The Social Structures of the Economy
The Social Structures of the Economy
It takes centuries of culture to produce a utilitarian such as John Stuart Mill.
The science called 'economics' is based on an initial act of abstraction that consists in dissociating a particular category of practices, or a particular dimension of all practice, from the social order in which all human practice is immersed. This immersion, some aspects or effects of which one finds in Karl Polanyi's notion of 'embeddedness', obliges us (even when, for the purposes of increasing knowledge, we are forced to treat it otherwise) to conceive every practice, beginning with the practice which presents itself, most obviously and in the strictest sense, as 'economic', as a 'total social fact' in Marcel Mauss's sense.
The individual studies I carried out more than forty years ago in Algeria on the logic of the economy of honour and 'good faith' or on the economic and cultural determinants of practices of saving, credit or investment or, in the mid-1960s with Luc Boltanski and Jean-Claude Chamboredon, on banks and their customers or, more recently, with Salah Bouhedja, Rosine Christin, Claire Givry and Monique de Saint-Martin, on the production and marketing of single-family houses 1 differ from economics in its commonest form in two essential respects: they attempt in each case to bring to bear all the available knowledge relating to the different dimensions of the social order - which we may list, in no particular order, as the family, the state, the school system, the trade unions, grassroots organizations, etc. - and not merely knowledge relating to banking, firms and the market; and they deploy a system of concepts, developed in response to observational data, which might be presented as an alternative theory for understanding economic action: the concept of habitus, which was developed as part of an attempt to account for the practices of men and women who found themselves thrown into a strange and foreign economic cosmos imported and imposed by colonialism, with cultural equipment and dispositions - particularly economic dispositions - acquired in a precapitalist world; the concept of cultural capital which, being elaborated and deployed at more or less the same time as Gary Becker was putting into circulation the vague and flabby notion of 'human capital' (a notion heavily laden with sociologically unacceptable assumptions), was intended to account for otherwise inexplicable differences in the academic performance of children with unequal cultural patrimonies and, more generally, in all kinds of cultural or economic practices; the concept of social capital which I had developed, from my earliest ethnological work in Kabylia or Béarn, to account for residual differences, linked, broadly speaking, to the resources which can be brought together per procurationem through networks of 'relations' of various sizes and differing density, and which - often associated today with the name of James Coleman, who was responsible for launching it on the highly protected market of American sociology - is frequently used to correct the implications of the dominant model through the effect of 'social networks'; 2 the concept of symbolic capital, which I had to construct to explain the logic of the economy of honour and 'good faith' and which I have been able to clarify and refine in, by and for the analysis of the economy of symbolic goods, particularly of works of art; and lastly, and most importantly, the concept of field, which has met with some success, in an unattributed and often rather watered-down form, in the 'New Economic Sociology'. 3 The introduction of these notions is merely one aspect of a more general shift of language (marked, for