Bourdieu on neoliberalism

Rakesh Bhandari bhandari at phoenix.Princeton.EDU
Wed Dec 9 15:28:54 PST 1998

Trying to make as many friends as possible, I have a few comments about the the greatest sociologist in the world (and I may have to pay for this):

> As the dominant discourse would have it, the economic world is a pure
> and perfect order, implacably unrolling the logic of its predictable
> consequences, and prompt to repress all violations by the sanctions
> that it inflicts, either automatically or --more unusually -- through
> the intermediary of its armed extensions,

Or as Bourdieu writes further down:

> Neoliberalism tends on the whole to favour severing the economy from
> social realities and thereby constructing, in reality, an economic
> system conforming to its description in pure theory, that is a sort of
> logical machine that presents itself as a chain of constraints
> regulating economic agents.

Of course Bourdieu cannot clarify that the bourgeois society does not have such self ordering properties and that its crisis tendency must thus also be explained because he himself writes of social life as if were perfectly organized by a quasi Maxwell's demon, moving persons around to keep the class order intact.

Pierre and his neo Althusserian students are supposedly the only ones who understand how this order of oppression perfects itself behind the backs of the oppressor and oppresed alike. Pierre's only difference with the Walrusians is that he thinks this self perfecting order is a form of domination, not liberty. Just as Jacques Ranciere broke with Althusser, he has written a severe criticism of Pierre Bourdieu, summarized by Kirsten Ross in her intro to Ranciere's The Ignorant Schoolmaster.

But you are not likely to hear of Ranciere's criticism in a Bourdieu seminar or a Bourdieu reader.

Perhaps that's an example of a logic implaccably rolling along?

There is not much original or insightful in Bourdieu's criticism of neo classical economics as asocial, ahistorical, social darwinist (actually social darwinism is not neo classical economics but probably a self conscious recognition by the bourgeoisie at last that the system it wants to defend cannot be passed off, especially as it mutated into imperialism and widespread unemployment, as one that tends towards full employment equilibrium or utility maximization and must thus be defended and naturalized on other grounds).

> it brackets the economic and social conditions of rational
> orientations and the economic and social structures that are the
> condition of their application.

> To give the measure of this omission, it is enough to think just of
> the educational system. Education is never taken account of as such at
> a time when it plays a determining role in the production of goods and
> services as in the production of the producers themselves.

What is he saying? That without education or some other restraining power--perhaps a King, the state, the Idea, the Law--people would fly asunder and human association would cease to be? It would seem at base Bourdieu's conception of society is no less atomic than the neoclassical economists he rails against. For Bourdieu then is it just a question of different mechanisms effecting the association of these atoms as these mechanisms become structuring structures and structured structures. Bourdieu's social ontology does not seem so different to me; is he not a social atomist? At the very least, I don't understand Bourdieu's answer to that fundamental question of why do people associate at all.

> appears to be purely negative. This project aims to create the
> conditions under which the "theory" can be realised and can function:
> a programme of the methodical destruction of collectives.

Even if the collective power of labor is crushed, this still would not make the Walrasian model an adequate description of bourgeois society. For example, there is no profit by which to finance on going revolutions in the conditions of production in Walrasian equilbrium, and yet this is the hallmark of capitalist reality. Note the mental gymanastics Schumpeter went through trying to marry his dynamics with static equilibrium. The "realisation" of the Walrusian model would only meant that participants had come to accept it as a description of their society, not that society was realistically understood in terms of the categories of neoclassical economics. It's an important distinction to make.
> The globalisation of financial markets, when joined with the progress
> of information technology, ensures an unprecedented mobility of
> capital. It gives investors concerned with the short-term
> profitability of their investments the possibility of permanently
> comparing the profitability of the largest corporations and, in
> consequence, penalising these firms' relative setbacks. Subjected to
> this permanent threat, the corporations themselves have to adjust more
> and more rapidly to the exigencies of the markets, under penalty of
> "losing the market's confidence", as they say, as well as the support
> of their stockholders. The latter, anxious to obtain short-term
> profits, are more and more able to impose their will on managers,
> using financial directorates to establish the rules under which
> managers operate and to shape their policies regarding hiring,
> employment, and wages.

This may be true but a lot of those short terms investors, hedge fund daddies, money managers are getting their asses kicked pretty hard as well. Why else the concentration of stock market turbulence in the financial sector?

> trends. First is the destruction of all the collective institutions
> capable of counteracting the effects of the infernal machine,
> primarily those of the state, repository of all of the universal
> values associated with the idea of the public realm.

Is this a joke? How can Bourdieu write this given what he writes about the state elsewhere? How many Pierres are there?

yours, rakesh

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