Social Processes

PA [Pedagogical Authority] is, objectively, symbolic violence first insofar as the power relations between the groups or classes making up a social formation are the basis of the arbitrary power which is the precondition for the establishment of a relation of pedagogic communication, i.e. for the imposition and inculcation of a cultural arbitrary by an arbitrary mode of imposition and inculcation (education).
Bourdieu and Passeron (1977 [1970]:6 )

Noone would challenge the idea that human infants are born without the ability to survive by themselves or self-transform into an adult member of the species. Extended and intimate interaction with local adults is necessary. This need is precisely not arbitrary. Furthermore, noone would challenge that any human being can be made an adult into any human society or culture.

Almost everyone would agree that, through extended and intimate interaction with particular human beings, the child is made into a participant into a particular setting, or culture. What has become interesting is the detail of the process and the extent to which this process can produce differentiated results, particularly in the complex and stratified societies that have become the main concern of anthropologists. For example, take the reality of the (public, state controlled, mandatory) school that has arisen in the history of Europe and spread all over the world. Except for an ever-dwindling portions of the population, going through schools has become an inescapable step in the process of growing human beings. And yet there continues to be doubt and much evidence that the school may not be necessary, and thus that its presence is "arbitrary." One could push the analysis to the curricula and pedagogies that become inescapable in various states or localities. And so on, down to the most minute aspects of interaction.

This arbitrariness in the social process of moving children from various peripheries to various centers has some of the same consequences as the other types of arbitrariness we examined: processual arbitrariness makes certain practices more visible and unmarked while others are either invisible or so heavily marked as to require sanctions that may involve the full power of the State. Furthermore, the most dominant of these processes (schooling for example) are designed to legitimate difference: as school tests must do, they must "discriminate." And they must do so in a manner that allows for the growing not be interrupted. That is the arbitrary systems must become "hegemonic" or, I would rather say, as factual as gravity may be in the physical world.

Foucault contributed to this kind of analysis, particularly in the domain of mental health and sexuality. He has also talked about education.

Bourdieu’s greatest claim to fame is to have pushed the analysis of (historical) (arbitrary) discourses into the domain of everyday practice with his analysis of what must be involved for schools to work in modern society. He insists that all pedagogies are arbitrary in relation to any functional requirement of “education” or even “schooling” in any societies where the field of human activity is so segmented into these matters as distinct from other activities. In this way he takes all that cultural anthropology had clarified about the human condition to a new level. Arbitrariness is not only a matter for the classification of objects, human beings, qualities, and the association between all these, but also a matter of the processes through which collectivities organize themselves to reproduce, or conserve, themselves.

Specifically Bourdieu challenged us to move beyond the assumption, and hope, that a proper social structure might be evolved by

  1. identifying fundamental human needs,
    1. As we have seen earlier, there is no way for human beings to talk to each other directly about their experience of the world or of each other: there will always be a screen of identifications with social consequences between observers and that they seek to observe
  2. building specialized institutions to deal each of these needs
    1. the need for education that may be argued to depend on both the slow maturation of human infants and the complexification of skills does not in fact determine whether schools are the best method for fulfilling these derived needs. Once has but to look at the multiplicity of kind of schools that Europe and America have developed over the past two centuries (public, private, religious, controlled locally or centrally, etc.).
  3. evolving purely rational processes for the recruitment and training into the various positions needed for these institutions to operate.
    1. There is no consensus anywhere about how to train teachers, how to organize classrooms, curricula, pedagogies, etc.–even after close to a century of attempts to find “the best way.”

Bourdieu also talks about the “violence” that the arbitrariness of social structures must rely upon. This may be the product of a residual hope that humanity might be able to control the arbitrariness of its processes. Be that as it may, arbitrariness cannot be escaped.

contrast with Gramsci's discussion of the limits of arbitrariness (1932)

March 15, 2002