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!