Bourdieu is probably one of the most currently influential social theorists. His work on Structure, Habitus, and Social Space has influenced a great deal of contemporary Sociology. Good introductions to his work can be found in "Toward a reflexive Sociology" by Loic Wacquant, and a GREAT secondary source: Pierre Bourdieu by Richard Jenkins (1992 Routledge Press).
Social Space and the Genesis of Classes.
(1) A break with Marxists: (I.e. 'objective' reality). PB is interested in RELATIONS, on more levels than just the economic, and argues that how people interpret and make sense of their relations matters (this is the subjective element).
(2) A break with "intellectualism": The theoretical class (i.e. the one we as scientists define) is not necessarily the class that exists in-the-world.
(3) A break with Economics: There are more dimensions to the social world that just economics.
(4) A break with “Objectivism” in favor of a symbolic understanding of social structure.
He also has s definite focus on POWER STRUGGLES.
Social Space: A geographic/mathematical metaphor for how people are arranged in society. PB defines social space as:
"a (multi-dimensional) space constructed on the basis of principles of differentiation or distribution constituted by the set of properties active in the social universe under consideration, that is, able to confer force or power on their possessor in that universe." (p.229).
The points to keep in mind with this def:
(1) Social space has multiple dimensions (ex economic, educational, cultural, powerful, etc) These dimensions can usually be categorized as a form of Capital.
(2) "...constructed on the basis of principles
of differentiation or distribution..." This mean
much and what kind of the particular capital one has is the basis for sorting along the dimensions.
(3) "...by the set of properties active in the
social universe under consideration, that is, able to confer
force or power on their possessor in that universe." The quantity or quality (i.e. point 2) of a given good only matters to the extent that the good in question is 'active' in the social world of interest. This part of the definition implies an element of contextual specificity. Two groups' relative position depend on the particular 'field' that is active. If we're dealing in the economic field, then the relative position of $$ matters, if we're dealing with the educational, then that's what matters. [note, that this discussion is about one dimension at a time, PB does not think that way - this is for illustration only, the point is that in some struggles, the relative value of a given dimension will change.].
Power follows from the ability to mobilize capital.
The social space is a field of forces -- the system of relations, alliances, and power struggles. His vision of social space is NOT one that is (necessarily) static, but instead constantly infused with power struggles. Thus we see the world as a system of 'objective power relations.'
This allows us to see the social world in two ways, as the positions themselves thusly: (take culture and econ as examples)
Poor ---------------------------- Rich
In this picture, the three groups are arrayed on these two dimensions (thus C is poor and holds mainly 'low culture' values, A is rich with 'high culture' , etc).
Because these positions are at the same time
relations, because domination follows from the ability to utilize this capital,
we could instead view this picture as:
A -> B-----> C
Where A dominates (a little) B, and both B and A dominate C. What PB wants to claim is that these systems of relations are in constant contest -- not ONLY in who gets to be WHERE, but what having a certain quantity/distribution of a good GIVES you, ie what it MEANS.
The dimensions are the elements that give power
(education, money, social contacts, etc) in
general, these elements form types of CAPITAL. The four general types of
capital that PB points out in this article are:
PB argues that each of these types of capital is transformable (to some extent) one to the other. Thus if you have enough money you might get to know a new set of important people, etc.
The two dimensions along which each type of capital are arrayed is Volume and composition. Thus the AMOUNT of money one has, and the TYPE of money matter (i.e. cash vs stocks vs gold vs land).
Classes on Paper:
On the basis of the distribution of the various forms of capital, we can find groups of people who have 'similar' distributions. These are 'classes' in the logical sense -- people who occupy the same cell in a cross-tabulation. BUT, we can't necessarily assume that these classes are self-recognized. This is the long standing differentiation between classes in-themselves vs. classes for themselves.
What exists, is a space of
relations, out of which may or may not come a class-for-itself
Marx’s work assumes that groups form from similarity, but it does not explain how the groups form. Instead, through a theoretical ‘slight of hand’, the essential questions are spirited away:
The Perception of the social world and political struggle.
One must account for how actors see the world to make sense of how they act. That is, we ned to look to the social construction of identity.
One's perspective in the world is due to two things:
1) 'Objective': People see the world differently because they occupy a different space in the world.
2) 'subjective': The tools brought to bear, the language used, are all the products of previous struggles, and influence the meaning of the very dimensions that people array themselves along.
