Sunday, February 17, 2008

Social Fields

I wrote this as an email to a colleague this morning.

I've been thinking about this article all morning and think it might be useful to expand on Bourdieu's insights in relation to our own situations at ****.

Bourdieu has noticed in his own research that all social fields (e.g. **** faculty or the world of beekeeping) are arenas of social conflict and struggle where the various species of capital (e.g. economic, social, cultural, and symbolic) are _not_ the only things at stake. The winners in these struggles not only recieve the lion's share of capital, they are also given the "authority" to define what the "rules of the game" are in further struggles. Unlike a game of baseball or football where the rules stay the same no matter who wins or loses a game, the rules do not stay the same after each contest in a social field, but are changed by the winners to some degree to favor their own interests in further struggles. As I see it, this explains alot of what has happened over the last 15 years at ****.

The faculty at **** is a dominated subfield of the **** institution as a whole. The administration has "consecrated" certain members of the faculty as "leaders", either through promotion to administrative positions or as "informal", behind the scenes, leaders. Overall, these "consecrated" individuals have some characteristics that distinguish them from others:

a. (Bureaucratic Technicians) They do not engage themselves in critical/creative scholarship in their own disciplines beyond the reading of journals and textbooks. Sometimes, this is lacking.

b. They possess an incredibly extreme Protestant Work ethic. They see hardwork and busyness as a virtue in and of itself, whether that hardwork actually leads to any significant increase in "outcomes". In systems theory language, they focus more on "outputs" than on "outcomes".

I would add one other thing. For various career trajectory reasons (e.g. being an **** alumni, being hired by administration without an outside search) these individuals demonstrate an extreme loyalty to **** as an institution. While we all love SMU, many of us have other countervailing loyalties that keep us from totally "drinking the Kool-aid". I cannot ignore the debt I have to the Jesuit and the Anabaptist traditions that influenced me through college. I cannot simply ignore the critical thinking skills I've acquired from 30 odd years as a sociologist and simply say "Oh, conflict theory doesn't apply to ****. We don't have conflicts and we all have the same interests."

So, these are the qualities of those who have won, at this point, the social struggle in the faculty and so, these are also the qualities you and I are held to and judged by: (a) bureaucratic technician skills, (b) Working hard but not smart and (c) uncritical loyalty. Those of us who can't or won't live by these rules are at a disadvantage during further struggles and are easily labeled as "obstructionists", or "anti-lasallian" if we do voice objections. Even worse, like me, the institution can simply ignore them.

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