Onwards…

I’ve started this blog as an attempt to work through my own position in terms of the radical/revolutionary left.  I’m going to use my posts to set out my thinking on issues that I think I need to clarify for myself, and also to link to other resources and bloggers that might be interesting to other people on a similar journey.  I’m an academic who spends most of their time thinking about the links between culture and social policy and my background matches these interests: I’ve been a DJ, been involved in arts events and worked in social regeneration and community development.  Conceptually, I’m probably a Marxist.  I say probably because I’m well aware that not only did Marx dis-own the term, but numerous groups claim ownership rights for themselves in this field.  Where I differ from classical Marxism is in the base / superstructure split – I’m rejecting the view that cultural activity is dependent solely on the economic ‘base’ of a society, preferring to see culture more in Bourdieu’s terms as embodying a particular form of symbolic capital which, although it is overdetermined by economic conditions, cannot be reduced to them.  Phew…..

I may well be a post-Marxist, although I’m not sure anyone knows how to verify that.  A Very Public Sociologist has an excellent overview of the genealogy of this term on his blog, casting it in a not-altogether positive light.

I’m going to try and populate this blog with as many useful links and widgets as possible, but bear with me……

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  1. Cheers for the link.

    Regards base/superstructure one must remember that this is only a metaphor. Marx did not argue that society was passive vis a vis the economy.

    As Callinicos put it in a paper evaluating Louis Althusser and against Post-Marxism, “a social theory which does not attend to the relative causal weight of different practices, institutions, and agents is strategically worthless and conceptually empty”. That is what Marx’s metaphor is getting at, that certain sets of relations possess greater social weight than others.

  2. theleftie

    I suspect we’re in agreement here….I’m used to facing much less sophisticated analysis. When Marx talks about the social conditions or the ‘level of civilisation’ as pre-conditions for understanding production, he makes it clear that his framework considers non-economic factors, or at least that there are other factors (whatever their ultimate foundation).

    What Bourdieu offers is a view of production that can contain cultural production without subsuming it into a ‘general’ economic production and which accounts for the role of culture is legitmation like Gramsci, but that also defines it as providing resourecs for and of struggle in itself.

    I don’t take this to mean that economic analyses can’t be brought to bear on cultural production and consumption, obviously, but that we are in need of a framework of symbolic capital to understand those cultural cases that can’t be reduced to economic issues without losing their integrity. Where cultural activity results in commodities, that is easily (!) dealt with, but for issues such as language, a framework that can incoroprate the same structural insights but that does not itself fetishise the commodity, is very useful.

  3. I agree, which is why I’m a fully paid up Bourdieusian too. I’ve blogged about him a few times here, here and here and I use Bourdieu quite a bit in my PhD research too.

    Anyway, welcome to blogging. And if the SWP don’t get back in touch give the Socialist Party a call, lol.

  4. Indeed, welcome to blogging. I have added you to my blogroll and will watch avidly for you to fill out your contentions on post-Marxism, with which I (and AVPS, as he’ll tell you) have many bones to pick.

  5. Hi,
    I am a teacher/critical academic living in Greece working on doctoral research on the role of English in the Balkan conflicts of the 90s, particularly in Serbia, and how English language policy and practice is tied to imposed neo-liberal economic agendas. English is also essential in its role of international activism and this duality is the main discussion of my thesis I would say i.e. how it is utilised formally and informally. I am really interested in your theoretical thread as I also use Marxist and Bourdieurian theory in my research and work, as well as in my activism. Will add you to my blog roll and hope to speak with you soon. Bourdieu’s analysis of cultural/linguistic capital is essential in understanding how language functions in society which needs a more nuanced understanding of how power circulates and how privilege is represented through speech in pretty complex ways (none of which are water tight in analysis). However, looking at it purely representationally, which is the danger if the Boudierian road is travelled alone,doesn’t consider class action or resistance in a way that does justice to how people live and work. So both are needed and are essential – and analysis using both frameworks is inevitably richer. But the emphasis is the all important balance and for me, that will always be more towards class action which keeps it firmly rooted in people’s lived experience.

    • theleftie

      Hi Sara,

      Thanks for your comment and I’ve added you to my blogroll too….

      Your comment about Bourdieu and purely representational repsonses is very important, I think. For me it can only be resolved by looking at Bourdeiu’s work outside of his major theoretical texts. His more political work also tends to be more polemical and / or more qualitative in nature – meaning that it doesn;t get as much attenbtion, or is read very seperately from the ‘big’ works. I’m thinking particularly of ‘acts of resistance’ as an explicitly political text and then ‘The Weight of the World’ as a late qualitative work. It’s very hard to make the case for Bourdieu when the concentration from our peers is always on the much earlier studies!

      I look forward to reading your blog!

  6. Thanks HC Leftie. Agreed. And of course arguably Bourdieu himself became much more politicised (in an active sense) towards the end of his life when he re-engaged with protest and started to express much more anger at the rampages of global capitalism. Some of his writing on neo-liberalism are excellent in that last period of his life and move far away from the earlier theoretical stuff (which btw I still think is absolutely brilliant (theories of habitus and doxa are v. useful for critical analysis).




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