In this essay, Bourdieu delves into the foundational theoretical principles for his concept of distinction. He begins by explaining his own position is best described as “structuralist positivism,” a nuanced stance existing somewhere between structuralism’s positivist, objective framework and constructivism’s “twofold social genesis” (p. 14) of habitus (“both a system of schemes of production and practices and a system of perception and appreciation of practices” [p. 19]) and social classes.
Bourdieu likens social space to geographic space, wherein regions of social proximity and/or distance exist — the closer one to another in the field, the more those two have in common. Social segregations play out similarly in real space, but the analogy is not perfect since people very distant socially can occasionally interact, and these interactions do not dispel social structural differences (i.e. condescension as a strategy [p. 16]). [Also see Castells’ (1989) dual city.]
So how then can we fully understand the “objective relations which are irreducible to the interactions by which they manifest themselves” (pp. 16-17)? We move from social physics (objectivism) to social phenomenology (subjectivism), recognizing both that there exist objective factors that determine a person’s position in the social field and that a person’s vantage in that space will shaped her opinions and values. The search for stable forms of perfection occludes the following things: (1) that a construction is shaped by structural constraints rather than in a social vacuum and (2) that cognitive struggles have social genesis and are likewise socially structured. Critically, a person is most characterized by the way she herself classifies — her world seems “self-evident” (p. 19). Thus there is a double structuring of the social world: it is objective in that different agents have distinct amounts of capital, each form carrying its own relative weight, and it is subjective “because the schemes of perception and appreciation…express the state of relations of symbolic power” (p. 20).
There are two forms of symbolic struggles over the perception of the social world that correspond with the objective and subjective dimensions. The objective action can be either individual or collective, but it exhibits certain realities (e.g. group demonstrations). A subjective act aims at changing the very classifications through which the world is perceived. Bourdieu calls this the “theory effect” (p. 21). Also critical: though symbolic relations to power tend to reinforce themselves in the constitution of social space, we shouldn’t think the messages are propagandist. It’s much subtler, really. Since “agents apply to the objective structures of the social world structures of perception and appreciation which are issued out of these very structures and which tend to picture the world as evident” (p. 21).
“[S]ymbolic power is a power of consecration or revelation” (p. 23) and thus is “political power par excellence” (p. 23).”