Anarchism and Bourdieu’s Critique of Social Distinction

Andrew Winchur, 2016
Vol. 22 No. 17 ISSN 1702-3548 (online)

This paper attempts to put Pierre Bourdieu’s theories of social distinction into dialogue with the revolutionary theory of anarchism. After outlining Bourdieu’s theoretical and analytical background, I will discuss the major arguments and terminology of his groundbreaking 1979 work, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Special emphasis will be placed on the text’s analysis of political inequality—particularly the ways in which revolutionary, leftist stances towards social domination can still embody a hierarchical logic of distinction. Bourdieu’s focus on the subconscious, relational nature of social domination can enrich anarchists’ own understandings of existing hierarchies, and illuminate the ways in which anarchist theory can produce forms of political distinction directly at odds with anarchism’s revolutionary mission. If anarchist theory is always in danger of betraying its goal of full political and social equality for all, anarchistic social cooperation provides an ideal political context in which historically dominated individuals can transcend the logic of distinction. In a case study of New York’s Direct Action Network (1999-2002), I will consider the ways in which a prefigurative, anarchist approach to political action both challenges, and is challenged, by Bourdieu’s logic of distinction.