File spoon-archives/bourdieu.archive/bourdieu_1998/bourdieu.9806, message 22


Date: Fri, 19 Jun 1998 21:49:31 +0000
Subject: acteur, agent, suject


       I guess the problem around the distinctions between acteur, agent
and sujet all have to do with the relation of habitus to field, the degree
of agency any individual has in relation to a field and the degree to which
an agent feels subject to that field; the force of the field as outside of
us which we feel controls us. Like many gay men I have felt that force
oppressively, but gradually and with difficulty am begining (rather late in
the day) to gain some agency.
        Bourdieu, in this regard, is neither a pessimist nor an optimist,in
that he insists that we should not underestimate the power of the symbolic
violence which dominates us and with which we are inclined to collude. On
the other hand, we should also not underestimate the ability of of our
gaining  some agency over our social destiny.

        This is surely the most important principle in education, where
initially we are rather passively subject to the cultural field and then
gradually learn to have some agency in relation to it, learn to question it
and finally gain the capital to be able to act upon it and transform it. In
this sense I find Bourdieu's vision ultimately hopeful, but not
unrealistically so. This is surely what he means when in Invitation to
Reflexive Sociology he says:

".the bringing to awareness of the dispositions, favorable or unfavorable,
associated with your social origins, academic background, and gender offers
you the chance, if a limited one, to get a grip on those dispositions."

And when he says elsewhere:

"It is by objectifying what I am, that I give myself some chance of
becoming the subject of what I am; and, more, in objectifying them, I give
to others the means to make themselves the subjects of what they are."

He is neither a fatalistic pessimist nor an unrealistic optimist, rather;
as he said in his recent acceptance speech for the Ernst Bloch Prize, he
engages with a "reasoned utopianism". This is, of course, no easy matter.

        I am currently trying to look closely at the life and work of Andy
Warhol in relation to these issues. From childhood, as a 'queer' and sickly
child of first generation immigrant parents Warhol was subject to the
normative socio-cultural field of 40's and 50's America. Then through his
mother and her nurture a form of capital he no doubt inherited from her, as
a draughtsman he managed to gain some agency over the field as "Raggedy
Andy" the irresistably camp illustrator in the New York advertising and
fashion field, Where the female fashion editors obviously adored him. Then,
from this large-scale field he made the extraordinary transition to the
restricted field of the subcultural underground and avant-garde and finally
attained the status, along with one of his mentors, Marcel Duchamp, of the
consecrated avant-garde . An extraordinary trajectory and an extraordinary
transformation of the relation of habitus to field!
        In my view it is time more of us applied Bourdieu's ideas to the
contemporary field of cultural production, where there are, of course, far
more risks of getting it wrong!

Roger Cook
The University of Reading


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