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Anthropological Theory

Copyright © 2006 SAGE Publications

(London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi)
Vol 6(1): 70–80

Comment on Searle’s
‘Social ontology’
The reality of the imaginary and the cunning
of the non-intentional

Jonathan Friedman
Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, France and Lund
University, Sweden

This discussion of Searle’s article attempts to come to grips with a number of issues
that the latter has made so important for the social sciences. First, regarding the issue
of objectivity/subjectivity, it is argued that there are natural properties of reality that
are unaltered by observation, but that what is constructed as a phenomenon is always
partly the result of human interpretation. The same is argued to be true of social
phenomena, which cannot be reduced to human constitution first because they
become institutional realities and second because they contain properties that are
external to acts of human construction. The characterization of the social as instituted
via language, especially the language of linked propositions, is taken up in relation to
other approaches to social reality, arguing that Castoriadis’ social imaginary, as well as
a certain interpretation of Marx’s fetishism, argues for the dominance of such
constructions in the creation of social worlds. Within the intentional world such
phenomena account for the way in which social life can be seen in part as the
materialization of the imaginary, the latter being non-symbolic in the sense that it is
not a representation of an already existing reality or referent but the immediate
constitution of the real. On the other hand, a crucial aspect of such worlds that Searle
does not address is the non-intentional systemic properties of the social, for example
in the form of business cycles, politico-economic declines and expansions, and other
properties of social reality that are not deducible from intentional organization. They
are not a mere spin-off but crucial elements of social systems.

Key Words
fetish • functionalism • imaginary • linguistic determinism • logic • non-intentional

For many years the philosophy of Searle, as a continuation of that of Austin, contributed
to extending the subject into the issues of the nature of social life. Anthropologists as

FRIEDMAN Comment on Searle’s ‘Social ontology’

different as Maurice Bloch and Roy Rappaport have over the years referred to this work.
Rappaport made it the cornerstone of a theory of the ritual origins of society by making
use of the important notion that language is not merely descriptive but also performa-
tive. Searle has gone even further, of course, and in recent work attempted to develop
an account of the nature of social reality from a very general philosophical perspective.
This is important in itself since it must force us to think clearly about our conceptual
apparatus, especially in a period when such analytical discipline has been largely
abandoned within the field.
Searle takes up a number of classical issues in the social sciences and applies a certain
variety of analytical philosophy to their deconstruction. These issues can be grouped
under the notion of the constructed nature of social reality. As his article begins with
results of his well-known book The Construction of Social Reality (Searle, 1995), it is best
to follow his argument here, perhaps, to deconstruct further.
The first issue concerns objectivity, or the independent existence of the world. For
Searle the issue is how human beings create a social order which he asserts ‘only exists
because we think it exists’ (Searle, 1995: 2). He does not mean by this that the social
world is merely subjective, since social events do occur whether or not we accept them,
but that their existence is in some way based on collective recognition. He continues
with two basic distinctions:

Observer-independent phenomena which do not depend on us for their existence.

Observer-relative features of reality which do depend upon us for their existence.

Thus social realities like citizenship, the map of a country and so on are all said to be
observer dependent while the phenomena or objects of natural science are observer inde-
pendent. Now this very old epistemological distinction is surely more complicated and
needs refinement.
Natural phenomena may very well be independent of the observer, but once observed
and interpreted by human agents they become something different. At least this was the
problem of Kant and the foundation of Boasian anthropology as well as Gestalt psychol-
ogy. The so-called ‘noumena’ or things in themselves have no existence as such for us.
They are always instead part of our world of ‘phenomena’, and the properties that we
attribute to nature become part of nature for us. Now of course if one accepts the
principle of falsification, the very possibility of scientific development admits and even
stresses that our models of the world are by and large incorrect, implying that we do
indeed confront a noumenal reality at least in negative terms. This has led to numerous
and important issues in the philosophy of science that have not necessarily been resolved.
In any case the very construction of observer independence is an observer-dependent
activity, that is, the construction of Kant’s ‘phenomena’, the world for us. Even the
Heisenberg principle poses certain problems for this approach. No, the natural science
assumption of natural laws or properties of reality independent of our observation is our
own construction, one that I, for one, accept, but not because it is ‘intuitively obvious
to the most casual observer’, but because we have so constructed it.
Social phenomena likewise can be understood as observer independent. The latter are
of course constructed by our own species, although not necessarily by the observer in


