(these notes are for intended for use only as a supplement to the class readings and lectures!)
Durkheim and the Neo-Durkheimians
Emile Durkheim and the Neo-Durkheimians (Cultural Sociology)
Philip Smith, 9-13, 74-96
Lynn Hunt, The Sacred and the French
Jeffrey Alexander and Philip Smith,
The Discourse of American Civil Society (in reader)
Emile Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of the Religious
One of sociology’s founding
fathers, the “big three,” the other two being Karl Marx and Max Weber. He
developed the core of a cultural approach to sociology almost a century before
the “cultural turn” in the social sciences.
French academic, unlike Marx
he was a professional academic, and as such was deeply engaged in the academic
debates of his time. He did as much as anyone to establish sociology as a
discipline in France
in the 19th century.
Four most famous books:
The Division of Labor in
Society, The Rules of Sociological Method, Suicide, and The Elementary Forms of
the Religious Life
Key ideas in Durkheimian
sociology, key contributions:
1. The study of “social
facts”: a social fact is a real phenomenon that is collective in nature and
irreducible to individuals’ actions. e.g. language…no such thing as a “private
2. Rigorous scientific
methods of study: statistical analysis of survey data, data collected by
3. Cultural analysis: symbols, categories, rituals, the sacred
and the profane
The Elementary Forms, part of
which is assigned for this course, was his last great work, and it came very
late in his career, and it is where he most fully spells out his ideas about
cultural processes. The book is complex, in part because in it Durkheim tries
to do two things.
understand religion, i.e. provide a sociology
of religion (lots of people are still working on this)
show how the modern world is still fundamentally “religious.” This is his religious sociology (fewer people see
things this way, although I tend to)
1) Durkheim’s sociology of
Why do all human societies
have religions in the first place? What are the social effects of particular
religions? The economic effects? How do power, politics, and money interact
with religion? From a purely economic or ecological perspective, religion and
particulaly elaborate religious rituals can seem wasteful. From a Marxist perspective,
religion is the “opiate of the people.” It disguises power and subtly enslaves
people. But this doesn’t really answer the question of why religious beliefs
Here are some answers as of
the late nineteenth century:
1) Naturism: religion helps
to explain natural phenomena, which are often threatening
Naturism addresses itself to the phenomena of nature,
including great “cosmic forces” such winds, stars, rivers, the sky, etc., or
else plants, animals, rocks etc.
2) Animism: Religion explains
natural phenomena in terms of spirits, souls, divinities, demons, which are
animated and conscious and inhabit natural entities. This is a kind of
Durkheim finds lots of
problems with these two explanations, not the least of which is that they are
both deeply condescending, and assume religion to be a matter of illusions and
hallucinations totally unrelated to rationality and science.
Durkheim’s answer, based on
his reading of the anthropological and sociological literature on Australian
Aboriginal and Native American tribes:
First, he defines religion:
“A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred
things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices
which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who
adhere to them.”
This definition includes two
elements: the idea of the sacred, and the idea that religion is inherently
collective. By nature, i.e. because of the way individual humans are wired to
interact with the world, human beings distinguish between the sacred and the
profane. We’ll get back to this point later in the course. Second, religion is
social. God, or the gods, are in fact society, and belief in God or the gods
basically serves the interests of society as a whole.
This isn’t a course in the
sociology of religion, however, so what’s most interesting to us here is that
Durkheim’s sociology of religion provides the foundation for his religious
sociology, you could say his cultural sociology, of the secular world.
2) Durkheim’s religious
Unique for a sociologist, he
a. the independent causal
importance of symbolic classification
b. the importance of the
symbolic division between the sacred and
c. the social significance of
d. interrelations between
symbolic classifications, rituals, and the creation of social solidarities
The Elementary Forms is a difficult book, in part because it is
exploratory, and in part because Durkheim covers so much ground. His primary
empirical case is the Australian Aborigines, whose social organization is,
basically, the following:
Tribes (groups of clans)
The clans each have
totems—symbols based on animals and plants, and occasionally meteorological or
celestial entities—and relations between totems mirrors social relations
between clans as they are incorporated into phratries. In this way, aboriginal
society shapes the use of symbols.
