The Spatial Logic of Social Struggle: A Bourdieuian Topology

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Table of Contents: (Mis)recognition, social inequality and social justice :

These elements operate in conjunction setting the context of collective actions. Nevertheless, as we are also dealing with systems of power, fields acts on the capacity of interpretation of actors, not only through the aforementioned cultural frames but also the positions occupied by different actors, positions which influence their purposes and interests. From this point of view, incumbent actors strengthen their positions through their ability to influence the rules according to which the field is structured. These rules, which constitute what Fligstein calls the conception of control, operate as cognitive structures for actors and organizations, reflecting the understanding that they have of the constitution of the field itself, as well as the sense that they attribute to the movement of other actors and organizations.

Because of this, organizational fields contain all the relevant information from the point of view of the actors in any given organization, but without characterizing the structural determination of the action or underestimating the capacity of interpretation of the social actors Fligstein, As can be seen, rather than attributing importance to scripts and social norms, Fligstein , suggests that attention should be paid to strategic action in organizational fields, introducing to this end the concept of social skills. According to the author, this is the skill to promote cooperation among actors in the sense of crating, contesting and reproducing rules for interaction in favor of their interests.

In this sense, organizational fields would be constructions produced by the organizations that hold power, possess social skills and resources to influence the rules of interaction and dependence because of their interests which, in their turn, are reflections of their position in the social structure of the field. Organizations can control organizational fields through their relative size in relation to the others in the field and through the benefits obtained by their members in the formation of stable rules that guide legitimate actions in the field, which is related to the interest-based view of institutionalism described by Swedberg b.

Another author who appears to agree with this approach is Jepperson who has observed that action is associated with deviations from the institutional pattern rather than participation in its reproduction, so that the process of institutionalization is not clearly opposed to the interests of the social actors.

In a similar vein, Lawrence and Suddaby introduce the term institutional work as a category that represents the formulation of intentional actions for the creation, maintenance or institutional rupture which, in the case of organizational fields, express the constant dispute over its boundaries. Hensmans and Washington state that this political-cultural perspective reintroduces elements that would not be sufficiently deal with, such as strategic quality of the agency of key actors in the structuration dynamic of organizational fields.

This approach would be supported by the capacity of certain actors to mobilize different logics and resources to meet their interests, which is in line with the observations of Seo and Creed concerning the process of institutional change. Field as a Structured Network of Relationships. A field, according to DiMaggio and Powell , is a recognized area of social or economic activity in which the actors establish relationships among themselves, reconfiguring their action models and social structure.

The organizations and other social actors are not involved only in exchange relationships but are positioned in a relational structure or network that configures their actions and delimits their possibilities DiMaggio, ; Scott, Based on these aspects, several studies have sought to analyze the concept of field sustained in the notion of social network. Powell, White, Koput and Owen-Smith state that "this linkage between network dynamics and the evolving structure of fields needs to be made in order to make progress in explaining how the behavior of actors or organizations of one kind or another influence the actions of organizations of another kind" p.

Mohr believes that the concept of field, since its formulation by DiMaggio and Powell brings a metaphor of topological space where the interaction occurs, which has naturally attracted interest in studies into interorganizational networks, although it poses one relevant question: the representative nature of the field through network analysis. Their definition comes from the empirical mapping of certain structural conditions from which institutional arguments may be utilized to complement their identification.

The notion of field as a relationship network recalls the role of actors and their capacity for agency in the structuration process. More recent studies Powell et al. The relational configuration between actors influences the parameters for subsequent decisions and the field trajectory. However, despite the importance of these longitudinal studies on structural configurations, the focus in the relational dimension cannot infer abandoning the symbolic dimension. It is worth pointing out that the contexts of simultaneity and recurrence are not restricted to relationships but also are extended to the notion of spatio-temporally delimited meanings.

