A Bourdieusian approach: theory and method

This book employs a Bourdieusain approach through his theory of practice - (habitus x capital) + field = practice (Bourdieu, 1984: 101) - and the associated concept of doxa. The framework is explained in detail in chapter 3. However, an outline of how the formula works would be instructive at this stage. The habitus is a set of embodied dispositions. It structures and formats tastes, preferences and ultimately action, or what is known as practice (including the way we think and act and our ability to make decisions). The concept was originally developed to overcome the structure and agency problem within social theory. It at once provides an agent with 'know-how' and decision-making capabilities that become second nature while at the same time being influenced and structured by the environment in which it was produced.

The habitus is therefore produced and reproduced through interactions and relationships with others within an objective and bounded environment, that is, distinct sectors of society or social worlds - what Bourdieu calls fields (Bourdieu, 1993a, 1993b, 2000, 2007 [1986]). Within fields, agents attempt to accrue forms of capital which may enhance their position. The formula suggests that, if agents continue to accrue capital, they could gain further knowledge, status and productive social connections. In previous studies,

Bourdieu and Passeron (1996) have argued that this dynamic reproduces favourable conditions for the well-educated and the wealthy. However, this should not be read as mechanistic, since the habitus is generative and has a reflexive capacity. Therefore, agents become active players in an almost game-like scenario, competing and sometimes coming into conflict with each other as they all try to gain advantages within a given field.

Using Bourdieu's concepts in this way provides a framework for understanding and explaining the specific dynamics of British anticapitalism, including the ideological division, competition and conflict that emerges between different groups within different sections of the political field. There are two sides to this research problem. The first is the way in which the AGM emerged to resist neoliberal globalization, which includes challenging elites during protests against supranational global political institutions and/or transnational corporations. The second is the ideological competition and conflict that develops between various anti-capitalist groups and those in the wider alternative globalization field while challenging elites. I would argue, given the need to understand and explain both of these facets, that a new theoretical framework was required. It is especially required with regard to ideological competition and conflict because existing social movement theories do not offer any explanation for what I consider to be intra-movement field and inter-movement competition and conflict - that is, competition and conflict between social movements within the same field who are arguing for the same political objectives, in this case the overthrow of capitalism, but who are operating in the same political space, which I call the British anti-capitalist movement field (BACMF). And between movements from one field who enter into another field, for example when anticapitalists move into the AGM field and compete with agents and organizations in that space.

This is a controversial point and it does need unpacking. There are two main theoretical schools of thought within social movement analysis. One which emerged in Europe, that is, new social movement theory, and the latest version of North American social movement theory - contentious politics (McAdam et al., 2001). These two schools of thought have of course evolved from earlier theories. This is not the place to chart the history of these developments; any introductory text on social movements can be used to inform the reader of this (Crossley, 2002a; Della Porta and Diani, 2007; Edwards, 2014). The claim I am advancing is that both schools of thought are inappropriate when it comes to analysing the political dynamics of British anti-capitalism generally and, more specifically, the conflict between sections of the BACMF.

To elaborate on the inadequacy of current social movement frameworks, I will first deal with new social movement (NSM) theory and then the contentious politics school of thought. NSM theory developed out of a need to understand the dynamics of social protests and movements in the post-industrial era. With the decline of industrialization, the industrial working class and trade union membership, the social base of social and political movements had changed. Social movements were now forming around post-material issues, such as the environment, identity and quality of life; Melucci (1989) and Scott (1990) have argued that class-based movements had neglected these issues, since they mostly focused on issues such as workers' rights, wages and working conditions.

The first problem with this theory is that, by its very nature, an anti-capitalist mobilization is focused on material struggle. Indeed, the anarchist anti-capitalist protests that emerged at the turn of the century in the UK were clearly putting material politics back on the political agenda. Groups such as Reclaim the Streets and Earth First! UK took a very wide political view and claimed that the dynamics of neoliberal capitalism were causing environmental degradation and exploitation of workers, both at home in Britain and in the developing world (Wall, 1999). The neoliberal phase of capitalism was wreaking havoc across the globe. The problem with new social movement theory is that it does not have the conceptual power to explain the politics of these material, anti-capitalist protests. Furthermore, I argue in chapter 5 that socialist organizations have connected up with traditional organized labour to fight for workers' rights, and have got involved in the latest phase of critiquing capitalism as part of the Occupy movement, UK. Similarly, the return to material politics cannot be explained by NSM theory.

The contentious politics school of thought is the latest of several key developments since the 1970s. McAdam et al. (2001) focus on the political opportunities afforded by the polity and the resources available to social movements and contentious political actors. Their work focuses on the relationship between states, on the one hand, and social movements and contentious political actors on the other. This includes what connections a social movement might have to those in formal political power, which might be used to their advantage. There is much to commend in this theory. It considers a wide range of actors and protest situations beyond formal social movements. It could even be used to analyse British anti-capitalist actors and their contentious relationship with the state or supranational institutions. However, what it does not consider is the ideological competition and conflict between contentious actors. This book examines the political struggles within the ACM field and the relationship between the ACM field and the wider AGM field. Contentious politics theory cannot be used to explain the reasons for these struggles; it considers struggles between those in opposite political camps. But what about those in the same camp, with the same political objectives? Unpacking this issue further, McAdam et al. (2001) suggest that elites may be able to alleviate tensions between anti-capitalist actors and the state if concessions are made. This argument breaks down since many in the ACM do not seek favours from the authorities, or any formal institutions, as this cuts against their very raison d'etre. For anti-capitalist actors practising contentious politics, the system is part of the problem! Which, for many, is something that cannot be resolved through negotiation and or compromises. Moreover, ideology, which is the guiding force of political action, is subordinated in the contentious politics approach and in its antecedent form, resource mobilization theory. The main reason for internal contention between anti-capitalist groups is differences in ideological strategy. Within the contentious politics approach, ideology is not given enough consideration. By employing a Bourdieusian approach this book overcomes these deficiencies.

 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >