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ANTHONY GIDDENS Alex Callinicos has written what on the whole is an accurate presentation of my views on social theory and critique in the same sense as I sought to use that term in A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism

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A Contemporary Critique


By way of apology for the title of this article,

I should point out that it refers not merely to Anthony Giddens's recent A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism,

but also to the fact that I am discussing an enormously energetic and prolific writer responsible over the last few years for a prodigious outpouring of books that develop,

and sometimes modify a coherent set of views on social theory

To attempt to summarize,

and subject to criticism such an oeuvre is a little like trying to catch quicksilver

My reasons for nevertheless making the attempt are twofold

the sheer erudition and intellectual range of Giddens's work commands our attention

A writer who draws on such a wide variety of thinkers

- Marx,







The two books under review,

one an ambitious reworking of social theory,

the other a collection of essays that illustrate this reworking mainly through the criticism of others' views,

offer an admirable opportunity to assess the direction and coherence of Giddens's project


A Contemporao" Critique of Historical Materialism,

itself expounds Giddens's substantive theory in the form of an appraisal of Marxism

The criticisms it offers represent a direct challenge to those,

a challenge to which I feel obliged to respond

I am fully in agreement with Erik Olin Wright that "the book is a serious engagement with Marxism,

and deserves a serious reading by both Marxists and non-Marxists

TM Giddens is too intelligent and sympathetic a critic of Marx simply to be brushed aside

Department of Politics,

University of York

134 What,

is the nub of Giddens's critique of Marxism

in the bulk of his mature writings,

his successors adopted a one-sided and economically reductive account of human conduct

They consequently developed an evolutionary theory of historical development that explained social change in terms of the growth of the productive forces,

denying human agents any significant role in the reproduction and transformation of societies

As a result,

Marxism has been largely insensitive to the diversity and irreducibility of power-relations,

blindly believing that national,

and sexual oppression were merely the epiphenomena of class exploitation

The hopeless inadequacy of such an intellectual framework has been decisively proved in recent years with the evolution of "really existing socialism" along lines quite unanticipated by Marx,

and the emergence of autonomous social movements such as feminism

To Giddens's views thus baldly stated,

"So what else is new

?" An alternative conceptualization of society to Marxism that stresses the variety and permanency of power-relations is implicit in Nietzsche's thought,

was developed systematically by Weber,

and has recently been revived with a fashionably "post-structuralist" twist by Foucault and Deleuze,

by Frank Parkin in his Weberian critique of neo-Marxist class theory

no doubt erudite and sophisticated,

but nevertheless still a variation on a rather well-worn theme

In the 1979 postscript added to the second edition of his The Class Structure of the Advanced Societies,

Giddens rejects descriptions of that book as "Weberian" or"neo-Weberian," insisting that "the position I developed in the book owes considerably more to Marx than to Weber

''~ He furthermore subjects Parkin's Marxism and Class Theory to virulent criticism for its negative and dismissive attitude towards Marxism

"I do not seek to replace Marx by Nietzsche

''5 Giddens's work can best be represented as a very ambitious attempt to effect a synthesis of distinct and opposed traditions in social theory

at the methodological level he seeks to preserve the stress laid by "interpretive sociology" (Weber,


ethnomethodology) on social relations as the result of the intentional activity of human agents,

while at the same time acknowledging the importance,

asserted strongly by Marxists,

Parsonian sociologists,

of social structures in shaping human conduct

Giddens is concerned to evolve an account of

maintaining that "power was never satisfactorily theorized by Marx,

The attempt to construct syntheses is undoubtedly a worthwhile intellectual activity


Hegel's dialectic treats it as the characteristic form of theoretical progress,

the concept of A ufhebung expressing how opposites are cancelled and preserved in a new unity

It is not wholly inaccurate to describe historical materialism as such a synthesis of Hegel and Ricardo

genuinely innovative syntheses are rare and difficult to arrive at

Too often attempted syntheses amount merely to banality,

I am reluctant to ascribe any of these three qualities to Giddens's work,

brilliant and stimulating as it often is

But I wish to argue that his attempt to transcend the rival traditions he hopes to synthesize is a failure

I shall try to prove my case by considering two of the main features of Giddens's general approach,

I shall then go on to consider in detail some of his criticisms of Marxism,

showing them to be largely mistaken and resting on a highly selective reading of its productions

I shall conclude with some general reflections on the nature of Giddens's project

I am well aware that in pursuing this course I shall not pay due tribute to the many exciting and suggestive passages especially in A Contemporary Critique in which Giddens discusses a variety of tfieoretical and historical issues

My failure,

to match his erudition and range may still lead to gains in clarity

The Theory of Structuration A central theme of Giddens's two main methodological treatises,

