Notes on Aronowitz, S.  (1980) 'Science and Ideology'.  In McNall, S. and Howe,G.  (Eds.) Current Perspectives in Social Theory, vol. one (no publication details, sorry).

Dave Harris

It is common to find in Marxist theory, in Habermas as well as Althusser, that science is never the same as ideology, that the bourgeoisie can never have a science of capitalism.  Marxism by contrast appears as both a science and an ideology.

Habermas discusses science and ideology in Towards a Rational Society, addressing Marcuse's notion that technology simply is domination, the domination of nature and the domination of man, and that it emerges through a process of rationalization in Weber's sense (which includes its ultimate irrationality).  Habermas wants to criticize the notion of ideology as no longer the world view of a definite class, but as containing utopian elements as well.  This implies  the development of science and technology is fully rational, without any irrational bits, dominated by a purposive rationality rather than the need to legitimate political power.  However, science is left without clear ends, with a focus on means and the collapse of the means/ends relation.  This opens the risk of instrumental rationality as a form of domination.  The base is fused with the superstructure in modern capitalism too, so we need new categories for analysis—labour and interaction.  Marxism is anachronistic, the forces for change are not found solely in production because we already have new relations of production—technical ones.  It is futile to pursue ideology critique, and we need to focus on interaction instead.  There are no internal contradictions in labour any more either, leading to the admittedly Kantian view that politics is a matter of judgement or aesthetics rather than reason.  Science is neutral for Habermas in the sense that of course it involves domination, but this is a necessary price to pay.

The split between labour and interaction is the issue, for Habermas, even more important than the split between mind and body which it inherits.  There is a definite separation between communicative capacity and labour, because labour is fundamentally hostile to communication.  As a result, labour alone is never capable of revolutionary praxis.  Instead, we should aim for a more cultural, mental kind of liberation, free from technical domination. Generally, politics cannot touch technology.  However, the notion of autonomous politics really belongs only to academics and students who can escape production for a while.  The return of material scarcity particularly explodes this idealist form of politics, producing new problems for technology and for science as legitimate.  Analyses like that of Bravermann shows the specific forms of domination at work in labour.

Louis Althusser also moves away from the notion of class struggle and criticizes the ideological sections in Marx.  The anti-epistemological bits are best developed in Reading Capital, where Althusser rejects the a priori notions found in humanism and doubts found in Husserl and others about how or where knowledge is possible.  Science has overcome practically the problems of subject/object relations, and is a social practice that can grasp the real world, through its critique of ideology, and its insistence that objectivity is a knowledge effect.  There is still a real world, but no simple correspondence to it.  Instead, the knowledge effect acts as a kind of proof, linked to the notion that discourse can develop systematically, within some usually hidden system.  Ultimately, however, this requires some guarantee to be offered by a scientific community, leading to a strange convergence between Althusser and Kuhn [extended further by seeing the notion of the epistemological break as akin to a paradigm shift].  Structures constrain social relations and ordered discourses about them, and studies which ignore these structures are clearly ideological, offering only imaginary relations.  Class struggle is also ideological, since Marxism is really value neutral, a structured discourse aiming at producing new knowledges.

However, this analysis finds it difficult to explain how new knowledge arises as ideological in the first place: there seems to be a mechanism like the role of the unconscious in Freud.  This is recognized in Mepham's analysis, where ideological discourse is to be deciphered like a dream.  Just as the unconscious has its defence mechanisms, so does ideology.  This is why we need symptomatic readings of ideology.

It's possible that ideology and science are also linked in a transhistorical way, for Althusser, with the gap between them as eternal, not just the product of particular kinds of false consciousness.  Since there is a structure linking lived relations and the real, science is always needed [because commonsense cannot grasp it?].  This is not unlike Kuhn again, who also sees the historical and social context as external to the development of science, but he is not so naive about the autonomy of science as Althusser is—for example, he sees progress only in the eye of the beholder, and Kuhn is at least open to empirical argument.  [There is also an aside comparing Althusser adversely with Peirce, who is also much more interested in the mechanics of the production of truth, 89].

Technology too must be neutral for Althusser.  Technology cannot be seen as a reification, because no mechanism to reify is allowed: ideology is found in necessary forms of social life, and there is no room for processes like commodity fetishism which mediates reifications in capitalism.  For Mepham too, the category of value of labour is also ideological, but it appears real, an example of something transhistorical, not actually rooted in the commodity form, but in structured discourses of appearance (91).  We should be involved in deciphering the cognitive task rather than in raw social or historical mechanisms, because it is only possible through cognition that science triumphs over experience.  Only science can grasp the real, although it is quite rational for non scientists to assume that the real is just what appears.

Overall, both Althusser and Habermas are limited in not seeing the deeper connections between science and ideology, that science is also ideological.  Gramsci is much better.  He agrees that ideology is necessary to any given social structure and that it creates the terrain, rather than just being superstructural.  Both science and ideology should be seen in their political context, though.  Science transforms the world because it discovers a new reality, while ideologies are attached to classes: we are familiar with the classic claims that class ideologies claim to be universal—but so does science.  We should think of a proletarian science instead, trying to beat bourgeois science at its own game—uncovering reality.

Science is a form of praxis after all, and this should make a proletarian version possible, interested in, possibly at the service of, emancipation [I think, 93] [Althusser of course also argued that we should see science as produced from ideology by a process of production—the 'generalities model'].  Hegemony is the general theory of ideology, which sets the limits to the terrain.  Althusser is on the right lines here suggesting that ideology in general is not just 'produced by the metonymic extrapolation from the forms of appearance of "real" relations…  that become materialised in social institutions for the self reproductive…  the ideological state apparatuses' (93 -4), but it is class action produces these isas.  Class intellectuals generate a concept or language which sees such events as natural, and this is what penetrates the social world.

We can also consider science as a matter of social relations.  If we focus on the experimental method, it is clear that it is central to falsification but there are problems: objects have to be constituted first, and experiments involve a reduction of variables [Adorno's point].  So there is an intervention at the heart of it.  The relation with the object is vital, as we know from Heisenberg.  Scientific procedures themselves therefore mediate in the experiments.  Modern physics now denies the correspondence between nature and mathematical regularities [I think this is used as an attempt to rebuke Althusser's apparent admiration for science]. 

In conclusion, we can argue that both science and ideology are social, and both reproduce capitalism.  The choice of scientific object is determined by social and political forces.  There is an intent to dominate which leads to metonymic processes of the kind described above.  All ways of knowing are therefore ideological, and some sort of intervention is necessary—in the case of science, it is done on the basis of purposive rationality.  The nature and form of results are themselves historically located rather than as they appear, as neutral forms in mathematics.  Scientific discourse itself generates internal unities and resolves ambiguities or anomalies.  The science/ideology split is not a matter of becoming more reflexive, or abandoning presuppositions, and this extends to Gouldner's critique of Marxism.  Gouldner says that Marxism could not be self critical if it was to appear as a revolutionary doctrine in the 19th century [but should be now].  Science is actually connected with magic, and only takes on a more specific and objective form because it is harnessed to production and domination.  The concept of truth should become one of offering a critical exposition of the relations that produce science and ideology in context.  We need to explain appearances: natural science does this already, and so do critical sciences, but the issue is one of emphasis and intent.

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