Issue 87 of INTERNATIONAL SOCIALISM JOURNAL Published Summer 2000 Copyright © International Socialism
In France no intellectual since Jean-Paul Sartre has commanded the attention currently devoted to Pierre Bourdieu.1 Yet while Sartre's notoriety accompanied him virtually throughout his life, Bourdieu's status as a politically engaged intellectual has only fully emerged in the past few years of a career now into its fifth decade.2 This is a direct consequence of the new mood in France opened up since the strike wave of December 1995. Bourdieu's decision to take a prominent stance on the side of France's public sector workers in the conflict that pitted them against the conservative government of Alain Juppé put him at the centre of the intellectual backlash against neo-liberalism. This backlash, and a growing interest in radical ideas, was accelerated but not created by the events of 1995 and had been apparent in various guises throughout the early 1990s, ranging from the Air France strikes and school student protests of 1993, to the impressive vote for the Trotskyist candidate Arlette Laguiller in the May 1995 presidential elections, the success of events such as the International Marx Conference organised by the Actuel Marx review in September 1995, and in the content and popularity of various books published during the first half of the decade, from Jacques Derrida's Spectres of Marx (1993) to Bourdieu's own The Weight of the World (1993)--a bestseller--Alain Badiou's Ethics (1993) and Daniel Bensaïd's Marx L'Intempestif (1995).3
The Weight of the World became one of the defining books of the 1990s. A collaborative work, it contained dozens of interviews with people living, in one form or another, at the sharp end of society (in run-down housing estates, on the dole, in part time work, factory jobs, etc), interspersed with short essays by Bourdieu and his collaborators on subjects such as 'The Abdication of the State', 'The Shop Steward's World in Disarray' and 'Institutional Bad Faith'. Over 1,000 pages long it sold nearly 100,000 copies in its original format before being published in a cheaper version in 1998. During the same period it was made into at least six plays, one of them staged over three days, and has become a byword for the ravages of the free market. Along with Bourdieu's highly political interventions since 1995 it has been a major factor in what is perhaps his single most notable achievement of recent years, that of 'relegitimising a discourse of resistance'.4
Since the events of December Bourdieu and his collaborators have multiplied their attacks on neo-liberalism. Having set up a publishing house, Liber/Raisons d'Agir (Reasons to Act), they have used it to produce a series of reasonably priced, accessible books covering a range of issues, almost all of which have reached a wide audience. The first to be published, Bourdieu's Sur la Télévision (1997), sold over 100,000 copies and his Contre-feux (1998)5 over 50,000, while Serge Halimi's attack on the media, Les Nouveaux Chiens de Garde (1997) has sold over 150,000. Others, such as the collective work Le 'Décembre' des Intellectuels Français, on the effect of December 1995 on France's intellectual elite, have all enjoyed similar success. Those active around Raisons d'Agir have formed an association, with groups in Germany, Belgium and also in a number of French towns, notably Grenoble, forming part of a growing network of militant think-tanks, reviews and associations of various kinds all fighting, in diverse ways, the effects of global capitalism. These include the Fondation Copernic,6 established in November 1998 as a rival to the right wing Fondation Saint-Simon, the unemployed workers' associations AC! and APEIS,7 the homeless association Droit au Logement (DAL), the SUD trade union and the loose Groupe des Dix federation of which it is a part, numerous anti-fascist and anti-racist groups, the ATTAC association, set up to establish a 'Tobin tax' on financial speculation, and the increasingly influential monthly Le Monde diplomatique, to which Bourdieu and his collaborators are regular contributors.
Bourdieu himself intervened on various occasions during the December events. He memorably attacked a group of prominent academics, led by the Esprit journal and the sociologist Alain Touraine, who had chosen that moment to become apologists for Juppé by launching a petition in favour of restructuring the social security system.8 ('Keep the list in mind,' Bourdieu said after the events. 'It made visible the network of lackey intellectuals who've been active from day to day, imperceptibly, and therefore invisibly, for years'.9) He also spoke to mass meetings of railway workers in Paris10 and launched a petition the following February calling for an Estates General of the Social Movement (which took place in November 1996). In March 1996 he signed petitions calling for 'legal and social recognition for homosexual couples' and for civil disobedience in the face of racist legislation on immigration. He later supported protests by unemployed workers (addressing their occupation of the École Normale Supérieure in January 1998), backed opposition to the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, and published, in the form of an article entitled 'For a Left Left',11 an attack on the Jospin government coalition of Socialists, Communists and Greens, elected in June 1997. The article, written in the aftermath of regional election alliances between the National Front and sections of the traditional right, was full of anger at the apparent increase in the influence of fascism in French society, in particular among the political establishment, and condemned the fakes ('faux-semblants') of the plural left, which had 'disappointed its electorate, demobilised its activists and pushed the most exasperated to the far left'. Faced with the 'neo-liberal troika of Blair-Jospin-Schröder', Bourdieu called on the social movements which had developed since 1995 to join together in an 'international of resistance'.