Totems are names, but they’re
more like coats-of-arms to the clans. But it is more than a collective label in
which individuals take pride. It also has great religious significance. It is a
“sacred thing.” It keeps the profane at a distance, because of its essential
properties: it heals wounds, sickness, it can makes men’s beards grow, it has
power over the totemic species, it gives individuals force, courage, and
perseverance, and depresses and weakens their enemies (p. 142). It surrounds
ordinary objects and happenings with a kind of “religious halo.” Importantly,
the idea, the symbol that is the totem has more power than the animal or plant
on which it is based.
Totems have not only
religious but cognitive significance as well. They shape the way Aborigines and
Native Americans categorize the world around them, their own bodies and minds,
and even the whole universe (i.e. their religious cosmology). Durkheim gives
lots of examples, but the important thing to note is that Aboriginal and Native
American categories of thought are very different from modern Western notions,
which are typically based on modern science.
Society furnishes these
categories to the individuals who comprise it, and in turn, by thinking in
terms of the same categories and communicating with the same symbols, society
is strengthened. Social solidarity is strengthened.
Finally, and this point is
particularly important for us, modern societies and modern science do not
reject totemism, the division of the world into sacred and profane, etc.
Basically, science and rationality rely on the same universal cultural and
religious notions that animate Aboriginal religion. Modern social organization
is more individualistic and less tribal and clannish, and scientific
rationality is sharper and clearer than aboriginal thought processes and
categories, but the elementary forms of thought and group culture that underly
both are the same. If we can apprehend these processes at work in the modern
world, we can begin to understand the scope and the limits of our rationality.
Durkheimian thought permeated
the French intellectual scene, and it has influenced research in various
disciplines. The influence of Durkheim’s work, and particularly of the Elementary Forms, has been both direct
Linguistics: most prominent is Ferdinand de Saussure, the founder
of the field of “semiotics” (the study of signs) who saw language as a social
fact irreducible to anything else that emerged from the conscience collective of a society.
Literary theory: Roland Barthes’s studies in social and literary
semiotics. Barthes and his colleagues have explicated the systems of symbolic
classifications that regulate a wide array of secular institutions and social
processes, including fashion, food production, and civil conflict.
Anthropology: Levi-Strauss’s structural anthropology, in which he
studied societies in terms of their symbolic classifications, which are often
patterned as binary oppositions. The opposition between the sacred and the
profane is a cardinal one. Geertz’s interpretive studies of expressive cultural
practices, such as Balinese cockfighting and American political campaigns, are
also broadly Durkheimian, as they emphasize the “religious” and cultural bases
of cultural phenomena. Mary Douglas’s research on purity and pollution taboos,
which we’ll cover in this course, is directly Durkheimian too.
History: Michel Foucault, who often pointed out the religious
and in a sense arbitrary basis of “rational” Western attitudes and practices,
from sexual attitudes to such as mass incarceration.
Social Psychology: European “social representations theory” builds
directly from Durkheim’s idea of “collective representations.”
Sociology: Amazingly, sociologists have been the slowest to
pick up on Durkheim’s ideas. There are a number of reasons for this, but they
aren’t too interesting, so we won’t get into them here. Robert Bellah has
written on secular nations’ “civil religions,” basically the rituals and
symbols modern democracies use. Otherwise, Durkheimian research in sociology,
especially American sociology, is fairly new, only really picking up in the
late 1980s. We’ll cover some of this work later in the course.
Jeffrey Alexander and Philip Smith, The Discourse of American Civil Society
Alexander is a “Durkheimian” (or neo-“Durkheimian”) scholar, and in his chapter
he applies and revises Durkheimian ideas in order to better understand the
public response to the Watergate break-in. But there’s a long intellectual history
of studies of this kind, specifically of studies of mass politics,
propaganda, and the media. As far back as the 1920s, an awareness was
developing that the extension of the vote and the enlarged purchasing power of
the “masses” entailed expanded opportunities for both demagogues and
well-meaning propagandists to further their respective causes using various
symbols, fictions, myths, and utopian appeals. These opportunities have only
expanded further with developments in communications technology, most notably
the universalization of television.
