Chapter 2: Economizing Against Economic Nature

Talking about the Colloque de Cerisy: the second chapter of The Provoked Economy is inspired, in part, by what happened there on between in July 2006, at the workshop on “The Historical Anthropology of Scientific Reason” orchestrated by Bruno Latour and Philippe Descola. The topic was naturalism in modern, scientific style of reasoning:

“The crucial hypothesis shared at the Colloque de Cerisy was of course that the particular style of Western modern reason is plainly naturalistic. The modern scientist can talk about multiculturalism (several cultures, several ways of thinking and of seeing things, several ways of experiencing human interiority), but never about multinaturalism (since there is only one nature).” (p. 36)

Well, and hypothesis not shared by all:

“For Latour, naturalism corresponds to the picture modern science keenly provides of itself, but is at odds with what modern science really does. According to Latour, the archetypical modern thinker speaks with a forked tongue, praising naturalism, prentending to be a naturalistic-minded enquirer, but in practice failing to refrain from producing hybrids between nature and culture, and continuing to be entirely performative.” (p. 36)

The chapters asks where is economic reason situated in that debate, using recent debates on the performativity of economics as a naturally-occurring anthropological experiment (spoiler: the chapter sides with Latour on that).

It also provides a quick working definition of the processes that are at the heart of the constitution of the economic: economization, abstraction, valuation and capitalization, all considered as material acts of signification rather than as substantive things. The idea is not new: it is about dropping the idea of value and looking instead at valuation:

“From the pragmatist perspective put forward by authors such as John Dewey, the intellectual problem of value (whether it is objective or subjective, and so forth) could be better approached through a ‘flank movement’ which basically consists in abandoning value as a substantive feature and considering valuation as an empirical act.” (p. 40)

And this is an essential ingredient of the provoked economy:

“But immersing things in networks of valuation is not only about considering these things from an economic viewpoint. It is first and foremost about getting these things prepared for an economic act (e.g. the act of selling or purchasing, the act of investing).” (p. 40)

The chapter closes with a remark on Gilles Deleuze and Féliz Guattari (capitalization considered as a particular form of encoding).