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Home arrow Sociology arrow Bourdieu and Social Movements: Ideological Struggles in the British Anti-Capitalist Movement

Political distinction, symbolic struggles and the power of capital

This book develops and uses the concepts of habitus, field and capital combined to explain how the political socialization of activists within anarchist and socialist communities leads to a definite political distinction, which in turn leads to symbolic struggles within the anti-capitalist movement field. The analysis of activist political practice reveals preferences that are structured around clear ideological goals. As such, this leads to ideological competition and conflict between the most powerful groups in the said field. Moreover, each group attempts to accrue more cultural, social and symbolic capital to further their ideological agenda.

Political distinction and the habitus

My use of the habitus in forthcoming chapters is a more nuanced application. It builds on earlier research that claimed the habitus may be applied to understand activists' political biographies and preferred ideological strategy (Ibrahim, 2011). I was not the first to use Bourdieu's concepts for the purpose of social movement analysis, for example, Crossley (2002a, 2003a) explored the notion of a radical habitus. However, this was largely a theoretical proposition. I push this concept further by applying it to empirical evidence, including activist histories, action repertoires and political values. By doing this I am able to demonstrate that political distinction exists between activists in terms of their 'ideological habitus'. The notion of ideology attached to the habitus is key, since it denotes and explains how an activist practises their politics. Thus, I attached an ideological prefix, such as anarchist-habitus or socialist-habitus. This provides a more accurate description of an activist's ideological direction. It also describes how it came to be, that is, the way in which politics and political practice become embodied and sedimented over time. I claim that anarchists and socialists may have a similar political socialization; at a certain point in their socialization, however, they accrue different cultural and social capital which attracts them to a certain political space with like-minded politicos who have similar values and skills (cultural capital). Ultimately these skills and knowledge are recognized as valuable within the groups to which they belong and this manifests itself as symbolic capital. The habitus organizes their experiences and enables them to recognize what capital to acquire in terms of its usefulness, including the status that comes with it. This practice over time reproduces political distinction as each ideological group - anarchists and socialists - gravitates towards 'their space' within a field. 'Their space' refers to what I call the anti-capitalist movement field, a sub-field of the larger alternative globalization movement (AGM) field which draws on the resource of a general anti-neoliberal master frame of contention (chapter 2). All these spaces and discourses are part of the much larger political field.

The British anti-capitalist movement field (BACMF) has its rules and practices for those engaged in anti-capitalist politics. To this end, anarchists and socialists have the same ultimate objective - to overthrow capitalism. However, their political practice in terms of attempting to achieve this is quite different. Each group thinks that they have the correct formula and, as such, political distinction is reinforced by their political actions which shape this field of contention. This results in the reproduction of political distinction, as political habits, culture and values which accord with the general rules of their respective ideologies are developed, passed on and diffused down. This is an example of how my usage provides a much needed nuance. The use of an ideological prefix, such as anarchist-habitus or socialist-habitus, refers to political practice more accurately than, say, an activist or radical habitus, which is too broad to offer any clarification as to what activists' political methods, histories and so on are, much less how conflict may emerge between activists who have the same objectives and operate in the same field.

The operationalization of the habitus concept includes considering activists' histories, their action repertoires, the resources or capital they deem it significant to accrue and how this manifests itself into an acknowledgement of rivalry between themselves and other activists, and the ensuing ideological competition and conflict which comes with this. This is the topic of the next section, which operationalizes the field concept and symbolic struggles between those in the BACMF.

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