Theories of Practice: Marxist History-Writing and Complexity

Historical Materialism 21 (4):36-70 (2013)
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Abstract

Jairus Banaji’s collection of essays is a stimulating and provocative assessment of recent Marxist history-writing on issues of social theory and historical development in both ancient as well as modern societies. It challenges the overly simplistic application of Marx’s categories of analysis, arguing for both complexity and a clearer theorisation of fundamental terminology and analytical tropes, including labour-process and mode of production. This review article suggests that, while the basic arguments represent a welcome corrective to some Marxist historical work, and at the same time address in an accessible way non-Marxist historians, there remain some problematic issues, in particular in respect of the criteria for differentiating between different types of mode of production, the level at which this concept has heuristic application, and the distinction between the political/institutional and the modal instances of theorisations of social-economic relations. Some of these issues are exemplified by reference to particular historical cases.

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