question. It might be said that intentionality and consciousness are involved in the
constitution of such phenomena, but it is not clear why that should make such phenom-
ena observer dependent, not unless the same person is both observer and constructor of
a particular reality. Business cycles, for example, are in part the result of intentional
constructions of institutions, but they are also observer independent insofar as observa-
tion as such has no effect upon them.
And Searle of course comes to this himself in stating that ‘social institutional facts can
be epistemically objective even though human attitudes are part of their mode of exist-
ence’ (Searle, 1995: 5). But why is this so and in what sense? To my mind it is simply
because states, clans, to say nothing of business cycles, or at least their effects, are record-
able independently of any particular observer. That is, they are not observer dependent.
The fact that the human world is constituted by humans is equivalent to saying that the
biological world is constituted by chemical reactions and molecular structures. What is
the problem here? It has to do with the old distinction between the human and the
natural sciences (Brentano). A domestic animal embodies characteristics of its relations
to humans. It has been appropriated to human ends and needs to be socialized into a
particular configuration of responses and actions. It also embodies its relations to other
animals and it has, of course, a repertoire said to be biologically stable or even geneti-
cally programmed, containing those properties which exist prior to human intervention.
A domestic horse is exactly that, a horse that has been domesticated. It is both ‘natural’
and ‘cultural’ and observer independent.
Searle modifies or even supersedes his first distinction of observer independence/
dependence by introducing a second set of distinctions, a double set: ontological/
epistemological versus objectivity/subjectivity. His argument seems to be that money
and other objective realities of social life are, as Durkheim said, ‘social facts’ even if they
are in part constituted of subjective elements such as intentionality. This is in fact a trivial
problem that may indeed hamper anthropological thinking, but is it really so? Observa-
tion of anything external to our own bodies can be understood in observer-independent
terms, even the products of our own activities, even our activities, as long as other
observers can do the same. Intentionality is in this view perfectly objective. In other
words the subjective is objective from the point of view of the investigator. Have we thus
returned to the starting point of sociology?


The issue of social logics has occupied social anthropology for quite a few years.
Following the structuralist era in France, there was in the 1980s an increasing use of
the word logic to refer to the internal properties of different social domains and even
the relations among them (e.g. Augé, Godelier). The word means something similar
to structure, a set of systemically organized relations, vague enough to be applied to
very different kinds of domains. But this notion is the same one as has been applied
to natural phenomena, as in The Logic of Living Systems (Jacob, 1974), which is very
close to Searle’s own approach to the hierarchy of levels of reality. Searle seems,
however, to mean something quite specific with his own use of the word logic. ‘Human
societies have a logical structure, because human attitudes are constitutive of the social
reality in question and those attitudes have propositional contents with logical
relations’ (Searle, 1995: 5).

FRIEDMAN Comment on Searle’s ‘Social ontology’

This is reminiscent of a certain mentalism suggesting as it does that the structures of

societies are propositional schemes ordered by logical argument. However appealing, it
seems rather far from any reality that I am familiar with. While there are certainly propo-
sitional chains linked by logic in most social domains, there are other properties of the
social that are just as systemic but not propositional in nature. What we refer to as non-
intentional rationality dominates much of social life at the macro level, and it might be
argued that at the individual level unconscious structures of desire organized into
personal projects are certainly not organized in propositional terms. So this is not, in my
view, a good place to launch an investigation of the structures of social life. One might
agree with Searle’s suggestion (Searle, 1995: 6) that the great variety of human life forms
can be reduced to a small number of logics, but it is not likely that such logics can be
understood in terms of propositional orders. Was it not Einstein who suggested some-
thing of the contrary, that the reason we can ultimately understand the workings of
nature is that our minds are organized according to the same natural properties. This
would also be closer to Searle’s own striving after a unity of the natural and the social.


