Sunday, 23 March 2008

Symbolic violence and Stabile update

I have just added some resources on Nick Broomfield's Biggie and Tupac to the stabile of this blog (they can be found under Documentary or just by searching for Biggie and Tupac). The notes deal with a variety of issues but perhaps the most interesting is Bourdieu's concept of symbolic violence.
Symbolic violence is (along with all of the concepts that Bourdieu introduced into sociology; field, habitus, symbolic capital, etc) not the easiest thing to get to grips with; Bourdieu seems to have been rather committed to forcing his readers to think very hard for themselves. One way of thinking about symbolic violence might be to consider it the as the effect of a specific implementation of symbolic power; which Bourdieu defines thus "symbolic power is the power to make things with words" (in his 'Social Space and Symbolic Power', Sociological Theory, Vol. 7, No. 1. (Spring, 1989)). This capacity to make things with words is rather more dramatic than this simple statement suggests; social groups and identities are after all made with words. Symbolic power is then the power to define, label, categorise, and thus control. It is the power to determine the way people are thought of and spoken of even by themselves.
Symbolic violence is the application of this symbolic power in a directed fashion against individuals and groups. The way in which Catherine Tate's 'Lauren Cooper' and Little Britain's 'Vicky Pollard' have been used to label, define and categorise poor young females in recent times and the way in which those categorisations are used against individuals and the entire social formation these characters stand for (are the synecdoche of). It is this use that is the symbolic violence in this case.
A useful wider discussion can be found in the chapter on Bourdieu in Angela McRobbie's very useful The
Uses of Cultural Studies
(London: Sage, 2005)

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