Thus, not only are people seeing the world from different spaces, but the very view of that space, the relevant value of any given quantity/quality distribution is different depending on a group's past history of struggle.
Objects of the social world can be perceived and expressed in different ways
1. They always include a certain ambiguity (does this person belong to this group or that group)
2. As historical objects the meaning of any social thing is dependent on the future, and thus can’t be readily classified at the moment (recall the previous discussion of spinning political events)
The uncertainty of the world is what makes a plurality of world-views possible, and is the locus of political struggle.
While PB argues that people TEND to accept the position they find themselves in, there is social change, and that it comes from struggles for power related to (1) and (2). (p.235)
re-read p.236. this would be a great section to pull a quote from for the exam.
“Knowledge of the social world and, more precisely, the categories which make it possible, are the stake par excellence of the political struggle, a struggle which is inseparably theoretical and practical, over the power of preserving or transforming the social world by preserving or transforming the categories of perception of that world.” (p.236)
Being able to define the dimensions of status, to identify the subject of
political debate and shape the way issues are seen to be related are all
symbolic actions, and they are the means through which politics are carried
out. Thus, being able to control these means gives one control of
political outcomes. The power of naming is crucial.
? Political rhetoric about abortion: proponents use ‘right-to-choose’ language, opponents use ‘rights-to-life’ language.
? Use of the word ‘Liberal’ in the Clinton campaign
Symbolic Capital: Any capital when it is perceived by an agent as self-recognized power to name, to make distinctions. (p.238).
It follows that objective power relations reproduce themselves in symbolic power.
“It is the most visible agents, from the point of view of the prevailing categories of perception, who are the best placed to change the vision by changing the categories of perceptions. But they are also, with a few exceptions, the least inclined to do so.” (p.239)
Why? Because thy benefit from the current arrangement. That those in power control the means to power creates a cycle, whereby they reenforce the power that they have. PB refers to this as the “circle of symbolic reproduction”.
Symbolic power rests on legitimate recognition your brother-in-law can’t declare you a graduate of the university. The title ‘graduate’ can only be made by those with legitimate control of symbolic power.
Symbolic order and the power of naming.
Symbolic power can be arrayed along a dimension of intensity/legitimacy:
Low power High Power
As you read this section, think about the proliferation of titles in current work and occupations. This rise (sanitary engineer for example) follows FROM the desire of groups to NAME THEMSELVES, and thus make their own distinction. The move in contemporary society (which from time to time marks the heart of the "PC" movement) to provide all with a new name, is a struggle for legitimate power. Racial epithets are the imposition of place by a ruling class on a ruled class, and when the POWER associated with those epithets can be reversed, then the group has gained the symbolic upper hand.
The logic of naming is seen most clearly in titles. An area that is more and more becoming the purview of educational institutions.
PB points out that rewards separate a title from a task. Thus, a part-time person doing the same work as a full time person will likely be paid less (even by the hour) than the person who officially occupies the position. Or, for example, a nurse and a doctor often do exactly the same things, but the doctor will make more.
Because symbolic power is a useful power, something that can be used to gain
resources in multiple dimensions, it is clearly the subject of
controversy. Groups fight over the right to control the naming process.
“Every field is the site of a more or less openly declared struggle for the definition of the legitimate principles of division of the field.” (p.242)
The Political Field and Homologies
Those who occupy similar, but distinct social spaces (or who are in similar, but distinct patterns of social relations) tend to form alliances (though, again, not necessarily). See p. 244
How do people at the bottom of a symbolic power system gain capital to change the present point of view?
PB says it happens through alliances with those who have the ability to control symbols. For example, the intellectuals will ‘embezzle’ symbolic power for the workers. These alliances occur where there is a similarity in their position in the structure, across dimensions of the structure. Thus, workers are the dominated group in the production/economic realm, while intellectuals are the dominated group in the cultural realm. The one helps the other because of the similarity (the homology) of their situation. This was Marx’s error: to look only within the economic realm for the emergence of classes.
Class and Will as Representation.
This is his argument that the definition of a group depends reciprocally on there being a spokesperson for the group. As we start seeing a group, and as they gain more voice, it re-enforces the very existence of that group. There is a sociological chicken-and-egg problem: that the group needs a spokesman to be named as a group, but can’t give authority to a spokesman if they are not already a group. PB says that this situation leads to a precarious position for alienated groups, since the powerless have to give up power (give authority) to another in order to gain power in the other dimension.