The social has a basic structure according to Searle; it consists of two elements. First,
constructs of the form X counts as Y in context C and, second, collective intentionality,
the assignment of function, and constitutive rules to Y. Now if this is a basic structure
it is difficult to see its relation to the great variety of human life forms referred to earlier.
It is rather some kind of abstraction from an assumed variation. These are not the under-
lying structures of Lévi-Strauss which refer to the domains of kinship or myth, but more
general aspects of social life.
Collective intentionality is simply the intentionality combined with a ‘we’, as in we
intend to do X. Collective intentionality is the psychological basis of all social reality
and, says Searle, ‘I define a social fact as any fact involving collective intentionality of
two or more human or animal agents’ (Searle, 1995: 7). Note here that the social fact
for Durkheim is a constraint, independent of the subject who experiences it as an
external force. There is a hint of reductionism here in which the social is the individual
writ large, where collective intentionality is the mere magnification of the individual.
Where is the locus of intentionality in all of this? Is this solved with the addition of the
‘institutional fact’ involving money, governments and so on? This is an important issue.
Collective intentionality as it is used here confuses what usually comes under the heading
of ‘social movement’ with more ordinary collective structures. In the classical and often
overlooked work of Alberoni (1982), a social movement is distinguished from aggregate
behaviour, as in a football riot, by the fact that it contains a core project to which are
linked subjects who have decided to offer themselves to that project by substituting the
latter for their own individual projects. This in turn creates a collective intentionality.
While there is certainly a substrate of shared values, identifications and even institution-
alized projects (in the form of nationality, constitutions and so on), a society is not the
equivalent of a movement because the actions of the collective are usually the actions of
an elite that is accepted by most if not all members of the collective without necessarily
being engaged in intending what the elite intends. This is all the more so in complex
societies with multiple projects, strategies, class relations, ethnic identities and the like.
Durkheim’s social fact as constraint seems more accurate than any form of collective


intentionality. The latter concept erases real history as well, by assuming that institutions
are simply created on the spot.
The assignment of function can be understood as the intentional definition of a
universe of use or practice. Here Searle’s argument is excellent, not least his critique of
functionalism – ‘functions are causes that serve a purpose’ – which is reminiscent of an
older critique of ecological functionalism (Sahlins, Murphy, Friedman) and of course
Lévi-Strauss’ metaphorical critique of Radcliffe-Brown – ‘the function of the stomach is
to digest food.’ This can be summarized in more general terms as, ‘the function of X is
to do what it does.’ But functions in human societies are not dependent on physical
characteristics. They consist of categories whose content is semantic. Money’s physical
structure is not equivalent to its social function. The existence of such non-
physical categories or ‘assigned functions’ reflects the discussion in the social sciences on
the form of existence of the social. We live in imaginary instituted worlds according to
Castoriadis. The social is indeed constructed.
What is specific about the imaginary is that it is not symbolic, that is, there are neither
signifieds nor referents. The basic structures of reality are made up of symbols ‘that stand
for themselves’ (Wagner, 1986). This is also a basic tenet in Marx’s discussion of fetishism
and of capital as a ‘Realabstraktion’, the concretized realization of imaginary (in this case
abstract) constructs. It is interesting in this respect to consider economic theories of value
as attempts to supply a referent for money, for example as a concrete medium of the
expression of price, or the representation of sum total of value or even production in a
society, thus transforming the imaginary into the symbolic.
When assignment of function becomes the assignment of status function then we are
at the point of producing institutional reality. And institutional reality is not simply a
question of relative positions but is also a definition of deontic powers, bundles of
authority, rights, obligations and so on. These deontic powers are the basis of the social
as an organism independent of individual subjects since they ‘make possible desire-
independent reasons for action’ which is the specific form of human socialization. This
final ingredient is the clinching element in the construction of human society. Searle’s
reality is his own society, and while he claims to argue in general terms, anthropologists
ought to have something to say here. The existence of deontic powers attributed to social
positions is clearly a variable in the literature. This is an important aspect of the work
of the non-anthropologist Castoriadis and also of Augé, who refers to the former in
suggesting that society organized in terms of abstract categories is a historical phenom-
enon related to the development of the state (see also the excellent and largely ignored
essay of Gauchet, 1977). But it is also a central aspect of classical works of sociol-
ogy (Tönnies, Durkheim). In Searle’s work, as well as those referred to here, the insti-
tutional order’s basic characteristic is its separation from its individual members, its
existence as an abstract network of categories.
Now the entire process of institutionalization depends on the representational
property of language, that which distinguishes us from animals according to Searle, that
which affords us double perception of objects and actions and simultaneously of their
meaning. This is again a theme that is already commonly discussed in anthropology and
other social sciences, although much less of late. Sahlins has made it the cornerstone of
his argument in some of his later works, where he, for example, distinguishes between
happenings and events, the latter being happenings that are appropriated into the

