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

Doxa as a tool for understanding crisis

The concept of doxa has a long history in philosophy, going back to the work of Aristotle (1955). He used it to refer to common opinion as used in everyday life among the general populace. This is differentiated from knowledge derived from more rigorous academic study. That said, doxa should not be dismissed and should always be engaged with to establish true knowledge (Crossley, 2005). My use here is based upon a Bourdieusian understanding drawn from a number of his writings (1977, 1998). A Bourdieusian (1977: 168) conception is illustrated in Figure 3.1, which also includes the terms orthodoxy and heterodoxy.

Doxa is the universe of the undisputed, undiscussed and common opinion sometimes referred to as the taken for granted. More than this, Bourdieu (1998) points out how doxa refers to elite domination, that is, the way in which elite ideology becomes common sense, so much so that the majority of citizens conform to elite rules and, in

Doxa, heterodoxy, orthodoxy

Figure 3.1 Doxa, heterodoxy, orthodoxy

Source: Based on Bourdieu (1977: 168).

particular, accept inequality as a natural occurrence in society. This is particularly the case for the political field. Bourdieu provides a comprehensive definition:

Doxa is... the point of view of the dominant, which presents itself as a universal point of view, the point of view of those who dominate by dominating the state and who have constituted their point of view as universal by constituting the state. (Bourdieu, 1998: 57)

Doxa refers to everyday practice and is pre-reflective. We do not tend to discuss everyday rules and practices too deeply, rather we accept them the way they are. For example, most people now accept in a liberal democracy that inequalities in power exist between social groups, usually justified (not always accurately or truthfully) through arguments based on meritocratic ideals. And, linked to this, in a postindustrial economy there is no such thing as 'a job for life', as there used to be in the mid 20th century under stronger social democratic governments. As such redundancies may occur, interest rates may rise or fall and there could be a certain amount of social dislocation from time to time. Most people also accept that a social welfare system should exist to help people in times of need so long as it is not abused.

All these are doxic assumptions based on ideas connected with living in a democratic and free market society. Most of the time there is little questioning of the political and economic system we live in as the system works on the whole. There is a certain amount of justification for this view because there is evidence of social mobility, usually as a result of 'hard work'. Beyond doxa is the universe of discourse where debate, discussion and even disagreement occurs. This sphere is a site of contestation between those presenting the orthodox opinion, which I have just described and which is prevalent within the political field, and those who contest these arguments, presenting an alternative heterodox argument.

In the political field there has been an insidious neoliberal orthodoxy and regime of accumulation that has become pervasive. So much so that it is now the doxa - taken for granted. Although there was some resistance to some of the neoliberal policies in the UK, including the privatization and deregulation of parts of the public sector, most of society has had to accept them, not least because recessions and subsequent redundancies caused by neoliberal practices have had a humbling effect on workers. There is an increasing tendency towards marketization, individualism and a rejection of collective and cooperative mechanisms, such as negotiation through trade unions. The ideological discourse, present since the 1980s as part of Reganomics and Thatcherism, has permeated not just the political and economic spheres of almost all societies but also the social and cultural spheres. Counting footfall in museums to demonstrate the value of these institutions is one such example (Furedi, 2004). Judging higher education by the employability of graduates is another. The orthodoxy has argued that There Is No Alternative (TINA) to neoliberalism and marketization. There is an expectation placed on people and institutions to demonstrate value.

By contrast, for the last two decades the heterodox position has been an anti-neoliberal ideology made up of a range of social and political forces, especially anti-capitalist groups. They have sought to challenge neoliberal policies instituted by, say, the UK government, but have not managed to overturn any significant policies. Heterodox positions such as these are part of the make-up of the political field and, in fact, can even help maintain the status quo. This is especially the case in western liberal democracies, where criticism is seen as part of a healthy functioning democracy which prides itself on free speech and freedom of association.

