Reading Pierre Bourdieu after William Pietz.
Bourdieu is famous for his concepts of "habitus," "field," and "capital," which he coined during his investigation of society and individuals' practices in North Africa and France. His theory of practice includes the delineation of class, social reproduction, social networks, media, and power. While Pietz's work emphasizes the importance of objects, Bourdieu's studies tend to theorize the social and cultural workings of human interactions more abstractly. In doing so, Bourdieu explores overall paradigms that rule societies at the expense of individual energies and passions.
In Pietz's work, such energies and passions are central: his presentation of the genealogy of legal terminologies that delineate the practice of consideration relies on the emotional and commercial investments of people in tangible objects. The doctrine of consideration relies on the transfer of a tangible object which attested that an accord between buyer and seller took place in the late sixteenth century. In the case of an exchange of services, a client would be required to provide an object of value, not for the payment of future services, but for the promise of the future exchange. Therefore, consideration provided a material proof transforming a personal conversation into a legal agreement; or as Pietz puts it, "consideration is a social fact brought into being by the voluntary alienation of a valuable material object" ("Material" 38). Through this material transaction, a new social fact, or a set of values, cultural norms, and social structures external to the individual, is created.
Pietz suggests that paying closer attention to material objects exchanged during consideration, for instance, will give a "more concrete historical dimension to our studies of the performative production of new social facts within the concrete life world or habitus of particular cultures" ("Material" 49). Here, he alludes to Bourdieu's study of generating principles of social organizations that rely on "systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structures predisposed to function on structuring structures" (Outline 72). Pietz's demonstration on forensic objects aims to open new possibilities for social theories, especially in the context of Bourdieu's work, but he does not specifically elaborate on what a study of materiality might add to Bourdieu's theory of social practices. This essay seeks to answer Pietz's call for further exploration of "concrete forms of life" in the context of Bourdieu's concepts of habitus, field, and doxa ("Material" 35).
While Pietz clearly calls into question Bourdieu's social theory in his essay on the historical forensics of contracts, his broader account of materiality in his study of the fetish, which is not explicitly related to Bourdieu's paradigm, is also useful to revisit Bourdieu's work. More specifically, Pietz's writing enables us to re-envision the social structures Bourdieu describes through a material glance which fills several gaps in Bourdieu's work. Readers of Bourdieu have challenged his treatment of reflexivity and agency, which a study of forensic and fetish objects clarify. In addition, these objects are the markers of individual and social changes, which reflexivity and agency enable, so that Bourdieu's views on social transformation are illuminated by Pietz's concepts.
As a matter of fact, the forensic objects Pietz examines in his 2002 essay bare resemblances with the fetishes he studies in his three articles on the fetish ("The Problem of the Fetish, I" 1985, "The Problem of the Fetish, II. The Origin of the Fetish" 1987, "The Problem of the Fetish, IIIa. Bosman's Guinea and the Enlightenment Theory of Fetishism" 1988). (1) In "Material Considerations," Pietz stresses the "relation of legal forensic objects to capitalized economic objects," which relies on the "double status" of these material objects (36). For example, in the thirteenth century, European merchants used "the God's penny," which was paid to insure that a merchant would not sell his goods to another client. While the penny enabled a commercial exchange, it relied on Christian piety. In other words, the God's penny materialized the pairing of sales and religious matters. In this case, the sanctioning power of the Christian faith sealed the agreement. This example reveals that the sales agreement did not rely on commercial exchange value, but on the "economy of Christian charity and salvation" ("Material" 43). The mercantile essence of objects, such as the God's penny, and their doubleness (the individual and the social, and the religious and commercial, in the case of the God's penny) are central to Pietz's theory of the fetish, and also central to his contribution to social theories that complicate Bourdieu's exploration of social performances.
The mercantile value of the fetish comes from its origins in "cross cultural situations" due to the contacts between West African and European cultures (I, 3). The concept of fetish appeared in the fifteenth century as a conceptual bridge between two drastically different cultures, Christian Portuguese and African. The Portuguese, when dealing with the Africans, became familiar with non-European rituals that they considered irrational. The Africans' different objects of veneration permitted the Portuguese to trade objects of high value for Africans but of no value for the European in exchange of precious objects for the European, such as Gold. The creation of the fetish thus relies on a cross-cultural situation and a misunderstanding of each culture's values.
Just as in the example of the God's penny, at the moment of creation of a fetish, religion and commerce are intertwined, as the fetish object held religious signification for the West African population. However, fetishism appears only when two cultures are at tension with each other, as was the case in Africa when the Portuguese arrived. At this very moment, "a mercantile cross-cultural space of transvaluation between material objects of radically different social orders" appears (I, 6). It provokes a "revolution" or a "crisis" (I, 7; 8). During a "radical change, a revolutionary moment in which the larger system itself is being transformed, [...] a moment in which new social arrangements between disparate actors are first being created," objects become "pivots, as it were, between imagination and reality" (Graeber Toward 251).