The breadth of Bourdieu's popularity was underlined by speculation that he would head a list in the European elections of June 1998 (he chose not to) and by the invitation extended by the music and arts magazine Les Inrockuptibles (roughly France's equivalent to the NME) to edit their end of year double issue. Bourdieu used the opportunity to offer space to those generally excluded from the 'media circle': union activists, representatives of the 'social movement', and various other figures associated with the so called 'left of the left', including Susan George. The following year Bourdieu played a leading role in opposing NATO's war in the Balkans.12 Internationalism has been a central theme of his interventions over the last few years. During the Estates General of the Social Movement he called for links to be renewed with the internationalism that had been sidetracked by 'sovietism'.13 More recently he has called for a Europe-wide Estates General of the Social Movement.14
A notable indication of the shift in the intellectual climate since 1995 was the demise in the summer of 1999 of the pro-market think-tank, the Fondation Saint-Simon, which for a decade and a half had churned out reports and studies urging the left to embrace entrepreneurialism. Le Figaro attributed its loss of direction and subsequent decision to fold to the effect of the December strikes and the rallying of a 'not insignificant intellectual fringe' to Bourdieu's anti-liberal stance.15 The pugnacity of his polemical onslaught on neo-liberalism and its acolytes in the world of academia and the media16 has inevitably provoked an angry counter-attack, typified by the peevish efforts of the editorial team of the journal L'Esprit which denounced the 'political populism', 'Stalinism' and 'ultra-leftism' of Bourdieu's public interventions and attempted, rather feebly, to explain his political stance as a reflection of his research ('posturing dressed up as science') which apparently manages to combine determinism with 'theoretical populism'.17 For the editor of Les Temps Modernes, meanwhile, Bourdieu was not a real intellectual, in the tradition of Péguy and Sartre, so much as a 'scientistic pontif, a Cardinal Ratzinger of science, keeping watch over the scientistic orthodoxy of everything written in newspapers'.18 This criticism was echoed in a hostile study by Jeannine Verdès-Leroux, in which she denounced Bourdieu's 'miserabilism' and 'sociological terrorism' and compared him unfavourably to Sartre, whose status had been achieved only after winning an audience on the back of his literary and philosophical works, whereas Bourdieu's legitimacy came not so much from his work as from his institution, the Collège de France.19
In some respects such attacks mirror the treatment meted out to all critical intellectuals in France, from Voltaire and Zola to Sartre and Foucault, who are demonised by the establishment and then lionised by the condescension of posterity. Bourdieu's case is slightly different because of the way in which the events of December 1995 have reconfigured various aspects of French society, not least the prevailing intellectual climate. In the first place, Bourdieu's stance marks a departure from his previous attitude to intervention around major issues, limited before 1995 to supporting the abortive 1981 presidential campaign of a maverick comedian, Coluche, issuing a petition in the same year with Michel Foucault in support of Solidarnosc, and, in 1988, backing the 'exemplary' policies of Socialist prime minister Michel Rocard in New Caledonia. Secondly, the events have dealt a blow to the reaction against Marxism begun by structuralism and pursued in the wake of May 1968 by the post-structuralists and nouveaux philosophes. For sociologists like Touraine, 1995 represented a challenge to their interpretation of 1968. Reality was now undermining the fashion for writing off the working class. Touraine's own efforts to downplay the events of December in his book Le Grand Refus (1996) were, as Daniel Bensaïd has remarked, contradicted on its every page.20 Criticisms of Bourdieu which link his interventions to an apparently deterministic 'Marxist' (and by implication 'outdated') theoretical project are aimed not so much at Bourdieu but at the 'social movement' he defends. As such, they are not only disingenuous but wide of the mark in the sense that Bourdieu's political stance--his attacks on neo-liberalism and his defence of all those engaged in struggle, from strikers to sans-papiers--is, as we shall see below, less a reflection than an antidote to aspects of his theoretical vision, notably the restricted scope for protest, let alone revolution.
