The project INSTITUTIONS is a study of economic categories conceived as (economic) institutions. It explores the constitution of (economic) institutions from different disciplinary perspectives, ranging from heterodox economics, political philosophy and critical theory. It addresses the questions such as: what are economic institutions, how do they emerge and transform, what do they hold and what their conceptuality is, and what bestows them with a will and a consciousness, or simply just, how they come to exist or inexist. The central tenets are drawn from the economic sociology of Thorstein Veblen and the tradition of Institutional Economics. The meta-theoretical framework is based on the philosophical thought of Alain Badiou and Cornelius Castoriadis. Finally, the project engages a Frankfurt School inspired critique of the economic institutions as real abstractions of definite forms of social relations.
The project is set to significantly impact on concurrent theoretical debates in political economy, but also in contemporary philosophy. The first partial accomplishment is to reinvigorate the Institutionalist tradition in heterodox economics through an innovative reading and conceptual basis relying on philosophical systems of Badiou and Castoriadis. The second aspect provides a juxtaposition and critical assessment of the two systems respectively. Putting these interdisciplinary parts together it lays the grounds for a coherent critical theory of contemporary institutions and their modes of change for the 21th Century. The overall accomplishment is set to materialize in the form of a Critical Theory of Economic Institutions.
The project examines both explicit and implicit definitions of institutions and the modes of their change that stem from the Institutional Economics School of Thorstein Veblen – his economic and sociological theorizing –, complemented with other proponents of the school (e.g. John Commons, Wesley Mitchell, Clarence Ayres). Veblen perceived economic issues as social issues and vice versa and focused on their anthropological and social character.
thought are in-themselves Institutions. They are indifferent multiplicities, presented as a collection or a set of elements and organized according to a determinate relation of belonging. Different collections of multiplicities, i.e. habits of thought, also count as one – they are made consistent, i.e. are re-presented under some determinate law (of count).
The project thereafter bridges the handling of institutions in economics, philosophy and sociology, starting from a theory of the economic institution and concluding with a critical social theory of the institution.
The operating institutions of the capitalist framework, i.e. the monetary system, financial market, capital stock, but also advertising, needs and desires, technology, are today all perceived as everlasting infinite structures of human organization. Institutions abstracted from all positive content can be thought as multiplicities of elements and parts.
If we postulate the institutional framework as open, cumulatively hierarchical and contingently transformable, we also need a contemporary philosophical discourse, one capable of thinking the categories of the multiple and the One, finite and infinite, of belonging and inclusions (to institutions).
Such advancements in contemporary continental philosophy have concurrently been made, inaugurating post-Cantorian set-theory mathematics as an ontological base for philosophy, the thinking of pure being with recourse to mathematics being done in the philosophies of Alain Badiou and Cornelius Castoriadis.
The content of economic categories, whose bearers are economic and other institutions, constitutes a specific imaginary institution of society, one that is ʻobjectivelyʼ experienced by all individuals as a universal world, but on the other hand, where individuals reproduce it solely ʻsubjectivelyʼ. Now, the main problem becomes the objectivity of contemporary economic theory, where its concepts and institutions reproduce a false society – an objective appearance –, that dominates social agents and actions. The latter are dominated by determinate institutions (namely, money or capital commodity), whose particular functions and structural positions are strictly fixed in a capitalist institutional framework.
The key approach to this (economic) objectivity is introduced by the “New Reading of Marx’s” (heirs to Adorno’s critical theory) with an essential re-articulation of the forms of value in a capitalist society. They relate to Adornoʼs notion of ʻreal abstractionsʼ (institutions such as value or money) to convey the process of autonomization of the social relations governed by capitalist economic categories. Therefore, they constitute and hold together a (false) society as a natural and universal monetary market exchange routinely realized by individuals – without them knowing it is being reproduced behind their backs. As such, the subjects are always only ʻobjectifiedʼ, they lack a true appearance in objective reality, all until a major crack opens – such as a (economic) crisis – now identifying themselves as uncounted, inexistent in the picture of everyday life. It is at this point – of thinking such an unaccounted part of a social body– where all theories of equally-sided-parts in social action fall short.