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On Sraffa’s Structuralism

Roberto Scazzieri ()
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Roberto Scazzieri: University of Bologna

Chapter Chapter 2 in A Reflection on Sraffa’s Revolution in Economic Theory, 2021, pp 49-89 from Palgrave Macmillan

Abstract: Abstract Interdependence between processes within a self-replacing system is the hallmark of Sraffa’s representation of the economy as production of commodities by means of commodities. This view highlights Sraffa’s structuralism since a distinctive feature of the latter is to consider collections of elements as wholes ‘subordinated to laws’, in terms of which ‘the structure qua whole or system is defined’ (Piaget, 1971). The aim of this chapter is to highlight the central role in Sraffa’s writings of the representation of the economy as a system of elements whose interdependence assigns structure to the whole system by virtue of its own self-replacing condition, while at the same time being structured by it. In Sraffa’s representation of the economy, interdependence is never likened to simple interaction between the autonomous elements of an aggregate system. Instead, interdependence is seen as a relational pattern identified by the self-replacing condition. This condition is the ‘law’ that assigns structure to the collection of processes making up the economy as a system. This essay discusses the roots and character of Sraffa’s structuralism from his early theoretical writings through his reconstruction of Ricardo’s theory of value up to Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities. Section 1 presents the aim of the essay and its organiztion. Section 2 examines Sraffa’s early criticism of Marshall’s demand and supply curves in the light of Sraffa’s discussion of Philip Henry Wicksteed’s substitution of ‘functional curves’ for the ‘descriptive curves’ associated with the Classical Economists’ view of decreasing returns. Section 3 outlines a rational reconstruction of Sraffa’s approach in terms of positional interdependence and contrasts this view with approaches based on functional interdependence. Positional interdependence is then discussed in the light of Sraffa’s distinction between causality and causation, which points to the central role of ‘one direction’ causal processes in determining the changes following a given source of change within a set of feasible transformations. Section 4 discusses the implications of Sraffa’s structuralism for construction of a political economy centred on consideration of positional interdependence between socioeconomic groups. Section 5 brings the essay to close highlighting the character of Sraffa’s Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities as the mature product of a structural heuristic open to a variety of structural configurations compatible with a set of relatively invariant parameters.

Keywords: Structuralism; Descriptive curves; Functional curves; Wicksteed; Positional interdependence (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-47206-1_2

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