Pierre Bourdieu was born in the Béarn region of south eastern France in 1930. He graduated from the prestigious École Normale Supérieure in 1954 (although he refused to complete his thesis in protest at the regimented education offered by the institution) and went to teach philosophy in a provincial secondary school. In 1956 he was conscripted to fight in Algeria. Having completed his military service he stayed on and between 1957 and 1960 undertook fieldwork in Algeria, returning to Paris in 1960 as Raymond Aron's assistant at the Sorbonne. After three years teaching at the University of Lille he became director of studies at L'École Pratique Des Hautes Études in Paris. Here, and as part of the Centre de Sociologie Européenne which he founded in 1968, he built up a team of collaborators, who continue to work alongside him, notably on the Centre's journal, Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales. In 1981 Bourdieu was made a professor at the Collège de France, where he continues to work.
Influenced by Marx as a student, Bourdieu was 'exasperated' by Stalinism,21 and, in Algeria, 'appalled by the gap between the views of French intellectuals about this war and how it should be brought to an end, and my own experiences'.22 His fieldwork in Algeria provided the material for various studies, including Sociologie de l'Algérie (1958),23 Travail et Travailleurs en Algérie (1963),24 Le Déracinement (1964) and the collection of essays published in 1977 under the title Algérie 1960. In a sense the whole of Bourdieu's work has been constructed as a reaction to the two major intellectual currents of this period, existentialism and structuralism. Bourdieu's concern was to overcome the opposition between the subjectivist emphasis on individual consciousness and the objectivist preoccupation with social structures which these two alternatives seemed to posit. Apparently anxious to distance himself from intellectual 'fads', he rejected the 'soft humanism' of Sartrean existentialism:
Bourdieu's early work, such as the 'The Kabyle House or the World Reversed',26 was heavily influenced by structuralism although he nevertheless strove to reintroduce agents, 'abolished' by structuralists like Lévi-Strauss and in particular Althusser, for whom subjects were simply the by-products of structures. Activity could not be understood simply as the playing out of rules. In an effort to 'escape the realism of the structure' which converted objective relations 'into totalities already constituted outside of individual history and group history', Bourdieu attempted to examine the 'principle of production of this observed order, and to construct the theory of practice'.27 This led him to explore the reciprocal process of 'incorporation and objectification', whereby individuals produce the objective environment which they internalise:
For Bourdieu this exploration also involved overcoming the distortions inherent in the way in which social science constructs the world. The position of the detached observer of society, he argued, creates a false impression of reality as something static, subject to norms and rules, rather than something fluid and vague. Bourdieu thus strove to develop a 'reflexive sociology' which took a step back from the process of observation and acknowledged the fact that the observer was not a neutral presence but a social actor in his own right. Sociology itself, meanwhile:
In the early 1960s Bourdieu developed the notion of 'strategies' as a means of understanding how people acted on their environment, which was to provide the basis for much of his subsequent theoretical framework. Later refined as the 'logic of practice',30 this concept enabled Bourdieu to distance himself from structuralism and to offer an explanation of practice as something which was neither wholly unconscious nor simply the result of rational calculation. The logic of practice is akin to the individual's sense of play. Individuals are therefore as free and as limited as when they engage in any kind of game, finding themselves, for example, instinctively at the point where the ball is about to land but at the same time exercising control over the ball. This requires permanent invention on the part of the player to adapt to infinitely variable situations. Although the player does what the game demands of him, this does not mean that individuals are slaves to rules, since these can be manipulated to the player's advantage, bent and subverted to suit his needs. The player's freedom to invent and to improvise allows for the production of an infinite number of moves made possible by the game, and is subject to the same limits as the game.31
This relationship between subjective outlooks and objective possibilities was central to Bourdieu's study of the concept of time. In Algerian peasant culture time was experienced as part of the natural world like the seasons or the land. It was part of the immediacy of a given situation. There was no conception of the future as a 'broad field of innumerable possibilities'.32 It was simply something to which one had to submit. The notion that time could be wasted or saved, or imagined as a set of future possibilities was alien to this culture. Once the peasantry moved to the city, however, the 'enchantment' of rural life was shattered. 'Entrance into the money economy is coupled with the discovery of time as something that can be wasted, that is, the distinction between empty, or lost, time, or well filled time'.33 It becomes possible to conceive of time as something other than an immediate constraint and to plan for the future. For the destitute urban poor of Algeria this meant that since the objective conditions for liberation did not exist there was no possibility of self emancipation. Subjectively, this would be experienced as the result of the individual's own shortcomings, and therefore as something inevitable or natural. 'The dominated,' Bourdieu argues, 'are always more resigned than populist mystique believes'.34
Bourdieu sharply disagreed with the position adopted by Sartre and Frantz Fanon with regard to post-independence Algeria, in particular their analysis of the revolutionary role that could be played by the peasantry and 'sub-proletariat'.35 Such was the alienation of those at the bottom of society, argued Bourdieu, that they were incapable of transcending their situation, since they were unable to attain consciousness of it in the first place:
In this instance Bourdieu believed that the idealisation of the peasantry and sub-proletariat was a characteristic of the revolutionary elite's populist nationalism: since the masses would be unable to fulfil the role attributed to them, this would provide the justification for the substitution of mass democracy by the rule of a bureaucratic bourgeois elite. As Lane has noted, his work on post-independence Algeria provides the only instance to date of Bourdieu calling for revolutionary solutions.37 There was an obvious echo in his analysis of the peasantry and sub-proletariat of the Marxist concept of alienation.38 The influence of Weber's concept of rational calculation, however, was also clear, and had the greater impact on the subsequent development of Bourdieu's analytical framework, which leaves little room, as we shall see below, for the possibility of revolution:
This internalisation of objective possibility as subjective expectation was theorised by Bourdieu in the concept of habitus, the form by which this relationship was mediated. Habitus is, according to Bourdieu, the means by which the 'social game' is inscribed in biological individuals. As the possibilities and constraints of social action are incorporated by individuals, their 'feel for the game' becomes a kind of second nature. 'Habitus' thus refers to the way in which an individual's instinctive sense of what might be achieved is structured into a pattern of behaviour, forming, in Bourdieu's own words, 'an acquired system of generative schemes objectively adjusted to the particular conditions in which it is constituted'.40 The modes of behaviour, or dispositions, produced by the habitus, are passed on through the generations, inculcated from an early age and socially reinforced through education and culture.
The advantage of the concept, as far as Bourdieu was concerned, was that it permitted an understanding of the apparently spontaneous beliefs or opinions (these Bourdieu refers to as doxa) which shape people's view of the world on the basis of a reciprocal relationship between the ideas and attitudes of individuals and the structures within which they operate:
The manner by which the behavioural patterns of the habitus are embedded in individuals may take various forms, manifesting themselves in every aspect of human interaction with the world, not just in terms of ideas or patterns of speech or dress, but also with regard to the body and its demeanour. This aspect, termed hexis, featured in his study of the Béarn peasantry in which Bourdieu described the way that the difficulties experienced by peasants forced to uproot themselves from their traditional practices and customs during the post-war modernisation of France was reflected in their physical and psychological inability to participate in local dances.42
Through such examples Bourdieu sought to show how 'the body is in the social world but the social world is also in the body',43 and how this was manifested in ways of 'standing, speaking, and thereby of feeling and thinking'. The core values of the dominant culture, he argued, become inscribed in the apparently insignificant details of 'dress, bearing, physical and verbal manners'. The body becomes a memory and acts as a repository for the principles 'embodied' within it which, since they are placed 'beyond the grasp of consciousness...cannot be touched by voluntary, deliberate transformation, cannot even be made explicit'.44 The habitus, as an instrument of mediation, endlessly engenders 'thoughts, perceptions, expressions, actions' within the limits imposed by 'the historically and socially situated conditions of its production'. As such, Bourdieu believes, it offers a means of conceptualising 'conditioned and conditional freedom' other than as a product of chance or as an immediate reflection of objective structures.45
In the early 1960s many assumed that the upheavals sparked by events in Algeria would topple de Gaulle. That they did not perhaps explains Bourdieu's preoccupation with the study of how the status quo is perpetuated through the reproduction of forms of domination by state institutions and their actors. Having proposed solutions to the problems faced by post-independence Algerians and French peasants confronted with modernisation which were based on the reconciliation of traditional values with the inevitability of change via education, Bourdieu now had to come to terms, in France, with a set of institutions whose role in society was to preserve tradition and existing hierarchies, institutions whose conservation and reproduction were achieved with the collusion of students who participated in the pretence that education was something other than a means to preserve the existing social order.46
The question now posed, the answering of which appeared to mark a further break with structuralism, was how do societies construct and maintain their structures?47 In a series of works devoted to class, culture and the structures of domination, which include Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture (1970), Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (1979), Homo Academicus (1984) and The State Nobility (1989), Bourdieu looked at how power relations within society are maintained by means other than repression. Central to this process is the way economic relations are legitimised by dressing them up as something else. This operation is based on the 'conversion' of economic capital into symbolic capital: 'Wealth, the ultimate basis of power, can exert power, and exert it durably, only in the form of symbolic capital'.48 In this way the real, economic basis of domination may be disguised as something else and relations of dependence presented as the consequence of inequalities of talent or taste or educational ability. The reproduction of structures of domination in society therefore depends on the imposition of cultural values which are presented as universal but whose content and context are politically and historically determined--and therefore arbitrary. This process, which enables direct violence to be dispensed with, Bourdieu termed 'symbolic violence'.
