A short coda to the state of the state

I’ve just reviewed Bourdieu’s lectures On the State for the LSE Review of Books. It’s a great and surprising read, and not just because of the breadth of intellectual pursuit and examples he provides in trying to unpack the modern state, how it exists (as the legitimate deliverer of symbolic violence) and what it does, but because it’s a really readable example of teaching in practice. You can see how lecture builds on lecture, and the interplay between them (the pedagogical architecture if you will), and the interaction of students is made obvious, not hidden away. Two things I couldn’t fit in the review though.

One thing I was surprised by in OtS was the lack of comment on neoliberalism. This is especially true given that in the collection there is little macro-analysis of the unique brand of Western market capitalism which emerged in the 1980s. Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and neoliberalism are absent from the text. In the final pages, Bourdieu does argue that, in terms of the dismantling of the welfare state, ‘the last twenty years have deconstructed everything that has been built up since the eighteenth century’ (p.369). Knowing as we do that half a decade after these lectures were delivered Bourdieu would publish his most political work, understanding the relationship between On the State and The Weight of the World, Acts of Resistance and Firing Back could provide a highly charged intellectual response to the current (state) crises in which we find ourselves engulfed.

There’s also some further work to be done on the link between Foucault’s governmentality and Bourdieu’s use of Weber’s idea of ‘the domestication of the dominated’ (p.358 onwards) (state use of symbolic violence in practice). As someone who has struggled to find literature which examines the Foucault/Bourdieu connection, this is something added to my to-do list. Bloody to-do list.

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