Saturday, July 19, 2014

Craigslist RSS feed

I learned something new today from the Pocket Your Dollars web site, googling "craigslist notifications." In my house renovations, last week in my dining room I finally ripped out the cheap, 40-yr old cabinets that had been installed and somebody came to take them away today (courtesy of a frustrating week getting no-shows from my craigslist ad). The family who moved here in the 70s relocated the kitchen into the original dining room, since it's a larger space, and installed these cabinets. I'm making it back into a dining room, as was in the original house design. In the space where the cabinets were, I'm going to put a buffet, which I am hoping to find from Craigslist--specifically, a nice Victorian-style buffet. Of course the ones currently listed are all in the $400 range, and my budget is about $50. Thanks to the aforementioned Google search, I discovered that you can tell Craigslist to send you an RSS feed. What is an RSS feed--I don't know either, I just followed the instructions to connect the Craigslist RSS feed to my Microsoft Outlook, and sure enough, a new section appeared in my Outlook, so everytime somebody posts here in Indy for a cheap buffet, it automatically notifies me!!! I'm very excited.

Black vs. White Student Suspensions-Preschool Discrimination

This year in March, a Department of Education study showed that Black preschool students faced higher rates of suspension than White students (full report here). In my Introduction to Sociology class, two sub-tasks I have is to 1) introduce the concept and issue of race/ethnicity, and 2) introduce the concept and use of statistics. This year I am using the findings from this study as the basis to accomplish those goals. In the process, I brought in some additional data--the percent of Black legislators per state, and the Black/White income disparity ratio per state. The larger pedagogical goal is to reinforce the concept of "structural" causation. We in the U.S. are far more likely to presume individual-level causation, which is already an inherently human feature that psychologists have described as the Fundamental Attribution Error. However, our culture magnifies this effect compared to other, more communitarian-type cultures. So while the U.S. 'person-on-the-street' may look at the profound differences between Black-White student suspensions and automatically presume individual-level causation (especially if you are White), i.e., "Black students must misbehave at higher rates than White students," the utility of structural-level analysis can show that a large percent of the state-level variation in school suspensions can be explained by factors other than individual-level behavior. Here I present an introduction to structural-level analysis, by way of different types of graphs and a mini-introduction to regression analysis--basic tools of the trade for quantitative sociologists.

First, the recent Department of Education report indicates that the difference between Black-White student suspensions starts as early as pre-school. Graph 1 shows that data as presented in the original report. The first column shows basic differences in pre-school enrollment between various race/ethnic groups in 2011-2012, and subsequent columns show rates of suspension, also divided by race/ethnic group, the first-tie such data was collected at the pre-school level. The original data can be found at the Dept of Ed web site. While state-level data is available, unfortunately, it is not in a single spreadsheet, but reported separately for each state, so the process of compiling state-level dataset for all 50 states is tedious, but it is what I use for the analysis below. Using the difference between enrollment and suspensions, I create a variable, "Black student suspension ratio," which is the level of suspensions as measured against enrollment. For example, in the national pre-school graphic below, Black student enrollment is 18%, while Black student 'Out-of-school suspension (multiple) is 48%, leading to a ratio of 267%--i.e., Black students were suspended at a rate of 267% more than their enrollment. Conversely, White student enrollment was at 43%, while suspensions were at 26%, leading to a ratio of 60%--i.e., White students were suspended at a rate of 60% of their enrollment. An 'individual-level' interpretation of this data might be 'White students misbehave at far lower rates than Black students,' presuming that no racial discrimination occurs in the process of assigning student suspensions. The following analysis tests that hypothesis--or rather, tests whether structural-level factors provide a better explanation for individual-level factors

As Graph 2 shows, also directly from the Dept of Education report, racial disparities in student suspensions occur beyond the pre-school level. The data I use for this analysis relies on the reported suspensions for all grade levels. Graph 3, which I have produced using Microsoft Excel, is an "area graph" that compares two variables at the state-level--the Black student suspension ratio (blue, indexed to the left along the y-axis) and the percent of Black state legislators (orange, indexed to the right). I also had Excel plot a trendline for both of these variables, which is the dotted line above the colored areas. One can notice several things from this graphic. First, I have sorted the state data from lowest to highest rate of Black student suspension ratio, with Maryland having the lowest rate, and Minnesota having the highest rate. Comparing this with % Black state legislators, a general trend can be seen--the higher the % of Black state legislators, the lower the rate of Black student suspensions, and vice-versa. This does not necessarily imply causation, but a relationship is apparent (more about this later). Second, one might notice that all 50 states are not represented on this graphic. One of the problems with voluntary data collection is that not all states report. In this case, many states simply did not report suspension data. I have not attempted to impute or recover missing data in this analysis, but use only the data reported to the Department of Education for 2009-2010.

Graph 4 shows a scatterplot of this same data--also using Excel. In this case, the presumed independent variable, % of Black legislators, is reported on the x-axis, and the presumed dependent variable, Black student suspension ratio, is reported on the y-axis for this plot. Each dot represents a state. The correlation is reported on the graphic as -0.68, which is a strong negative relationship between these variables. This means that as the % of Black state legislators increases, the ratio of Black student suspensions go down, and vice versa. The trendline helps visualize that pattern. Interpreting the relationship between these variables require additional data and hypothesis testing, and in class I facilitate a brain-storming session, where the students come up with various explanations, each of which, I clarify, become 'testable hypotheses' that typically require the collection or analysis of additional data to decide which hypothesis among them has the strongest support. In this case, my personal hypothesis is that political representation grants a greater level of equality at the group-level. In other words, states where the Black population has more political representation at the state legislative level, have a greater capacity for the implementation of policies that ensure the implementation of racially-fair policies in schools. Alternatively, or reciprocally, the greater percent of Black legislators can also imply that group has, in general, a greater reserve of organizational capacity and community-level political activism, which can be seen in agitation for equal treatment in local schools.

