Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Symbolic Capital Part 3

Bourdieu also asserts that one cannot gain symbolic power without already having built symbolic capital. Symbolic capital is what an individual can cash in for symbolic power. The ability to legitimately name and classify the social world cannot be done with any effectiveness by one who has not built up symbolic capital in previous battles. In other words not just anyone can exercise legitimate naming power. He tells us that

“To change the world, one has to change the ways of world-making, that is, the vision of the world and the practical operations by which groups are produced and reproduced. Symbolic power, whose form par excellence is the power to make groups (groups that are already established and have to be consecrated or groups that have yet to be constituted such as the Marxian proletariat), rests on two conditions. Firstly, as any form of performative discourse, symbolic power has to be based on the possession of symbolic capital. The power to impose on other minds a vision, old or new, of social divisions depends on the social authority acquired in previous struggles. Symbolic capital is a credit; it is the power granted to those who have obtained sufficient recognition to be in a position to impose recognition…Secondly, symbolic efficacy depends on the degree to which the vision proposed is founded in reality…The ‘theory effect’ is all the more powerful the more adequate the theory is. Symbolic power is the power to make things with word…In this sense, symbolic power is a power of consecration or revelation, the power to consecrate or to reveal things that are already there” (Bourdieu 1989, p. 23).

One builds symbolic power through the legitimating systems controlled by the state, which can grant credentials that allow individuals to exercise symbolic power.

“A credential such as a school diploma is a piece of universally recognized and guaranteed symbolic capital, good on all markets. As an official definition of an official identity, it frees its holder from the symbolic struggle of all against all by imposing the universally approved perspective…The legal consecration of symbolic capital confers upon a perspective an absolute, universal value, thus snatching it from a relativity that is by definition inherent in every point of view, as a view taken from a particular point in social space”” (Bourdieu, 1989, p. 21-22)

The sustainability education movement has a great deal of symbolic capital legitimized by the current social structures and ‘common-sense’ construction of our social reality. Recognizing the immense amount of symbolic capital held by this movement is the first step in the mobilization of symbolic power for the re-visioning of our social world. It is not only within our power to reconstruct the common-sense view of the world and the social structures that support it, the movement is particularly well placed with a large stock of symbolic capital to carry out this work. The collective symbolic capital of the sustainability education movement in BC mobilized for a common cause would go a long way towards developing a vision of an education system that contributed to a more just, economically stable and environmentally healthy society.

“In fact, there are always, in any society, conflicts between symbolic powers that aim at imposing the vision of legitimate divisions, that is, at constructing groups. Symbolic power, in this sense, is a power of ‘world-making.’ ‘World-making’ consists, according to Nelson Goodman (1978), ‘in separating and reuniting, often in the same operation,’ in carrying out a decomposition, an analysis, and a composition, a synthesis, often by the use of labels” (Boudieu 1989, p. 22).

One of the most important assets for this movement to build upon and utilize for movement gain is that of symbolic capital and the symbolic power that can be accessed through this. The following section discusses some key concepts in sustainability communication that I believe falls under the concept of symbolic power.

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