Here, the connections between Pietz's study of the fetish and the social structures Bourdieu maps out are striking. Bourdieu refers to moments of crises when societies challenge their doxa, or "the world of tradition experienced as a 'natural world' and taken for granted" (Outline 164). Bourdieu first establishes the concept of doxa in Outline of a Theory of Practice, where he uses ethnographic methods and sociological theory to create a general theory of social and cultural interaction and reproduction. He focuses on Kabyle culture in Algeria to rethink the concept of exchange, power, and social practices, and shows that societies create an "institutionally organized and guaranteed misrecognition" of the rules that determine their practices (Outline 171). More specifically, he studies the Kabyle's gift exchange practices, matrimonial strategies, and agrarian systems to demonstrate how societies regard their customs as the only mode of action because they are not aware of the ways in which they create and regulate their system. In his paradigm, the habitus, the basis of a society's customs that "generates meaningful practices and meaning-giving perceptions," orders social behavior (Distinction 170).
Bourdieu's work demonstrates that a social construct usually appears in society as a natural distinction. For example, people accept differences between activities culturally linked to women (child-raising, cooking, sewing, etc.) versus activities linked to men (hunting, fishing, etc.). Because men and women are physically different, people embrace the gender construction as natural because some natural distinctions do exist. For Bourdieu, cultural stability relies on the acceptance and misrecognition of social constructions, such as the opposition between gender roles. However, when a crisis emerges during "culture contact" or "political and economic crises," societies come to question their doxa.
Bourdieu's treatment of such crises and their place in his social paradigm is often considered problematic and has generated much discussion. In general, critics follow two divergent paths: the first investigates Bourdieu's work as a social theory where the crisis is not central; societies rely on "a whole series of social mechanisms [that] tend to ensure the adjustment of dispositions to positions" (Pascalian 147). Such adjustment implies that crises will lead to a new stabilizing process. In a class conflict, for example, a new dominant class will impose a new ideology that will in turn become "natural." The second understands his work as a study of societies in times of rapid change (in Algeria in the 1950s, in Beam in the 1950s, in the education system in the 1960s, in the liberal economic system in the 1980s, etc.). This argument relies on societies' ability to adopt a reflexive stance toward the social systems they formerly took for granted.
It is valuable to examine this debate in the context of my discussion of the works of Bourdieu and Pietz because the theory of the fetish enables us to address Bourdieu's take on social coherence, reflexivity, practice, and change in more sophisticated ways. Most critics grant that Bourdieu develops societies' ability to create regulating structures more than their ability to provoke critical reflexive attitudes and change. Craig Calhoun, Jeffrey Alexander, Madeleine Arnot, Judith Butler, Leslie McCall, and Terry Lovell argue that Bourdieu is mostly interested in social reproduction. In their view, Bourdieu does not offer an account of social change because the doxic mode conditions people to see rules and values as natural and reasonable practices within a culture. In other words, "social practice is a practice of classifying: it is a practice ordered and structured according to systems of classifications" (Krais 120). This insistence on classification has led critics to conclude that the habitus "accounts for how agents might perform actions that defy description in terms of consciousness or purpose" (Anderson 265). Yet, if the habitus accounts for actions whose causes remain unconscious or purposeless, how can agents provoke change in society?
To answer this question, Bourdieu's readers indicate that change relies on agents' ability to question the naturalness of their social organization in a critical reflexive moment. This moment of reflexivity is most apparent during cultural or social crises. Reflexivity may impact change, but this change may also enable the genesis of a new doxa. For readers who insist on the determinist nature of Bourdieu's work, stability will eventually repress and replace even violent crises because societies constantly work at preserving or re-instituting a doxa. As Butler suggests, in Bourdieu's model, agents follow societies' organizing patterns, but have no real possibilities to transgress them. In other words, individuals' actions and social paradigms are compatible, so that change is always regulated and limited (128-164).
More specifically, the habitus, as a "system of lasting, transposable dispositions which, integrating past experiences, functions at every moment as a matrix of perceptions, appreciations and actions" operates within specific fields (Outline 82-3). This implies that "the social world [...] comprise[s] of differentiated, but overlapping, fields of action, for example, the economic field, the political field, the legal field and so on" (Adkins 23-4). Each field, much like a game, has its own set of rules: individuals, much like players, evolve in the field reacting to such rules. However, as Lisa Adkins points out, "the feel for the game is [...] a pre-reflexive, non-cognitive form of knowledge which often cannot be explicitly articulated" (24). This lack of "objectifying distance" in a world individuals "tak[e] [...] for granted, precisely because [...] [they are] caught up in it, bound up with it [...] like a garment [...] or a familiar habitat" has led critics to conclude that individuals cannot provoke change (Bourdieu Pascalian 143). Bourdieu's theory relies on the fact that human beings will adapt to the field they are involved in; or as Butler claims, they are always dominated by it (127-164). Hence, Alexander concludes that the only kind of reflexivity this model allows is not "the kind of critical reflexivity that differentiates contemporary democratic, multicultural and civil societies from earlier more authoritarian, homogenous and anti-individualistic regimes" (137).
