Politics/Economy

As might be apparent to researchers who are conversant with Marxist critical theory and Marxist-inspired critical scholarship, the categorical distinction between ‘politics’ and ‘economy’ is neither prevalent in such inquiry, but nor is it truly overcome. This itself may have to do with the fact that the Marxist and Hegelian traditions, historically the main store of theoretical wealth for critical scholarship, tend to address in negative terms the now common bifurcation in Anglo-American and European academia of political economy into politics (later, political science) and economy. As Venezuelan philosopher and political economist, Enzo del Bufalo, has put it, Marxist critique concerned as it is with revealing ‘las relaciones de poder que tejen las prácticas sociales’; the very commitment to ‘esta intención de la critica marxista le confiere su carácter desmitificador e impide su reconstitución como una filosofía o una teoría económica’ (p. 21).

The many Marxisms, despite their diversity, have fundamentally disputed the bifurcation of the discipline and the constitution of separate objects of study (or critique) as dependent on self-same scientific methodologies guaranteeing by means of shared positivist or empirical ‘rules of access’ the objects and objectivity of economics.[1] But this difficulty within the Marxist critique should refer us to the need to readdress the ways in which the distinction is drawn in particular and contingent situations, therefore, it is key to have present ‘the deeply discursive nature of the realms of politics and economics’, given the fact that the distinction’s deployment, constitution or enactment will have been achieved by means of discourse, technical artefacts and practice in distinct historical and textual sites.[2]

This bifurcation in Latin America proper is much more recent than would seem. Not only is the continent’s best known theoretical ‘IPE-like’ export, la teoría de la dependencia, critical of the merits of such a disciplinary distinction, but, indeed, the institutionalisation of academic departments dedicated to one or the other, politics or economy, is a mid-20th century phenomenon. To take note, the earliest courses in economics and the departments teaching the latter were established in the region in the early 1930s.[3] Normally, this ‘fact’—the belated specialisation of social sciences—is accounted for in terms of a narrative of underdevelopment and academic backwardness. And yet, one might convincingly read this fact in terms of hegemony and the distinctive experience of reality in the periphery. Many Latin American intellectuals encountered a different reality that simply could not be grasped in terms of the grounding theoretical assumptions that would allow for the political economy split, but would nevertheless later be compelled to shift into specialisation given the arguments, resources and technical knowledge of hegemony in the metropole in favour of bifurcation.[4] This problematic is interestingly highlighted by Roberto Schwartz, a Brazilian Marxist literary critic, in his discussion on ‘misplaced ideas’ in Latin American.[5] Economics and politics, we might say, as separate endeavours are necessarily misplaced.

[1] See Barry Hindess, Philosophy and Methodology in the Social Sciences. Sussex: Harverster Press, 1977.

[2] de Goede, 2006, p. 5.

[3] See the various histories of economic thought and political economy developed by the the Latin American intelelctuales Victor Urquidi, Arturo Uslar Pietri and Enzo Del Bufalo.

[4] It is interesting to note that the ‘Programa de Formación de Grado en Economía Política’, one of the few in Venezuela and in the region, was established with the creation of the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela as a strongly critical and Marxist-inflected program. The UBV offers no ‘economics’ degree, but rather incorporates the ‘micros’ and ‘macros’ into a historicised teaching curriculum whose framing of ‘economics’ as subsumable into political economy is, nevertheless, ambivalent.

[5] See Roberto Schwartz, ‘Misplaced ideas’. See alo my ‘Misplaced IR / IR fora do lugar. Politics and Emancipation in Latin America’ (2015).

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