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We have verified that from the concept originally formulated by DiMaggio and Powell to the subsequent versions, certain aspects are recurrent while others are specific to a line of investigation. The different conceptual alternatives presented suggest not only a variety of emphases on the understanding of the organizational field but also theoretical preferences and analytical peculiarities which, in certain cases, are not excluding among themselves. Here it is evident that there is a reference to the notion of field as communicative space among different social actors, which delimits values, social norms, sanctions and other aspects owing to the relational configuration between them Mohr, In practical terms, the symbolic dimension of a field combined with its material facet under the lens of the actors ends up defining an arena of interaction from which their notion of position in the field is derived, understood as their reference in relation to the other actors sense of one's place and the other's place plus the parameters for action.

As an articulated relationship space, the notion of field favors a more structural approach, based on the analysis of patterns and intensity of relationship. However, one of the aspects that we sought to highlight throughout the article is the fact that besides the material consideration of the relations between actors, the symbolic order surrounding the meaning of these relationships needs to be observed.

In any explanation of the collective actions, rational ends make no sense without considering cultural categories such as values and beliefs, located in a certain historical context. When it comes to the constitution of an organizational field, there is always a set of presuppositions concerning its structuration, among which those of two approaches stand out: one of them is sustained in Bourdieu and the notion of social fields; the other in Giddens.

Both are found in the base of the concept of the organizational field of DiMaggio and Powell , Nevertheless, although they have shared aspect, their premises are not equivalents Mohr, One of the points of distinction between them is in the way in which power, conflict and social position are introduced in the structuration process. According to Bourdieu , power relationships structure society and are in the essence of the dispute for capital by actors who wish to sustain or transform their position or social structure in a certain field, influencing the meaning of relationships which assure them legitimacy.

In Giddens , the social dynamic is dealt with differently, with power and social position being linked to practice, not in the sense of strategic competence but as part of the dimensions of interaction. On the Brazilian academic scene, what can be seen concerning studies into organizational fields is the reference to three central authors: DiMaggio, Scott and Bourdieu, with the latter being the most referred to. In Figure 1 , we show the relationship between twenty-five analyzed articles and the authors referred to therein in their concept of the organizational field.

From a total of references to field, Bourdieu was quoted 46 times The three authors together have a total of references, i. This preference of researchers favors the approach supported in the view of the field as an arena of power and conflict, which is highlighted in the Brazilian context. To Bourdieu power is a central variable in the conflicts of interest within a field.


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The field is understood as a configuration of relationships between positions that are. Therefore, a field is considered a structured space of position, an arena of dispute for legitimacy, in which agents struggle for the redefinition or appropriation of specific capital that is unequally distributed. This inequality defines the structure of the field, where the dominant and the dominated are found and reflects a relationship of forces that are historically engendered by a system of incorporated dispositions which not only allows for action in this game but also the recognition of its importance in a type of objective complicity beyond the struggles and in favor of the very existence of the field Lahire, In the view of Thiry-Cherques the research object of Bourdieu is to know the structures and how they determine the internal relations to a social segment, at the same time that they are determined by these relations, i.

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The author states that Bourdieu follows, in general terms, the protocol of structuralist research, but that the epistemological founding is Bachelard's rational materialism. Bourdieu , , , however, defines his approach as constructivist structuralism or structural constructivism, meaning the understanding that it is organized so as to overcome the dichotomy between objectivism and subjectivism. He understands that sociological analysis must take two complementary matters into account. The first concerns the analysis of social space, considering the relative position and objective relations between the agents, in which the differentiation depends on the volume of capital of the agent.

As the type of capital that defines positions becomes clearer, a special field of power is created and this results from the active role of the types of capital and political struggle as assets in the building of social space. In turn, the second matter for sociological analysis must deal with the social perception of the world, in which the notion of habitus is relevant, expressing through schema of perception and appreciation the social position in which it was arranged. As he explains, habitus is a product of the internalization of structures, configuring mental schema for the apprehension of the world.