The second approach to Bourdieu's work opposes this reading. Christopher Bryant, Julie McLeod, Lois McNay, and Adkins insist that, in individuals' interactions with a field lies the possibility for action and change since the habitus, as a "strategy-generating principle, enable[s] agents to cope with unforeseen and ever-changing situations" (Outline 72). Because the habitus always interacts with the field, Bourdieu does not "see how relations of domination [...] could possibly operate without implying, activating resistance. The Dominated, in any social universe, can always exert a certain force, inasmuch as belonging to a field means by definition that one is capable of producing effects in it" (Bourdieu and Wacquant 80). Thus, the interaction between the habitus's generic structure and the "feel for the game" allows "a situated reflexivity, a reflexivity that is not separated from the everyday but is intrinsically linked to (unconscious) categories of habit which shape action" (Adkins 25). Consequently, when there is "a lack of fit between subjective and objective structures," there are increased "possibilities for both critical reflexivity and social transformation" (Adkins 27). Bryant, McLeod, McNay, and Adkins consider this discrepancy a source of critical reflexivity. Yet, reflexivity remains "an irregular manifestation dependant on a particular confirmation of power relations" (McNay 109). Bourdieu does not clarify which "particular confirmation of power" might cause this irregularity. Put differently, it is unclear why some events, more than others, might trigger the lack of fit Adkins refers to, or what Moira Inghilleri indentifies as "gaps occurring between competing fields and habitus" (247).
Scholars have linked this lack of clarity to the determinist, conservative, and structuralist nature of the habitus. Indeed, it seems that the habitus's impact on the field is always restricted: the habitus is "creative and inventive, but within the limits if its strictures" (Bourdieu and Wacquant 19). Thus, as Robert Cantwell points out, the "structuring structures" of the habitus "leave us perpetually behind the game, tied to already residual objects, performances, and forms" (119). That is why John Myles concludes that "Bourdieu understands reflexivity totally as a scientific project and makes an absolute distinction between the knowledgeability of actors in the social world and that of the reflexive sociological researcher" (104). Consequently, "Bourdieu must always place ambivalence outside of the realms of practice" (Adkins 37).
Many critics have associated this lacuna in Bourdieu's paradigm with his attention to symbolic power, as opposed to material aspects of social forms that Pietz explores. Indeed, Bourdieu has developed a paradigm of symbolic power, "which appears to be the information and communication system, [and] is in its very mechanisms a system of distinction consolidating the privileges of certain social categories" (Jarvinen 9). Thus, dominant classes use symbolic power to impose their values and practices without revealing how such imposition benefits them. Symbolic power appears to be natural and self-evident. In the context of gender roles, for example, Bourdieu claims that symbolic power relies upon
belief and the pre-reflexive agreement of the body and mind with the world--whose paradigmatic manifestation is masculine. What is internalized [...] are principles of vision and division of the world which, being in agreement with the objective structures of the world, create a sort of infra-conscious fit with the structures within which agents evolve. (Bourdieu and Wacquant 34)
While the dominant group (the masculine group in the above example) might use symbolic power to impose its perspective on the dominated, this perspective appears natural to both dominant and dominated. Calhoun, Alexander, Arnot, Butler, McCall, and Lovell interpret this paradigm as static and self-reproducing, while Bryant, McLeod, McNay, and Adkins stress agents' ability to generate social structures through their actions within such structures.
Whether we emphasize more social structures' impact on agents or agents' impact on them, how such structures have come to place and how they can be changed remains problematic in Bourdieu's work and in accounts of his work. To remedy this issue, critics suggest considering more deeply "form[s] of embodied existence," as opposed to "form[s] of symbolic identification" (McNay 113). As McNay points out, and as Pietz also suggests, an overemphasis on the symbolic "presuppose [s] a disembodied agent, and as a result, do[es] not consider the obstacles that confront the transposition of the [...] habitus into different fields of action" (McNay 113). From a feminist standpoint, McNay sees the habitus as a powerful concept to theorize practices that encompass both bodily and cerebral activities. Thus, she concentrates on embodiment as an overlooked part of Bourdieu's theory to veer away from the overemphasis on symbolic power. While McNay insists on considering the habitus as embodied to overcome the symbolic qualities formerly attributed to it, she does not present extensively ways in which we can approach and analyze the habitus from this viewpoint.
