Misreading Bourdieu: Critics Who Struggle with the “Pots and Pans”

Myths of Our Time

Bottero and Crossley’s (B & C) (2011) article in Cultural Sociology Worlds, Fields and Networks: Becker, Bourdieu and the Structures of Social Relations, argues that because Bourdieu dismisses the causal role for interactions his conceptual model of society is untenable as it is forced to operate linearly with structures forming dispositions and dispositions producing interactions. I have responded to their argument elsewhere (Fox, 2014),stating that Bourdieu’s idea of interactions is that they are in fact anti-dichotomously connected to structure. How the objects of the interaction relate is part of broader societal structures which are re-enacted within the exchange, which itself plays its subtle part in whether interlocutors reject, reproduce, retranslate, etc, the logic of these structures. I don’t intend to enter into that discussion again here. Instead I wish to argue how it is that such misreadings of Bourdieu have emerged in the first place.

Generally it…

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Inequality still costing lives in Cancer services

Myths of Our Time

An in-depth survey of GPs finds that public patients may have to wait up to 25 times as long as private patients for tests to diagnose cancer. This two-tier system kills. This adds to the existing inequalities in cancer already made visible by previous research here and here. While it is good this stuff comes to light it is unfortunate that the continuous nature of this problem will all too easily be lost again in episodic media reporting and campaigners will continue to be obsessed with the biological existence of the disease while overlooking the additional crucial and deadly social elements.

Other findings point to potential inequality of access based on social networks, which 1 in 5 GPs believe exists. They perceive certain doctors as having greater pull for getting their patients bumped up on waiting lists for CT scans and MRIs through their established connections elsewhere in…

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Bourdieu on Sex and Domination

A political sociology of the sexual act would show that, as is always the case in a relation of domination, the practices and representations of the two sexes are in no way symmetrical. Not only because, even in contemporary European and American societies, young men and women have very different points of view on the love relation, which men most often conceive in terms of conquest (especially in conversations between friends, which give a prominent place to boasting about female conquests), but also because the sexual act itself is seen by men as a form of domination, appropriation, ‘possession’. Hence the discrepancy between the probable expectations of men and women as regards sexuality -and the misunderstandings, linked to misinterpretation of sometimes deliberately ambiguous or deceptive ‘signals’, which result from this. In contrast to women, who are socially prepared to see sexuality as an intimate and emotionally highly charged experience which does not necessarily include penetration but which can contain a wide range of activities (talking, touching, caressing, embracing, etc.), men are inclined to compartmentalize sexuality, which is conceived as an aggressive and essentially physical act of conquest oriented towards penetration and orgasm. And although, on this point like all the others, there are of course very great variations according to social position, age -and previous experience -it can be inferred from a series of interviews that apparently symmetrical practices (such as fellatio and cunnilingus) tend to have very different significance for men (who are inclined to see them as acts of domination, through the submission and pleasure obtained) and for women. Male pleasure is, in part, enjoyment of female pleasure, of the power to give pleasure; and so Catherine MacKinnon is no doubt right to see the faking of orgasm as a perfect example of the male power to make the interaction between the sexes conform to the view of it held by men, who expect the female orgasm to provide a proof of their virility and the pleasure derived from this extreme form of submission. Similarly, sexual harassment does not always aim at the sexual possession that seems to be its exclusive goal: in some cases it may aim at sheer possession, the pure affirmation of domination in its pure state…
…If the sexual relation appears as a social relation of domination, this is because it is constructed through the fundamental principle of division between the active male and the passive female and because this principle creates, organizes, expresses and directs desire -male desire as the desire for possession, eroticized domination, and female desire as the desire for masculine domination, as eroticized subordination or even, in the limiting case, as the eroticized recognition of domination” (Bourdieu, 2001: 20-1)

BOURDIEU, P. 2001. Masculine Domination, Stanford University Press.


How Creative Accounting Hides the Environmental Impact of Countries

State accounting practices are quite flimsy when it comes to measuring a country’s impact on the environment. The national figures on greenhouse gas emissions that we often hear bandied about exclude emissions from imported goods and international shipping and flights – known as “international bunker fuel emissions” – which are reported separately (UNFCCC, 2013).

