Division of Labor, Fetishism, and Ideology (was ontology of class and race?)

Rakesh Bhandari bhandari at phoenix.Princeton.EDU
Wed Jul 8 22:37:02 PDT 1998

Yoshie, I think I am voicing your concern here. I'll take a simple idea I picked up from Stanley Lieberson but seems to be implicit in Charles Tilly's new book Durable Inequalities.

Begin with the standard sociological approach to inter group inequality. First, you control for the productivity related attributes (education, experience, references, test scores, interview score or whatever) of the individuals in each group, see how much of the variation can thereby be accounted for and then attribute the residual to discrimination. Then the argument in return is that some real difference in some productivity based attribute was not and cannot be picked up but actually accounts for the residual. This is no simple exercise, as I suspect Mat can tell us; the stats involved can get pretty sophisticated. I have no feel for the precise language with which to make these arguments.

But another way of looking at this is simply as such: . Say we take inter group inequality not to be the outcome of differences in the attributes of the individuals who compose the groups. Say we take a racialized or sexualized division of labor to be primary in some way.

Then one can say that employers will favor those putative measures of productivity which best maintain the inter-group inequality. That is, if women/blacks close the education gap with men/whites where before differences in education best assured and rendered objective the placement of men/whites in the better jobs, then employers may now privilige another putative productivity related attribute, e.g., experience or references, in hiring decisions the real function of which is to maintain the intergroup inequality. Or employers could now weight some previously downplayed attribute which is indeed not related to job performance (score on arbitrary job test, quality of educational institution) but which priviliges whites/men over their categorical others and thus keeps the social peace of a racialized/sexualized division of labor even as the market otherwise threatens to undo it.

The irony of course is that those who suffer as a result of and begin to see clearly the arbitrary nature of the racialized/sexualized division of labor are dismissed as identity activists, attempting to reorganize the workplace and social life to privilige their identities as if it hasn't been arbitrarily organized around other identities for some time.

We can take this further back too. In order to ensure the maintainence of that hierarchy steps can be taken much earlier to ensure minorities/women do not acquire the characteristics on the basis of which employers will reserve the better jobs--William Darity, Jr has referred to the programmed retardation of black children in the Washington DC school district. Therefore, explaining inter group inequality by character differences among the individuals in the groups would be a petitio principii (or whatever the Latin is for begging the question).

best, rakesh

> The division of labor is as central to capitalist dynamics as commodity
> fetishism, exploitation, and logics of accumulation are. I think that
> divisions of labor mediate commodity fetishism, ideology of race, and
> ideology of sex/gender/sexuality, grounding them into social practice of
> actually existing + historically constituted capitalism (as opposed to the
> essence of capitalism as explained through heuristics).
> I suggest that for the ideology of race to disappear, the division of labor
> must become deraced, _not_ in criticism _but_ in the real world, and not
> just within one country but internationally. It goes without saying that
> the reserve army of labor must be deraced as well, for the ideology to lose
> its hold. The same goes for the ideology of sex/gender/sexuality.

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