Bourdieu, P. (1985). The social space and the genesis of groups. _Theory and Society_, 14(6).

Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist, anthropologist, and philosopher. Coming from the Genetic structuralism and critical sociology schools, his main interests were power, symbolic violence, historical structures, and subjective agents. His noteworthy ideas comprise: cultural capital, the field, habitus, social capital, reflexivity, symbolic violence, and symbolic capital.

To Bourdieu, challenging Marxism is vitally important for contemporary thinking because “we are so impregnated” (p. 195) with it that we overlook its structurally embedded (and in the end, paradoxical) flaws. His hypothesis is simple. “Constructing a theory of the social space presupposes a series of breaks with Marxist theory” (p. 195). To elucidate, he uses three main points.

First, Marxist logic assumes the “class-in-itself” to “class-for-itself” transition to be predetermined. However, the social world is a multi-dimensional place, with the first dimension distributed “according to the overall volume of capital” (p. 197) one possesses. Capital is not just economic — it is cultural, social, and symbolic — thus either material or embodied, which is brought to bear especially in the second dimension, which is distributed according to each form’s relative weight. Contrary to Marxist logic and “nominalist relativism” (p. 198), membership in a class is not assured. Rather, it is better to say one’s class is “probable” (p. 198). Chances of co-assembling with proximate actors in a social space is more likely but not inevitable, nor is it impossible to join with someone most distant.

Second, if one agrees, “perception of the social world implies an act of construction” (p. 201) and thus a practice, thus an intellectualist theoretical position is untenable. In fact, Bourdieu says, in taking a theoretical position, Marxists seem to advocate for accepting the social world as it is, rather than advocating for site-based struggles for change.

Finally, Marxism relies to heavily on the dualistic view in which struggles of the world are limited to those between the owners of production and labor power. This reductivist view, wherein everything is based on economy, wholly ignores relations of cultural production and structures of the social world (symbolic system), “organized according to the logic of difference, differential, deviation…distinction” (p. 203). It is distinction that creates a “space of lifestyles” (p. 204) and which conveys symbolic capital, “symbolic transfigurations of de facto differences and…ranks, orders, grades, and all other symbolic hierarchies” (p. 204).


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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Cultural Economy, Major Field, Research Fields


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