djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Sat Apr 6 09:02:40 MST 1996
Just a quick note if anyone is interested.
Pierre Bourdieu delivered a major address at Berkeley today. He was
introduced as the world's greatest living sociologist.
He is however a modest and very stimulating lecturer.
His spoke on the problem of Male Domination. He attempted to show how
gendered, dualistic and hierarchal forms of thought are derived from
kinship practices and suggested in some ways how they are embodied and
confirmed through rituals. For example, various masculinity rites are not
markers of a movement in time, from childhood to adulthood, but a marker of
inclusiveness in the domain of male privilige. Bourdieu then looks at
linguistic and daily habits, such as those regarding food, as all sites
where these gendered distinctions are achieved. No practice is too small
to be part of a symbolic order.
At the most theoretical level, he attempted to theorize how our mental
categories are objective, as well as prior to subjectivity, though these
categories are derived from material practice--that is, they have a social
objectivity. It should be noted that Hans Georg Backhaus has studied
these relationships between categories and action and categories and
practice in his contribution to Open Marxism, vol I. Moreover, Backhaus is
interested in these problems as they are historically specific to a society
in which the commodity appears as the general form of social wealth.
Bourdieu did not grapple with the relation between the commodity as a
social relation and material practice and forms of thought and then
determine whether for example the forms of thought which derive from the
equivalence products achieve, despite their qualitative differences, as
commodities have any relevance for the way we conceive the ideals of
equality and universality by which we judge relations between women and
As noted, through the practice of exchange we establish the commonality
of any and all qualitatively different products as commodities; we learn to
abstract from the qualitative specificity of objects as use values as
commodities establish a formal equivalence among themselves. Do we then
apply the notions of commonality and universality, which correspond to
commodity exchange, to our understanding of women and men: that instead of
hierarchial gendered distinctions, do we instead argue that women and men,
despite any concrete qualitative differences, should simply have the same
rights and be treated exactly the same in the sphere of politics as
citizens and in the realm of the labor market as sellers of labor power?
Bourdieu dismissed the relevance of any discussion of the limits of
Enlightment universalism to the project of women's emancipation. With a
rather polemical critique of postmodernism, he himself failed to consider
whether the achievement of an abstract universalism for women, in place of
a symbolic world of gendered distinctions, would in any way be limited.
It did seem to me that this was the ideal by which Bourdieu was criticizing
male domination; he is therefore oblivious, that is fails to achieve
self-reflexiveness, towards the most abstract categories of his own
critique. This is precluded to him because he does not reflect on the
material practices of his own society, in particular the universalization
of the commodity form and its relation to the most abstract categories of
At some point, I think it will be very important to discuss Postone's
analysis of the relation between ideals of universality and the commodity
form. This marks the critical theory begun by Lukacs and still foreign to
the leading academics of critical sociology today.
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