Stressing the importance of the body in human interactions implies that we consider such interactions dynamic and mutable because "the body is the threshold through which the subject's lived experience of the world is incorporated and realized" (McNay 98). A study of the objects that interfere with the formation and change of social structures complements this approach, as the fetish emerges as an ever-shifting locus of "an ambiguous state that demystifies and falsifies at the same time, or that reveals its own techniques of masquerade while putting into doubt any fixed referent" (Apter Feminizing 14). Because the fetish is in itself an instable object, it helps examine the mutability of incorporated activities. In fact, Pietz's essays explore the issue of "ornamentation" and the intense relationship the fetish develops with the individual's body. As a material marker of power over desire, health, and identity, the fetish points to the body that wears it in ways that supplement discussions of "the embodied status of the individual" (1,10).
In addition, an emphasis on the corporeal dimension of practice implies that we cannot consider social interactions as mere abstract systems of meaning. This emphasis is important because it leads us to pay attention to the material aspects of human interactions. Yet, this material aspect encompasses not only bodily actions, but also the objects involved in them. Thus, a study of embodied forms of actions and knowledge is incomplete without a study of the material objects that participate in them: we cannot regard the objects that take part in such interactions as dematerialized items on which the symbolic meaning depends.
Moreover, if the fetish relies on an incorporation of human actions, we concentrate on the temporal characteristics of the habitus and on the private and public spheres involved in embodied actions. Thus, the fetish, in its crystallization of novel individual actions and social structures, facilitates the study of transitional corporeal activities in ways that elude the limits of rigid frameworks focusing on social vs. personal, public vs. private, dominated vs. dominator, etc. Consequently, observing the importance of fetish objects and their interactions with the corporeal aspects of human actions allows a more concrete access to moments of ambivalence where critical reflexivity and change are not limited "outside of the realms of practice" (Adkins 37).
Here, I emphasize reflexivity because it leads to conflicts between social models and (re)negotiations of their roles. However, claiming that reflexivity is the key to liberation and change assumes that they rely only on individual decisions, which is a simplification of social transformations. Therefore, I do not wish to overemphasize reflexivity as the sole route to change and freedom. Nevertheless, I have presented various approaches to reflexivity in relation to habitus, field, and doxa because Bourdieu's discussion of change, freedom, and reproduction concentrates on this matter. It is also on this aspect of his work that interpretations contradict. The theory of the fetish helps reexamine the issue of critical reflexivity in the social and personal realm, so that both Bourdieu's theory and interpretations of it might be revisited after reading Pietz's work.
Pietz's study clarifies distancing reflexive moments, or what Bourdieu calls a "crisis." These moments of crisis that occur during conflict or tension in social forces provoke a gap or a lack of fit between field and habitus, which allows societies to become more conscious of their doxa. Because the fetish is an object generated during cross-cultural tensions, it always posits the "double consciousness of absorbed credulity and degraded or distanced incredulity" (I, 10). This "double consciousness" is not foreign to Bourdieu's vision of his own habitus. As Beate Krais notes, "Bourdieu (2003) spoke of his own habitus as a habitus dive, a split habitus" because of "the humble social conditions of his childhood in the rural region of Beam" and "his meteoric social ascent through the school system" (130). The fetish materializes these kinds of splits between cultures and systems of value. Therefore, it enables an exploration not only of the clash of ideologies Bourdieu highlights in his own habitus, but also of the role of objects during such clashes--an aspect absent in Bourdieu's work.
As Pietz notes in "Capitalism and Perversion:"
what emerged from [... the study of the fetish] was a constellation of four themes which seemed to frame a novel problem in the tradition of Western theoretical discourse: the problem of how any social value could become fixed in martial objects which in themselves lacked any inherent intentional meaning or orientation toward the fulfillment of human purposes. (545)
The exploration of the value of such objects offers a tangible approach to models such as Bourdieu's that have emphasized the symbolic aspects of social transactions where the material tends to be considered as a mere addition to the symbolic patterns of society which are already complete in themselves. Alternatively, these models also claim that the material only provides clues that should be interpreted in order to decipher the higher order of knowledge they symbolize. Contrary to these views, Pietz lists the fetish's attributes as follows:
1) the untranscended materiality of the fetish [...] [which] is viewed as the locus of religious activity or psychic investment; 2) the radical historicality of the fetish's origin: arising in a singular event fixing together otherwise heterogeneous elements [...]; 3) the dependence of the fetish for its meaning and value on particular order of social relations [...]; 4) the active relation of the fetish object to the living body of an individual. (II, 23)
Here, Pietz characterizes the fetish in ways that resist the abstraction some readers identify in Bourdieu's paradigm. This abstraction relies on "a contradiction [...] in Bourdieu's social theory" (Adkins 37):
because Bourdieu understands norms to be incorporated (since agents are generally understood to identify with norms, or perhaps to put it better, an agreement between the dispositions of agents and the demands of a field is generally assumed) he has to abandon his understanding of practice and resort to a more problematic sociological understanding of action (as conscious, cognitive and disembodied involving a system of concepts, perceptions, values and beliefs) when he wants to talk about social transformation. (Adkins 37)
In contrast, Pietz's emphasis on objects that merge personal and social practices resolves this contradiction. This emphasis also positions objects as necessary components of social practices, a necessity often overlooked in studies of social structures.
