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(en) France, OCL CA #338 - The fundamental structures of human societies - B. Lahire, Editions La Découverte (ca, de, fr, it, pt, tr)[machine translation]

Date Tue, 16 Apr 2024 08:24:23 +0300

B. Lahire's book is a book that can challenge us as libertarian communists. There are stimulating aspects and disturbing aspects because they apparently contradict our militant objectives of an egalitarian society. His voluminous book (950 pages), is based on a lot of scientific work (from Darwin to today) and calls on revolutionary activists, notably Marx (to a lesser extent Bakunin, Kropotkin, Pannekoek, Elisé Reclus , ...). It seeks to establish the transhistorical and transcultural social imperatives of human societies and therefore the laws of their functioning. To do this, it uses comparisons between species and between human societies.

The first two parts of the book (430 pages) are a plea for the human sciences to have a scientific, materialist approach and to break with dominant relativism/postmodernism. The third part addresses the substance of its development. Lahire distinguishes between what is social (relationships between the different parts making up a society) and what is cultural (what is transmitted and transformed: knowledge, know-how, objects/tools, institutions, etc.). It is impossible to draw a boundary between innate/acquired, nature/culture because there is a dialectical relationship between organism and environment. Currently we reason as if humans were only cultural, made of infinite variations and with no regularity other than temporary. From a materialist point of view, culture and history cannot develop in any direction because they are constrained by the limits (biological and social) constitutive of the human species. B. Lahire therefore considers that human societies are faced with similar problems and the responses to these demands lead to universal behavior and mental tendencies. There are consequently laws/lines of force which combine and therefore emerge from "invariants" (which does not mean universals). The deep logics of the current world and of the early times of humanity would be the same.

The great law proposed is that all societies manifest relationships of domination and he seeks to detect the fundamental reasons for this. Humans are characterized above all by secondary altriciality[1]. The latter generates a relationship of domination of parents over children which becomes the matrix of all relations of domination in society. The need for pregnant or breastfeeding women to be helped by others (particularly men) generates a division of labor and a relationship of sexual domination. A hierarchy based on seniority also exists because of these established relationships of domination and the cultural knowledge of the "elders". For B. Lahire, the state structure is linked to elementary parental logic, age and sex are the basic building blocks of hierarchies in human societies. However, in his conclusion, the most political part, he affirms that we must understand these mechanisms in order to free ourselves from them and not fall into reactionary fatalism.

What B. Lahire develops has the advantage of being positioned from a rigorous materialist point of view, based on a very voluminous scientific literature and we agree with his criticism of current social and human sciences. However, the basis of the domination that it develops is based on the parental relationship and we can imagine a society developing an educational framework that is much more emancipatory than relationships of domination which definitively structured the minds of individuals in a form of submission. Above all, the State only appears as the extension of this original relationship of domination. However, the function of a State is to perpetuate relationships of domination and exploitation through legitimate violence. It is therefore much more than a macrosocial transcription of pre-existing microsocial relationships. Here inter-individual relations of domination and a qualitatively different form of domination come together.

In conclusion, the book develops a lot of aspects of a materialist point of view that we have not talked about. Despite its length and some repetitions, it is very rich and stimulating even if certain developments sometimes suffer from shortcuts. The conclusion is intended to be optimistic by posing political perspectives against reactionary currents. Campaigning for general emancipation does not mean denying the determinisms of human societies. As Lahire says, not everything can change, not simple good will because we must confront reality, taking up Marx "It is not consciousness which determines existence, but the conditions of existence which determine the forms that can gain consciousness. ". Positing determinisms does not mean being subject to them, such as the fact that age and partly sex no longer structure relations of domination as much as previously. As the author says, humans are characterized by strong socialization leading to cooperation and altruism; it differentiates itself from other animals by cultural accumulation. There is therefore no political fatalism because, thanks to the cultural character, we can become aware of the laws and act on them and free ourselves from these determinisms (at least partially). The work of anarchist anthropologists or archaeologists shows precisely that sometimes the evolution of societies has much more flexible limits than a mechanistic determinism would lead one to believe[2].

[1]secondary altriciality or neoteny: prolonged state of dependence of the small human for his survival, and that of the child and the adolescent who must assimilate technical and social knowledge in order to find their place as an adult.
[2]See among others Graeber and Wengrow "In the beginning was... a new history of humanity"; Scott "Homo domesticus" and "Zomia or the art of not being governed"

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