The Oldest Social Science? Configurations of Law and Modernity

By W. T. Murphy | Go to book overview

6
The Chimera of Social Integration

It's so very difficult to establish where the borderline runs between true power that subdues everything, power that creates the world or destroys it -- when the borderline is between living power, great, even terrifying, and the appearance of power, the empty pantomime of ruling, being one's own dummy, only playing the role, not seeing the world, not hearing it, merely looking into oneself.1

In the course of elaborating his attractive and influential sociology of practice, Pierre Bourdieu sends certain echoes through the self-styled interpretive sections of the social science community:

Reifying abstractions (in sentences like 'culture determines the age of weaning') [objectivist discourse]. . . treats its constructions -- 'culture', 'structures', 'social classes' or 'modes of production' -- as realities endowed with a social efficacy. Alternatively, giving concepts the power to act in history as the words that designate them act in the sentences of historical narrative, it personifies collectivities and makes them subjects responsible for historical actions (as in sentences like 'the bourgeoisie thinks that. . .' or 'the working class refuses to accept').2

But the contemporary reality is more complicated than this, and the kinds of concerns with proof which taxed Weber3 are concerns which today engender ambivalence. In endless revisionist sociologies, there is a vacuous or gestural plea to restore the perspective of agency (while at the same time seeking to preserve the distinct identity of sociology from, say, history). Yet in many respects this has become a moorless rhetoric, outside the academic disciplines and the mass media which 'individualize' many phenomena and thereby exhibit their own inner tension between the simulated immediacy of presentation which individualization permits and the quantitative (and deeply sociological) variables which come into play in assessing their success -- sales, viewing figures, and all the other market indicators with which we are now familiar.

A distinction therefore needs to be drawn between the kind of reflexive operation under way in Bourdieu's sociological theory, or, for that matter, in the polemical stance vis-à-vis mechanical (and usually Marxist) conceptualizations of Giddens's much lauded 'duality of struc

____________________
1
Kapuścińriski, The Emperor, 145.
2
Bourdieu, Logic of Practice, 37.
3
See Ch. 3 above.

-154-

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