Here, my argument bears resemblance to David Graeber's claim about fetishes and social creativity. According to Graeber, the formation of a fetish is also the creation of "revolutionary moments", "the creation of something new" ("Fetishism" 430). While Pietz focuses mostly on the European view of African customs, Graeber supplements Pietz's work with African cosmologies to reveal that the value West African gave to their emblems was in fact not very different from the value Europeans gave to Gold. Thus, the Europeans created new social forms thanks to commercial exchange and valuation, but saw them as an illusion. Instead of recognizing their participation in novel social arrangements, the Europeans dismissed the arbitrary valuation of African objects as irrational. For Graeber, this European reasoning reveals that "all these apparently fixed objects are really part of an ongoing process of construction" ("Fetishism" 431). Showing the "machinery of such construction" ("Fetishism" 431) will illuminate how "we create our physical worlds" and "the process by which we do so" ("Fetishism" 409). Graeber rightfully lays emphasis on the illusion that covers up the power of individual action, but as I have shown, the double consciousness that constitutes the moment of creation of the fetish and forces both cultures to improvise permits a reassessment their own values and ideologies. Double consciousness does not exclude the power of illusion that ensue the formation of a fetish, which Graeber highlights, but it clarifies the possibility of the unveiling of the machinery of social creation he recommends.
Pietz traces double consciousness from the origins of the word fetish itself that fuses the personal powers of witchcraft and the social role of production. The word fetish originates from the Portuguese term fetisso, which refers to the magic charms used to seal commercial deals with the African population. Fetisso comes from the Portuguese feitico, which means "magical practice" or "witchcraft." Feitico derives from the Latin factious, which translates as "manufactured" (I, 5). The etymology of the word hints at the mysterious quality of the object, which took on both personal and commercial value.
The history of the word fetish reveals that the individual and the social are never distinct in the formation of the "alternate logics for the material fixation of social obligations" (Pietz "The Spirit" 23). Therefore, Pietz's work offers critical tools and a vocabulary to address the individual dimension of social formations. The individual characteristic of fetishes that "were [...] the ground of social order both in the private sphere of the family and in the public sphere of state and civil society" supplements the limitations critics have highlighted in Bourdieu's treatment of social change and individual power (IIIa, 115). However, much like Bourdieu, Pietz refuses to elevate individuals' influence over social structures. In fact, a study of the material objects involved in human practices disturbs the human omnipotence developed in numerous Western philosophies. For Pietz and Bourdieu, then, subjective behavior and individual performances cannot overthrow social schemes on their own. Consequently, the theory of the fetish reveals not only the limits of philosophies relying solely on symbolism and representation, but it also provides "a subversion of the ideal of the autonomously determined self" (I, 23). Through this subversion, the fetish focuses our attention on material and corporealized forms of action that are not distinguishable from their social involvement.
More specifically, Pietz goes back to the origins of fetishism to avoid "the abstract ground of psychology and aesthetic theory" that overlooks "the original historically specific, mercantile context" of the fetish (IIIa, 107). In insisting on the importance of the specificity of fetish objects, Pietz refuses to follow trends that universalize and ultimately essentialize social paradigms. Bourdieu's work has often been condemned as essentialist for these reasons. As Margaretha Jarvinen notes, while some scholars insist on the independence of individuals, others "accuse Bourdieu of being an essentialist," as for them, his model insists on unchanging realities (17). Reading Bourdieu after Pietz allows us to distance ourselves from the essentialist tendencies of Bourdieu's work.
As a matter of fact, Pietz explicitly "oppos[es] both universalist and particularist arguments that dismiss the fetish as a proper object with its own singular significance," especially in the context of Marxist, structuralist, art, and psychoanalytic theories (I, 5-6). While he recognizes that "Marxism's commodity fetish, psychoanalysis's sexual fetish, and modernism's fetish as art object all in an essential way involve the object's untranscended materiality," Pietz finds such theories limited (I, 7). Pietz grants that he shares a concern for the reification and displacement of power Marx focuses on and agrees on his "vie[w] [of] the overall process of capitalist production as a process of fetishization, that is, fixation--the realization and accumulation of surplus value in material things which were attributed with a supernatural power to create social wealth" ("Capitalism" 550). Yet, when Marxists and structuralists focus on fetishes, they over-emphasize their participation within a social structure and their role in shaping "constructed value consciousness" (I, 9). In other words, fetishes become "sign-vehicle[s] for a process of signification" that veers away from their material power (I, 9). Pietz concedes that it is important to consider the social value of fetishes, but in overemphasizing this aspect of objects, scholars overlook the personal qualities of fetishes.