FRIEDMAN Comment on Searle’s ‘Social ontology’

cultural order, given meaning and often institutionalized. All this is to state that the
social world is a world of meaning-as-intention. It is important that Searle makes this
point since it is indeed often overlooked or even ignored, but it is, at least among anthro-
pologists with whom I work, an accepted truth that the material and the cultural are
aspects of the same reality rather than separate realms. But we note here that it is an
important subject of discussion in anthropology. An article I once wrote in my Marxist
youth criticizing the materialist-reductionist interpretation of fetishism (Friedman,
1974) was rejected by the Marxist journal La pensée on the grounds that it was too ideal-
istic. I had suggested that the social world was a fetishized world, equivalent in many
ways to Castoriadis’ imaginary institution, not the product of the material conditions
over which it reigned, but which it appropriated and organized, and which it simul-
taneously misrepresented leading ultimately to its demise, only to be replaced by new
fetishized worlds.


There is an entire area to which we have referred in part which is totally absent from
Searle’s discussion, mainly because it doesn’t match his model, nor perhaps his interests.
This is what might be referred to as the non-intentional properties of social life. From
my perspective such properties are both systemic and pervasive in social life and history.
I referred earlier to business cycles as a case in point. The latter are not institutions in
practice, but they are systemic and they have crucial effects. The logic of such larger
systemic processes, from the various cycles, economic, hegemonic, even cultural as the
latter are related to expanding and contracting systems, cannot be understood in
terms of a universal human propensity for propositional logic. They are emergent
properties of interaction over time. Time is of course an important component in such
an analysis. This is important when one considers the problem of having to define all
institutional arrangements as if they were decided upon in a meeting. ‘Time is nature’s
way of keeping everything from happening at once’ (Woody Allen). The systemic
processes within which all our institutional meddling occurs are serious phenomena.
They are surely observer independent in the most complete sense that our intentions
have little to do with them, not unless we can muster collective intentions to do some-
thing else.

In the latter part of the article Searle suggests some new developments in relation to his
earlier work. His approach is very much pegged to language, or rather to classification
by means of language. Citing De Soto, he argues that people who own land in many
poor countries have no formal title to the land and are thus squatters. They cannot be
taxed but neither can they use their land as capital. Now in a sense this is a truism, but
one that is complicated by the text. The occupation and use of land is not of course a
sign of property. Property is entirely a question of title. Now if people are squatters they
must be living on someone else’s land. They are simply not the owners. Searle confuses
this simple relation by assuming that there is some kind of real property that is not
symbolically recognized because of the lack of deeds. He continues with the example of
the formation of a corporation which does not involve any concrete object but merely
a statement of certain relations to a ‘mailing address and a list of officers and stock