The next variable I add into this analysis is data from the 2010 American Community Survey, specifically, a comparison between Black median income, and White median income. Just as the comparison of Black suspensions vs Black enrollment generates a ratio, the income data also generates a ratio that can be plotted. Graph 5 shows the scatter plot between the presumed independent variable on the x-axis, Black-White median income ratio, vs the presumed dependent variable on the y-axis, Black student suspension ratio. As above, each dot represents a state. For example, in the top left-hand corner is a dot that represents Minnesota, with the highest Black student suspension ratio for those states reporting, with 582%, meaning that Black students are suspended at almost 6x their rate of enrollment, as well as the lowest Black-White median income ratio of all states, with 48%, meaning that the average Black worker in Minnesota makes less than half of the average White worker. The state with the highest (most equal) Black-White median income ratio is Arizona, where the average Black worker makes 78% of the average White worker, and are also represented on the lower half of Black student suspension (197%). Like the graph above, for % Black state legislators vs. Black student suspensions, there is a negative relationship between these variables (r=-0.54), meaning that the lower the Black-White median income (i.e., the lower the level of racial income equality), the higher the Black student suspension ratio. Like the in-class process above, I show this graph to the students and facilitate a brain-storming session where they come up with various testable-hypotheses to explain the relationship between these variables.

It is important to remember that correlation never implies causation. Like the fundamental attribution error mentioned above, when we intuitively 'want' variables to be related by causation, we tend to see the above graphs and presume that % state legislators, and income inequality are contributing to causing unequal Black student suspension ratios. However, since correlation never implies causation, we must resist the urge to presume a causative mechanism. On the other hand, regression analysis, a separate (but mathematically related) statistical process, can be used to imply causation. In this final section, I pull together all three of these variables into 'multiple regression.' While I typically do not personally use the IBM software SPSS for my statistics (I use the open-source software R), SPSS has a relatively easy learning curve, and is available at our campus bookstore (and online) for the IUPUI students, so for the in-class example, I use SPSS to generate the graphic for this analysis, and walk the students through the meaning of several of the key output statistics. The equation for this model, roughly is thus:

Black student suspension ratio = X * % Black state legislators + Y * Black/White Median income ratio

The implication, based on the above correlations, is that there is a relationship between these three structural-level variables. Further, the mathematical/social interpretation of regression, if found to be statistically significant, is that causation can be implied between the independent variables (% Black legislators and Black/White income disparity) and the dependent variable (Black suspensions), which makes it a fundamentally more useful analysis than simple correlation, where causation cannot be implied. In the SPSS output show, I have circled several important parts. First, the "Adjusted R Square" of 0.713 implies that around 71% of the variation in Black student suspension rates in the Unites States can be explained *SOLELY* by these two structural variables of political representation and racial income inequality. Put more clearly, one does not need to presume individual causation in order to obtain a reasonable prediction of what a state's Black student suspension rate will be--i.e., one does not need the (implicitly racist) original hypothesis that "Black students misbehave at higher rates than White students" to explain Black student suspensions. The implication of this is that persistent racial discrimination is adequate to explain the differential rates of suspensions, and not "individual student" factors. What may, at first intuition, seem to have relatively little relationship with school suspension rates--political representation and income inequality--turn out to be powerful predictors, and, in fact, causative forces. Second, and finally, for this "brief introduction" to SPSS for my intro class, I also have them look at the "Standardized Coefficients-Beta" column in the graphic. Respectively, they are -0.665, and -0.703. Without going into a complicated discussion of how to interpret these numbers, they imply that both of these independent variables contribute approximately equally to the Black student suspension ratios, and both are related in negative ways. In other words, like the correlation results, the 'negative' relationship implies that as % Black legislators, and income equality ratio goes up, that Black student suspensions go down, and vice versa, and both of these factors have approximately equivalent causative force. If, for example, % Black legislators had been -0.3. while income ratio had been -0.9, it would imply that income ratio is far better predictor, about 3x more important, than % Black legislators. Here, however, the numbers are close, implying similar levels of predictive use.

For book-length treatments of these issues, I have used two relevant ethnographies in various classes. First, Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity , by Ann Ferguson, who studied the ways that Black and White students were treated differentially in the classroom. Second, a more recent contribution from a Berkeley researcher, Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys , by Victor Rios, who embedded himself with youth in Oakland, CA.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

US Education Data

I spent three frustrating days trying to find data that one would think would be readily available--any kind of education data to compare states going back before 1980.   In fact, I had a hard time finding a good way to compare states prior to a decade or so ago, since standard metrics have changed multiple times.  Even contacting federal education data centers, I was given disappointing answers.  While I thought the Census factfinder web site would be a reasonable resource, their education data only goes back to 2005, prior to which it becomes very much more sparse.  While other resources for education exist on the Census site, much of the pre-1990s data is simply poorly scanned pdf files from the original paper Census books!!  Below is data that I collected for a separate research project (time-series analysis of variables related to political polarization)--I post it simply for anybody else for whom it may prove useful, without having to manually enter page after page of pdf-scanned census data from a different book for each year.  The top table is the original data that I compiled, while the 2nd table contains mostly interpolated data for my other research project.  The easiest data for me to gather consistently was the percent of the population that had a bachelor's degree or higher. Note that Washington DC and Louisiana are not in this dataset--they are absent from the polarization comparison data I was using (but present in the original education data). Due to the limitations of the "blogger" web site, the table likely will look awkward, extending far into the border on the right-hand side of the screen (at least it does on my Chrome browser).