Turning to psychoanalysis, Pietz notes that the personal dimension of the fetish is investigated at length through its exploration of the strange objectified forms of desire. Conversely, in such studies, its social features remain unexplored. His essays on the fetish offer a way to bridge the gap between these accounts of fetishism, as they provide tools to analyze "how any personal or social value could be attributed to material objects whose only 'natural' values were instrumental and commercial" (II, 45).
At the rise of an impersonal market, the creation of fetish objects crystallized anxieties over the value of material things in the social and personal realms. The development of these new objects, their "nontransendental materiality, radically historical or contingent fixation, overvaluation of the power of personified things, and object-dependent self-identity" call into question "Western theoretical traditions" ("Capitalism" 547). In the context of contemporary theories on the role and value of objects, "the discourse of fetishism represents the emerging articulation of a theoretical materialism quite incompatible and in conflict with the philosophical tradition" (I, 6). Indeed, Pietz's work resists representational discourse of Western thoughts: the fetish is unlike the idol or images that represent the magical power the fetish embodies. This focus on representation and symbolism that makes the object secondary to what it represents has influenced Western paradigms and methodologies. These paradigms and methodologies consider objects as mere carriers of cultural symbol and overlook their participation in social change.
Therefore, Pietz's "genealogy of the fetish as an idea-problem in which the historic trajectory of the word itself and the fetish's specificity to situation of encounter as crucial" enables us to explore "fetishisms in which different economies of the object and distinct valuations of things, persons, and their relations are at play" (Spyer 1). While Bourdieu studies power relations during cross-cultural turmoil and class conflicts, Pietz's focus on the objects that take part in such power struggle fosters a reflection on each object as a material "locus of reflection" of the issues Bourdieu theorizes (Fetish IIIa, 108).
The fetish's ability to become a "site of both the formation and the revelation of ideology and value-consciousness" forces agents to question the doxa, but it also causes change in it (1,13). The Portuguese and then the Dutch's outsider position made them identify the African investment in objects invaluable to them as "irrational, misguided, founded on fancy or 'caprice'" (Spyer 1). The personal attachment of Africans for objects of no value in the eyes on the Portuguese shaped "the principle of social order based on an irrational fear of supernaturally caused death rather than a rational understanding of the impersonal just rule of law" (IIIa, 106). Therefore, the fetish "always named the incomprehensible mystery of the power of material things to be collective social objects experienced by individuals as truly embodying cross-cultural perspective of relative infinite degradation, 'denues de valeur symbolique'" (I, 14). The fetish disrupts humans' value systems, and in the context of the Portuguese and Dutch colonization, it disrupted the distribution of European ideology upon West African values.
While the creation of a fetish relies on misunderstanding, it also relies on the compromise of one's values: to make profit and expand their territories and power, the Portuguese and the Dutch were often sworn on fetish objects so that they "compromis[ed] both their religion and their 'rational' economic principles" (Apter "Introduction" 7). Thus, much like the forensic object, the fetish stands for the negotiation and production of new forms of exchange and power. In fact, fetishes had practical value through binding oaths: "commercial contracts and diplomatic treaties were inevitably put into the language of the fetish (as the vehicle for the creation of new interpersonal obligations)" (IIIa, 115). The fetish, as a sign of the novel agreement, becomes "a physical reminder of a border crossing but increasingly came to stand in the eyes of the Europeans [...] for a confusion of the religious and the economic or, in other words, for a denial of the proper boundaries between things and the distinctions these are held to delineate" (Spyer 2). In this case, the creation of the fetish generates both a reflexive stance from the agents of the exchange and a production of new, composite structures of power through the perversion of economic and religious structures.
Looking at fetish objects not only in "terms of their symbolic evidentiary value," but also "as real enactments of social power" enables us to explain how "social object[s] [...] have the power to place subjective agreements within the objective social reality that the consenting actors themselves inhabit" (Pietz "Material" 48). In other words, reading Bourdieu's theory in light of Pietz's work allows us to account for change in social structures, as the fetish becomes a marker of the agent's ability to shape new forms of power through hybrid productions. As Graeber points out, "Merchants who 'drank' or 'made fetish' together might not have been creating a vast market system, but the point was usually to create a small one [... so that fetishes] where almost invariably the basis for creating something new: congregations, new social relations, and new communities" (430). This implies that objects are not just part of the background of human interactions, but are effective elements in social change. Consequently, Pietz provides an alternative vocabulary to approach the field of social and cultural studies invested in the constitutive role of material objects that are too often considered as mere carriers of social orderliness.