Nowadays we take
advertising, marketing studies, consumer research, political polling, image
consultants, “spin doctors” and the like more or less for granted. But
beginning in the 1920s social critics and social scientists began to study
these processes carefully, and to rethink fundamental democratic ideals in
light of new realities.
The first great writer in
this tradition was Walter Lippmann, who was perhaps the most famous
journalist and commentator of his day. Two of his books are relevant here: Public
Opinion (1922) and The Phantom Public (1925).
In Public Opinion he
developed what amounts to a social constructionist view of public opinion. It
is an ideal of our democratic system, of course, that government represents the
“will of the people,” that is the interests, opinions, beliefs, and values of
the people. If the people’s will is disregarded, the result is tyranny and
ultimately violence. What could be more basic to the American way of life? Yet
by the 1920s, this ideal seemed increasingly unrealistic and naïve. Lippmann
felt this as strongly as anyone, and set out to explore the fabrication of
public opinion. Taking a page from Freud and other psychologists, he saw human
beings as guided by “the pictures in their heads,” not necessarily by
external realities. The pictures in our heads are “fictions,” which is not to
say that they’re untrue, just that they’re subjective. And these fictions are
socially constituted, i.e. they are part of culture. Human beings are not
directly exposed to reality, but instead adjust themselves to their
environments through collective culture, through “simpler models,” because the
real environment is too big, too complex, and too fleeting for us to apprehend
it directly. Human beings thus live in “pseudo-environments.”
In Public Opinion, and
especially in The Phantom Public, Lippmann drew out the implications of this
view of human nature for modern political life. “The Public” is not made up of
rational individuals judging an objective reality based on their values and
interests. Instead, “the public” doesn’t exist, but is for the most part
created and manipulated by powerful cultural actors.
Further, for practical
purposes, public opinion as such is typically “uninformed, irrelevant, and
meddlesome.” Therefore, educated insiders, i.e. experts, should make society’s
important political decisions, and public opinion should follow. Public opinion
can and should be manipulated in order to further the long-term interests of
the society as a whole. Educated experts, who will naturally have society’s
best interests in mind, should make decisions and manipulate public opinion for
the good of the society.
was certainly a new democratic ideal, one that remains provocative and for many,
other social thinker I’ll briefly mention here is the political scientist Harold
Lasswell, who published a famous book in 1927 analyzing the effectiveness
of the various propaganda campaigns waged during World War I. His theoretical approach
is similar to Lippmann’s, by the way.
alternative view of these matters comes from the sociologist Robert Bellah, who
is even more Durkheimian than Lippmann or Lasswell. Bellah is well known for
his concept of “civil religion,” a concept he illustrates in an American
context through studies of Presidential inaugural addresses and other addresses
to the nation. The American civil religion is not the fabrication of any one
interest group or group of experts. It goes deeper than that, and comprises
myths and symbols that guide our national identity and sense of purpose. In America,
the civil religion is influenced by Christianity, specifically by the Old
Testament, but it is not actually Christian. Here are its fundamental ideas, as
Bellah lays them out:
America was, and is, like the people of Israel, Europe was like Egypt
America escaped Europe as the Israelites escaped Egypt
also, Americans continue to escape oppression
and tyranny as the Israelites escaped Egypt
has a special mission for America
America must stand for liberty and
America must be a light to other
nations, and must promote these universal values
civil religion is the source of much of our national identity, and Bellah cites
as evidence for this the fact that these ideas recur again and again in
American political documents, including such diverse sources as abolitionist
pamphlets, civil rights speeches, and many Presidential speeches. For Bellah,
this indicates that the civil religion is interwoven with the fabric of
“Binary Codes” in modern political discourse, which we imagine to be rational
Discourses have “internal
symbolic logics” that can be perceived from outside. This is what cultural
analysis should do.
like Sacred/Profane but with
in the American case:
autonomous, rational, reasonable, calm, controlled, realistic, sane
dependent, irrational, hysterical, excitable, passionate, unrealistic, mad
Open, trusting, critical, truthful, straightforward, citizen
Secret, suspicious, deferential, deceitful, calculating, enemy
D: Rule regulate, law, equality, inclusive, impersonal, contractual,
Arbitrary, power, hierarchy, exclusive, personal, ascriptive, factions,
and Smith: revises and, more accurately, adds to Durkheimian analysis the
Values (general and
elemental aspects of a culture)
(regulatory conventions, customs, and laws)
(mundane play of power, interest)
factors involved in crisis and ritual renewal
deviance/pollution of event
consensus about relevance
institutional social controls, including possibly the use of force
mobilization and struggle
of autonomous elites and publics**
processes of symbolic
representation, ritual and purification
of symbols by myths
even modern, secular, democratic politics are discursive and cultural, and in a
is a big target for cultural theory, because in modern societies, and in much
modern social theory, technology’s relationship to culture and society is a
deterministic one. Technology is, in Alexander’s phrase, a “dead hand” pushing
social and cultural change.
Technological developmentsà society,
e.g. gun powder, steel production colonial
commercial jet airliner travel, business, residence
e.g. automobile “car
culture”—decorate our cars, value our cars as more than mere transportation,
industry modern art, modern design
cable television cultural
industrial machinery social
science theories (e.g. Freudianism, systems theory)
and spoken language
Yet social scientists are beginning to recognize that the converse is
true as well, and have been paying increasing attention to the ways social organization encourages or
impede technological innovation.
societyà technological innovation
Economic approaches—e.g. Robert Merton, Neil Smelser and others have argued that
high labor costs encouraged the industrial revolution (they also argued for the
importance of Methodist values)
theorists—point to the role of interpersonal and interorganizational ties
in fostering technological advances (e.g. Powell 1999)
The “cultural turn” in the social
sciences has thus far yielded fewer insights on technological innovation.
(However, there is a large literature that is critical of the incursion of technology into cultural life,
although theoretically, this literature shares the presuppositions of research
that celebrates the effects of technology in the modern world, i.e. that technology is the causal agent in cultural
change: e.g. Neil Postman 1993; Talbott 1995; Charlene Spretnak 1997;
Shelly Turkle 1997; Slouka 1995; Ullman 1997).
Cultural historians have made more progress, and in recent years have begun to
rewrite the role of technology in Western culture. Beginning in the late 1960s
and ’70s, historians began to reconsider the relationship between technology
and religious culture in the West since the Middle Ages.
White, for example,
traces contemporary moral approval of technology to a Christian ascetic
tradition that, contrary to Weber’s famous argument in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, preceded the
Calvinists and instead goes back throught the monks to Jewish roots.
embrace of technology, i.e. the equating of technological progress and
spiritual virtue, can be traced back through monastic iconography to the ninth
century. Since that time, the “medieval affirmation that technological advance
is morally benign” has been essentially unanimous, and remains an axiom of the
Recently, even more
ambitious and far-reaching efforts have been made to illuminate the powerful,
persistent influence of religion in fostering technological innovation. Noble
(1997), echoing White, has carefully documented what he argues is a
millennium-old trend in western culture, wherein particular strands of Christian religious faith have inspired and
grounded the development of the “useful arts.” From Benedictine monks’
innovations in machine design, metal-casting, glass-making and tinning, to
Freemasonry, space exploration, and computer technology, in the West,
millenarian and eschatological religious understandings have long inspired
Noble argues that
the Western tradition of religiously inspired technological experimentation has
been shrouded by a century and a half of “secularist polemic and ideology” (p.
4). Yet the modernist intellectual tradition running from Marx to Habermas
(outlined in Alexander 1992: 299-305) fails to explain popular religious
construals of a range of 20th-century technological phenomena, from the atom
bomb to artificial intelligence, the possibility of human cloning, and the
promise of computer technology (cf. Noble 1997: 115-142).
Alexander on the “Sacred and Profane Information Machine”
Alexander takes on
both Weber’s rationalization thesis and Marx’s commodification thesis, and for
that matter he is not enthusiastic about any broad, deterministic theory of
social change. E.g. McDonalization, rationalization, commodification,
modernization, globalization, and so on. Nor is he a fan of rational-choice
models of individual behavior, nor Realpolitik
models of collective behavior. Why? Because he is a cultural theorist, and wants
to show how culture and meaning and nonrational processes are a part of all
cultures are like languages, loosely structured by binary codes
ought to be able to read cultures like texts, that is to understand, in an
empathetic way, cultures as systems of meaning for social groups.