New Rules of Sociological Method,

and Central Problems in Social Theory,

is what he calls the "dualism of agency and structure

"7 By this he means the following

A variety of philosophical traditions,

notably heremeneutics and postWittgensteinian analytical philosophy,

have developed highly sophisticated accounts of human conduct as intentional action,

any explanation of which makes irreducible reference to the intentions,

and desires of the agent ascertainable primarily through the medium of language

They have,

or have found no way of coping with,

conceptions of structural explanation or social causation

those intellectual traditions that have developed such conceptions have ignored the subject

For example,

The involvement of actors' own purposive conduct with the rationalization of action is lacking in each case

hence the teleology of the system either governs

His starting point is one very close to the hermeneutic and Wittgensteinian traditions: The production ofsocie O' is a skilled performance,

sustained and "made to happen" by human beings

It is indeed only made possible because every (competent) member of society is a practical social theorist

in sustaining any sort of encounter he draws upon his knowledge and theories,

normally in an unenforced and routine way,

and the use of these practical resources is precisely the condition of the production of the encounter at all

make society in circumstances of their own choosing

"The realm o f h u m a n agency is bounded," "the p r o d'u c't i o n of constitution of society is a skilled a c'c o m p l'i s'h m e n t of its members,

but one that does not take place under conditions that are wholly intended or wholly c'o m p r e h e n d'e d'by them

TM It is here that social structures enter the scene,

as the " u n a c'k n o w l'e d'g e d'conditions and unanticipated consequences" of h u m a n conduct

Giddens distinguishes sharply between these structures,

by which he means h u m a n collectivities persisting in time and space

The persistence of a social system can only be accounted for by invoking structure,

a virtual order o f differences produced and reproduced in social interaction as its m e d'i u m and outcome

"~2 Every social system possesses a set o f " s't r u c't u r a l'p r i n c'i p l'e s',

" the "structural elements that are most deeply e m b e d'd e d'in the space-time dimensions of social systems" and that "govern the basic institutional alignments of a society

''~3 Giddens distinguishes between three main dimensions of structure,

in which agents communicate and rationalize their actions by means of interpretive schemes,

arising from asymmetries in the distribution of resources,

through which different forms of conduct are sanctioned by means of norms

Structural principles,

typically involve social contradictions,

in the sense that they "operate in terms o f each other but at the same time contravene one another

based on the "guiding tenet: d'o n ' t look for the functions social practices fulfil,

''j5 or his conceptualization of structures as enabling as well as constraining,

so they do not simply limit the scope of human conduct,

but make certain forms of activity possible

More relevant for present purposes is the fact that for Giddens the existence of structures does not in itself explain the persistence of social systems

The belief to the contrary he regards as "the decisive error in functionalism

"~6 According to a thesis that Giddens calls "the duality of structure," "structure is both medium and outcome of the reproduction of practices

although structure shapes the conduct of human agents,

it is only through that conduct that it itself possesses any effectivity,

and it may itself be modified by the activity of which it is the unacknowledged condition and unanticipated consequence

Giddens illustrates this argument by invoking the case of language

The rules of a language constitute langue,

the underlying structures that governparole,

But it only by virtue of being applied in speech that these rules become operative

withoutparole langue would not exist


it is always possible that usage will alter the rules of language

language is constantly changing as a result of shifts of usage


it is through the conduct of "knowledgeable human agents" that structures are produced,

The "duality of structure" thus formulated serves to conceptualize social systems as the outcome of an interaction between underlying structures and intentional conduct

Giddens is obviously sensitive to the arguments advanced especially by structuralism and post-structuralism that the subject can no longer be conceived,

as it has been since Descartes,

as the autonomous source of meaning

Yet he hopes to accommodate these arguments within a position that does not simply turn the subject into a mere "bearer" of anonymous structures,

"A de-centring of the subject must at the same time recover that subject as a reasoning,

Dallmayr observes: "Giddens has seen himself faced with a momentous challenge:

the task of moving beyond subjectivist metaphysics without relinquishing some of its insights,

and especially without lapsing into objectivism and determinism

"~9 The attractions of such a position are obvious,

avoiding as it does the extremes of a functionalism or structuralism that denies any scope to the human subject,

and a hermeneutics that can find no place for social structure

Or rather,

it would be attractive had Giddens successfully avoided these extremes

I wish to argue that he has not,

and that his commitment to the notion that human agents produce society gives rise to a tendency to collapse into the heremeneutic pole of the two extremes

"2~Such a treatment of rules as constitutive of social practice,

suggested already by his invocation of an analogy with language,

It was,

typical of much Anglo-American philosophy in the 1950s and 1960s under the influence of a certain reading of the work of the later Wittgenstein