While it is unclear in Bourdieu's model how individuals might impact the habitus, the field, and doxa, in Pietz's work, fetishes and forensic objects "have the social power to transform subjective promises into objective obligations because they already are socially empowered factual realities that directly connect the social identity of an individual to the material forces responsible for endowing that person with the most fundamental value" ("Material" 48). Since the term fetish itself was created to express novel commercial and power relations through the creation of tangible markers of the European-African encounter, it clarifies "the nature and origin of the social value of material objects" (IIIa, 109).
The fetish originated on the Gold and Slave coasts of West Africa, but it "foreground[s] the unresolvable oscillations, the restless toing-and-froing, and the cultural, commercial, and political crossings" (Spyer 1). Put differently, while Pietz insists on the historical dimension of the creation of the fetish, he also opens the possibility for future studies of materiality and agency that will be also be imbedded in the historical and cultural particularities that frame fetishes. As Paul Johnson puts it, "we must acknowledge that such points of fixation cannot be wholly superseded; and quite possibly a critical historical consciousness even depends on them" (248). Taking into account this "critical historical account" leads us to explore more closely the power of objects in past and present social processes and to stop considering "larger institutions as mere side effects of [... individual] choices" (Graeber 408). This suggests that fetishes do not determine social changes but influence them. Therefore, as Patricia Spyer argues, Pietz's theory "opens up the possibility for cultural criticism" since "various fetishisms generate social hierarchies and differences while at the same time opening up novel spaces for the construction of agency" (3). The examination of the role and power of objects in the context of Bourdieus paradigm adds a concrete approach to analyses of social structures and the changes that individuals' objects may impact on them.
In conclusion, this article has engaged with Bourdieus understanding of doxa, field, and habitus in relation to Pietz's theory of forensic objects and fetish objects in order to develop a more adequate conceptual range to understand the creation of novel social structures through individual change. Discussions of change in Bourdieus work have focused on agents' critical reflexive stance, whose possibility and impact on social institutions remain unclear in the context of his social paradigm. The fetish's double position provokes reflexivity and provides a material marker of cross-cultural encounters. A study of these markers fosters a practical investigation of individual and social creations that illuminates structures of power. Through its materiality, the fetish concretely invokes both the personal and the collective in ways that clarify studies of materiality and agency.
Thus, the implications of social fetishism are both theoretical and practical. Theoretically speaking, as I have shown, a clarification of agency opens possibility for reconsideration of the social constraints that frame agency and the social changes individuals create. This dual possibility compensates for structuralist and constructivist social theories that tend to overlook the individual motivations and energies affecting social paradigms. In fact, the motivations and energies that make humans value certain items have been excluded from previous studies because modern Western paradigms assume that people and things must be isolated. This assumption has led thinkers like Bourdieu to focus on human groups' characteristics when exploring cultures and society, but, as Pietz reveals, people and things are not as separated as we might like to think. Besides, Pietz's work reveals Western discourses' limitations in other ways: he points out that, when such discourses explore objects, they consider them as representations or symbols of something other than what they are. However, the fetish is not a mere signifier for something else, which allows us to revisit these modern Western discourses. Because the fetish is rooted both in the material and immaterial realms, it allows a study of power rooted in the physicality of things and their capacity to carry social meaning. In other words, paradigms of social designs dedicated to power and human behavior would benefit from the material approach the fetish enables.
These developments lead to the practical ramifications of social fetishism: because the fetish is hybrid in nature, social fetishism would encompass various paradigms. In fact, in approaching fetishes, the commercial, cultural, psychological, and political cannot be differentiated. Therefore, social fetishism would create bridges between theories and disciplines invested in human behaviors, including psychology, anthropology, politics, economy, religion, cultural studies, nationalism and transnationalism, postcolonialism, iconography, art, and museum studies. Because the fetish informs human drives, goals, and investments, it also enables a cross-disciplinary study of gender, class, race, ethnicity, and nationality. The fetish exposes the social regulations that impact these categories and enables a renegotiation of their boundaries. In bridging these aspects of interpersonal relations and social rules, the fetish broadens approaches to social paradigms. Books, such as Border Fetishisms edited by Spyer, have offered a first step in this direction, and the breadth of disciplines and topics included in the volume--the physical attributes of money in Papua and New Guinea under the Australian colonizing power, the clash of Christianization and meat scarification rituals in Sumba, "Marx's Coat", Aru and racism in the Dutch West Indies, and shoplifting in Georgian England--attest to the rich possibilities of this method. A more developed theory of social fetishism would provide a better approach of social theories and would fill the gaps between disciplines and methodologies of the social, personal, and material.
(1.) References to each article will appear as I, II, and IIIa in the rest of this essay.
Adkins, Lisa. "Reflexivity. Freedom or Habit of Gender?" Theory, Culture & Society 20.6 (2003): 21-42. Print.