As Durkheim and
Weber tried to understand Australian aborigines, Native Americans, and
Calvinists, so we should try to understand contemporary, modern cultures.
neo-Marxists and critical theorists (we will read some of this work later) for
being anticultural, for assuming that technology and economics drive social and
cultural change, just as Marx argued that control of the means of production
(the base) drives changes in the superstructure (schools, religions, values,
culture, ideas, politics).
that it is impossible for a society to be dominated by technological
rationality, as Weber, Marx and others have long predicted, because the “mental
structures” of humankind are, in crucial respects, unchanging. Human
rationality never exists in a pure form, but is always tied into irrational
systems of psychological defense, systems that are both primordial and
In a sense,
Alexander wants to do for the personal computer, for modern technology, what Freud
did for the mind and Weber did for capitalism in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: reveal its
cultural and irrational dimensions in a rational way.
computer and the internet have had profound effects on modern society. As such,
and as Durkheim would have expected, the rhetoric and legitimating myths of the
computer age are rife with religious themes. Alexander examined religiously
based popular conceptions of technology in the United States—generally a
religious, Christian country, but one that has been at the forefront of most
modern technology—between the end of the second world war and 1975 (roughly the
dawn of the age of the personal computer), and unearthed a Durkheimian pattern.
In popular magazines (Time and Newsweek) and lay technology magazines (Popular Science), innovations in
computer technology were introduced to the public wrapped up in a
“transcendental and mythical discourse...filled with wish-fulfilling rhetoric
of salvation and damnation” (p. 308). Alexander finds apocalyptic themes,
themes of salvation, and even themes of the computer as the antichrist, the
devil. Time and again, the marvels of computer technology were treated as
sacred, existing at a remove from the profane world, and computer specialists
as lay priests, intermediaries between technological divinity and the laity. Time, for example, wrote in 1965 of the
“new breed of specialists [which] has grown up to tend the machines,” who “
have formed themselves into a solemn priesthood of the computer, purposely
separated from ordinary laymen [and] speak[ing] an esoteric language that some
suspect is just their way of mystifying outsiders” (Time, April 1965; qtd in Alexander
1992: 310). Completing their analogy three years later, Time wrote: “When we want to consult the deity, we go to the
computer because it’s the closest thing to God to come along” (Time, March
“Idea Hamsters” on
the “Bleeding Edge”: Profane Metaphors in High Technology Jargon
This was my first
published article, and in a sense what I ended up doing was extending
Alexander’s argument, which has roots in both Freud and Weber.
1) I argue that sacredness is not a consensual part of
modern/postmodern culture the way it perhaps once was, and that the profane is worth thinking about more.
2) I argue that we
can use theories of metaphor, and develop methods of analyzing metaphors, that
can teach us a lot about culture. We can borrow ideas and methods from
linguistics and cognitive psychology.
So it turns out
that Silicon Valley people use a lot of
jargon, and a lot of profane jargon,
that is jargon with symbolism of bodies, animal, and death (all profane
This profane jargon
has increased over time, and there is more of it in Silicon
Valley than in other industries.
This jargon is structured in a binary way, that is in
terms of a binary code, of
For theorists of
technological rationalization, Silicon Valley
should be the most rational, most rationalized place in the world, as it is the
source of so much of our everyday technology. But Silicon
Valley has its own culture of technology, and it is a culture that
is in many ways consistent with a centuries-old cultural code characterizing
especially communities of innovation, in which technology is seen as sacred,
and resistance to technological progress as profane.
Bourdieu, Snobs, and Omnivores
Bourdieuàsymbolic boundaries, quantitative techniques for
sociology of culture (compare with cultural anthro)
Working-class background, studied the
Kabyle in Algeria
while a soldier
Became more politically active later in
his career: anti-globalization, anti-Americanization to some degree
Rejected Marxism, but also
Forms of capital (social, economic,
Social Space or Field
Habitus: bodily and cognitive imprint of
workers don’t like to eat fish (removing bones too dainty) or work on keyboards
of refined/unrefined versus masculine/feminine
Symbolic Violence, Symbolic Domination
Bourdieu is perhaps the most influential sociologist alive today. Like Foucault
before him, in France
he is widely regarded as a “master thinker,” although he is unlike Foucault in
that he is a tried-and-true sociologist, who uses numerical data and advanced
statistics in his research.
the purposes of this course, we’ll cover some of his work on Structure,
Habitus, and Social Space, and then we’ll move on to Michele Lamont’s revision
and extension of his ideas.
Space and Social Classes.
break with Marxists: (I.e. 'objective' reality). Bourdieu is interested in
RELATIONSHIPS, on more levels than just the economic, and argues that how
and make sense of their relations matters (this is the subjective element).
break with "intellectualism": The theoretical class (i.e. the one we
as scientists define) is not necessarily the class that exists in-the-world.
break with Economics: There are more dimensions to the social world that just
break with “Objectivism” in favor of a symbolic understanding of social
also has s definite focus on POWER STRUGGLES.
Space: A geographic/mathematical metaphor for how people are arranged in
society. Bourdieu 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
under consideration, that is, able to confer force or power on their possessor
in that universe." (p.229).
points to keep in mind with this def:
Social space has multiple dimensions (ex economic, educational, cultural, etc.:
n dimensions) These dimensions can
usually be categorized as a form of
"...constructed on the basis of principles of differentiation or
distribution..." This mean that how
and what kind of the particular capital one has is the basis for sorting along
"...by the set of properties active in the social universe under
consideration, that is, able to confer
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
'active' in the social world of interest. This part of the definition implies
an element of contextual specificity. Two groups' relative position depend on
'field' that is active. If we're dealing in the economic field, then the
relative position of $$ matters, if we're dealing with the
what matters. [note, that this discussion is about one dimension at a time,
Bourdieu does not think that way - this is for illustration only, the point is
struggles, the relative value of a given dimension will change.].
follows from the ability to mobilize capital.
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)
but instead constantly infused with power struggles. Thus we see the world as a
system of 'objective power relations.'
this paranoid? Overdramatic??
This allows us to see the social world in two
ways, as the positions themselves thusly: (take culture and econ as examples)
Poor ---------------------------- Rich
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' ,
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
A -> B-----> C
Where A dominates (a little) B, and both B and
A dominate C. What Bourdieu wants to claim is that these systems of relations
are in constant contest -- not ONLY
who gets to be WHERE, but what having a certain quantity/distribution of a good
GIVES you, ie what it MEANS.
dimensions are the elements that give power (education, money, social contacts,
etc) in general, these elements form types of CAPITAL. The four
of capital for Bourdieu are:
1.Economic Capital: How much money one has.
2.Cultural Capital: The systems of value and
meaning a person can draw on, what counts as 'good' for a group. (the main distinction is
and low culture for Bourdieu, thus the difference between a person who listens
to Garth brooks and goes to the bowling alley every weekend versus a
person who reads Shakespeare, drinks fine
wine, and goes to the museum all the time).
3.Social Capital: The set of relations one
can draw on: who you know that MATTERS.
4.Symbolic Capital. : the extent to which one
has the power to institute, to NAME, to define who is who. Symbolic power rests
on RECOGNITION, i.e., give or take, legitimacy (Weber).
argues that each of these types of capital is transformable (to some
extent), i.e. able to be converted and reconverted, one to the other. Thus if
you have enough money you might get to know a new
of important people, etc.
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
matter (i.e. cash vs stocks vs gold vs land).
Classes on Paper:
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
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
standing differentiation between classes in-themselves vs. classes for
exists is a space of relations, out of which may or may not emerge a class per
can compare this to Marx’s theories of class, in which he assumes that groups
form from similarity, but it does not explain how the groups form. Instead,
through a theoretical ‘slight of hand’, the
questions are spirited away:
don’t ask about the political work needed to organize and created a
self-recognized, mobilized class
explain how the formal ‘classes’ of social scientists are related to the
actual, living classes in society.
and class fragments develop “habituses”—roughly
but not quite subcultures
Perception of the social world and political struggle.
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.
perspective in the world is due to two things:
'Objective': People see the world differently because they occupy a different
space in the world.
'subjective': The tools brought to bear, the language used, are all the
products of previous struggles, and influence the meaning of the very
people array themselves along.