Winch's Idea of a Social Science represented the apotheosis of this trend,

Now Giddens wishes to distance himself from social science la Winch,

if only because he believes that structure involves,

resources whose unequal distribution gives rise to power-relations

the conception of social practice as rule-governed is crucial to his theory of structuration

There seem to me two reasons for questioning this approach

it involves generalizing from the case of language to social practice as such

Such a treatment of language as paradigmatic of social life is again not peculiar to Giddens

it is also to be found in L6vi-Strauss's structural anthropology,

and in deconstructionists of the Derrida sort

Of course,

these various approaches embody,

very different conceptions of language

of a tendency toward rational consensus


they share a proneness to what Perry Anderson has recently called the "exorbitation of language," the identification of the structures of language with those of society

22 But,

as Anderson persuasively argues,

"language is no fitting model for any other human practice": linguistic structures change very slowly,

are not subject to the constraints of natural scarcity,

and exist through individual rather than collective agents

These are,

There is a second reason for quarrelling with Giddens's identification of structure with rules

Recent discussion,

of the passages in the Investigations and Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics where Wittgenstein examines the notion of following a rule suggests that in these texts,

far from conceiving social practice as rule-governed,

he sets out to attack the idea that,

"the rules m a r k out rails a l'o n g which correct activity w i t h i n the practice m u s't run

''25 T h e difficulty with rule-following thus conceived is well stated by P

S t r a w s'o n in this limpid s'u m m a r y of Kripke's r e a d'i n g of Wittgenstein: It is natural to suppose that when we use a word or symbol of our language,

we are guided in its use by our grasp of its meaning,

or of the concept which it expresses,

or of the rules or instructions for its use which we have mastered

that these are what tell us that it is correct to use the expression in such-and-such a way

to apply it to this case (if it is a descriptive term) or to compute with it in this way (if it is a mathematical symbol)

So we appear to invoke some fact about our mental life to explain our confidence in the correctness of our current use of the expression

But if we take this conception seriously,

it seems that there can be no guarantee that what we now take ourselves to mean by the expression is the same as what we meant by it in the past

For our practice is consistent with our having meant by it something quite different

should be obvious to any reader of Nelson Goodman: perhaps by "green" in the past I meant grue (where anything green seen before now and anything seen blue from now is grue)

because every course of a c't i o n c'a n be m a d'e to accord with it

''27 R a t h e r t h a n g r o u n d'i n g social practice,

rules d'e p e n d'for their applicability o n the shared responses of m e m b e r s'of a c'o m m u n i t y

It is o n the basis of this i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of rule-following that W i t t g e n s't e i n argues,

in the later parts of the Investigations,

o n e that in principle o n l'y one speaker could use,

since the only criterion of correct usage is that provided by the c'o m m o n a c't i o n of m e m b e r s'of ~/society

If this a r g u m e n t is valid,

a n d'it has still to be s'h o w n that it is not,

t h e n G i d'd e n s'c'a n n o t a p p e a l'to the n o t i o n of rules as the basis of his a c'c o u n t of social structure

R a t h e r t h a n g e n e r a t i n g practices,

This is n o t great worry if one accepts,

a m u c'h s't r o n g e r sense of s't r u c't u r e t h a n that p r o p o s'e d'by G i d'd e n s'

It merely provides persuasive b a c'k i n g for m y o p p o s'i t i o n to generalizing f r o m the case of language

who wishes to preserve the h e r m e n e u t i c'tradition's sensitivity to the i n t e r p r e t i n g a n d'acting subject while recognizing the s't r u c't u r a l'aspects of social practice,

G i d'd e n s'shows n o sign of being aware of this difficulty

This is especially s'u r p r i s'i n g in the light of the fact that he is evidently a c'q u a i n t e d'with the issues raised by W i t t g e n s't e i n ' s'discussion of rule-following


he writes that "the k n o w l'e d'g e a b i l'i t y i n v o l'v e d'in practical c'o n s'c'i o u s'n e s's c'o n f o r m s'generally to the W i t t g e n s't e i n i a n n o t i o n o f ' k n o w i n g a rule' or ' k n o w i n g how to go on

in the e x c'h a n g e with D'a l'l m a y r published in Profiles a n d


Giddens ignores the former's demand for"further argument

to pinpoint the status of rules in the process of structuration

''29 Dallmayr goes on to argue that,

although Giddens has "told us repeatedly that he wants to move beyond the so-called subject-object dichotomy," in the theory of structuration,

"he reverts again to the subject-object dualism of actors constituting and being constituted

that there is a persisting dualism of agency and structure in Giddens's writings despite his claim to have overcome it,

can be illustrated by his discussion of two issues

In each he tends to treat agents and structures as separate from,

and to accord primacy to the former

The first is the question of resistance by subordinate groups

Giddens attacks Foucault's notion of"history without a subject" on the grounds that "human beings are always and everywhere knowledgeable human agents,

though acting within historically specific bounds of the unacknowledged conditions and unaccepted consequences of their acts