Claims towards more efficient use of natural resources or ‘resource productivity’, which are used to support important claims of ‘decoupling’ resource use from economic growth, are similarly inept. In calculating how much material is used up in an economy state economists:

“take[] the raw materials we extract in our own countries, add[] them to our imports of stuff from other countries, then subtract[] our exports, to end up with something called ‘domestic material consumption’” (Monbiot)

What’s missing from this are the raw materials in other countries used to manufacture the imports. When these are included rich country claims to recent improvements in “resource productivity” prove false. In fact a country such as the UK is shown to have been “becoming less efficient in its use of resources”prior to the financial crisis (Monbiot).

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Inequality Kills: According to Reports on Cancer in Ireland

A recent media storm has centred around research linking cancer to processed meats. While I don’t argue against such links existing lets not forget the large inequalities behind cancer exposure and survival rates:

Myths of Our Time

Good to seean article in the Irish Timesaddressing the relationship between inequality and cancer in Ireland according to two recent reports. The article lists several of these reports’ findings :

  • “people living in more deprived areas experience a poorer survival from cancer than those who live in more affluent parts of Ireland.”
  • “breast cancer patients from the most deprived areas were about 30 per cent more likely to die from their cancer than patients from the least deprived areas, having allowed for differences in patients’ age.”
  • “those from more deprived backgrounds were more likely to present late with advanced stage cancers. In addition, they were more likely to present with symptoms rather than through screening and were less likely to have breast-conserving surgery.”
  •  “death rates from cancer in some of the poorest parts of Dublin were more than twice as high as rates in more affluent areas.”
  • “Some…

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Some Animated Introductions to Sociology

Here is a link to three short animated introductions to sociology to whet your appetite for the greatly undervalued discipline and upset the purists at the same time. The three shorts are narrated by Alain de Botton – philosopher and TV presenter – and refer to the work of three classic and highly influential sociologists: Durkheim, Weber and Adorno  http://www.openculture.com/2015/06/animated-introductions-to-three-sociologists-durkheim-weber-adorno.html

Another economist peddling the myth of fixed ‘human nature’

Traditionally when economists talk about human behaviour they generally displayed a belief (or tacit presumption) that humans are rationally calculating individuals who weigh up the pros and the cons before deciding. Nowadays, with the recent economic chaos pointing to the seemingly vast expanse of human stupidity, there appears to be a lot of economists leaning towards the irrationality of being human. Simplistically many of them latch on to pseudo-scientific explanations from hunter-gatherer anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists (I have blogged on the problems with these approaches in a previous post).

David McWilliams fits the latter class of economists. His recent article is uncritically built around the notion of peacocking or “signalling” which in evolutionary anthropology amounts to the display of males to females which symbolises how they would make a good mate. In our consumerist society this has transformed -as the story goes – into “costly signalling” where people purchase brand new luxury cars to display their strength as an eligible mate.

Such anthropological theorizing is based generally on circular reasoning. The usual narrative is that everything to do with human behaviour is built around some hard-wired evolutionary patterns from our ancient past. Any behaviour pattern observed is then explained by inventing some ancient occurrence that no one was around to witness. The real problem is that the influence of thousands of years of civilization, social institutions and culture gets ignored.

The reality is there are plenty of people who avoid sending out such signals (why if they are supposedly evolutionary hard-wired that way?). Those that do send out signals, their peacocking practices might well have originated with societal structures such as consumerism, the types of ‘rewards’ and status recognized by a capitalist consumer-obsessed society and an education system built around meritocracy (while ignoring underlying inequality) – also the educational system lacks the higher order critical learning which would possibly have enabled ‘consumers’ to become active ‘citizens’ and see through the bling and malarkey. Stronger communities and institutions which encourage relationships based on how you treat people, as opposed to what you have, might also go a long way towards unravelling this kind of superficiality.

Such evolutionary theorizing is problematic to politics and society for if its presumed that behaviour is ‘hard-wired’ and the societal influences involved are written out of the narrative then there really is not much hope for genuine social change. Even worse! believing human beings to have fixed natures can be used to justify existing social injustice. For example the belief we are driven by a very narrow form of individual self-interest, is one such form of this thinking that allows Rand followers to wish the worst on the most vulnerable in society.