ORIGINAL DATA1970197719801981198519871989199019941998200020022004200520062009
Wyoming11.817.221.918.816.819.821.9 19.622.523.220.823.8

INTERPOLATED DATA1970.01972.01974.01976.01977.01978.01980.01981.01982.01983.01984.01985.01986.01987.01988.01989.01990.01992.019941996.01998200020022004200520062008 (est)20092010

Friday, July 4, 2014

Personal Notes--Laclau and Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy

Laclau and Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (2nd, 2001)--Personal notes from my reading in 2014

Ch. 1: Hegemony: The Genealogy of a concept. 
LM (Laclau and Mouffe) begin by tracing the “genealogy” of the concept of hegemony in a review chapter of 3 Marxist responses to cracks that seemed to appear in Marx’s theories.  They believe the idea of hegemony was the result of a series of crises in theory and praxis.

They begin by interacting with Rosa Luxembourg’s analysis of the Mass Strike, specifically, whether it was an effective political tool.  She finds a contrast with the ease of generation of mass strike in Russia with the fragmentization of strikes in Industrial Germany.  She believes that the identity of the working class under capitalism is fragmented and can only be reunited in revolution (10).  In regard to the genealogy of hegemony, LM propose that her seminal moment was the creation of a “subject position” by referring to class as a symbolic unit, not a materialistic economic reality as had been previously thought (11).

Kautsky agrees with Luxembourg regarding the natures of political and economic struggle—they are both unified efforts.  While for Luxembourg they become unified in revolution, for Kautsky they are inherently unified, since the political struggle of the working class is always an economic calculation.  However, his reading of the failure of the collapse of capitalism in Germany, which he assumed was generalizable and the inescapable result of capitalism, was, in fact, a German peculiarity, since history evidences a different path for many other states.  The end of the depression (1873-1896) and the ensuing boom (lasting until 1914), created a crisis in Marxist thinking, since it could not account for the resurgence of capitalism except as discontinuities in an otherwise deterministic struggle towards socialism.  LM define these crises as the pivotal moment in Marxist theorization when subsequent theories tried to explain new trajectories.

The first response they explore is the Marxist Orthodoxy of Kautsky and Plekhanov that emphasizes theory, presuming the end result Marx predicted is a necessary endpoint, despite the temporary appearance of observable “setbacks”.  Concrete examples of capitalism’s failure to collapse are simply temporary points of struggle, as the example of Germany (argument from contingency).  Or there may be the temporary appearance of the failure to form a revolutionary proletariat identity because of nationalism which is only a “screen that hides the interests of the bourgeoisie” (argument from appearance).  The theory predicts the ultimate realization of proletariat identity, so it will eventually happen, and concrete counter-examples are reduced to the abstract: a) “diverse subject positions of a single position,” b) plurality of differences is either reduced or rejected as contingent,” c) sense of the present is revealed through its location in an a priori succession of stages.”  Kautsky differs from Plekhanov by introducing the flexibility of political initiative in creating the space for revolution, requiring the mediation of intellectuals. 

The Austro-Marxists offered a second perspective from the first response, in that they took a Kantian approach, rather than Hegelian, by looking at perspectival, cultural influences, rather than a naturalistic historical trajectory.  Given the diversity of types of workers in the Austrian context, as well as the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy, there seemed little possibility of a unified consciousness built on relationships of production or national identity.  The remaining possibility is the role of political initiative, as opposed to the economic or simply historical.  In any case, both approaches believed that Marx’s predicted outcome of socialism was inevitably determined

The second response to the failure of capitalism to collapse was the revisionism of Bernstein.  In the first response above, there was an assumption of linearity built on the economic.  Bernstein attempted to emphasize the political as an autonomous sphere, separate from the economic, although LM believe this isn’t fully done until Gramsci.  There is little possibility for the unification of identity in economic terms, since the trajectory of the modern economy is diversification.  The countervailing trend towards unification was “party.”  For Kautsky, discussions of the political were the purview of the intelligentsia, for Bernstein, party became far broader.    

Bernstein did not accept that Marx’s prediction was inevitable, since he did not believe Marx proved his case, since human will/subjectivity was involved, and history is not solely objective.  Add to that, since the political identity Bernstein proposed was a “party programme,” there were ethical decisions that had to be made.  Therefore the process was not purely “scientific” as the determinists proposed.  However, Bernstein also proposed an irreversible evolutionary progression.  For the orthodox, the State was totalizing, and Social Democracy was exterior to the state, so organizing could only exist outside of the State, and overturning the State was the only option.  For Bernstein, the proletariat were part of the State, and social organizing could produce important changes, humanizing capitalism, and making life fundamentally better for workers.  Democratization could transform the state so that it represented all people, and workers became true citizens.  LM disagree with this trajectory, since different subject positions can produce social/political ethical decisions that do not further the cause of the worker. 