"31 He proceeds to criticize Foucault's notion of society as constituted by a pervasive and omnipresent apparatus of"power-knowledge" by arguing that "Foucault's 'archaeology,' in which human beings do not make their own history but are swept along by it,

does not adequately acknowledge that those subject to the power of dominant groups are themselves knowledgeable human agents,

blunt or actively alter the conditions of life that others seek to thrust upon them

although resistance is always supposedly immanent in power-relations,

he never provides any basis for this resistanceP 3 Giddens seeks to provide such a basis by invoking the concept of"knowledgeable human agents

" This is a completely ahistorical approach

There is no discussion of the historically specific conditions that lead oppressed groups to resist,

and that provide their resistance with sources of organization and power

It is merely a general property of"knowledgeable human agents" that they "resist,

blunt or actively alter" their "conditions of life

" The strategy recalls Edward Thompson's counter-position in The Poverty of Theory of the creativity and humanity of social agents to the structural conditions of their activity

Perry Anderson's response to Thompson seems to me applicable to Giddens as well: the scope for agency (and hence resistance) in history varies according to the specific circumstances in which people find themselves

He writes: "Discipline,

Foucault says,

disassociates power from the body

At the same time,

the emphasis is placed on the 'interiorization' of power

The rise of the disciplines in early nineteenth-century Europe indeed represents a shift from the form of power characteristic of absolutism,

involving the spectacular use of violence in public executions

But the new form of power,

in which individuals are subjected to general norms within the context of institutions such as prisons,

In this case,

it serves to constitute them as subjects,

providing them with a set of motives governing their actions

Giddens's talk of "the 'interiorization' of power" reveals his own presupposition that structures act on independently formed subjects

power does not penetrate the consciousness of a pre-formed subject

The same presupposition underlies Giddens's critique of Harry Braverman's Labour and Monopoly Capital 36 Giddens quite correctly points to the weakness of Braverman's account of scientific management and the deskilling of labor,

namely that it treats workers as passive objects apparently incapable of effective organization and resistance


this criticism is theoretically grounded in the assertion that "to be a human agent is to have power," so that "the most seemingly 'powerless' individuals are able to mobilize resources whereby they carve out 'spaces of control'" giving rise to "a dialectic of control

but it short-circuits the analysis of different modalities of resistance in different social formations

The scope for resistance of,

a slave in the Athenian silver mines at Laureion,

was surely much narrower than that of,

the auto-workers at Ford Halewood studied by Huw Beynon

A Marxist would argue that the difference between the two can only be understood by examining what Erik Olin Wright has called the structural capacities of particular classes

the distinctive powers that they derive from their position in historically specific relations of production

Giddens's preoccupation with an abstract account of human subjectivity prevents him from following through the consequences of his own insight into the way in which social structures enable as well as constrain

" One of the most interesting and innovative aspects of Giddens's recent work is his insistence on integrating the spatial and temporal dimensions of human life into social theory

Recent work in human geography,

not as part of a separate discipline from sociology,

but as an intrinsic part of the study of social formations

merely to draw attention to one feature of the conceptual framework he uses

He draws on Heidegger and Derrida in order to argue that "all social interaction intermingles presence and absence

''41 Human beings have direct contact with each other as present in space and time


they also have access to those distant in time through oral tradition,

and other such storage devices,

and to those distant in space by various communications systems

Social structures serve to bind practices together in time and space through their contribution to the constitution and reproduction of systems of social interaction

Giddens goes on to distinguish between societies on the basis of the degree of their "presence-availability

" In "societies or communities of high presence availability

interaction is predominantly of a face-to-face kind

''42 Such societies are to be found,

Giddens argues that history is characterized by a process of"time-space distanciation," such that "societies are 'stretched' over longer spans of time and space

''43 This occurs as both communications and storage devices become more sophisticated,

so that people interact with those with whom they are not in face-toface contact

The culmination of this process is the emergence of the capitalist world-system

I shall discuss this analysis,

insofar as it supposedly contradicts Marxism,

I wish merely to note here that Giddens's argument differs significantly from the conception of Being as presence-absence developed by Heidegger and Derrida

For the latter argue that the condition of "high-presence availability" that Giddens attributes to band-societies is impossible

They do so for general philosophical considerations: namely,

they wish to deny that a state of parousia or absolute presence in which we have direct access to reality can exist

