The Problems of Protest and the Persistence of Domination: Social Movement Theory and Bourdieu's Economy of Practice
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The Problems of Protest and the Persistence of Domination: Social Movement Theory and Bourdieu’s Economy of Practice is a normative intervention into social movement theory and debates about social movement goals, strategies and tactics. The project asks: what normative implications derive from incorporating Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological framework into social movement research? My core arguments are that Bourdieu’s framework has the potential to sensitize activists and analysts to the tension between conformity and failure and that escaping radical/reformist debates requires working through this tension. The dissertation intervenes in social movement theory from within the critical theory tradition by refusing to separate empirical and normative questions. I develop my argument using two strategies. First, I undertake a close reading of Bourdieu’s most important works and the debates they have provoked. Second I apply the conceptual tools this close reading offers to reconsider the logic behind two key social movement theory concepts: collective identity and repertoires of contention. Following a general introduction and literature review, I undertake a close consideration of habitus and an argument for how attention to the suffering produced by symbolic power constitutes grounds for normative justice claims. I then consider how collective identity formation in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer mobilization indicates the presence of symbolic violence, primarily in the form of epistemic violence. Next I argue that the nature of neoliberal symbolic power creates political antinomies for representation and affinity-based segments of the alterglobalization movement. Finally I argue that Bourdieu needs to be balanced by Nietzsche and that an orientation toward ‘overcoming’ offers a way out of the tension between conformity and failure. My findings point to the need for more sophisticated instruments for understanding the relationship between objective interests and subjective perception, impositions of, and challenges to, ‘logical consensus’, and strategies for counter-training and other mechanisms to support activists in resisting symbolic violence.