The third response is Sorel’s revolutionary syndicalism.   Sorel proposed the power of social myth to transform society.  His interest was not so much in a society with a certain form, but with the moral qualities that allowed society to flourish.  The diversity of workers in society he calls mélange, and they can only be unified by being willing to establish blocs to enforce economic reorganization.  He became anti-democratic in that it allowed the fragmentation of subject positions, and chose instead, the syndicalist myth, the general strike, for in Marx, the revolution.  The mythical constitution in Sorel’s thought, built to some degree on Nietzsche, could and did go the direction of fascism on the one hand, or the Bolsheviks on the other.  Regardless, he was crucial to the formation of Gramsci’s thought.

ch. 2: Hegemony: The Difficult Emergence of a New Political Logic
The problem of the failure of the working class to come to a unified class consciousness posed a problem for Marxist theory.  Stagism seems not to have played out as predicted, and “hegemony” became an explanation for why this failed to happen.  Plekhanov and Axelrod introduced the term to explain the failure of the Bourgeoisie to carry out the struggle for political liberty, which forced the working class into the struggle alone.  Trotsky built on the idea of hegemony, proposing it as a way to generate a working-class government.

Lenin, as Trotsky, built on the idea of hegemony, especially its ability to link an identity exterior to class identity.  For Lenin, political hegemony involved a representation of interests, in contrast to class identity, which was the field of the relations to production.  In this case, hegemony involved political leadership with a class alliance.  Parties unite under the leadership of one class against a common enemy.  The potential contradiction within Leninist hegemony is that, on the one hand, the vanguard creates a separation between those who lead, and those who are led, and thus tends to be authoritarian, while on the other hand, the political dimension has far more democratic potential than what was proposed in the Second International. 

Thus, two types of hegemony developed.  The first, democratic practice, occurs when stagism is renounced, as well as the necessity of a unified class consciousness.  All people’s interests need to be represented, not just the working class.  The second, authoritarian practice, dominates when the vanguard considers its relation to the masses, simply as pedagogical.  With the rise of fascism, which considered democratic rights to be “bourgeoisie,” popular and democratic visions of hegemony emerged that considered it to be the “democratic reconstruction of the nation around a new class core.”  The rise of the importance of the people as political agents required the idea of class identity be split and fused into a new type of polarization, which is the process of hegemonic practice.  This occurs after the development of new popular and national symbols, and lose their transitionary features to become part of the stable political discourse. 

Gramsci extends the concept of hegemony, emphasizing the importance of the working class building alliances with other groups, representing a broader spectrum of interests.  Further, in a fundamental change from Lenin, who proposed hegemony as simply political, Gramsci extended it to include moral and intellectual characteristics.  The former presumed a transient, interest-based alliance.  The latter constructed actual linkages between groups, generating ideology, creating an organic, historical bloc based on collective will.  In this sense, hegemony had to be articulated and constantly produced through dialogue between groups.  Class, in this sense, does not “take” State power, but becomes State.    This process Gramsci terms the “war of position,” referring to the challenge of creating a new class core around a unified subject position, a never-ending process.   Differing from Sorel, Gramsci’s hegemony emphasized a democratic plurality, while Sorel believed the generated myth was based on class.

In the post-WWI period, the idea of national plans for unity and economic projects were begun, but generated few results until the Great Depression.  The presumption of an economically-based strategy was that revolution, not politics, was the only way to socialism.  However, Planism moderated this idea, and since capitalists were in charge of things, socialists used political means to implement programs to support the poor and strengthen unions.  The larger goal was to create a mixed economy, which would eventually dissolve the need for capitalism.  However, prior to 1945, the class emphasis limited hegemonic articulation, and after 1945, the strength of the Welfare State distorted class lines, so that social democracy became a practice within the existing State, not an alternative to it.

LM attempt to show that classical Marxist theory, based solely on economic position, is untenable from an hegemonic perspective, because of three mistaken assumptions of this position.  First, the assumption that there are endogenous laws of an economy, which is not so, since social relations impact the relationships to production—these laws are not “natural,” but involve numerous and diverse forms of domination.   Second, the assumption that there is a core class nature, which is not so, since fragmentation of class and subject position is clear.  Third, the assumption that the working class has a unique relation to production that makes them inherently aligned with socialism, which is not so, because there are historical interests as well as economic.  Since this final attempt to return to economic essentialism seems to be a doomed project, Marxism shifted to the recognition that socialism was not inevitable, but would depend on the political mediation of intellectuals to provide articulation of the subject position.

Ch. 3: Beyond the Positivity of the Social, Antagonisms and Hegemony
For LM, “hegemony supposes a theoretical field dominated by the category of articulation.”  Thus, they argue that one of the first tasks of understanding hegemony is to understand articulation.  Building on recent linguistic and sociological traditions that explore the concept of constructivism and discourse, LM argue that “articulation is a practice, and not the name of a given relational complex” (93), and, moreover, require specific “elements” that are thus articulated.  Drawing from Hegel, they propose that “identity” is not a fixed entity, but a concept under continual flux, derived from relations and historical dialectics.  This produces a contradiction—Hegel, representing “the highest point of rationalism” (95) is arguing for the importance of reason and intelligible structure, while at the same time laying the foundation for the recognition that structures are indefinitely in flux, and that meaning is derived vis-à-vis cultural production, not a pre-existing, defining essence.

