer alternatives or solutions is either charlatanism of policy making. You choose.

Thoughts ?

        André Simonyi                        Keep an Open Mind

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