- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Nancy Fraser on Needs

Posted by: Samuel Day Fassbinder ( Citizens for Mustard Greens, USA ) on May 20, 1999 at 01:48:08:

In Reply to: Needs. posted by Red Deathy on May 17, 1999 at 23:31:18:

: : In a society where people are free to work at what they choose whether it be farning, engineer or street musician etc, as suggested by RD, then even if steps 1 and 2 were calculable (and I would doubt they are - the arguments over step 1 would take forever with each adding and removing 'needs' according to various standards) step 3 would be negated by such freedom to choose.

: Not really, since we'd have democracy, people would attune their wants/needs pretty easilly to what they reasonably know can be produced- everyone decides for themselves what they need, and then votes- after due debate.

SDF: What you're talking about RD, is not mere democracy, but rather the triumph over the current system through the process Jurgen Habermas called "communicative action," that needs would be resolved by a process of unforced, fair, and (ideally) rational argumentation that would itself co-ordinate actors to resolve their own needs together. Thus the force that is gearing production to the satisfaction of need is not merely calculation, but rather it's persuasion.

This is the way communal operations would ideally work: those who were not persuaded to be part of a system where production is geared to satisfy everyone's needs, would need to opt out of the community's satisfaction of their own needs. Within such a society, democracy would take care of the matter of defining need (assuming we can create participatory institutions that can define needs fairly), and communicative action would resolve the matter of the size of the communities that are to decide how to resolve needs.


: : Left up to the free choice of people they may well figure out how to produce for their own needs,

SDF: Interrupting for a moment if I may, since "nature is the ultimate source of all values," it might be said that people don't produce for their own needs all by themselves, they need resources to do so, and given the vast inequities in access to resources (natural, educational, social, technological etc.), such vast inequities as are established and respected by human societies, it isn't at all the "free choice of people" that allows them to figure out how to produce for their own needs.

: : and those of their families - and more sharply if they were reliant on their ability to do so. However when other peoples unmet needs come into the equation then a decision needs to be made about what the producers need to do in order to meet them, and what effect that would have on their lives. At that point a reliance is placed upon those able to produce to do so for others, and to do so willingly and without prejudice - ie choice in beneficiary.

: But people wouldn't be able to figure out how to just produce enough for themselves, its a democratic process, and so everyone invovled in the vote would figure out how to produce enough for everyone in the vote. Its to everyones benefit to produce for everyone.

SDF: The idea that needs, and production for needs, are merely "personal decisions" is debunked in Nancy Fraser's "Struggle over Needs: Outline of a Socialist-Feminist Critical Theory of Late Capitalist Political Culture," chapter 8 of her book UNRULY PRACTICES.

Fraser's argument, as I recall it, was that when needs are argued as being "merely private" needs or "merely economic" needs, such argument appears as part of a complex that depoliticizes needs in order to keep society the way it is.

The depoliticization of needs serves a status-quo orientation toward 1) the satisfaction of needs and 2) the way in which people in society benefit from work to provide for the needs of others, thus preserving vast inequities in wealth, power, and privilege within present-day male-dominant late-capitalist society. This is so because there is a POLITICAL FORMATION within society, today as always, that determines how people are to benefit from satisfying the needs of others. Not discussing this political formation, as such, denies communities of the right to choose alternative political formations, and it denies communities the right to question aspects of the political formation that currently offers privileges to its members.

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