Déclassement

[Edited thanks to Baptiste Coulmont: I corrected Peugny’s affiliation and added a video available here and more stuff on Peugny available here.]

Anyone who has studied sociology in France is familiar with the concept of déclassement, usually through an early reading of Pierre Bourdieu’s classical article "Classement, Déclassement, Reclassement" from the Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales (a professional journal created and edited by Bourdieu) and published in 1978 (a revised version of the article was inserted in La Distinction). If you have not read the article (it is in French, of course), click on the link above for a full version (an English PDF version is also available). This is classical Bourdieu.

The concept itself has escaped Bourdieu’s conceptual toolkit and is used in a more widespread fashion to indicate either stagnation or downward social mobility (or, as the French common expression goes, to indication that the social elevator is stuck).

But now, the data are in:

As the article indicates, sociologists had long predicted that one. The percentage of people in their 30s or 40s living lower on the social ladder than their parents has increased (22 to 25%) according to the data collected by sociologist Camille Peugny (link corrected), author of the book "Le Déclassement."

Does this mean that the social elevator is indeed stuck? Not so fast. There is still upward mobility but the elevator goes down faster than it goes up. It is harder to climb up than to fall down. This is the trademark of precarization. This, unsurprisingly, translates into increased inequalities. The articles invokes another Bourdieu classic, "Les Héritiers", to indicate the increased privileges accumulating at the top and the greater precarization for everyone else.

And as noted in Liberation above, the concept of déclassement is not just an objective measurement of SES compared to one’s parents but relates also to the concept of relative deprivation:

Unsurprisingly, the article notes that women are more likely to be affected by déclassement due to lower-paying careers and their greater chances of being trailing spouses.

Corporate Mergers and Cultural Gatekeepers – Revisiting Howard Becker

I don’t blog often on microsociology and symbolic interactionism. Fortunately, others do that very well. Case in point, this post over at the Sociology Lens, based on the merger of two of the largest talent agencies, William Morris and Endeavor (thereby creating the very large William Morris Endeavor):

This is a good opportunity to remember that these kinds of phenomena have diverse impact on the social structure. What is happening here is not just a matter of continuing economic concentration in different sectors of the corporate world. It is also a matter of cultural production. Following Bourdieu, one could argue that the merging of these companies and the constitution of corporate giants in the field of talent agencies concentrates power (and cultural and social capital) into fewer hands and reduces power for other social actors in the field of artistic production.

In Which I Nitpick Mark Bahnisch’s Post

Especially this paragraph:

I disagree with the parallel between Merleau-Ponty’s dispositions towards the world with Bourdieu’s habitus. I think a more relevant comparison here is Alfred Schütz’s concepts of natural attitude and common sense atittude toward the lifeworld. Let me explain.

Bourdieu’s concept of habitus can be defined as such:

"The habitus is a structure of dispositions to action, but also of thought, perception and understanding which the actor acquires as a member of a social group or class. It is something like a mental or behavioral set (as psychologists would say), which the actor takes for granted and which structures the way he or she experiences the world and responds to it." (Cuff, Sharrock and Francis, 2006, p. 322)

[Disclaimer: Wes Sharrock was my dissertation advisor, so, yeah, it’s a shameless plug for one of the best introduction to sociological theory). The key to Bourdieu’s habitus is the way it (literally) embodies and incorporates social hierarchies that are then reproduced in actors practices. In this sense, habitus is a structuring structure (it structures practices) and a structured structure (it embodies the past social history of dominance and disadvantage). Power and social dominance are key to habitus.

Or, as I wrote myself in the Bourdieu entry of the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology:

"For Bourdieu, the major determinant of practices is habitus: the set of dispositions actors acquire in their social milieu that generate and organize practices and representations. Habitus is the source of many types of ordinary behaviors, shaping artistic tastes (distinction), table manners, speech patterns (language and symbolic power), body language (masculine domination), writing styles, food and drink preferences, educational success (reproduction in education, the state nobility), etc. In all these practices are embodied a social hierarchy. For instance, not all artistic tastes are equally valued in the field of cultural production, and not just any writing style is valued in the educational field. To prefer Hollywood blockbusters to avant-garde cinema is to display a lower-class habitus; to be at ease in select restaurants and know how to choose the right wine reveals a high-class habitus."

In this sense, again, the concept of habitus is a very post-structuralist notion and even though Bourdieu was aware of Merleau-Ponty’s work, I just don’t think the concept applies here or that a clear parallel can be drawn.

What about Alfred Schütz then? Alfred Schütz is considered the main representative of phenomenological sociology. I think what Mark is talking about above is more akin to Schütz’s natural attitude:

"As they go about their lives, people do not doubt the reality of everything that could possibly be called into questions. They take most things for granted. However, to notice this attitude is not to point to a failing on the part of people going about their daily lives. Of course, people in the natural attitude do doubt, but do not, in practical terms could not, make doubting anything like their first priority. They only doubt when they have need to, when something goes wrong in their practical affairs." (Cuff, Sharrock and Francis, 2006, pp. 146)

[One can see how this constituted one pillar of ethnomethodology as Garfinkel’s Studies in Ethnomethodology tell of the experiments of disrupting these commonsense background assumptions that we take for granted to see what happens when the natural attitude is no longer an option.]

Moreover, this practical orientation of members of society is grounded in one subset of the natural attitude: the common-sense attitude (as opposed to the scientific attitude):

"The argument is that:

  • it is an inescapable feature of the organisation [sic] of actions that their course depends upon what people take for granted;
  • among any given set of people there is a vast multitude of things that they will take for granted, that between themselves they treat as obvious, apparent, as going without need of comment or explanation, as transparently and without question plainly the case, and readily known to anyone and everyone, i.e. common sense." (147)

In a sense, the common-sense atittude is a broader concept than habitus, and one less sensitive to issues of power and social dominance. I think it applies better here.

But as the title of this post indicates: I’m nitpicking.

Sexism in All Shapes and Forms – US Democratic Primary Edition

Let’s review some of the highlights of the primary so far:

Melissa McEwan’s Hillary Sexism Watch is at part 94 and counting.

Also doing the dirty job of keeping track, the blog Shut The Freud Up.

The very same media that cheered on as sexist insults piled on is now, somehow, waking up (just like they did with the War in Iraq, long after the facts, when it was safe to be critical of the administration… cowards): New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune. Too little too late.

The obligatory reading: Pierre Bourdieu, Masculine Domination.

Sociology on YouTube – Bourdieu on Levi-Strauss

Liberation is starting an interesting weekly series in partnership with the National Institute of Audiovisual (INA – the television archives). They will publish segments of old television programs with important intellectual figures. The first installment can be seen here, an interview with Claude Levi-Strauss. Claude Levi-Strauss was the initiator of a major (and I mean MAJOR) epistemological shift in France (VERY simplistically, from existentialism to structuralism) thanks to his structural anthropology (excerpts here). The French intellectual scene was never the same… there is a “before Levi-Strauss” and “after Levi-Strauss”. Of course, I am still an enthusiastic reader of his work and he is still considered the most important French intellectual in France. And he’s still alive!

Unfortunately, it’s all in French, so, if you don’t speak the language (you mean the whole world is not francophone? Well I never!), you’re missing out on all the good stuff on the structural study of myths as language and the raw and the cooked as symbolic representations of the duality between nature and culture. I still think there is very little that is more powerful than structural analysis (and post-structural as well… damn, I have to blog more on theories, especially the French ones).

The good news is that there is a YouTube clip for everything, so, without further ado, let’s hear it from Pierre Bourdieu (gosh, I miss him!) – with sub-titles – on Levi-Strauss.