Althusser’s discussion of complexity, relying on the concept of overdetermination is important in LM’s analysis of articulation.  Though they ultimately reject his frame, they bring in his concept of the symbolic and social dimension of meaning construction.  The assertion is made that “society and social agents lack any essence” (98), but rather, are a series of symbolic relations, constantly in “relative and precarious forms.”  LM argue that, like Hegel, Althusser faces a fundamental conflict—while arguing, on the one hand, that social relations are the product of these symbolic overdeterminations, he later argues that economics can be deterministic of the structural form of society.  It is this conflict that leads LM to reject Althusser’s latter proposition, and problematizing the former, while recognizing his important contribution, and that it is Althusser’s very philosophical disjuncture that helps us understand articulation and thus hegemony.  In doing so, they assert that one of the problems with Marx’s “scientific socialism” is that he relied on an understanding of economic determinism, as well as the objectivity of social categories, such as institutions, identities, and structures.  However, if all of these are open to discursive, and thus non-contingent processes, then it produces a flaw in Marx’s argument.  Thus, “far from a rationalist fame in which social agents, perfectly constituted around interests, wage a struggle defined by transparent parameters, we have seen the difficulties of the working class in constituting itself as a historical subject, the dispersion and fragmentation of its positionalities, the emergence of forms of social and political reaggregation—‘historical bloc’, ‘collective will’, ‘masses’, ‘popular sectors’—which define new objects and new logics of their conformation” (104-105).

LM now link articulation to discourse through establishing a fundamental difference with Foucault.  While the distinguished between “the linguistic and behavioral aspects of social practice” (107), LM reject that distinction, arguing that the two are intertwined reciprocally to such an extent that it is  fruitless to attempt it.  Continuing in this same vein, they reject also the emphasis on the Enlightenment discussion about the nature of the “mental” relationship to ontologies, affirming the reality of the material world.  Thus, it is not “objects” which LM wish to deconstruct, but the recognition that our interactions with objects is mediated through discourses—giving the example that an earthquake is a material reality, but our perception of the meaning of the earthquake, and our responses to the earthquake, come from symbolic relations mediated by histories of discourses, and specifically, our contemporary embeddedness in a series of discourses.  They relate this to Wittgenstein’s language game concept (108).   Thus, our experiences of the world cannot be relegated strictly to the mental, or to decontextualized discourses, but are, at least in part, rooted in some actual material objects, although our understanding of these objects are shaped by our context within our experiences of discourses.  So while they affirm the reality of material objects, they also affirm that “if contingency and articulation are possible, this is because no discursive formation is a sutured totality and the transformation of the elements into moments is never complete” (106-107).  But far from arguing that there is, therefore, no such thing as meaning, they simply propose that meaning is always in flux, and that flux is intentionally directed: “Any discourse is constituted as an attempt to dominate the field of discursivity, to arrest the flow of differences, to construct a centre.  We will call the privileged discursive points of this partial fixation [of meaning], nodal points” (112).  Finally, they define “the practice of articulation” as “the construction of nodal points which partially fix meaning; and the partial character of this fixation proceeds from the openness of the social, a result, in its turn, of the constant overflowing of every discourse by the infinitude of the field of discursivity.  Every social practice is therefore—in one of its dimensions--articulatory” (113).

The latter half of the chapter includes examples of these articulations, and applies them directly to the concept of hegemony.  For example, they argue that, while “sex” is an ontologically real expression of body differences, “femininity” and “masculinity” are social constructions, and are overdetermined, producing inequality for women: “The ensemble of social practices, of institutions and discourses which produce woman as a category, are not completely isolated but mutually reinforce and act upon one another” (118).  Similarly, Marxist discussion about class and workers are the result of social practices and discourses, and the meanings and referents are constantly in flux—in fact, the attempt to convince workers to organize based on their interests, is a social practice that actively constructs the interests themselves (120).  They continue, distinguishing the popular subject position from the democratic subject position:  the former constitutes a binary set of antagonisms, such as the struggle for liberation of the colonized from a brutal colonizing power, representing a fairly clear and delimited antagonism in society.  The latter does not evidence such a pattern, but “emerges within an ensemble of positions, within a relatively sutured political space formed by a multiplicity of practices that do not exhaust the referential and empirical reality of the agents forming parts of them” (132).  Democratic positions are constituted by overdetermined struggles with many social relations converging to generate the antagonisms.  Finally, linking these ideas to hegemony, they depart from Gramsci in a way that rejects his essentialist presumptions, allowing for an argument from the constructivist frame, specifically: “(a) his insistence that hegemonic subjects are necessarily constituted on the plane of the fundamental classes; and (b) his postulate that, with the exception of interregna constituted by organic crises, every social formation structures itself around a single hegemonic centre.” (137-138)

Ch. 4: Hegemony and Radical Democracy
 LM end by bring the conversation to their primary target—discussing the importance of democracy, interrogating the concept of democracy, and constructing a critique of the Right and the Left in their failure to further either equality or democracy.  They begin by recognizing that Marx’s vision of a proletariat, produced by the relations of production, with a linear trajectory of collective consciousness and revolution, has simply not been seen—instead, western societies developed “the corporatization and separation of those sectors which should ideally have been united ‘among the people’ (150).

