Bourdieu and Foucault on power and modernity

Philosophy and Social Criticism 22 (6):55-85 (1996)
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Abstract

Foucault's theory of disciplinary power and Bourdieu's theory of symbolic power are among the most innovative attempts in recent social thought to come to terms with the increasingly elusive character of power in modern society. Both theories are based on cri tiques of subject-centered analyses of power and offer original accounts of modern social institutions. But Foucault's critique of the subject is so radical that it makes it impossible to identify any deter minate social location of the exercise of power or of resistance to its operations. Bourdieu's theory of practice in terms of the symbolically mediated interaction between the habitus and social structure avoids these problems by connecting relations of domination both to identi fiable social agents and to the institutions of the modern state. However, Bourdieu's strategic model of social action remains too narrow to allow for the possibility of autonomous agency and an emancipatory political praxis. The theory of symbolic power must be supplemented by a normative conception of practical reason if its emancipatory potential is to be realized. Key Words: agency • habitus • modernity • power • resistance.

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