You had me at “posthegemony”

When I first saw OSU’s reading list, the title of Posthegemony caught my attention, not because I am personally ready to eschew the concept of hegemony, but because I’ve been thinking about how it may or may not mesh with the largely Deleuzoguattarian approach I’m taking with my research. For example, one need look no further than my previous post to see a references to Gramsci’s notion of cultural hegemony. Nevertheless, the conclusion to Beasley-Murray’s book provides an argument for why it may be time to move on to new conceptual terrain via three concepts: affect, habitus, and multitude. I spent some time reading Bourdieu a few years ago and had largely shelved him in the flurry of other theorists I’d been reading, but I’m going to use this post to quickly sketch my understanding of how his concept of habitus fits in with affect and multitude.

In Distinction, Bourdieu provides us with an idea of how habitus and other phenomena relate to practice in the form of an equation:

[(habitus)(capital)] + field = practice

And though the equational form of this idea may be off-putting for some, I think it’s helpful acknowledge that what he’s telling us is that our habitus — our tendency or disposition to act in some particular way — cannot freely control our actions, but is affected by the (social, cultural, political, etc.) capital at our disposal, as well as the field in which we are situated. Throughout his work he calls habitus a “structured and structuring structure” and a “cultural unconscious,” among other things, but the main point I want to make is that it is formed not through the imposition of rules, but through interactions. Bourdieu is, after all, someone who said, “I can say that all my thinking started from this point: how can behavior be regulated without being the product of obedience to rules?”* Or, as Beasley-Murray would say, habit is not constructed through contract, but rather through contact.

With this in mind, Beasley-Murray’s assertion that habitus is one route by which constituent power can be reasserted is indeed a powerful one: if hegemonic constituted power seeks to discipline and order practice through rules — wait for the walk signal to cross, post no bills, no skateboarding in the plaza — then transgression not only flouts those rules, but operates in a cultural realm that seems to exist in parallel. It’s like walking on the Upper West Side, where nobody waits for the signal to cross: you step out into the street and look for cars and then you cross the street (c’mon, everybody’s doin’ it!). And perhaps it’s just me, but after living in Seattle where people stand on corners, in the rain, waiting for the signal to change, I truly find joy in this practice. This is, of course, a simple example but is nevertheless such positive affective modulations — love, joy, etc. — that Hardt and Negri are suggesting to be the connective tissue of the multitude, and I’m thankful to Beasley-Murray for pointing out how the realm of habit meshes nicely.**

* cited in David Swartz’s Culture and Power, 95.

** I’m also thankful that he posted the conclusion to his book for us to read!


3 thoughts on “You had me at “posthegemony”

  1. Pingback: Nomad Scholarship | Posthegemony

  2. Totally tangentially I have been reading Bourdieu for another reading group and came across a chapter from a reader entitled Pierre Bourdieu Fieldwork and Culture (2000) by Beasley-Murray about the cultural capital of Bourdieu and the problem of a general theory, for a political economy of practice, that one deduces from Bourdieu’s incomplete project. Namely, he notes some temporal considerations associated with economic versus cultural capital, where the former can be gained instantaneously while the latter is only gained over time. He argues that a historicization of the specific modes and mechanisms of production and capitalization enables a way to understand alternatives to structuring a general economy structure including cultural capital. He locates cultural capital in exactly the same process of valorization as that of social relations, of the specific contradiction between concrete time and abstract time. It is in this sense determined by the mechanism of under-valorization, or the struggle over the amount of “socially necessary” labor time compared to time for activities in everyday life. Its analogous to the difference between use and exchange value that was the object of Marx’s critique but extended to the cultural economy. This insight highlights that Bourdieu does not adequately address exploitation and surplus associated with these different forms of capital and makes Beasley-Murray’s argument quite sharp, with a juxtaposition of cultural and political economy. I find it enlightening for those of us in search for alternative institutions of governance and democracy in that it highlights the struggles over “socially necessary” labor time, about the practice of everyday life, about the institutionalization of this form of dominance, and about the site of such struggles. I do have one question, however, in that I am not completely sure to the extent that doxa, in this example of labor time, serves as an underlying logic which builds “illusory objective limits” to our practical reason and practice. Does this “common sense” mirror Gramsci’s or does it serve as an object of critique which we can use as the locus of counter-hegemonic force and organization? How ingrained can dominance be? How deep does our subconscious acceptance of norms of dominance go in our inner psyche, or expressions of these in our institutions and relations?

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