This places habitus as a mechanism of social reproduction whose degree of opening for change is a matter of controversy among social scientists see: Lau, ; Lizardo, However, to Lizardo there is nothing in the concept of habitus that makes its use impossible in a non-determinist way. He states that many critics attack the force of the habitus in social reproduction but ignore the possibility of its use in a more flexible way, awaiting purposeful and creative actions.

Meanwhile Everett understands that a certain social determinism is implied in the perspective of Bourdieu. The actors have little freedom of action, delimited by social structures, with little space for reflection and change. Furthermore, he identifies problems in the universalization of Bourdieu's notion of class, which combines Marx's concept of economic class and Weber's status group.

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The author also questions the weakness in the limitation of a field since it is hardly known what is or what is not within the reach of its boundaries. He states that in Bourdieu's approach i the analysis of objective structures is logically conducted by the analysis of objective dispositions, ii and this relation fulfills political functions, which makes the symbolic systems instruments of domination; and iii symbolic systems are social products that constitute social relations, which are capable of transforming representation in the world, revealing social power relations linked to symbolic goods which contribute to the reproduction or transformation of domination structures.

According to him, the association of certain practices, generally conceived as typical activities, performed and contained in the habitus, with the existential content of a field leaves aside relevant aspects of the institutional dynamic. By understanding that this concept of field suffers from an excessively structural focus, he proposes its revision.

He believes that for its effective comprehension, it is necessary to recognize both the level of institutionalization of the field itself associated with the relational structure founded on strategic action for the dispute of capital and the institutionalization of practices, dealt with more broadly as coordinated entities that exist through their effective performance in the action and resulting from historical processes of social interaction that are variable in space-time.

The spatial logic of social struggle : a Bourdieuian topology

He argues that in Bourdieu's approach all relevant conduct for sociological investigation is strategic and competitive in such a way that the analysis of social fields does not allow the appreciation of a wide theory of practices. Furthermore, it may be suggested that this approach tends to give favor the competence of agents who are more powerful and structurally better placed in the struggle to assure their legitimacy and the dominion of the field.

In the Brazilian academic context, Machado da Silva, Fonseca and Crubellate believe that the problem of some formulations, supported in certain readings of Bourdieu is in the conception of power as fundamentally linked to the "single perspective of intentionality, [which makes it] come close to a rationalist presupposition; at least when it comes to its subjacent voluntarist guidelines" p.

Therefore, social relations in the field take on a mechanicist form strictly based in the functionality of relationships. The structuration theory, as presented by Giddens , , , focuses its attention primarily on the ontological aspect, seeking to overcome the dualism that has long been present in the social theory concerning the conceptions of being human, doing human, social reproduction and social transformation.


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  4. This dualism is essentially marked by the polarization between objectivism and subjectivism, reconsidering the theory of structuration as a duality of structure: "the structural properties of social systems only exist in that forms of social conduct are chronically reproduced through time and space" Giddens, , p. Cohen explains that the structuration theory is a post-empiricist view without the intention to universalize any set of practices or processes of social re production but to re formulate their constitutive potentials.

    In this sense, the exposition of their main components becomes necessary to understand the arguments on organizational fields that will be presented below.

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    The key to understanding the structuration theory lies in the concept of social re production, contrary to the functionalist teleology and the dichotomy between the static and the dynamic. In this sense, any social situation is considered "a contingent achievement of the social actors and [ In this approach, Giddens understands that social systems are "relationships reproduced between actors or collectives, organized as regular social practices" p.

    As such, Giddens attributes to them a personal and spatio-temporal character in that they are continually created and recreated as the active achievement of agents. Whittington emphasizes that the concept of social system suspends the dualism between structure and agency, creating an interdependent duality. In this perspective, the analysis of the structuration process it is only possible through the study of the activities of the actors, who are supported by the rules and resources that are available in their context of action.

    Groups and collectives must be seen as systems of interaction, where the actors produce and reproduce this context, continually reformulating the social systems Giddens, Thus, structuration is understood as "the reproduction of practices, [ Therefore, structure is conceived as "generative rules and resources that are both applied to action and are constituted as part of it" Giddens, , p. As Giddens explains,.