One of the principal functions of symbolic violence is to create the illusion that the forms taken by economic capital to disguise itself have an intrinsic, rather than a purely social value. Much of Bourdieu's work has therefore been devoted to exposing the social mechanisms that lie behind the pursuit of cultural or educational distinction. This pursuit takes the form of competition for resources, or capital, across various social arenas, or fields. According to Bourdieu, each field within society is structured according to what is at stake within it (educational, cultural, economic, political, etc) and is comprised of antagonistic elements who struggle to acquire and preserve capital--economic, cultural, scientific or otherwise. So in the economic field individuals compete to accumulate capital in the form, for example, of money, while in the educational field cultural capital is accumulated in the form of academic qualifications. Once the cultural capital which these and other forms of credentials represent is generally acknowledged, 'relations of power and domination no longer exist directly between individuals',49 but become objective mechanisms, social institutions which reproduce relations of domination without the need for direct intervention by the dominant group in society. The strategies of domination developed by those in control therefore tend to become increasingly indirect.
This reconversion of economic capital into symbolic capital 'cannot succeed without the complicity of the whole group: the work of denial which is the source of social alchemy is, like magic, a collective undertaking'.50 Since the drive to acquire and defend symbolic capital derives from the dispositions generated by the habitus, inherited at birth and subsequently inculcated by family and school, the arbitrary value of whatever symbolic capital is at stake is not recognised. This concept of misrecognition, as we shall see below, is a key part of Bourdieu's analysis. Symbolic violence, meanwhile, is characterised as:
The dominated are not only dominated in their heads, but they unconsciously reproduce the structures of domination which enslave them. Domination and submission therefore form more than a one way process since sexual, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and other forms of symbolic domination are exerted 'not in the pure logic of knowing consciousness but in the obscurity of the dispositions of habitus'. The schemes of perception and appreciation which are embedded in the habitus form 'below the level of the decisions of the conscious mind and the controls of the will...the basis of a relationship of practical knowledge and recognition that is profoundly obscure to itself'.52
In Distinction Bourdieu attempted to show how art and cultural consumption served to legitimate social differences. The more life in general is dominated by necessity, the more cultural tastes will tend to be characterised by the down to earth pursuit of natural enjoyment. In contrast the bourgeoisie's aestheticism, its use of stylised forms, reflects an inclination to display its remoteness from the functional and the humdrum. Taking the example of family heirlooms, Bourdieu describes how their value may be measured not just in material terms, but also by their contribution to the spiritual reproduction of the lineage since daily contact with ancient objects transmits a 'sense of belonging to a more polished, more polite, better policed world, a world which is justified in existing by its perfection, its harmony and beauty'. Such instinctive affiliations of taste, argues Bourdieu, do more to 'forge the unconscious unity of a class' than any explicit views or opinions. Likewise:
So deeply rooted are these dispositions in individuals that they are experienced as natural and their social origins (the fact that they are a product of the objective structure of society) remain unrecognised. In this instance misrecognition derives from the tendency to see only differences in lifestyle between different individuals since their position in the class structure of society is obscured. These different cultural tastes are themselves a product of the specific class habitus which everyone develops according to their relationship to economic necessity. The dominant class asserts its lifestyle (based on refined, distinguished pleasures) as the benchmark of 'good taste' to which others must aspire, and in so doing legitimises class differences under the guise of individual virtue or ability.
