objectivism, stasis and ethics

Jonathan P. Beasley-Murray jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu
Thu Oct 6 10:36:03 MDT 1994

Someone just sent me a private message about the discussion of "abstract
ideas" on the list.  I'm not sure if this was what was meant, but...

It seems to me that most of the discussions of the list have ignored the
lived experience of the things they attempt to address.  Both modes of
production (the economists' debate, more or less) and now the
base-superstructure connection (if I may distort the marxists and
academia discussion) seem to be described in terms that I scarcely
recognize.  Even when history comes up, it seems to be very much a
reified history--Stalin-Lenin-Vietnam causality, or whatever--in the
sense that history provides a model or an object-lesson or a passive
object upon which theories can be tested, to which it remains inert.  I
get little sense of lived histories.

I have just been (re-)reading the first part of Bourdieu's _Outline of a
Theory of Practice_, and his critique of objectivism (equally a critique
of subjectivism, by the way) seems more and more valid.  What is the
relation of subjectivity to the economy, to the objective structures
which frame and constitute us?  I think my dissatisfaction with Andy
Wilson's too firm distinction between collective action and individual
morals arises from a similar source--I am interested in how ethics or
ethos are constituted at work, in exchange, through ideological
inculcation, through the body... and how a counter-ethics might similarly
arise from such material and collective determinations.

Anyway, back to Bourdieu.  His project is, I guess, at least in part an
attempt to think through structure and agency once again--"Men make their
own histories, but not... etc."  Incidentally, he is, for me, the most
interesting writer on the politics of the academy (see _Reproduction_ and
_Homo Academicus_).  In so doing, he expands the economic sphere
massively with his concepts of symbolic and cultural capital (which, in
fact, he seems to define in a fairly orthodox Marxist way).  But here he
is on economics per se, on the practical (lived) relation to the objective
structure of the economy:

"Orthodox economics overlooks the fact that practices may have principles
other than mechanical causes or the conscious intention to maximize one's
utility and yet obey and immanent economic logic.  *Practices form an
economy*, that is, follow an immanent reason that cannot be restricted to
economic reason, for the economy of practices may be defined by reference
to a wide range of functions and ends.  To reduce the universe of forms
of conduct to mechanical reaction or purposive action is to make it
impossible to shed light on all those practices that are *reasonable*
without being the product of a reasoned purpose and, even less, of
conscious computation."  (_An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology_ 119f.)

Take care


Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu


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