We can only relate to such a state as necessarily absent,

something that we have lost or may still hope to (re)gain

This is the point of Derrida's concept of difJbrance,

of a constant play of presence and absence in which we are obliged to postulate,

Giddens is perfectly entitled to appropriate and modify other people's concepts

But it is the nature of the modification that is interesting

One of the points of the concept ofdiff~rance was precisely to dislodge from his sovereign place the Cartesian subject,

having direct access to the contents of his consciousness (in other words,

and providing a basis on which our knowledge of the world (and indeed on some versions the world itself) could be constituted

Giddens does not reinstate the Cartesian self rather it is the subject of social interaction,

engaging in face-to-face contact with other subjects in the manner analysed by Goffman,

which reigns in the condition of ~'high presence-availability

as Derrida argues it must necessarily be,

the story of the loss of presence,

of the "high presence-availability" characteristic of hunter-gatherer societies

Once again,

"knowledgeable human agents" triumph over structures

These two cases

The reason for this failure is not a contingent one


its source lies in the very conception of structure as the unacknowledged condition and unanticipated consequence of human actions

Let us consider structure in its two aspects

Conceiving structure as the unanticipated consequence of human action does not involve any challenge to the primacy of agents over structures

On the contrary,

such a conception of structure has usually been held precisely as a means of securing this primacy

This is most obviously so in the case of methodological individualism

If social structures arise as the unintended consequences of individual actions,

then it is with these actions,

and intentions that produce them,

that we must start in order to account for the existence of structures and of the practices bound up with them

Jon Elster,

who recently urged in the pages of this journal that methodological individualism can provide the "microfoundations of Marxist social theory,

"45 has,

developed an account of social contradiction as unintended consequence

47 And,

the concept of structure as the unacknowledged condition of human action seems to go much further than any account in terms of unintended consequences,

especially when Giddens talks of structure as both constraining and enabling

But when we consider the detail of Giddens's account,

structure is once again reduced to a secondary role

Structures are,

Even though Giddens does not fully grasp the import of Wittgenstein's arguments a b o u t rule-following,

he does recognize rules' dependence on the practices that they supposedly govern

The other aspect of structure is resources,

which are either authoritative or allocative,

depending on whether they give c'o m m a n d'over persons or objects respectively

I shall have more to say a b o u t them when I come to discuss Giddens's account of power

W h a t I wish to stress here is that he describes resources as "media" or "means" that are "utilized" by agents seeking their own ends,

and thereby (unintentionally) reproducing society

It is conceived instrumentally,

as a tool used by agents in order to realize their wants


since Giddens often belabors M a r x for identifying h u m a n praxis with the material w o r k of t r a n s'f o r m i n g nature,

in which agents use scarce resources to achieve their ends

There seems to me no way of genuinely distinguishing this position from Popper's,

whose methodological individualism is precisely a generalization of neo-classical economics's model of rational action

H a b e r m a s'' s'recent c'o m m e n t s'on Giddens go to the heart of the matter

Giddens's "concept of practice," H a b e r m a s'writes,

is supposed to be related to the constitution of action-complexes and to their reproduction

because the basic epistemological concept of'constitution',

which refers to the formation of object-domains,

causes confusion in social theory

It suggests that speaking and acting subjects 'produce' their social life-context in a way similar to that in which they make products of instrumental action [i

The over extension of action-concepts in a theory of constitution remains stuck in metaphors

the basic concept of the philosophy of Praxis gives at best an anthropomorphistic concept of societyPt H a b e r m a s'has put his finger on the central fault in Giddens's theory of structuration

The way in which Giddens conceptualizes structure means that it can only function as a s'e c'o n d'a r y aspect of social practice,

subject to the creative interventions of "knowledgeable h u m a n agents

as H a b e r m a s'points out,

is "an a n t h r o p o m o r p h i s't i c'concept of society," in which the subject reigns supreme,

p r o d'u c'i n g society as l'a b o r produces use-values

F a r f r o m overcoming the dualism of agency and structure,

Giddens is stuck firmly at the pole of agency

The much-invoked "duality of structure" a m o u n t s'to little m o r e t h a n a substitution of two letters

The Paralogisms of Power Similar conceptual sleight of hand characterizes Giddens's account of power

The concept of power is central to his critique of Marxism

a fundamental component of my arguments is that the articulation of space-time relations in social systems has to be examined in conjuction with the generation of power

A preoccupation with power forms a leading thread of this book

I maintain that power was never satisfactorily theorized by Marx,

and that this failure is at the origin of some of the chief limitations of his scheme of historical analysis

he argues that "the notion of 'action'

is logically tied to that o f power

Action intrinsically involves the application of 'means' to achieve outcomes,

b r o u g h t a b o u t t h r o u g h the direct intervention of an a c't o r in a course of events

"53 " P o w e r " is u n d'e r s't o o d'here as "the transformative capacity of h u m a n agency," that is,

as "the c'a p a b i l'i t y of the a c't o r to intervene in a series of events so as to alter their course

as such it is the 'can' which mediates between intentions and wants and the actual realization of the outcomes sought after

T M The second step involves introducing a "narrower,

relational sense" of "power," as a " p r o p e r t y of interaction," " p o w e r as domination

''55 It arises "where t r a n s'f o r m a t i v e capacity is harnessed to actors' attempts to get others to c'o m p l'y with their wants

T M The result is "structures of d'o m i n a t i o n ,

" which "involve asymmetries o f resources employed in the sustaining of power-relations in and between systems of interaction

"57 Giddens distinguishes between two main forms of d'o m i n a t i o n ,

d e p e n d'i n g on which type of resource is unequally distributed

Allocative resources comprise "material features of the environment," "material means of p r o d'u c't i o n / r e p r o d'u c't i o n ,

" Giddens's account of authoritative resources,

which consist in the "organization of social time-space," " p r o d'u c't i o n / r e p r o d'u c't i o n of the h u m a n body," and " o r g a n i z a t i o n of h u m a n life-chances," is a g o o d'deal less perspicuous: these resources are something of a residual category

the gist is clear enough: allocation is essentially economic d'o m i n a t i o n ,

authorization politico-ideological

The third step is to use these concepts to offer a theory of historical development

G i d'd e n s'claims that power and d'o m i n a t i o n are inherent in h u m a n social life

P r i o r to capitalism,

Giddens argues,

a u t h o r i z a t i o n was the prevailing form

He distinguishes between class-divided and class societies

In both categories

"the sectional forms of domination created by private ownership of property,


in a class-divided society "class analysis does not serve as a basis for identifying the basic structural principles of organization of that society

TM Class-divided societies compromise all "non-capitalist civilizations"

The structures of domination in these societies depend upon the distribution of authoritative resources

authorization has primacy over allocation

"62 Capitalism is the only case of a class society

here alone does allocation prevail

The only limited validity historical materialism possesses is in its analysis of capitalism,

where economic factors do predominate over ideological and political ones

I wish to criticize this account of power,

but let me first stress its virtues

Giddens's is not a harmonistic theory of society

At its center is contradiction,

This is its merit,

compared with those of Parsons and Habermas,

for whom power serves primarily to integrate social systems,

and to dampen down social conflict

it is with Weber that he is best compared,

despite his assertions to the contrary

A crucial element in Giddens's strategy is the shift from the broad to the restricted conceptions of power,

from power as transformative capacity to power as domination

He is quite explicit in insisting that it is the broad concept of power that grounds the claim that domination is inherent in social life

For example,

"all social interaction involves the use of power,

as a necessary implication of the logical connection between human action and transformative capacity

Power within social systems can be analyzed as relations of autonomy and dependence between actors in which these actors draw upon and reproduce structural properties of domination

T M Similarly,

forms the basis of human action

"65 If we are to take these passages as suggesting that one may infer from the "logical connection" between transformative capacity and action to domination as a persisting feature of social interaction,

and that is what expressions such as "necessary implication" would lead us to believe,

then Giddens is guilty of an obvious fallacy

I doubt if anyone would wish to question whether "action" is "logically tied" to "transformative capacity," but recognition of the involvement of power thus understood in human action does not commit one to very much

For "transformative capacity" understood as "the capability

to intervene in a series of events so as to alter their course" is a


"transformative capacity" seems in reality to be merely another expression for "causal powers," since such powers consist pecisely in the ability to bring about some alteration in the course of the world

But this consideration does not bear on the nature of "transformative capacity" but rather on human agents' peculiar ability consciously to control and monitor the exercise of their causal powers

It is one thing to attribute to human beings this "transformative capacity

" It is quite another to infer from this true but rather trivial proposition the much more interesting,

false) thesis that power in the sense of domination is intrinsic to human life

There is no necessary connection between the two concepts of power

Further premises would be required to justify the inference from transformative capacity to domination

Interestingly enough,

a similar point has been made recently by Foucault

He distinguishes between "objective capacity," "which is exerted over things and gives the ability to modify,

which brings into play relations between individuals (or between groups)

" "Objective capacities" and "power-relations," Foucault insists,

''67 Although Giddens distinguishes carefully between the broad and restricted sense of power,

it is difficult not to feel that when he claims that "transformative capacity

connects action to domination and power," he is guilty of an equivocation

The result is a paralogism,

"power," is used in different senses in the premise and conclusion of the same argument

It does not seem to me,

for reasons that I will make clear shortly,

that this elementary logical mistake is necessarily fatal for Giddens's account of domination

But since he makes so much of the notion of "transformative capacity" it is worth pointing out how little use of this concept commits one to