They affirm, with Foucault, that “wherever there is power there is resistance” (152), but argue that political resistance, whose goal is to end relations of subordination, are the result of specific discourses that allow such collective action, but are not a “natural” effect of subordination.  They distinguish subordination, as a fairly banal series of hierarchical relationship, that arguably occur with consent and tacit approval, contrasted to oppression, which is subordination that generates antagonisms, and finally domination, which is when the subordination relationships themselves are perceived as illegitimate, and typically require a discourse external to those relationships in order to be recognized as illegitimate (154).  They emphasize that collective action for change often comes from these externally derived discourses.  They provide the example of mid-1800s when a labor movement developed, but rather than following the trajectory that Marx predicted, of rejecting the entire system of relations of production, they followed a “reformist” path, which, for Marx, was a step backwards. 

They describe that something the “new social movements” have in common are a differentiation from “workers’ struggles” (159), but that they also draw from a democratic impulse for equality (161).  They cite a pivotal moment, when Fordism became the dominant economic process, when “intensive” capitalism transformed all of social life—“culture, free time, illness, education, sex and even death.  There is practically no domain of individual or collective life which escapes capitalist relations” (161).  They continue, that the demands for equality, and specifically, the subsequent implementation of the Keynesian Welfare State, created a far greater role for the state in the lives of the public, as well as creating the need for a large bureaucracy, producing a “double transformation”—that of capitalism/commodification and of bureaucracy.  This led to the development of resistance not only to inequality in a class sense, but resistance to bureaucratization, generating movements for autonomy, liberation from the state, and demonstrations of individual uniquenesses—this from both Right and Left.  By the time of the Reagan-Thatcher era, neo-liberalism had been successfully constructed as a form of resistance against the impositions of the state, and the importance of the free-market for liberty.  They invoke Stuart Hall, saying, “Thatcherite populism ‘combines the resonant themes of organic Toryism—nation, family, duty, authority, standards, traditionalism—with the aggressive themes of a revived neoliberialism—self-interest, competitive individualism, antistatism.  In the case of the United States, Allen Hunter shows that the attack of the New Right on the Welfare State is the point at which the cultural and economic critiques come together” (170)

They remind the reader that the rise of the New Right, exemplified by Hayek, and libertarians, such as Nozick, are able to gain dominance because of a successfully constructed and implemented discourse that speaks to the popular concerns, generating “a new historic bloc” (176).  They emphasize that if one’s goal is to find the one objective answer, one will fail, and that the essentialist presumption is a primary obstacle in moving forward into a product discussion for the Left (177), which can only be overcome by abandoning the belief “that there are  privileged points from which an emancipatory political practice can be launched” such that the left can engage in a “complex process of convergence and political construction” (174).  They also note that the Left’s concern with individual liberty has become a hindrance to the process, especially in the sense of the concept of “possessive individualism,” or that “the rights of individuals as existing before society, and often in opposition to it” (175), taking a stance against the idea of “natural rights” (184), arguing that rights come from the state.

As they conclude, they assert that “The task of the Left therefore cannot be to renounce liberal-democratic ideology, but on the contrary, to deepen and expand it in the direction of a radical and plural democracy” (176)—the last section of the book explores this idea.  For example, they tie this back into socialism, by recognizing that democracy will require some kind of socialism, in that the capitalist relations of production generate fundamental inequality—but that socialism does not inherently entail democracy (178), so democracy must take precedence, and represents far greater range of processes to generate equality.  Further, to generate public credibility for a new/revised discourse of equality, specifically, a “democratic equivalence” to the discourse generated by the Right, the Left must develop “a new ‘common sense’” of what constitutes equality (183).  They emphasize that this will require a balance of both liberty and equality (184).  They end, saying “the field of the political as the space for a game which is never ‘zero-sum’, because the rules and the players are never fully explicit.  This game, which eludes the concept, does at least have a name: hegemony” (193).

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Personal Notes on Bourdieu, Logic of Practice

These are personal notes I took in 2008 while reading Bourdieu's classic, Logic of Practice (1980). The number preceding the paragraphs are the pages of the book.

1. “In social sciences, the progress of knowledge presupposes progress in our knowledge of conditions of knowledge”
2. Move to reconcile theoretical and practical intentions, i.e., scientific and ethical/political.
4-5. Structuralism as the study of relationships; “Frazerian comparative culture which picks out decontextualized themes…” & colonialism; “good intentions so often make bad sociology”
8. Structural research, like scientific research, “continual retouching gives greater comprehensiveness and unity . . . whereas each detail of this picture, cut off and isolated from the whole, loses all meaning and no longer represents anything.”
10. The process of organizing facts is itself interpretive and an imposition on the system one is studying, thus showing the limits of the logic of practice. Bourdieu’s attempt to put into an organizing chart all of the oppositions and similarities was impossible, [since the habitus isn’t amenable to such logical formalizations] and is an inherent weakness of structuralism.
11. Bourdieu questions why we don’t radically critique all objectification, and therefore science. Our logical models are typically reified and we lose sight of the fact that they are simply economical ways of describing a set of data.
12. Practice (practical logic) isn’t the same as logical principles underlying practice. Most insiders do not rely on logical principles to make practice choices—they simply “do”. Practical logic is rarely entirely coherent
14. “Theory” implies social distance; the distance between the observer and the observed, [the insider and the outsider]
16. Bourdieu reconceptualizes the social scientist’s task of finding the logical meaning behind the practices (e.g., the ritualistic, traditional meanings behind marriage) and to see the benefit to the participants, specifically, the accumulation of economic and symbolic capital.
18. “Rites are practices that are ends in themselves, that are justified by their very performance; things that one does because they are ‘the done thing’, ‘the right thing to do’, but also because one cannot do otherwise.” The interpretive study of rites implies that the actors are intentionally seeking to accomplish these [subconscious, traditionalistic ends, rather than simply “doing what one does”]

