Jon on Culture and Capital

Chris Burford cburford at
Sat Apr 15 08:58:07 MDT 1995

>I have just put a draft version of a paper of mine on our ftp site.  I
>would be pleased if it were to provoke discussion or comments.
>It is entitled "Value and Capital in Bourdieu and Marx" and the file is
>I will be happy to discuss the ideas contained in it on the list
>shortly--essentially I argue that cultural capital in Bourdieu *is* a
>form of capital.  In large part I'm indebted to Postone for this analysis.
>Take care
>Jon Beasley-Murray
>Literature Program

Jon's paper posted on the ftp site,
stretches my interdisciplinary abilities to breaking point.

But across the chasm I have leapt, pausing midflight with a
reverie about Bordieu's usage of the word "doxic"

[not in my 2500 page Shorter Oxford Dictionary - admittedly it
is rather old -the addenda has just caught up with Kulak and

Doxy I learn is

a) a prostitute    or

b) an opinion

And doxology has an etymlogical root in the Greek word for glory.

Well you can imagine my free associations were quite complex.]

But I pulled myself together in time I think for my finger tips
just to make contact with the other side and to say not just out
of respect to Jon, for everything he has done for this list, and
because the essay has a lot of thought in it, that I think,

*Jon, you are onto something very important*.

I am not familiar with the discourse and the allusions, but
essentially I think I recognise:

1) capitalist commodity exchange is only one of a larger set of
personal and social economies

2) the concept of capital can indeed be extended by analogy, from
the Marxist interpretation of the realm of commodity exchange to
other personal and social economies.

I like your example of how you use a copy of "Great Expectations"
employing  a degree of cultural capital. Otherwise it would be
a use value only for lighting a fire, propping up the broken leg
of a table, using sheets to scribble notes on, or wiping your
nose if desperate.

Other analogies come to my mind. I offer them hoping they are on
your wavelength.

eg there is a concept of political capital. Does the party you
favour have a degree of political credibility under its belt? Can
it make use of this to achieve further ends?

This marxism list has built up a degree of theoretical capital.
People can turn to it to aid their assimilation of new ideas and
in turn contribute more raw material (or semi-processed material
shall we say). But no money changes hands at this level.

In capitalist business interestingly, trust and goodwill are
regarded as very important and are sometimes given a monetary
price. This suggests that something more flexible is happening than
the mechanical hard headed story about having no alternative to
making profits, that the bosses tell the workers.

And it seems to me that the argument can be extended to
biological capital. The body of an organism has the processing
resources to absorb matter and energy.

If all these examples have a superordinate validity perhaps we
can say that

"capital" helps external material to be made into something useful.

Would this do as a first attempt at a definition?

Time: I am sure I do not understand all the nuances about time,
but it seems to me that the role of socially necessary labour
time in a commodity exchanging society using an exchange medium
embodying exchange value, can be extended by analogy to the
psychologically necessary time for each individual in their own
mental economy and their patterns of spending time. This allows
for shifts in the individual's economy (eg a shift away from
subscribing to this marxism list, back to talking to people !) and
it allows for a shared cultural economy. Eg the extent to which
parents in nurturing their children intuitively go along with the
expansion of interest in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And then
a contraction in the extent to which this is socially necessary
as the Turtle fashion recedes. [I hope you read this Steve: as you
see I am most reluctant to exclude these turtles by way of calling
them an exception, from the full rigours of Marxian analysis.]

Therefore I think Jon, you have a point when you say that 1968
could be an assault on the law of value, or perhaps better,  on
the prevailing conception of the division of personal and social
time for a self-replicating economy.

Why is this more than abstract fluff? One clue is how zealously the
advertisers address their most powerful messages to the psychology
of the individual and the social economy, as they try maximise commodity
sales. But more widely these issues are becoming increasingly important.
The boundary between the commodity economy and the non-commodity economy
must be addressed
explicitly and theoretically if we are to advance the numerous
democratic struggles that are emerging, alongside struggles over
the exploitation of labour power.

We may not be at the stage of socialist revolution in most
countries. We are at the stage of increasingly rich new
democratic movements. If Postone addresses the question not only
of the exploitation of labour power, but also the nature of the
commodity economy, then his book may well be a must.

The issues of gender and sexuality require an understanding of
the boundary between the domestic economy of time and the
capitalist commodity economy even if wages for housework is
impractible. Problems of power and vulnerability of the most
sensitive nature have to straddle this frontier. Marxians can
weave in and out of this matrix too.

The environment increasingly raises the question: how much of our
lives do we want regulated by commodity exchange?

The Scots for example think that water should not be privatised
(they tend usually to think they are more sensible than the
English and I have never seen any reason to argue with them about

A legal ruling in England has made it likely that there will be
dramatic battles about the export of live calves this summer at
major ports, which issue has united members of extraordinarily
broad swathes of opinion and resulted in the death of one
individual, whose funeral was attended by Bridget Bardot.

This is not surreal. This is really happening. It can be analized
in scientific (albeit not mechanically scientific) terms, about
the boundary between different types of economy.

It is part of the new democratic movements.

Does this resonate with your wavelength Jon, or have I gone off
at a tangent to your curve ?



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