The Bond of Fragmentation
On Marx, Hegel, and the social determination of the material world
In this paper, I approach this question of how we might explore the distinctive form of sociality actively constituted by the reproduction of capital, by revisiting and reinterpreting Marx's complex relationship to Hegel, as this plays out in the opening chapters of Capital, Volume 1. I argue that the narrative voice and dramatic structure of these early chapters has often been misread, with the result that Marx is taken to endorse positions that should instead be understood as the targets of his critique. A close attention to the textual strategy of these opening gestures, brings to light a far more supple, relevant and contemporary social theory for conceptualising a distinctive form of social life that reproduces itself through the ongoing transformation of concrete social institutions. In the process it generates a peculiarly abstract form of social bond whose existence can be obscured by the dynamism of its own process of reproduction. In this piece, I attempt to demonstrate how closer attention to the narrative structure of the opening volume of Capital reveals a vastly richer and more sophisticated social and anthropological theory than is generally recognised in Marx's work.
Discussions of the social impact of capitalism are often framed in terms of ‘social fragmentation’—in terms of the erosion of social bonds or the breakdown of community. Tacitly, this framing positions capitalism as a ‘negation’—as a corrosive force that strips away social bonds, generating the need to constitute some new form of bond in place of what has been eroded. It obscures the distinctive sense in which capitalism might also be conceptualised as constitutive or generative of a peculiar sort of social bond—one whose distinctive qualitative characteristics may then go unnoticed, and shielded from critique.
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© borderlands ejournal 2011