holders and so on, but it does not have to be a physical object’ (p. 22). But this is precisely
the issue that was referred to earlier. Social relations are the manifestation, the realiza-
tion in action, with or without specific material objects, of the imaginary. And money,
discussed again, is now understood as being without a necessary material referent such
as currency. This I would suggest is in the very nature of the imaginary constitution of
the social. It is, interestingly enough, the clue to one of Marx’s key insights into the
workings of capitalism in particular but also to social life in general. In volume III of
Capital he discusses at great length the nature of what he calls fictitious capital. On the
basis of this discussion one can, I suggest, conclude that money is precisely a fetish that
does not represent something material but is simply a free-floating signifier, a signifier
of property, of the value of everything else on the market, not because it is defined as an
equivalent of such things, but because in Weber’s sense it is simply abstract wealth: a
concrete form of value that is exchangeable for everything else, not by definition but by
the history of the practice of commercial exchange. The fact that this abstract wealth
exists as currency or as digital money does not change its basic nature even if it changes
its specific capacity to move in the world. Searle arrives at a similar conclusion in his
reply to Smith (Searle and Smith, 2003), in which he posits what Smith calls ‘free-
standing Y terms’, terms that have no physical concomitants.
I find the direction of Searle’s argument admirable but I must also acknowledge that
this line of reasoning has occurred before although in different circumstances. If the
corporation is a fictitious person, then so are a great many of our institutional relations.
The actual persons involved are not the same as the corporation. Our society separates
persons from positions in creating an order based on the latter. This is the notion of
gesellschaft, a social world based on social facts, imaginary constructed institutions and
so on. Searle arrives at a perspective that I can only agree with, but a position that, as
far as I can see, is already well established.
That the study of institutions is a complex development of speech-act theory becomes
clear in his return to the question of deontic powers in the last pages of the article. The
deontic is clearly an acceptable way of describing the fusion of powers and categorically
defined statuses. Searle’s ‘lawyers, doctors, ski instructors’ are products of this perspec-
tive. But the argument returns to Searle’s speech-act theory. Declarations of fact are
distinguished from assertive declarations. So and so has been found ‘guilty as charged’
because the charges have been demonstrated (according to pre-specified criteria). This
is an interesting exploration of the powers invested in categories and their concomitant
associations with rights and obligations. He returns to Rosaldo’s critique that among
specific populations such speech acts do not exist. His argument is abstract and he
emphasizes that his speech acts are properties of language in general and not of specific
cultural situations. But what are these general properties of language? What is being
assumed of speech acts in this philosophy? If I define things do they become such? If I
call you a hamburger are you then a hamburger? What is accepted and why? The
problem with speech acts is that they are totally dependent on a non-linguistic context
of acceptance and the latter context does not obey the laws of language.


Language is surely constitutive but it is not constituting. It is the stuff of reality but not
its organizing principle. This is a major error in all forms of both linguistic and, more

FRIEDMAN Comment on Searle’s ‘Social ontology’

generally, cultural determinism. The question must be posed: Where do the categories
come from? It changes the entire perspective. This does not imply some form of
materialist reductionism. Categories do not emerge from practice or from technology or
ecology. They are already always present in human reality, but as all reality is historically
specific, the issue of where things come from is always a question of historical transform-
ation, assuming that the present is not identical with the past. The very idea that insti-
tutions carry a deontology is an expression of the problem. The deontology cannot be
deduced from the categories involved. They are, on the contrary, part of the way the
latter are defined in relation to the social context. This needs to be worked out, of course,
but the lack of a deductive relation implies that there is an extra-linguistic context that
has to be taken into account from the start.
Now in Searle’s major publications it is often quite clear that he, as a naturalist or
realist, would not claim any such determinism. On the contrary, it would seem that
intentionality precedes speech acts, and the context in which such acts and their insti-
tutional derivatives are produced are crucial for their understanding. But this is not to
my mind made clear enough. If the illocutionary force of a command is entirely depen-
dent on the social context in which it occurs, one must ask whether or not the proper
account of speech acts lies outside of the acts themselves and in the relations within
which they occur. While in books like The Construction of Social Reality he stresses the
way in which constructions pile up on one another in interactive fashion, X counts as
Y in context C . . . Y counts as Z in context D and so on, which enables us to work our
way up to an extensive network of increasingly encompassing categorical relations, this
does not give us an insight into the nature of social process as such, except as the latter
are expressive of such process. Searle is, rather, interested in establishing a series of propo-
sitions concerning the nature of social reality. His approach to the latter is primarily one
of identification or definition. But then again, he is a philosopher.
To concentrate the argument:
1. To say that there are constitutive rules of institutions is not a description of the way
the latter are actually produced. The rules of chess are truly constitutive, but the rules
of social institutions are not established as a set of instructions to be applied to the
organization of behaviour. They are instead themselves embedded in larger social
contexts and are the result of the historical transformation of such contexts.
2. This implies that the constitutive rules of institutional arrangements are abstrac-
tions from the form that they have in phenomenal reality. They are abstract descriptions
rather than descriptions of the way in which institutions are actually constituted. This
can be generalized to all statements of this type in the realm of culture. Social life is
constituted of culture but not by culture. Even language is arguably understandable in
such terms. It is via socialization that the rules of language are transferred to new gener-
ations, but this transfer is a social relation in which authority is crucial which enables
errors to be negatively sanctioned, in a situation where children need to accept author-
ity in order to learn the rules. This apparent cultural or linguistic determinism is in fact
a relation of social authority. It is not culture imposing itself on subjects, but subjects
taking on rules in a power relation that sanctions the transfer. Sometimes this is called
discipline. Performatives only work because those involved as senders and receivers of
such language are disposed to accept their conditions of operation. I go shopping for
you, open the door, vote in a context of individual acceptance of a state of affairs that