25. One of the most destructive divides in social science is that between subjectivism and objectivism, and the fact that these dichotomies persist evidence the fundamental importance of them both.
26. Objectivism ignores the radical continuity between theory and practice, as if our perception of external structures can ever bring us to ontological reality. Qua Schutz, objective knowledge becomes “constructs of constructs produced by the actors on the social scene”
27. Bourdieu believes that social science must not only make the first break of questioning native experience and representations, but also questioning the presuppositions of the ‘objective’ observer who seeks to interpret native experience. The objective observer typically attempts to reduce exchanges (practice) to symbolic exchanges [see Nacirema]
27. He feels one of the most formidable barriers is the fact that scientific practitioners have constructed systems of power to protect their power over knowledge production, and delegitimize other ways of knowing. This power relationship is ignored

Ch. 1
33-34. Participant observation, dominant in anthropology, is one of the research methods that most disguises the distinction between subject and object, by allowing the researcher to believe she is truly understanding the world of the observed. “simply another way of avoiding the question of the real relationship of the observer to the observed and its critical consequences for scientific practice.”
36-37. “the ‘thinker’ betrays his secret conviction that action is only fully performed when it is understood, interpreted, expressed… Leads one to conceive action as something to be deciphered, … that a gesture or ritual expresses something, rather than saying, quite simply, that it is ‘sensible’.”
40. Structuralism and objectivism proposes the categories that create the rules for the behavior and culture of the observed, ignoring the fact that these behaviors have been made by social processes of production and reproduction, not from a priori rules

Ch. 2
42. Sartre greatly contributed to a theory of action built around strategies oriented towards ends, and anticipated reactions by others. [symbolic interactionism]
46. He further clarifies that the science of studying humans derives from humans, which is a core problem of the objectivist/subjectivist dichotomy. Objectivist understandings of humans are based in external or internal determinisms, while subjectivist understandings of humans based on the future intended outcome, or rather, the expectation of profit, which leaves out antecedent causes. In this sense, the subjectivist vision is the foundation for rational choice theory, essentially deterministic itself.
48. Pascal can be considered a forerunner of insight into the habitus, who talked about our justifications of our actions and beliefs based on our practice.
49. Logical paradox: one can choose to believe p. However, one cannot simultaneously believe p, and also to believe that the decision to believe p was based on a choice to believe p. The memory of the process must be obliterated.

Ch. 3.
52. Objectivism allows the researcher to see the entire social world as an object of study, as theater, and every action is filled with symbolic meaning. … In contrast, the “theory of practice as practice”, assumes that actions are constructed out of a system of dispositions/habits/practices (habitus) that have some practical function.
53. The habitus is a system of durable practices that allow agents in a particular class of conditions to adapt and accomplish a certain outcome. However, there is no assumption of intentional aims in such agents, or an overarching set of principles or orchestrator. … The agent, working within this habitus, is acting in a “world of already realized ends—procedures to follow, paths to take…”
54. Contrary to scientific experimentation that gives preference to recently gained knowledge, habitus gives preference to early experiences. … The habitus therefore is a product of history, and the schemes become engrained in human practice and interpretation. In this way it tends to guarantee consistency in continued practice to anything that does not conform to the history of accepted practices.
55. The habitus is not deterministic in a mechanical way—it allows freedom of thought and action. However, limitations exist based on the range of past experiences, and in this way makes habitus seem deterministic. Further, because we depend so heavily on habitus to accomplish our outcomes, it is difficult to think and act outside of the habitus, both theoretically, and practically, since the habitus is social and other agents actively limit our expressive capacity.
55-56. habitus is circumscribed by each particular class, and tends to generate behaviors that we see as “reasonable” and “common-sense”, and “that are likely to be positively sanctioned,” while at the same time limiting behaviors that would be “negatively sanctioned because they are incompatible with objective conditions”—i.e., the other agents believe such behaviors are not productive or destructive.
56-58. Practices cannot be deduced from current conditions, but can only be understood within the historical context in which that habitus emerged. The habitus is “embodied history”. … It brings together two objectifications—bodies and institutions. The practices of our bodies to accomplish objectives match the institutions that have become established in our habitus. Both reinforce the other, and what make both seem “natural.” … Institutions aren’t viable if they are simply logical or functional, but they most also match the dispositions of our bodies.
59-60. All individuals that come from a particular social class [habitat] will share exposure to similar beliefs and practices, i.e., they will have the same habitus. “Personal style”, is the stamp of a group’s habitus.
62. The habitus is the solution to the objectivist, subjectivist paradox—it gives us strategies for action, yet we need not have subjective intentions to act. Our complex series of behaviors and routines are structured by the habitus. [Part of what Bourdieu also wants to do here is subvert rational choice theory]

