Perverse Expertise and the Social Unconscious in the Making of Crisis

Richard Peet

This chapter stresses the social construction of the knowledge guiding social action. I focus on social construction as opposed to the individual’s psychology of knowledge. The individual always has his or her own mentality, but what matters in the making of history are the broad social and cultural trends in thought, imagination, and comprehension. Further, I discuss social construction as it is meant in the critical tradition—Marx’s ideology, Gramsci’s hegemony—whereby class forces lead, direct, and control the production of knowledge. Knowledge production serves a class interest. As Marx and Engels (1845/2004) put it,

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. (p. 64)

If the problems that beset capitalism result from the actions of capitalists—if the financial crisis that began in 2007 was caused by speculation by finance capital- ists—then, the dominant interpretations will be those of the causal agents.

The rush of contemporary events is thus testing the ideas available for understanding them. This testing holds for the ideas developed to think through the immediate onslaught of rebellions, crises, and catastrophes. It also holds for the concepts needed to guide a more long-term movement into a different kind of society. Narrowly economic categories are insufficient for thinking about society as a whole. At the least, political-economic-cultural ideas are needed. Clearly, one cannot just regard a single country to be a society and must therefore consider geoeconomic or

R. Peet (*)

Graduate School of Geography, Clark University, Worcester, MA, USA e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017

P. Meusburger et al. (eds.), Knowledge and Action, Knowledge and Space 9, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-44588-5_5

geopolitical notions—or rather, geopolitical-economic concepts—adequate for a globalized existence. A new, critical conceptual apparatus is needed. But this critical conception is prevented by hegemonic control that a combination of perverse expertise and mass social unconsciousness exerts over imaginaries. At the juncture between modern knowledge and practical action lies expertise. When the mass mind loses its capacity to think rationally, the outcome is social unconsciousness. The elite practice perverse expertise, and the masses respond unconsciously. This mindset moves capitalist society into an era of perpetual crisis.

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