Bourdieu/ determination

jones/bhandari djones at
Tue Mar 14 20:45:35 MST 1995

        Moishe Postone's monograph includes a very stimulating discussion
of Marx's relationship to Bourdieu.  At the same time that Postone
recommends Bourdieu's conceptual apparatus for examining "the interactions
of the knowing subject with its objectifications" and analyzing "the
reproduction of social life in terms of mutually constituting dialectic of
structure and practice (as structure, habitus, and practice)", Postone
argues that "this sort of dialectic is also not necessarily directional, it
can entail the reproduction of a form of social life that has not
historical dynamic." Bourdieu's own analysis of Kabyle society provides
such an example.

        While noting how Bourdieu's theory of practice can enable a deeper
understanding of, for example, the value-price relationship, Postone's
point here is a very interesting qualification.  Through clarification and
analysis at the categorial level (commodity, value), Postone argues that
capitalist social forms specify and are specified by "a directional
dialectical dynamic." Postone's chapters on this are an absolutely
brilliant contribution to social theory.

        If Bourdieu's analysis however fails to grasp that which
historically specifies this society, then obviously it seems suited for any
type of society but capitalism. And so Postone writes after discussing
Bourdieu's dialectic of subject and its objectifications: "Both of these
dialectical interactions can exist in some form in VARIOUS societies.  What
distinguishes capitalism, according to Marx, is that both become
directionally dynamic because they are embedded in, and intertwined with,
an intrinsically directional dynamic because they are embedded in, and
intertwined with, an intrinsically dynamic framework of objectified social
relations, which is constituted by a third sort of dialectical
interaction--one rooted in the double character of the underlying social
forms."(my emphasis)

        Through one of the most extended discussions I have yet read of
Marx's pivotal discovery of the historically specific duality of labor,
Postone explains the historical dynamic specific to capitalism.  This is
something that Bourdieu's theory of practice will not allow us to do.i.e.,
a critique as immanent to capitalist society as Marx's. For the conceptual
burden that such determinateness puts on scientific knowledge, see the work
of Moishe Postone's friend (as noted in the prefaces of their respective
books) Patrick Murray, Marx's Theory of Scientific Knowledge (NJ:Humanities
Press, 1990); this  book has been recommended on this line by both Tony
Smith and Ralph Dumain.  I surely agree. Both Postone and Murray are very
meticulous in their explanation of basic concepts.  Such patience is rare
indeed given the pressures on academics to publish.

All quotes from Moishe Postone are from pp. 304-5 of Time, Labor and Social
Domination: a reinterpretation of Marx's Critical Theory.  Cambridge, 1993.


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