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
is different depending on a group's past history of struggle.
Bourdieu argues that people TEND to accept the position they find themselves
in, there is social change, and it comes from struggles for power related
(1) and (2).
an earlier essay, Bourdieu writes
of the social world and, more precisely, the categories which make it possible,
are the stake par excellence of the political struggle, a struggle
is inseparably theoretical and practical, over the power of preserving or
transforming the social world by preserving or transforming the categories of
of that world.”
are social categories: racial, social class, economic categories, that change over time
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
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
Political rhetoric about abortion: proponents use ‘right-to-choose’ language,
opponents use ‘rights-to-life’ language.
Use of the word ‘Liberal’ in presidential campaigns
Capital: Any capital when it is perceived by an agent as self-recognized power
to name, to make distinctions.
follows that objective power relations
reproduce themselves in symbolic power.
power to create titles
Citizenship is bestowed by the government,
definition of ‘adult’ or ‘graduate’
“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.”
Because they benefit from the current arrangement. That those in power control
the means to power creates a cycle,
whereby they reenforce the power
they have. Bourdieu refers to this as the “circle
of symbolic reproduction”.
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
with legitimate control of symbolic power.
order and the power of naming.
power can be arrayed along a dimension of intensity/legitimacy:
Insult Official Naming
power High Power
can think about the proliferation of titles in current work and occupations. This
rise (sanitary engineer, executive assistant, vice president, e.g.)
follows FROM the
of groups to NAME THEMSELVES, and thus make their own distinction. The move in
contemporary society to provide all with a new name, is a struggle for
legitimate power. Racial epithets are the imposition of place by a ruling class
class, and when the POWER associated with those epithets can be reversed, then
the group has gained the symbolic upper hand.
minority groups referring to themselves in terms of racial “slurs”—not just the
N word—Chinese, Jews, immigrants in America (greenhorns, FOBs)
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
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
symbolic power is a useful power, something that can be used to gain resources
in multiple dimensions, it is clearly the subject of controversy.
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)
in the Political Field
who occupy similar, but distinct social spaces (or who are in similar, but
distinct patterns of social relations) tend to form alliances (though, again,
do people at the bottom of a symbolic power system gain capital to change the
present point of view?
says it happens through alliances with those who have the ability to control
symbols. For example, the intellectuals will ‘embezzle’ symbolic power for
workers. These alliances occur where there is a similarity in their position in
the structure, across dimensions of the structure. Thus, workers are the
group in the production/economic realm, while intellectuals are the dominated
group in the cultural realm. The one helps the other because of the
of their situation. For Bourdieu, this was Marx’s error: to look only within
the economic realm for the emergence of classes.
Critiques of Bourdieu (general)
too agonistic, too focused on struggle and competition
isn’t Bourdieu himself an example of why he is wrong?
too Parisian, too French, and perhaps too old
Michelle Lamont: Money, Morals, &
Boundaries and Status
study of “symbolic boundaries” and “cultural repertoires” is an important
theoretical area within cultural studies, and it is mostly a French-American
research is especially qualitative and interpretive. Her writings are based
mostly on interviews she has conducted over the years with, e.g., middle class
Americans and French citizens, working class Americans and others.
is from Quebec, which is a part of Canada
with a heavy French influence, so she has been able to investigate two
cultures—the Anglo-American world and France and French Canada—from a unique
boundaries” the types of lines that individuals draw when they categorize other
work” work of maintaining distinctions between one’s own group and other groups
of symbolic boundaries
drawn on the
basis of moral character
work ethic, integrity, consideration for others
intelligence, manners, taste, command of high culture
in different countries value these boundaries differently. For example in America moral and socioeconomic qualities are
more highly valued, while in France
culture is more important
both countries socioeconomic boundary work seems to be on the upswing
New Yorkers seeing Midwesterners as parochial
seeing intellectuals as unrealistic
marketing executives, realtors
and cultural specialists seeing businesspeople as materialistic
e.g. artists, social
workers, priests, psychologists, researchers, teachers
seeing Americans as puritan moralists
compares American and French members of the upper middle class
versus New Yorkers
versus residents of Clermont-Ferrand
versus social and cultural specialists