The imposition of such arbitrary norms and values through symbolic violence is neither recognised as, nor reducible to, economic factors alone. Indeed, argues Looc Wacquant, 'culture is no longer a passive and mystifying reflection of class relations operating through the dominance of the "commodity form" (Marx) but an arena for endless contention in which domination is challenged and must be secured anew'.54 In this way Distinction attempts to show that 'the individual or collective classification struggles aimed at transforming the categories of perception and appreciation of the social world and, through this, the social world itself are indeed a forgotten dimension of the class struggle'.55
The focus of the analysis, however, here and elsewhere, on the way the social order is legitimated, not as a consequence of 'a deliberate and purposive action of propaganda and symbolic imposition', but because agents 'apply to the objective structures of the world structures of perception and appreciation which are issued out of these very structures',56 means that Bourdieu's work confronts similar problems to those addressed within the Marxist tradition (for example, by Lukács and Gramsci), in particular the role played by ideology in forging and perpetuating class domination. The same goes for Bourdieu's analysis of the development of autonomous fields and the part played by the actors within them in reinforcing injustice despite themselves. In his study of the 'state nobility' Bourdieu demonstrates how social divisions are sustained by the process of academic evaluation, unbeknown to those who carry out the evaluations:
For Lukács it was the division of labour and the increasing sophistication of production under capitalism which gave rise to an ever greater specialisation of skills. In this way 'artificially isolated partial functions' were performed 'in the most rational manner by "specialists" who are specially adapted mentally and physically for the purpose'. As a consequence these partial, autonomous functions develop 'through their own momentum and in accordance with their own special laws independently of the other partial functions of society (or of that part of society to which they belong)'. This process of specialisation makes it progressively harder to conceive of an 'an image of the whole'.58 Lukács's primary concern was to demonstrate how workers could conceive of society in its totality as a result of the conflicts engendered by class exploitation, thus opening up a path to liberation. Despite the common ground between such concerns and Bourdieu's insistence on the role of agency in his own, infinitely more detailed, explorations of the development of autonomous fields, the 'image of the whole' nevertheless remains an elusive one in Bourdieu's work.
A feature of Bourdieu's analyses is his use of various terms associated with Marxism: capital, class, fetishisation and so on. Indeed, it has become commonplace for critics to dismiss Bourdieu's work as Marxist and therefore determinist.59 As a consequence, and perhaps understandably, Bourdieu has steadfastly refused to identify himself with Marxism, dismissing the terms Marxist or Weberian as 'religious alternatives'. Yet he shares his emphasis on concrete, practical reality as the starting point for any understanding of the world, as he acknowledges, with Marx, for whom, 'all social life is essentially practical. All the mysteries which lead theory towards mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice'.60 Moreover, Bourdieu's explorations of the relationship between theory and practice, between subjective action and objective structures (The Logic of Practice), and his work on the perpetuation and dissimulation of forms of domination and on the human consequences of that domination, notably in The Weight of the World, engage with themes central to a Marxist understanding of society.
Bourdieu provides powerful contributions to debates at the heart of Marxist theory, in particular with regard to cultural production (The Rules of Art) and consumption (Distinction) and in his analysis of the state and the role played by bureaucracy and education in the reproduction of its domination (Reproduction, Homo Academicus, The State Nobility). The argument which runs through these works is that the ruling class ensures its hold over the means of ideological production, not simply because of the fact of its control, but because it is able to legitimise its privileged status by disguising it as the result of meritocratic triumph through sheer talent.