This brings out a common feature of Giddens's writings,

that they are prolific of neologisms and,

of redefinitions of familiar words,

and the complex typologies often accompanying them,

usually offering much gain in clarity or empirical reach

Central Problems in Social Theory is especially guilty of this,

an arid treatise raining down definitions and diagrams on the bewildered reader's head

F r o m this point of view A Contemporarv Critique is especially to be welcomed,

since here Giddens cashes his conceptual checks,

putting the typologies of Central Problems to work in order to provide an account of historical development different from Marx's

without the support of "transformative capacity

" The test of its validity will then turn on whether it explains a series of phenomena that Marxism cannot

This argument is a cogent one,

and can only be answered by turning,

to the concrete detail of Giddens's critique of Marx

Marxism and Evolutionism

The Marxism that Giddens seeks to transcend is an evolutionist one,

in which social change is an outcome of the level of development of the productive forces

Such a view of historical development is characteristic of Marxism in general: "Marxist authors are virtually everywhere committed to evolutionism in one guise or another

"6s Only in those sections of the Grundrisse where he discusses pre-capitalist social formations (the so-called Formen) does Marx himself adopt a different approach: "rather than implying that the forces of production have their own internal dynamic,

Marx seems in the Formen to give primacy to 'ecological' factors (dispersal or concentration of populations) and to war in stimulating social transformation

''69 Giddens seeks to disprove Marx's evolutionary theory,

and substantiate his own theory of domination by providing an account of historical development in which it is the distribution of authoritative resources that has primacy until the development of capitalism

We have already seen that he believes history to be a process of time-space distanciation in which the high presence-availability of tribal societies is progressively lost

These changes are highly significant for the manner in which societies are integrated

Giddens distinguishes between societal and system integration

Societal integration involves the relationships between individual social actors

systems integration concerns the connections between social groups and collectivities

TM In tribal societies the two forms of integration are fused,

is dependent on the face-to-face contacts between individuals,

and the traditions and kinship networks with which these contacts are intimately bound

The two forms of integration are separated with the emergence of classdivided societies

Societal integration still depends on kinship and tradition,

and small localized communities continue to form the basis of these societies


system-integration depends increasingly on the power of the state,

and the authoritative resources that it is able to mobilize

The extraction of surplus-labor from these communities depends on the intervention of the

149 state,

and takes the form of deductions

The necessary authoritative resources to mount such control over local communities required the development of new forms of "information storage," such as writing,

that in turn depended on the emergence of the city

It is the rise of the city,

"the generator of the authoritative resources out of which state-power is created and sustained,

''71 not the development of the productive forces that is the decisive factor in the emergence of classes


like "class-divided societies," separates societal and system integration


the content of these two forms of integration is radically changed

The extraction of surplus-labor comes to depend,

not on the direct intervention of coercive power,

but rather on economic mechanisms,

that force workers to sell their labor-power

Capitalism is thus characterized,

as Giddens has earlier stressed in The Class Structure of the Advanced Societies,

by "a 'separation' between economy and polity such that there is at least a substantial scope for the play of market mechanisms independent of active political control

''72 But he now accounts for the "insulation" of economy and policy on the grounds that "only with the advent of capitalism does an exploitative class relation become part of the very mechanism of the productive process

''73 The other side of the separation of state and market is the transformation of the state into "a much more intrusive and comprehensive set of institutions in capitalist than in class-divided societies,

so far as those subject to its administration 'internally' are concerned

"74 No longer is societal integration left to kinship and tradition

The dependence of the capitalist economy upon the capacity of producers continually to increase their output requires an enormous expansion of state-directed apparatuses of surveillance,

by which Giddens means both the accumulation of information,

and what Foucault calls the disciplines,

the systematic supervision and regulation of the activities of those involved in a variety of institutions


the "crucible of power" is no longer the city,

a phenomenon whose significance Giddens believes Marxism largely to have ignored

I suspect that most people,

confronted with this account of historical development,

would be puzzled as to why it should be regarded,

with all its stress on changing modes of surplus-extraction,

Giddens's reply would presumably be that Marxism accords primacy to the productive forces,

attributing to them an "internal dynamic" that is the source of all historical change

most eloquently defended recently by G

Cohen in his Karl Marx's Theory o f History

It is not,

I think it can be shown that it is a view that Marx himself progressively abandons

as Erik Olin Wright persuasively argues,

rejection of evolutionist Marxism does not require the abandonment of any notion of historical evolution

TMThe crucial distinction,

is that between teleological versions of historical materialism that conceive social formations as evolving towards a predetermined goal,

and those that adopt a weaker and unobjectionable evolutionary theory

Wright urges that all such a theory must claim is that "there is some process,

which imparts a directionality to movements from one form to another

Giddens's own account of history as a process of time-space-distanciation,

in which time and space are progressively stretched,

and "the immediacy of presence T M gradually lost,

meets the conditions for an evolutionary theory: "Because of the link between conflict,

there will be at least some impulse for increasing space-time distanciation


which Giddens believes to have developed "as a means of recording information relevant to the administration of societies,