is saturated by all kinds of pressures, reciprocity being of paramount importance. I accept

commands because I have the right to give them. The deontic here is by definition
relational. For example, when a member of a Kachin chiefdom accepts the power of the
chief it is because it is ‘institutionalized’ in such a way that it makes sense to the indi-
vidual subject. It is legitimate because the chief is by definition higher in the continuum
of kinship relations to the gods, because he is a social elder and therefore able to bring
prosperity and fertility to me as to the community as a whole. The constitution of this
relation is dependent upon the constitution of the cosmology on which it rests and
which in its turn is a product of a history of ‘hierarchization’ within which such hier-
archy is possible but not necessarily manifest. It is because certain men become identi-
fied with the ancestors that this is possible, and this becoming is part of a process of
social reproduction in which the accumulation of prestige and therefore rank is
This is strikingly clear in statements to the effect that deontic properties are attributed
to particular categorical positions in society. In social reality this is not usually the case.
The deontic properties of kingship have changed very much as part of the history of
royal power. Powers are not merely attributed and then exist, they emerge in quite a
different way which cannot be separated from historical interactions. Searle’s mode of
description often gives the impression that power is delegated by collective intentional-
ity rather than emerging as a historical process within such collectivities. I doubt that
Searle would disagree here, but there is a drawback to the form of the presentation.
3. Money is an interesting example in this regard. Searle moves from a model of X
counts for Y in context C to one in which Y can be ‘free standing’ and where the focus
shifts to the operational capacity of X to do A (this issue). Money can be seen in such
terms, or rather what money represents, which is wealth, which is quantifiable, and
realizable in different forms, from cash to credit cards, to Internet operations. If cash is
a direct representation of wealth, credit cards are operations upon that wealth. But
wealth is nothing physical as such except in the form of cash or perhaps gold bars. One
might argue that wealth is a free-standing category, represented in various media of
exchange and/or transfer. Now Searle suggests that it is not the physical properties of
money that determine its power but its collective acceptance. This is of course true, but
it is also a mere abstract description and not an explanation. The only explanation of
the power of money can be sought in its historical emergence, in the position that it has
attained. Money is a medium of exchange and an expression of wealth. In fact it is as a
medium of exchange that it is an expression of wealth. But ‘expression’ is the wrong term,
since it is also an objectification of wealth, a concretization of value. The different
expressions of wealth – paper, once upon a time gold, computerized accounts – are in
fact substitutes for monetary wealth which is still the only measure, that is to say, money
of account. The fact that one can buy commodities with cards is an act of substitution
which has become institutionalized since we must note there was, of course, a time when
cards were not generally accepted. It might all be dealt with in Searle’s terms but he seems
to have been in a hurry to bypass this particular issue.
4. Similarly other fictive entities such as corporations are also described in terms of
this free-standing quality, even if they do imply some form of materialization in offices,
bank accounts and so forth. There is no object to which the corporation refers or on
which it is grounded. We might add God to the list, a free-standing construct or, better,

