Bourdieu on neoliberalism

Dennis R Redmond dredmond at OREGON.UOREGON.EDU
Wed Dec 9 16:53:05 PST 1998

On Wed, 9 Dec 1998, Rakesh Bhandari wrote:

> 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.

Sorry, no cigar. Bourdieu's point is that capitalist society is organized around countless small-scale fields or market niches, around which various class fractions congregate in a more or less stable habitus (more stable in periods of conservativism, less stable in revolutions). Our knowledge is *always* conditioned by our own subjective habitus: where we work, how we make our living, etc. Bourdieu regards sociology as a powerful way of triangulating global class struggle, decoding its tactics and techniques, and then fighting back. It's not the only way; there's also aesthetics, identity-politics, etc. (thus Bourdieu's interest in radical art, the sans-papieres, etc.).

> 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?

It's not a social ontology, it's a field of oppositions and struggles between various habituses, fields, etc. They're all in competition with one another, which necessitates some kind of clearing-house of mediations or set of rules within which this competition takes places -- i.e. what we call "the state" (but which also apply to things like money, the juridical sphere, etc.). Note that this works on a higher level, too: so different sets of money compete against one another (in that still larger field called the forex market, populated by its analogous habitus of global speculators, central bank officials, IMF hacks, corporate financiers, Treasury Departments, etc.). The power of neoliberalism, as Bourdieu points out, is that it can mobilize *all* these pieces of the system simultaneously.

> Bourdieu writes:
> > 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?

Not a joke, it's a dismal reality. Neoliberalism *is* destroying the welfare state, or mightily attempting to do so. It won't succeed in Europe, because it's facing an equally mighty resistance. But when you read the managerial magazines an the company reports of the big European multinationals, the agenda is clear: Wall Street-style "shareholder value" is now the priority. Fuck workers, fuck the ecology, fuck European citizens, and fuck human life -- Novartis, Daimler, Vivendi, Deutsche Bank & Co. want everything you own, right down to your DNA. Not now, yesterday.

Fortunately for the continuation of life on this planet, the EU workingclass is mighty pissed about all this and is going on the counter-offensive. The Eurohabitus is striking back against the field of the euro.

-- Dennis

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