''s2 may have in fact originated in the clay tokens used by Neolithic farmers to keep track of their food stores,

time-space distanciation crucially depends on technological innovations

new systems for transmitting information,

The stretching of space and time is in no sense a process autonomous of the development of the productive forces

To argue in this manner is not,

to accord causal primacy to the productive forces

Their development is best understood,

but not sufficient condition of changes in social relations


the scope for developing the productive forces is determined by the prevailing relations of production

These relations are best conceived as a specific mode of appropriation of surplus-labor,

which in turn depends upon the distribution of the means of production

Forces and relations mutually limit one another,

rather than the one exerting primacy over the other

Marx himself provides such an explanation in his crucial chapter,

"(~enesis of Capitalist Ground-Rent," in Capital volume 3

the property relationship must simultaneously appear as a direct relation of lordship and servitude,

so that the direct producer is not free

a lack of freedom which may be reduced from serfdom with enforced labour to a mere tributary relationship

The direct producer,

is found here in possession of his own means of production,

the necessary material labour conditions required for the realization of his labour and the production of his means of subsistence

Under such conditions the surplus-labour for the nominal owner of the land can only be extorted from them [the direct producers] by other than economic means,

As a conceptualization of feudal relations of production this account is not wholly unproblematic

it has provided the basis of at least one major empirical study of late feudalism

Surplus-labor can be appropriated by a ruling class where the direct producers themselves control the labor-process only through the systematic use of the means of coercion

By contrast,

the complete separation of the direct producers from the means of production under capitalism accords primacy to economic mechanisms in the extraction of surplus-labor

As Marx puts it,

"the silent compulsion of economic relations sets the seal on the domination of the capitalist over the worker

Direct extra-economic force is still of course used,

Now Giddens is perfectly well aware of this analysis

Indeed his own account of the differences between class-divided and class societies depends crucially upon it,

his demonstration of how the mechanisms of"surveillance" described by Foucault can only be understood in the light of the mode of surplus-extraction peculiar to capitalism,

does Giddens believe that his version of historical development is an alternative to Marx's

? There seem to be at least three reasons

The first is Giddens's persisting methodological commitment,

as I have shown earlier in this article,

to a version of interpretive sociology,

which gives the subject primacy over structures,

and treats power in the sense of domination as intrinsic to social life

I shall have a little to say about this at the end of this section



as an interpretation of history as inevitable progress toward a predetermined goal

the third reason to which I wish first to devote some attention

This is Giddens's tendency to identify the relations of production with market-relationships

This is most obvious in the case of The Class Structure of the Advanced Societies,

that "classes are large-scale groupings" whose existence depends upon "the formation of market-relationships and a division of labour allowing the production of commodities

that neither feudalism nor what he chooses to call "state socialism" are class societies


in capitalism itself "the system of exploitation operates through differentials in market capacity

Giddens distinguishes between three classes in capitalism

owning the means of production,

and an intermediate class today composed largely of white-collar workers whose greater skill than manual workers enhances their "market capacity

" While Giddens's analysis of class-relations is considerably more sophisticated in A Contemporary Critique,

he continues to identify class with market relations

Thus he argues that in class-divided societies,

class is less important than under capitalism because the main form of private property,

is alienable only to a limited degree,

With Marx,

the existence of classes depends upon the monopolization of the means of production by a minority and their consequent ability to appropriate surplus-labor

It is entirely a secondary matter whether these means of production are commodities that may be purchased and sold on the market

(Even under capitalism land is a very peculiar sort of commodity)

The relations of production may well contradict the apparent organization of society,

what I have called elsewhere a social formation's form of articulation

the dependence of surplus-extraction on coercion means that the relations of production "appear as a direct relation of lordship and servitude

" Social stratification consequently takes the form of a status hierarchy,

the division of society into estates,

that contradicts the underlying class-relationships


under capitalism the relations of production take the form of market relationships,

of apparently equal and reciprocal relations between commodity-owners

In the crucial chapter of Capital volume l,

"The Sale and Purchase of Labour-Power," Marx stresses the disjunction between this apparent equality and the underlying inequality

but the distribution of the means of production underpinning it that is crucial for Marx

Giddens's discussion of class and capitalism can be said to suffer from two serious weaknesses

it tends to overemphasize the importance of commodity production for capitalism

This is reflected,

in his introduction of the notion of a commodification of time under capitalism,

which raises issues too complex to be discussed here,

but which seems to me to be both overstated and misleading