Saturday, October 24, 2009
Fun for Word Nerds: The Fake AP Stylebook
If accuracy / Is what you crave / Then you should call it / Myanmar Shave
Actually, "bloviate" has no meaning at all. The word was just a prank on Aristotle that took on a life of its own.
And so forth, and so forth. Enjoy.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Bourdieu and Passeron 5: The Pedagogocratic Ambition
The learned classes have “the pedagogocratic ambition of subjecting all acts of civil and political life to the moral magisterium of the University.”
They made up the word pedagogocratic. It is a lovely word.
It is not wrong to wish that smart people run society. What is wrong is being arrogant about being smart or educated. The moral magisterium of the University is properly one voice in the argument about how things should be run. I think it proper that it be one of the most influential voices. But pedagogocracy would not be superior to democracy, or more precisely, republicanism.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Bourdieu and Passeron 4: To Succeed in School You Need a Skill Not Taught in School
The higher classes also are likely to learn the language of school - the extended code, the ability to think and speak abstractly, the ability to think beyond your own circumstances, the ability to put yourself in the position of a quite different Other. It is the language in which this blog is written. They come to school with a hidden advantage. Their primary habitus matches the school habitus.
Bourdieu's signal contribution to sociology is the idea that cultural capital is the way that the richer classes can turn their economic capital into a productive social advantage. And when they teach that cultural capital to their children, the children reap that advantage. Part of the advantage comes in their greater ease in school. Their primary habitus matches the school's habitus, which is normally the authorized habitus of the dominant culture.
Beyond their greater ease with what the school does teach, advantaged kids come to their school years at ease with important cultural knowledge that the school does not teach. Their primary habitus is full of all the cultural knowledge that involved, informed parents drag their kids too. Beyond that, the primary habitus of the most advantaged children has an attitude toward learning culture that makes school success and social success much easier.To really succeed in school, you need a code that the school does not teach.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Bourdieu and Passeron 3: Critically Thinking About Culture is Already Cultured
Bourdieu and Passeron argue that schools pick some aspects of the culture to teach, which establishes the core of cultivated taste. The content of what schools teach tends to reinforce the dominance of the dominant class. The schools create a "habitus" of seeking to be cultivated, of seeking to better know and understand the official culture.
Part of the official culture, though, is critical thinking about the official culture. This is more true of higher education than lower, and more true of elite education than mass education.
A good education embeds one more fully in the dominant culture. A good education includes the ability to reflect on that dominant culture. More importantly, a good education inculcates the desire to reflect on that dominant culture. When we reflect critically on the pedagogic work of education itself, we see, say Bourdieu and Passeron, that its content bolsters the domination of the dominant class.
Reflecting on your culture makes you cultivated. Critical thinking about cultivation is itself a cultivated taste, and doing it makes you more cultivated still. Reading Reproduction in Education, Culture, and Society as part of a school class is both an act of subversion of the dominant culture, and a deeper participation in the kind of cultivation that the dominant class cherishes the most and has the most opportunity to engage in.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Bourdieu and Passeron 2: The Competition for Taste
Bourdieu and Passeron argue that the school imposes uses its cultural authority to impose an orthodoxy of taste.
Other, competing, institutions often have a somewhat different taste. They can try to promote their specific taste as a counter-orthodoxy. They are at a great disadvantage, though, because the school, being the school, has a superior cultural authority to establish the standard body of authorized knowledge, including authorized taste. Every art class picks some art to teach, whether they intend to promote an orthodox style or not.
So, instead, competing cultural institutions often adopt a different strategy. They promote an alternative approach to taste. They promote eclecticism and syncretism, instead of any orthodoxy.
This seems to me a useful idea. I can think of uses beyond the realm of taste as such. I have often noticed that people who promote diversity or multiculturalism often drop that emphasis as soon as they are in power. Instead, they try to make their ideological position obligatory and orthodox for all.
There should be a way to differentiate institutions and people who are genuinely committed to eclecticism, syncretism, diversity, multiculturalism, from those who only strategically adopt those positions when they are out of power.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Bourdieu and Passeron 1: All Teaching Is Symbolic Violence
“Every power to exert symbolic violence, i.e. every power which manages to impose meanings and to impose them as legitimate by concealing the power relations which are the basis of its force, adds its own specifically symbolic force to the power relations.”
Reproduction in Education, Culture, and Society was first published in 1970. In their Afterword to the 1990 edition the authors note that the most misunderstood idea in the book was "symbolic violence." They were misunderstood to be saying that some teaching - the teaching that reproduced the domination of the dominant class - imposed a culturally arbitrary content with a false authority, an authority that ultimately rested on force. Bourdieu and Passeron clarified that they were asserting the more radical proposition that all teaching imposes a culturally arbitrary content with a false authority, whether it be from the dominant class or from any attempt to subvert the dominant class.
The reason they call this "violence" is to draw a parallel between the school and the state (which are, of course, often the same institution). Max Weber said that the state is the institution with a monopoly of legitimate physical violence. The school, Bourdieu and Passeron argue, is the institution with the monopoly of legitimate symbolic violence. Each uses its authority to assert the dominant culture and to suppress threats to that dominant culture.
I quarrel with Bourdieu and Passeron for calling this action of teaching "violence." The term is almost always inappropriate and unnecessarily provocative.
My larger quarrel with them, though, is over the idea that all of the content of teaching is a cultural arbitrary imposed to bolster the social position of the teaching class and those they represent. The authors are making a large metaphysical claim that there are no fundamental truths that transcend class position.
I accept just about every claim of epistemological modesty that it is extraordinarily difficult to know with certainty what it fundamentally true. I contend as a claim of faith that there are some truths, though. I am happy to have my contentions compete with other faiths in the marketplace of ideas. Bourdieu and Passeron also allow what they call the "reality principle" or "law of the market": if the market validates a kind of teaching, it has more authority. But they do not grant that this authority reflects on the truth of the claim - only that it helps people believe it is true. Yet they also think that it is hopeless to try to teach with authority that all truth is relative.
I don't think Bourdieu and Passeron's claim about the truth of their own claims about truth are coherent.