Monday, July 10, 2017

Symbolic Violence, or, Why the Meme Wars Matter

from Wikipedia (On Pierre Bordieu)
Species of capital and symbolic violence

Bourdieu extended the notion of capital, defined as sums of money or assets put to productive use. For Bourdieu, these assets could take many forms which had not received much attention when he began writing. Bourdieu habitually refers to several principal forms of capital: economic, symbolic, cultural and social. Loic Waquant describes their status in Bourdieu's work in these terms: "Capital comes in 3 principal species: economic, cultural and social. A fourth species, symbolic capital, designates the effects of any form of capital when people do not perceive them as such."[46]

Bourdieu sees symbolic capital (e.g., prestige, honor, attention) as a crucial source of power.[47] Symbolic capital is any species of capital that is, in Loïc Wacquant's terms "not perceived as such," but which is instead perceived through socially inculcated classificatory schemes. When a holder of symbolic capital uses the power this confers against an agent who holds less, and seeks thereby to alter their actions, they exercise symbolic violence. We might see this when a daughter brings home a boyfriend considered unsuitable by her parents. She is met with disapproving looks and gestures, symbols which serve to convey the message that she will not be permitted to continue this relationship, but which never make this coercive fact explicit. People come to experience symbolic power and systems of meaning (culture) as legitimate. Hence, the daughter will often feel a duty to obey her parents' unspoken demand, regardless of her suitor's merits.

Symbolic violence is fundamentally the imposition of categories of thought and perception upon dominated social agents who then take the social order to be just. It is the incorporation of unconscious structures that tend to perpetuate the structures of action of the dominant. The dominated then take their position to be "right." Symbolic violence is in some senses much more powerful than physical violence in that it is embedded in the very modes of action and structures of cognition of individuals, and imposes the spectre of legitimacy of the social order.

In his theoretical writings, Bourdieu employs some terminology used in economics to analyze the processes of social and cultural reproduction, of how the various forms of capital tend to transfer from one generation to the next. For Bourdieu, formal education represents the key example of this process. Educational success, according to Bourdieu, entails a whole range of cultural behaviour, extending to ostensibly non-academic features like gait, dress, or accent. Privileged children have learned this behaviour, as have their teachers. Children of unprivileged backgrounds have not. The children of privilege therefore fit the pattern of their teachers' expectations with apparent 'ease'; they are 'docile'. The unprivileged are found to be 'difficult', to present 'challenges'. Yet both behave as their upbringing dictates. Bourdieu regards this 'ease', or 'natural' ability—distinction—as in fact the product of a great social labour, largely on the part of the parents. It equips their children with the dispositions of manner as well as thought which ensure they are able to succeed within the educational system and can then reproduce their parents' class position in the wider social system.

Cultural capital refers to assets, e.g., competencies, skills, qualifications, which enable holders to mobilise cultural authority and can also be a source of misrecognition and symbolic violence. For example, working class children can come to see the educational success of their middle-class peers as always legitimate, seeing what is often class-based inequality as instead the result of hard work or even 'natural' ability. A key part of this process is the transformation of people's symbolic or economic inheritance (e.g., accent or property) into cultural capital (e.g., university qualifications).

Bourdieu argues that cultural capital has developed in opposition to economic capital. Furthermore, the conflict between those who mostly hold cultural capital and those who mostly hold economic capital finds expression in the opposed social fields of art and business. The field of art and related cultural fields are seen to have striven historically for autonomy, which in different times and places has been more or less achieved. The autonomous field of art is summed up as "an economic world turned upside down,"[48] highlighting the opposition between economic and cultural capital.

For Bourdieu, "social capital is the sum of the resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition."[49]

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