Alexander, Jeffrey. "Critical Reflections on 'Reflexive Modernization.'" Theory, Culture & Society 13.4 (1996): 133-38. Print.
Anderson, Dana. "Questioning the Motives of Habituated Action: Burke and Bourdieu on Practice." Philosophy and Rhetoric 37.3 (2004): 255-74. Print.
Apter, Emily. Introduction. Fetishism as Cultural Discourse. New York: Cornell UP, 1993. 1-13. Print.
--. Feminizing the Fetish. Psychoanalysis and Narrative Obsession in Turn of the Century France. Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1991. Print.
Arnot, Madeleine. Reproducing Gender? Essays on Educational Theory and Feminist Politics. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.
Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Trans. Richard Nice. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984. Print.
--. Language and Symbolic Power. Trans. Gino Raymond and Matthew Adamson. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1991. Print.
--. The Logic of Practice. Trans. Richard Nice. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1992. Print.
--. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Trans. Richard Nice. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge UP, 1977. Print.
--. Pascalian Mediations. Trans. Richard Nice. Cambridge: Polity, 2000. Print.
Bourdieu, Pierre and Loic Wacquant. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1992. Print.
Bryant, Christopher. Practical Sociology: Post-empiricism and the Reconstruction of Theory and Application. Cambridge: Polity, 1995. Print.
Butler, Judith. Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. London and New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.
Calhoun, Craig. "Habitus, Field, and Capital: The Question of Historical Specificity." Bourdieu: Critical Perspectives. Craig Calhoun, Edward LiPuma, and Moishe Postone, eds. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1993. 61-88. Print.
Cantwell, Robert. "Habitus, Ethnomimesis: A Note on the Logic of Practice." Journal of Folklore Research 36.2-3 (1999): 119-234. Print.
Graeber, David. "Fetishism as Social Creativity." Anthropological Theory 5.4 (2005): 407-38. Print.
--. Toward An Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001. Print. Inghilleri, Moira. "Habitus, Field, and Discourse. Interpreting as a Socially Situated Activity." Target 15.2 (2003): 243-68. Print.
Jarvinen, Margaretha. "Immovable Magic--Pierre Bourdieu on Gender and Power." Trans. Steven Sampson. NORA 1.7 (1999): 6-19. Print.
Johnson, Paul Christopher. "The Fetish and McGwire's Balls." Journal of American Academy of Religion 68.2 (2000): 243-264. Print. Krais, Beate. "Gender, Sociological Theory and Bourdieus Sociology of Practice." Theory, Culture & Society 23.6 (2006): 119-34. Print.
Lovell, Terry. "Thinking Feminism with and Against Bourdieu." Feminist Theory 1.1 (2000): 11-31. Print.
McCall, Leslie. "Does Gender Fit? Bourdieu, Feminism, and Conceptions of Social Order." Theory and Society 21.6 (1992): 837-67. Print.
McLeod, Julie. "Feminists re-reading Bourdieu: Old debates and new questions about gender habitus and gender change." Theory and Research in Education 3.1 (2005):ll-30. Print.
McNay, Lois. "Gender, Habitus and the Field: Pierre Bourdieu and the Limits of Reflexivity" Theory, Culture & Society. 16.1 (2000): 95-117. Print.
Myles, John. "From Doxa to Experience. Issues in Bourdieus Adoption in Husserlian Phenomenology." Theory, Culture & Society 21.2 (2004): 91-107. Print.
Pietz, William. "Capitalism and Perversion: Reflections of Fetishism." Positions 3.2. (1995): 535-63. Print.
--. "Material Considerations on the Historical Forensics of Contract." Theory, Culture & Society 19.5-6. (2002): 35-50. Print.
--. "The Problem of the Fetish, I." Res 9 (1985): 5-17. Print.
--. "The Problem of the Fetish, II. The Origin of the Fetish." Res 13. (1987): 23-87. Print.
--. "The Problem of the Fetish, IIIa. Bosnian's Guinea and the Enlightenment Theory of Fetishism." Res 16. (1988): 105-23. Print.
--. "The Spirit of Civilization." Res 28 (1995): 23-38. Print.
Spyer, Patricia. Introduction. Border Fetishism. Material Objects in Unstable Spaces. Patricia Spyer, ed. New York: Routledge, 1998. 1-11. Print.
Wacquant, Loic. "From Ruling Class to Field of Power: An Interview with Pierre Bourdieu on 'La Noblesse d'Etat." Theory, Culture & Society 10 (1993): 19-44. Print.
CENTRAL STATE UNIVERSITY
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2015|
|Previous Article:||Retranslating Ibykos and Li Bai: Experimental, Rhizomatic, Multi-Media Transformations.|
|Next Article:||"Still Clinging To Disaster: Reading Rob Halpern's Disaster Suites".|