Ch. 4
66. Practical sense is our bodily involvement in the world. It is like having a “feel for the game” for any given field using one’s habitus. Practical sense is what gives us our sense of subjective experience—the meaning, investment and predictability for our actions. Native membership in a field is what makes everything within that field “make sense”, or seem sensible.
67-68. In contrast to game fields, one doesn’t choose one’s social field, one is born into it, and one learns it through years of slow processes of autonomization. This makes one’s involvement in the game seem all the more unconditional and unconscious. … Just as a child learns to speak by doing, not by learning fundamental rules of speech, we learn to act by doing, not by learning the symbolic meaning of our actions. … This makes it as difficult to understand another habitus as it is to become a native speaker of a foreign language, since many of these patterns must be incorporated when very young. (see also pg. 74)
70-72. Oppositions between male and female bodies in the Kabyle people are fundamental, and reflect both the social and sexual divisions of labor. These dichotomies are also a fundamental part of the habitus.
73. Mimesis is the process acquisition of embodiment. It is more than simply imitation, which implies mechanization and the precise reproduction of specific gestures in every specific situation, as well as the conscious intention to memorize. Mimesis implies a generative schema that is unconsciously learned through socialization. Reproduction is the “practical reactivation which is opposed both to memory and knowledge”, and takes place below the level of consciousness. Further, “the body believes in what it plays at”—it is not simply mimicking actions, but the holistic embodied experience “makes sense”. Our bodies “do not memorize the past, it enacts the past, bringing it back to life. What is ‘learned by the body’ is not something that one has, like knowledge that can be brandished, but something that one is.”

Ch. 5
81. “because it is entirely immersed in the current of time, practice is inseparable from temporality. Science has a time which is not that of practice. For the analyst, time disappears. …it tends to ignore time and so to detemporalize practice.”
86. “Practice has a logic which is not that of the logician.” Over-analysis of practice leads to “the theorization effect”—the construction of false theories based on the use of data in ways other than its milieu allows.
90. “The logicism inherent in the objectivist viewpoint inclines one to ignore the fact that scientific construction cannot grasp the principles of practical logic without forcibly changing their nature. Objectification converts a practical succession into a represented succession.”
96. “The Kabyle woman setting up her loom is not performing an act of cosmogony; she is simply setting up her loom to weave cloth intended to serve a technical function.”

Ch. 6
103. “The motor of the whole dialectic of challenge and riposte, gift and counter-gift, is not an abstract axiomatics but the sense of honour, a disposition inculcated by all early education and constantly demanded and reinforced by the group, and inscribed in the postures and gestures of the body as in the automatisms of language and thought, through which a man asserts himself as a real, manly man.”
108-109. “Officialization [creating laws, explicating norms] is the process whereby the group (or those who dominate it) teaches itself and masks from itself its own truth, binds itself by a public profession which sanctions and imposes what it utters, tacitly defining the limits of the thinkable and the unthinkable and so contributing to the maintenance of the social order from which it derives its power.” … “Politics is the arena par excellence of officialization strategies.”

Ch. 7
115-116. Arranged marriages are initiated by prestigious family members being present, utilizing the symbolic capital of the importance of the family in the negotiations.
118. Where economic capital accumulation is not possible, religious and symbolic capital may be the only forms of capital accumulation.
119-120. Economic and symbolic capital are inextricably linked: the trust necessary for engaging in market transactions are supported by the symbolic capital of the trading parties. Dealers (or royalty) frequently make a large show of their symbolic capital to increase trust in their product and services. This includes marriage transactions. … “Symbolic capital is credit”
121. The hypersensitivity of families to slurs and innuendo is because it reduces their symbolic capital and thus their economic viability.

Ch. 8
124. Neither economic wealth nor cultural competence can be converted into capital unless the exchanges take place in a specific field relevant to that wealth and competence.
125. The tribal chief is like the head banker, who accumulates power, respect, obligations and service by lavishing gifts and food to the villagers.
131. “The accumulation of material wealth is simply one means among others of accumulating symbolic power—the power to secure recognition of power.” … Duby suggests that the accumulation of economic capital was not possible until symbolic capital could be reproduced durably.
132. Certification, licensure, diplomas, etc (credentials) separate the individual from having to prove her symbolic capital to each new person. Credentials are institutionalized forms of making symbolic capital permanent, objectifying it. Like law, credentials “symbolically consecrate” the power structures and classes that exist and reproduce the system of domination, guaranteeing the continuation of the structures of power.

Ch. 9
135. “The established order, and the distribution of capital which is its basis, contribute to their own perpetuation through their very existence, through the symbolic effect that they exert as soon as they are publicly and officially declared and are thereby misrecognized and recognized.” Social science can therefore not treat social realities as things (Durkheim), but must understand the symbolic value of the social realities. In doing so, social science must reintroduce the subjective meaning into the objective reality it has described, which originally destroyed the subjective meaning. Social science must then take into account both the quantifiable characteristics, as well as the meanings attached to them. Social science must therefore move beyond the debate between social physics (quantitative) and social phenomenology (qualitative).
136. The objectivist vision provides great numerical data about power differentials, but in doing so it destroys that which gives meaning to the exploitative relations, and thus which gives those relations power. Even though these symbolic meanings of power are “misrecognitions”—i.e., constructed hierarchies of meaning with little relationship to objective reality—within the habitus and field, their exploitative power remains when left unchallenged and misunderstood.
141. Subversive action helps us correctly recognize the exploitative nature of modes of domination and the previously misrecognized meanings of the symbols of power.