CLAIRE GOLDSTEIN ON BOURDIEU #1

In his Critique of Judgment, Immanuel Kant uses the faculty of judgment and the human experience of the Sublime to bridge the gap between the rational and moral universes he posits in his other two major works. In "Structures, habitus, power: basis for a theory of symbolic power," Pierre Bourdieu challenges the innate and disinterested character of perception as described by Kant. In his study of social interaction in a Beber village, Bourdieu describes doxa, the naturalized coincidence between social and natural orders, between a socially constructed world view that continually reproduces itself and the objective universe it filters or perceives.

Bourdieu extends the limits an economistic critique. In his examination of exchange, Bourdieu discovers the interrelation between social, symbolic and economic/ political orders. Moreover, he demonstrates the fundamental role of the symbolic schemas which create social order, and thereby structure relationships of power, exchange, hierarchy. Systems of domination run much deeper than the distribution of resources and power. Beneath the social and political order is a mystified symbolic order which we do not recognize as present. If un-interrupted by discordant voices, this symbolic order reproduces itself just as it perpetuates the hierarchical distribution of political and cultural capital.

As critical readers of Bourdieu, we may wish to consider his use of anthropological observation --his status as a French social scientist in the post colonial space of the Maghreb. Personally, I was very seduced by Bourdieu's method and argument, but I also think that his cross-cultural conclusions and his use of a primitive-society-case-study need to be carefully scrutinized.

From our position in the graduate school classroom, Bourdieu's work seems multiply suggestive. It seems to me that his comprehensive vision of systems of symbolic, economic and political exchange could inform our readings of literary texts in many interesting ways. Likewise, Bourdieu's critique could be useful in understanding the social and political role of the intellectual and of the academy -- a question raised two weeks ago in our reading of Radhakrishnan.

Bourdieu's analysis of literary text as cultural capital situates our endeavor as intellectuals within the (exchangist) structure of social power and hierarchy. According to Bourdieu's optic, our place in the societal structure of domination is neither neutral nor marginal. As career academics in training, we have inserted ourselves into an institutionalized economy of titles, degrees, prizes, authority, and (maybe someday) remunerated positions which is fundamental to the circulation of the cultural capital so directly tied to both economic and political domination. Bourdieu's analysis compels us to examine our possible status as the dominators who, because of the establishment of a smooth-running and self-reproducing social order, no longer need to act as direct agents for their own domination. Indeed, according to Bourdieu, (we?) the subjects who inhabit privileged roles in the social stucture remain unaware of both the arbitrary (violent or oppressive) order of things and our own position as the beneficiaries of this order.

As with all such social criticism, Bourdieu's critique raises the final question of "which way out?" In his analysis of doxa, orthodoxy, and heterodoxy, Bourdieu suggests that through inter cultural contact, symbolic-social-political-economic schemas can be uncovered and challenged. In a footnote, he puts forth the city as a possible locus for contact and dialogue -- a necessary condition for the demystification of social symbolic orders. Yet, even as doxa is replaced by an orthodoxy that can no longer seamlessly perpetuate itself nora fully enforce its order, symbolic orders seem to proliferate and succeed each other. As in a gift economy, in a capitalist system the fundamental role played by symbolic economies (the circulation of art, style, luxury, taste, and education) in the circulation of real economic and political privilege remains hidden until cultural discourses such as Kant's are challenged by critiques such as Bourdieu's.

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