FRIEDMAN Comment on Searle’s ‘Social ontology’

institution, with no referent in principle. God stands for himself. He just is. Durkheim
tried to reduce the imaginary God to a symbolic God by turning him into a represen-
tation of society, just as economics has attempted to turn imaginary money into symbolic
money representing the value of production for which it is exchanged.
5. If I return now to the question of the imaginary I think it is possible to reinterpret
Searle’s discussion in terms that, for me at least, are closer to the particular approach for
which I have argued. Money (especially as capital) and corporations, and most of the
institutions of society, are constructions that can be understood as imaginary. They have
a semantic content that defines a specific set of relations between abstract categories
rather than actual people. There is no operation of the form X counts as Y in condition
C that can account for their existence because, except in special cases of planned
organizations, no such operation has ever occurred. Institutional life is an outcome of
partial decisions and differential strategies and their confrontation over time. On the
other hand, it is certainly the case, and here one must agree with Searle, that such
imaginary constructions realized as institutions are essential to the understanding of
social life.
6. The understanding of the role of the imaginary in social life is the understanding
that the real is the imaginary manifested, realized in actual social relations with physical
coordinates. The difference between the game Monopoly and real life is the level of
reality to which the game is applied. Now of course the real economy cannot simply
replicate the properties of the game because it contains a great many different proper-
ties that can be ignored in the game. What is important here is the ontological difference
between game and reality.
7. This understanding of social reality opens up the old debate, referred to earlier,
concerning fetishism (Friedman, 1974) which I thought had long been forgotten. The
argument that I proffered at that time was that fetishized constructs were the dominant
operators in the capitalist world, but that the basic characteristic of such constructs, apart
from the fact that they organize the basic structures of social reproduction, is that their
internal properties do not correspond to their actual material effects in social reality; in
other words, that they exist in a relation of incompatibility to reality and thus ultimately
to their own conditions of long-term reproduction. Thus the accumulation of capital
can be understood emically as an entirely monetary phenomenon in which other forms
of wealth production are merely appendages of the basic strategy of turning money into
more money, or, to be precise, materialized buying power into more buying power. As
an organizing strategy embedded in a more complex reality, the former calculates reality
in specific terms that do not necessarily correspond to actual properties of that reality,
for example in calculating the energy cost of replacement of productive assets. As a macro
phenomenon, there is an enormous divergence between the expansion of monetary
wealth and the expansion of real wealth defined in terms of total reproductive capacity.
Thus while the accumulation of money capital dominates the economic process it also
misrepresents the properties of that process because it measures very different things.
Here again it is necessary to take into account the systemic non-intentional properties
of the world in which we live.
Searle’s work raises important questions for anthropology as for the social sciences in
general. I have tried in this perusal to push certain arguments, to question certain propo-
sitions, but all as a response to the important probing that Searle has forced upon us.


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(ed.) Libre: politique, anthropologie, philosophie, Vol. 2, pp. 5–43. Paris: Payot.
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Spillmann). London: Allen Lane.
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of Social Reality. An Exchange’, American Journal of Economics and Sociology 62(1):
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Chicago Press

JONATHAN FRIEDMAN is Directeur d’études, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris and
Professor of Social Anthropology at Lund University, Sweden. He has written extensively on issues of global
systems, globalization, Marxist anthropology, culture and identity. He has done research on Southeast Asia
and the Pacific (Hawaii), Africa and Europe. Among his publications are Cultural Identity and Global Process
(1994, Sage), Consumption and Identity (edited 1994, Harwood), System, Structure and Contradiction in the
Evolution of ‘Asiatic’ Social Formations (1998, 2nd edition, Altamira), Globalization, the State and Violence
(2002, Altamira), World System History: The Science of Long Term Change, with R. Denemark, B. Gills and G.
Modelski (2000, Routledge), and Hegemonic Declines, Present and Past, edited with C. Chase-Dunn (2005,
Paradigm Publishers). Address: EHESS (GTMS), 54 boulevard Raspail, 75006 Paris, and Lund University, Box
114, 221 00 Lund, Sweden. [email:]