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Bourdieu and social movements

There have been a number of studies that have used Bourdieu's concepts to understand social movement dynamics and political practice. Walter (1990) has employed the habitus concept to claim that the Danish Red-stocking feminists developed and used certain political habits to contest popular patriarchal assumptions on beauty and ugliness. By making themselves appear 'ugly' they were contesting the doxa of the naturalness beauty, sexuality and love (Walter, 1990: 110). As such they raised questions concerning beauty, underpinned by patriarchal notions, to the level of discourse. In a similar way, Crossley (2003a) has employed the notion of a radical habitus. By this he means the type of habitus activists possess, who often use their critical, political know-how and skills to challenge and question the status quo. Their political activities can often create a space or moment of disruption which can cause people to question the everyday and taken-for-granted assumptions. An activist's political practice is shaped by their political biography and experience. The habitus is essentially a mechanism that makes sense of this experience and structures practice, including political actions. It is a sensory mechanism which captures and formats habits, makes sense of them and in turn uses the skills acquired to judge what the best course of action might be in any given situation. This is not fixed, however; decisions are made based on an intelligent and constantly reflexive attitude. Thus an activist's political biography is very important as it shapes their present political practice. To expand on the importance of biography and radical habitus Crossley (2003a) conducted a secondary analysis of McAdam's (1989) survey research of the Freedom Summer campaign of 1964. This research used longitudinal biographical data of activists to compare the political histories of those who were originally involved in the campaign with those who applied but then decided not to take part. The data revealed that those who did take part were considerably more active in the following 20 years than those who did not (Crossley, 2003a: 50). The suggestion here is that, through taking part in major political events, a 'know-how' and predisposition to political activism is developed which leads to sustained political activity. That is, the political habits of an activist become sedimented, reinforced and long-lasting.

This, of course, is dependent on the various forms of capital that an activist possesses and has embodied. The habitus organizes relevant capital that an activist possesses so it can be deployed in the field appropriately. Or, the activist through their habitus recognizes that certain capital is available in the field and it would be beneficial for the actor, as an individual or as part of a collective, to accrue this capital. It could, for example, include cultural forms of capital, such as knowledge and skills gained by attending, say, activist workshops or creating alliances with other social and political groups to gain valuable social capital. And, depending on what capital is accrued, it could bestow a symbolic power upon certain groups in the form of status or legitimacy. This in turn could boost an actor's or group's standing in a particular field.

That said, no matter how skilled an activist is in terms of the capital they possess, they can find themselves at a disadvantage if they are in the 'wrong field'. Samuel (2012) draws on Bourdieu (1990, 1993a) and Bourdieusian scholars such as Lawler (2004) to explain how this happened at the G20 demonstrations in Toronto, in June 2010. His work focuses on what he calls the antinomies of protest in the political field. He claims:

[a] political antinomy exists when a political field is structured in such a way as to make it impossible for dominated actors to gain sufficient position within that field to alter its basic structures and therefore the relations of domination that are structured by that field and ultimately to alter the social construction according to which the field is reproduced. (Samuel, 2012: 12)

The example he provides is the way in which 'black bloc'1 tactics, for example smashing property, do not accord with the political field and what is deemed acceptable protest. No matter what political justifications and indeed comparisons they highlight to illustrate how their actions are nothing compared to the injustices committed by corporate capitalism, they do not have sufficient material and symbolic capital to change the rules of the neoliberal game or, as Samuel puts it, 'the political field' (2012: 19). This is a crucial point, since it provides a concrete example of how symbolic violence works in a field. Political actors like the black bloc are subjected to forms of violence in the sense that they are denied resources or even treated as criminals during protests. They often have limitations placed on their style of protesting and are unlikely to achieve significant political gains.

I now wish to turn to my particular application of Bourdieu's theoretical technologies that are used in the forthcoming chapters. These differ to some extent from the scholarly applications mentioned above.

 
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