No scholar (this site included) knows unequivocally what Sraffa ‘really meant’…

The following comment below was posted on the INET site here in the Comment section to the blog devoted to Ajit Sinha’s new book from Palgrave Macmillan (Revolution in Economic Theory: The Economics of Piero Sraffa) . I have made it a point to reject the trend in (bourgeois) academia and not be overly and unnecessarily critical the work of other scholars.  Any work that discusses Sraffa and his archival legacy is welcome.

It is however important that people are mindful and wary especially when it comes to any scholar (myself included) who claims to know what Sraffa ‘really meant’. Sraffa’s impact is very much wide open and remains very much in the nascent Prelude stage in which he wrote it…and nobody has yet to really figure it all out; to do that we (by which I mean ALL interested scholars) need to study the archival material in its entirety over several years…indeed even after 50 years since the publication of Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities, scholarship out of Sraffa’s brilliant but cryptic monograph is still in its infancy…

This is a general sentiment not addressed to any single scholar, and again includes this site as well. And this is what makes Sraffa scholarship quite exciting and very much alive, especially now on the eve of the release and digital-opening of the Sraffa Archive.

Also people should be very mindful about the context, authenticity, and correctness of any of the transcriptions in published accounts of Sraffa’s archive; and again included in this warning is my own work too. In the first place all transcriptions are taken out of context as they are the exclusive purview of the scholar who went to the Wren Library and fetched the material; in this sense all transcriptions in the published account suffer from selection bias.  And secondly, there are often serious errors and omissions in the transcriptions when compared side-by-side with the original document and/or image.  I know this was true of the transcriptions in the early version of my 2014 Research in Political Economy ‘Pool of Profits’ paper, and I was very fortunate to have had the digital images in possession to proof the transcriptions before publication, which means for that publication at least the transcriptions are ‘correct’, although there are some omissions of passages that Sraffa had crossed-out.  The same goes for the Palgrave Macmillan book co-edited with Riccardo Bellofiore (2014) Towards a New Understanding of Sraffa: Insights from Archival Research which also was published after gaining access to the digital images; accordingly all the transcriptions there too are correct.

However I also know that no other scholar has a copy of the digital images, and accordingly it is very possible, nay likely, that errors and omissions in transcription exist in other published accounts of the archive; one thing for certain is that no scholar can vouch 100% for their correctness. And this is in my opinion a problem…can anyone say ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’?…

One of the projects we are doing is to render a compete account of the archival material from D3/12 already published and point out any and all errors and omissions in transcription.  In my humble opinion it is only after such an account that scholarship which uses Sraffa’s archival material can (re)claim the status of being truly scientific and unblemished.

POST on INET site in relation to Sinha’s new book on Sraffa:

I encourage people to wait for the entirety of Sraffa’s Papers to come out before accepting any single scholar’s definitive statements about what Sraffa ‘really meant’. The fact of the matter is like all Sraffa scholars, Sinha has only perused a fraction of the archival material. Hence any definitive statements to have discovered something that nobody else has should be taken with a grain of salt. Sraffa’s archival legacy should be put first, not the agenda of individual scholars. Also people should be mindful and wary of the transcriptions that appear in any published account of the archive including those in Sinha’s book, as they are often rife with error. As the archival material finally is made public then the merits of all Sraffa archival scholarship will finally be able to be adequately judged; but until such time discerning scholars should be wary of all scholarship (including my own) that makes definitive statements about what Sraffa ‘really meant’. Scott Carter (Heretical Sraffa)

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Scott Carter

Associate Professor of Economics The University of Tulsa Oklahoma USA

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