The ideology of neoliberalism is contradictory and creates paradoxes, and it is for these reasons that movements like Occupy emerge. For example, neoliberalism encourages banks and loan companies to increase consumer credit at times. However, this produces debt which may then have an effect on spending power leading to consumers defaulting on payments. The financial crisis of 2008, particularly in USA, is a prime example of this. When these things happen, people are shocked and start to question the doxa of neoliberalism. Unless a crisis occurs, most citizens go about their everyday life without questioning the system, much less trying to actively change it. This is because policies and practices of governments and institutions are often justified by ideas of economic modernization and progress, and any resistance to neoliberalism is seen as futile or hindering profit and the success of 'fair play' entrepreneurialism. Moreover, because in western democracies citizens choose political leaders, the doxic assumption is that they have a mandate to decide policy under the rubric of democratic and collective choice. As Swartz (2013: 73) notes, 'the political field requires shared belief', that is, citizens and politicians accept the rules of the political game and consequently this gives elected representatives symbolic power. In reality, however, even though we choose political leaders, political choice is limited between a range of similar political parties. The political field, particularly in a democracy, is structured in such a way that there is little room for contestation. Most citizens are unable to argue against this, since it is a field that requires a specific competence usually only possessed by elites, who all, more or less, subscribe to the same agenda. The only real competition is that a rival political party or group wants to be the one to wield the power, not really to change neoliberalism. The policies differ in only minor ways. For the last twenty years the neoliberal agenda has been pushed through in countries such as the UK. While there has been resistance the political field imposes a problematic that defines what is sayable, unsayable, thinkable and unthinkable (Bourdieu, 1991, cited by Swartz, 2013: 73). This is the doxa; it is difficult for citizens to criticize when they do not know how to; or if it does not occur to them to criticize because the effects of neoliberalism are incremental and are perhaps seen as part of the natural order. Moreover, heterodox discourse advocating a massive programme of revolution - though there are disagreements both over the means and the end result - is, by and large, not seen as a realistic alternative among the rest of the population who perhaps do not engage explicitly with political ideas and ideologies of anti-capitalism.

However, doxa is not fixed and in times of crisis political leaders who are seen to have transgressed or broken the rules of the field, or have failed in their duties might face criticisms from the wider public. This is the point when what was doxic is now raised to the level of discourse. I argue in chapter 7 that this this is what happened during the financial crisis of 2008. An exogenous shock in the form of this financial crisis from the closely related economic field caused a crisis of doxa in the political field. People's expectations associated with meritocracy were out of alignment with the reality of society. There were a number of discernible groups affected by the crisis, including graduates and their expected job prospects or lack thereof, public and private sector employees facing redundancies, higher education students being charged increased tuition fees and further education students facing the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). To make matters worse, the bankers responsible for the crisis were still being awarded financial bonuses and, given that they had mismanaged the economy's finances and had to be bailed out by the government, citizens raised questions of whether this was fair. The fact that democratically elected politicians allowed this to happen also raised questions concerning their competence in managing the country's finances and whether they were really in control. These debates then became elevated to public consciousness and people gathered to form the Occupy movement, whose slogan was 'We are the 99%'. This statement refers to how the neoliberal phase of capitalism has created inequality for the majority of citizens. It also suggests that the majority of citizens have a normative understanding of how the system is unfair.

The Occupy movement was significant because it showed how discontent with neoliberalism had spread to a much deeper level among the population. Citizens began to question the system. It is expected that heterodox actvists do this all the time, but most citizens do not usually take to activism. People who were not normally active became active. That said, established activists and groups were key in mobilizing, but by no means did they lead (Graeber, 2013). The Occupy movement included a broader populace that wanted reform and a halt to some neoliberal ideas that have caused precaritization (Standing, 2011). This is why the concept of doxa is important, since it explains why people became involved in a significant anti-neoliberal movement.

A crisis of doxa refers to a situation when grievances and discontent are elevated to the level of consciousness. Citizens' expectations, including common-sense understandings, slip out of alignment with reality. Politicians have a democratic mandate and are supposed to manage the economy effectively (a normative expectation); the actions of financial sectors undermined their authority or efforts, however, which led to job insecurity and later austerity measures focused on people who had no hand in the mismanagement of the economy. This led to a grievance among sections of the population.

Chapter 7, therefore, uses the concept of doxa to explore the grievance structure of activists who were new to protests, as well as that of the more established activists, to discover why they became involved in the Occupy movement in the UK. I also explain why divisions and tensions re-emerged between anti-capitalist groups and how this affected the UK Occupy movement.

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