Month: June 2015

Instrumental & expressive aspects of collective action

A very basic breakdown: Instrumental We join with others to take collective action in order to achieve measurable goals. Our actions are tactics within strategies, which we hope will result in tangible successes/gains/improvements to people’s lives. We are concerned with results. We evaluate whether our actions are moving us toward making substantial change. Expressive! We also join with others to take collective action because it makes us feel good. Our actions express our values, our identities, and our sense of belonging in the group or the movement. Expressive aspects of collective action and movement participation are important — this is what feeds us, makes us feel like we’re not alone, and keeps us going. WARNING: you can fulfill your expressive motivations without ever winning anything! A longer elaboration of this dualism, authored by Joshua Kahn-Russell, Zack Malitz, and yours truly, is available at BeautifulTrouble.org.

Celebrate progressive victories

This weekend I am celebrating with friends. I am celebrating that the confederate flag has overnight become a pariah, even among mainstream conservatives. And I am celebrating that gay people can now marry each other anywhere in the United States. Do I think that these victories have solved structural racism or discrimination against LGBTQ people? Of course not. Nonetheless, I am celebrating these victories. They were hard won. These shifts will positively impact a lot of people in meaningful ways. And these victories point the way forward. Some of my radical friends’ dismal reactions to good news this week has reminded me of something I wrote a few years back about the story of the righteous few. I decided to repost a lengthy excerpt today: Radicals tend to become radicals because we become disillusioned with aspects of the dominant culture. When you feel like you’re up against the culture, it’s easy then to develop an inclination to separate yourself from that culture. When we begin to become aware of the destructive impacts of capitalism, racism, sexism, and whatever …

Usurping the ‘officialization effect’

Bourdieu series, post #2 Power tends to appear magical to those who have less of it, and mechanical to those who are accustomed to wielding it instrumentally. Different social groups are differently positioned within the larger ‘field of power’; each possessing a different measure of symbolic power and equipped to a greater or lesser extent to navigate the terrain of symbolic power. The asymmetry is not only a matter of control of capital and material resources; it also has to do with the dispositions (or habitus) that correspond with individuals’ different positions in the social structure (affected by education, family life, and many other factors) The power gap between agents’ dispositions is manifested in their different attitudes toward power itself. This can be seen in the phenomenon (or device) that Pierre Bourdieu calls the officialization effect — typically wielded by the few to awe the many. Essentially, those who already hold the reins of power have (as a perk of that position) continually blowing at their back the wind of the officialization effect, which endows them with an aura of presupposed …

Bourdieu series (landing page)

I had the opportunity this past semester to take an intensive graduate seminar at Berkeley that focused on the works of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. The class was quite intensive, and aptly named “Bourdieu Bootcamp” by the instructor, Loïc Wacquant, from whom I learned volumes. Prior to this semester, the most I had ever read that was written by a single author was probably J.K. Rowling, so this was a fun challenge. I’m going to post a series over the next few weeks in which I will wrestle with some of Bourdieu’s concepts—especially symbolic power, fields, and doxa—in an unsystematic manner, applying them especially to struggles for social and political change. These will be nerdy posts—you have been warned. This is the landing page for this series, which I will update with each new post. The moral imperative of strategies of universalization Usurping the ‘officialization effect’

It’s not every day that Grover Norquist accuses me of writing ‘foolish things’

It’s not every day that I have the honor of being accused of writing “foolish things” by the “great tax reformer” Grover Norquist. After reading Kevin Drum’s account of Louisiana Republicans’ exacerbation with Norquist, I Tweeted my own exacerbation. To my surprise, Mr. Norquist took at least a few seconds to break from his busy agenda of bankrupting America to explain himself. @jonathansmucker @MattBruenig @ebruenig @kdrum Simple. I don’t write foolish things like “we can do better than freedom” — Grover Norquist (@GroverNorquist) June 9, 2015 To whom was he referring? Who would say such a foolish thing, I wondered? “We can do better than freedom?” What an absurd argument to make! And then I suddenly realized that it was me! He was referring to my Twitter profile, which leads with the sentence “We can do better than capitalism.” Easy mistake to make. I gently corrected him. .@GroverNorquist I wrote “We can do better than capitalism”—but I totally see how elites like you might get freedom and capitalism confused. — Jonathan M Smucker (@jonathansmucker) June 9, 2015 …

The moral imperative of strategies of universalization

Bourdieu series, post #1 And one is tempted to say, contrary to the moralists who insist on pure intentions, that it is good that it should be so. No one can any longer believe that history is guided by reason; and if reason, and also the universal, moves forward at all, it is perhaps because there are profits in rationality and universality so that actions which advance reason and the universal advance at the same time the interests of those who perform them (Bourdieu 1997:126). Bourdieu argues not only that the political project of universality is inescapable—i.e., that someone (or some group or class) will succeed in defining the contents of the universal, even if others eschew the contest itself—he is also suggesting here that there is potential social value in the operations of universality. It is not only a matter of practical necessity in the terrain of politics that contenders claim and contest the symbols, contents, and products of universality; there is also a broader social good in the operation—potentially, at least, and however …

Too many Leeroy Jenkins

Another intense semester has come to an end and suddenly I have some time to relax, to catch up with friends, and even to indulge in wasting a little time on the Internet. Just now I remembered old Leeroy Jenkins — the disruptive antihero of World of Warcraft — and I thought I’d watch the Youtube video of his performance from ten years ago. Because of my predisposition to see WoW as an unforgivable waste of time, I’ve always loved Leeroy’s utter disregard for the norms, processes, and careful strategic planning of his WoW teammates. Unilaterally cutting the collective planning stage short, Leeroy enthusiastically runs headlong kamikaze-style into enemy territory, embarking on what is sure to be a suicide mission, while narcissistically shouting his own name, “LEEEEEROOOYY JEENNNKINNNSS!!!” With the action kicked off prematurely, his teammates have no choice but to follow Leeroy into the field to do battle with beasts and demons and who-knows-what-else, hoping against hope to salvage something from the unfavorable situation created by the asinine antics of their stupid/brave comrade. This time watching the clip, I realized how …

chasing after vs. articulating ‘public opinion’

In The Symbolic Uses of Politics, Murray Edelman had this to say about public opinion polling: A related kind of ambiguity pervades political process as well: uncertainty about how much public support or opposition for programs exists or can be created. Because opinion is constructed and volatile, all indicators of it are problematic. Poll reports are therefore another device for the reduction of ambiguity to clarity. Polled individuals are abstracted both from their everyday lives and from political discussion and action shared with others. Their opinions are therefore also abstract — not necessarily related to any course they would pursue when involved in political activities different from answering an interviewer (or, perhaps, voting). In this artificial situation expressed opinion depends upon verbal cues together with changing memories of past situations and anticipations of future ones. Polls and surveys generate numbers that have the dramaturgical look of hard data and the epistemological look of shifting fantasies. In his essay “Public Opinion Does Not Exist,” Pierre Bourdieu similarly deflates polling as an elaborate trick that elites use to …