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

Symbolic struggles and the field

I conceptualize and operationalize the concept of field in terms of how it might be applied to understand the political dynamics and conflict between key British anarchist and socialist groups and how they interact with others as part of the struggle against neoliberalism.

Given that anarchists and socialists have different means for achieving the same political objectives, a symbolic struggle for dominance within the BACMF occurred. This is because their respective ideologies do not mix. In essence, most anarchists do not trust the socialist plan, especially where the dictatorship of the proletariat is concerned (chapter 2). This is even more so with the onset of postrepresentative strands of anarchism that do not trust any form of representative politics (Tormey, 2005). This is also not confined to British anti-capitalist circles; similar tensions have arisen in Australia too (Bramble and Minns, 2005). This raises two questions: why does conflict erupt linked to political distinction and practice? And, why is it not the case that each anti-capitalist group, be it an anarchist or socialist one, just practises its own politics without caring what the other is doing? This is where the concept of fields, in the Bourdieusian sense of the term, is valuable. The BACMF is a political space which contains resources and rules. Some parts of the field are literally physical, such as demonstrations and social forums, some are virtual, such as websites. Like any field it has both material and symbolic resources. All resources, if captured by the political activists, offer the opportunity to advance an ideological agenda. Between 1991 and 2001 anarchist groups were dominant within the BACMF.

However, major international events such as the G8 and G20 meetings, and later the threats of and subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq offered socialist groups an opportunity to enter the BACMF and progress their type of politics. The anarchists under study here were and still are clearly anti-war; in 2001, however, they neglected to campaign or protest on these issues explicitly, or connect the issue with capitalism and imperialism as the socialists did. In addition, anarchist groups did not connect up with organized labour and trade union groups, who were largely not included in the summit protests that occurred at the turn of the century. These tensions reappeared at the time of the Occupy camps in 2011. The ideology of socialist politics, however, is germane to trade unionism and this allowed them to forge crucial alliances at certain times, especially during wage disputes, labour day protests and anti-war campaigns (chapters 5 and 7).

In terms of operationalizing the concept of field to explore the tensions and interactions between different actors and organizations at different political levels, I claim there are overlapping and interrelated fields that structure and are structured by political action. I argue that there exists a BACMF where anarchists and socialists engage in revolutionary politics, both believing that their ideology is key for developing a revolutionary agenda. This field exists as part of the wider AGM field. This field encompasses not just anti-capitalists but also all those groups, organizations and actors who are challenging neoliberalism to a greater or lesser extent. The BACMF and the AGM field are not separate; rather the former lies within the latter as a sub-field. Moreover, British anti-capitalist groups are constantly interacting with groups in AGM field since these actors are automatically involved in challenging neoliberalism and arguing for an alternative globalization (obviously to a greater extent than some of the other actors in this field). When there is a larger mobilization beyond an immediate anti-capitalist political issue, or beyond Britain, for example at a summit meeting, then actors in the BACMF are often explicitly involved in the AGM field. In this respect, these fields are fluid since they are structured according to a general anti-neoliberal politics, which the actors fit into. However, these fields fit into the much larger and broader political field, which is inhabited not only by anti-capitalist and AGM activists but also pro-neoliberal politicos, including but not limited to politicians and political parties, established media broadcasters, supranational institutions (for example, the G8 and G20) and other law enforcement/military/state agents or organizations. Although fields have boundaries, they are fluid in the sense that boundaries may move, depending on how the particular game or set of games is being played and by whom. Fields are fluid and not static since agents may have the requisite skills and or knowledge to move between fields to try to alter the rules or the dynamic of the field, and may try to capture resources in another field that may be deemed valuable. This is when the concepts of illusio, doxa and capital become all important.

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