Bourdieu argues that the Marxist tradition has offered little in the way of analysis of 'specialised agents of production'.61 Whatever the truth of this assertion, his conclusion, that Marxism does more harm than good when it comes to understanding the symbolic power of the state,62 neglects the fact that, as a method, Marxism nevertheless provides the basis for further explorations of the subject. In Bourdieu's own case the argument can be turned on its head. As Jacques Bidet points out, Bourdieu's interest is focused on the mechanisms by which the cultural means of domination are reproduced, but they are discussed with regard to particular fields rather than the social process of production in its entirety. His analysis of cultural production therefore ignores the essential feature of the process of social production: the interplay between relations of production and productive forces. The economy (and by implication history, at least in terms of a sophisticated sense of historical development) is thus evacuated from Bourdieu's work.63
Although some have held out the possibility that Bourdieu can offer an 'adequate Marxist theory of ideology',64 he has never, in any of his major works, engaged in a systematic way with Marxist theory, restricting his observations to interviews or asides. His most explicit criticism of the Marxist tradition concerns the question of consciousness and ideology. Bourdieu argues:
The error made by Marxists is to overestimate the capacity for resistance 'as a capacity of consciousness'.66 Such idealism, argues Bourdieu, is mistaken because 'cognitive structures are not forms of consciousness but dispositions of the body':
Marxism, argues Bourdieu, tends to confuse, in the terms used by Marx against Hegel, 'the things of logic and the logic of things'. When the distinction is made between the 'class in itself', defined according to objective criteria, and the 'class for itself', based on subjective factors, Marxists present the passage from one to the other as a natural progression, a kind of 'ontological promotion', according either to a determinist logic based on the coming to fruition of objective conditions, or a purely voluntarist conception in which awareness of theory comes about under the enlightened leadership of the party. 'In neither case is anything said about the mysterious alchemy whereby a "group in struggle", personalised collective, historic agent setting down its own ends, rises up out of the objective economic conditions'.68
It is easy to recognise in Bourdieu's criticism the two features, ultra-left voluntarism and determinism, which characterised what passed in a variety of guises for historical materialism or 'Marxism-Leninism' during the last century. Yet Bourdieu's criticisms of Marxism, like the Stalinist and Maoist currents which so distorted the tradition, tend to take a simplified characterisation of the notion of 'false consciousness' as a central feature of the Marxist analysis of ideology. In fact, whatever the ambiguities of Marx's own explorations of the question, subsequent examinations of consciousness and ideology within the Marxist tradition do offer sophisticated analyses of the impact of ideology based on the role of commodity fetishism and self deception in generating 'false consciousness'.69 Indeed, a more accurate formulation, which conveys something of the complexity of the question, is Gramsci's notion of 'contradictory class consciousness', according to which ruling class ideology and its institutions 'do not so much induce in workers a systematically false consciousness as prevent the formation of a coherent revolutionary class consciousness, in particular by impeding the kind of theoretical reflection which would be necessary to remove inconsistencies and to arrive at a coherent analysis of existing society'.70
If the development of revolutionary consciousness were simply a matter of persuading workers to reject ruling class ideas then socialism would be a much more straightforward prospect. In reality, as Bourdieu's own studies demonstrate,71 the problem is not that workers are duped or hoodwinked by ruling class ideology, but that their desire to fight what they know to be unjust is constantly thwarted by the sense that there is no alternative to the status quo. It is this sense of powerlessness which blocks change. It is the lived experience of collective action (December 1995 being a good example), the practical reality of solidarity and the transformative effect of struggle which open up the prospect of an alternative to the status quo. To characterise historical materialism as 'Cartesian', then, obscures the interplay between theory and practice, activity and consciousness which is at its core. This relationship centres on the mediating role of labour as 'the subject-object of the historical process', the point at which human consciousness, which is neither completely free nor simply an instinct or a reflex, and material circumstances interact. They do so in a dynamic way which transforms both.72 Franz Jakubowski offers a lucid summary of how Marxism is able to grasp the relationship between the reality of alienated existence under capitalism and the potential for transformation contained within this situation:
Fundamental to Marxist theory is that humans, whatever the constraints imposed on them, are conscious actors and therefore possess the capacity to impose their will. The form which exploitation takes under capitalism means that the reality of class society is generally obscured, but situations are nevertheless thrown up which reveal the class-based and thus historical, rather than eternal and unchanging, nature of society. The Marxist dialectic therefore:
Bourdieu's stress on the unconscious incorporation of objective structures leaves little room for conscious action to break out of the circle imposed by the pattern of Habitus--Practice--Structures--Habitus (HPSH).75 Although his outlook shares Marx's emphasis on the transience of objective structures, the apparently relentless manner in which they are able to reassert themselves means that no sooner has the prospect of transformation been opened up than the revolving door of HPSH closes it off and domination is reasserted:
What is unclear, however, is what constitutes these power relations and in particular, what role economic factors play in their configuration. Despite his emphasis on the role played by 'the symbolic aspect of the acts and relations of production...to prevent the economy from being grasped as an economy, that is, as a system governed by the laws of interested calculation, competition or exploitation',77 Bourdieu's conception of the economic field, as Andreani has noted, remains vague. Since he rejects the notion that economic factors determine the social structure as a whole, the economy appears as just one field among many.78
More important, however, is the absence of the concept of exploitation from his work. Although Bourdieu's insistence on the stratification of society along class lines appears to distance his work from the preoccupation with the Nietzschean pursuit of power that characterises other analyses of 'domination', his work leaves open the question of the origins both of classes and the structures of domination that pit them against each other. Moreover, his conceptualisation of capital (and its various forms) as primarily an asset tends to dilute it as a concept, to divest it of its specific meaning within capitalism. Unless explanations of class centre on the question of exploitation, then it becomes just another form of domination.79 If, on the other hand, class is understood as the embodiment of exploitation within the social structure, and individual classes defined 'above all according to their relationship...to the conditions of production...and to other classes',80 then exploitation may be seen to be not so much the product of domination under capitalism as its cause. Otherwise it becomes very hard to see either what gives rise to domination (human nature? psychological 'interests'?) or how forms of domination may change in different societies. Marx's analysis of capital as not just a resource to be acquired, obtained and, if necessary, transformed, but as intrinsic to a system of relations, based on the exploitation of labour and competition, allows for an understanding of what produces the contradictory dynamic of the system.81
It is the absence of any real sense either of what drives the system to reproduce itself, besides the mechanical process of reproduction itself, or of what may subvert or revolutionise this process, which makes the otherwise fruitful concept of habitus appear trapped in a circular process, as Bourdieu's own explanations frequently seem to underline:
So saturated with the lifeblood of structures is the habitus that the chances of breaking out of the cycle of reproduction seem subject to interminable constraints. It is perhaps not surprising then that Bourdieu himself should appear so cautious about the prospects for self emancipation:
One hundred and fifty years ago Marx addressed a Chartist meeting in London with a message about the opposition between 'modern industry and science on the one hand, and modern poverty and decay on the other'. This opposition, between 'the productive forces and the social relations of our time', he argued, 'is an obvious, overwhelming, undeniable fact', concluding:
Faced with the political abdication of European social democracy and its capitulation before the market, Bourdieu presents a vigorous, optimistic antidote to the pessimism which has gripped sections of the left.85 His consistent engagement with the various currents of resistance to capitalism and the new mood of combativity opened up in France by December 1995, and pursued in Seattle in November 1999, highlight his concern to unite theory with practice. Paradoxically, however, his characterisation of the role of the critical intellectual as one of developing ideas that might be useful to the social movement implies a tacit acceptance of the division of labour between intellectuals and workers which the classical Marxist tradition seeks to break down.86 Such questions, and numerous others raised by Bourdieu's practical and theoretical interventions (the role of structure and agency, the nature of class, consciousness and ideology, etc) are central concerns of Marxism, as is the emphasis on the practical activity of individuals which dominates Bourdieu's work.
A major difference between the two approaches centres on the role and potential of struggle. Bourdieu's use of the concept of the habitus as the mechanism which mediates human interaction with nature and society allows for the engagement of individuals in struggle but this engagement tends only to reproduce the constraints they are pitted against. By contrast, Marx's emphasis on the mediating role of labour stresses the transformative potential of the relationship between active individuals and nature and society.87 In this sense we may conclude that Bourdieu points towards political outcomes which are limited to 'the art of the possible', whereas the politics of Marxism also invoke 'the art of the impossible', envisaging political intervention as 'not simply something that works well within the framework of the existing relations, but something that changes the very framework that determines how things work...it changes the very parameters of what is considered "possible" in the existing constellation'.88 Despite his reluctance to engage with Marxism, Bourdieu's descriptions of the complexity of modern society and the mechanisms by which ruling class domination is maintained, and his more recent work on the human effects of this process, are an impressive contribution to debates from which Marxists cannot remain aloof. Indeed these, along with many other questions (the role of political organisation, strategy and tactics, the question of reformism and the state, etc), go to the heart of issues raised by his own stand against neo-liberalism, issues which continue to be thrown up in the present climate in which ongoing protests against global capitalism are inevitably accompanied by the search for an alternative to the market.