I wonder sometimes if one of the perverse consequences of the general dissemination of Bourdieu-style analysis of culture and habitus has been to inform and strengthen conservative attacks on public support for education, the arts, and so on. Especially when combined with Foucauldian understandings of power/knowledge. E.g., as many progressive intellectuals accepted in the “interior” of their scholarly work that education and culture were both expressions of social difference and did active work to create social difference, our public and outward-facing defense of education, the arts and culture was more and more obviously performed at odds with what our interior analyses said. In the meantime, we acted as if conservatives weren’t reading that “interior” discussion, or as if they couldn’t possibly apply it in support of their own forms of social advocacy. I think this was a greviously mistaken assumption. The post-Reagan right has been a great consumer of many simplified propositions derived out of postmodern thought, very much including the idea that public goods are really just tools for the reproduction of the habitus of a particular subset of the elite.
It might be that the performativity has run in the other direction–that most of us still really feel deep down an attachment to education and public culture that’s more in tune with late 19th Century social reform, with Dewey-era pragmatism or with a more lyrical kind of romantic liberalism. We may know intellectually that the case for a more critical understanding of the functionalist ‘work’ of education and culture in making power and difference has a lot of empirical as well as political validity, but in our heart of hearts we still believe that museums could be for everyone in an enlightened society, that a good book could liberate anyone lucky enough to turn its pages, that universities and hospitals aren’t just assembly lines for the reproduction of power. So we “perform” in our scholarship what we know is technically right but it isn’t what we really feel about ourselves and a whole range of existing (if fading) social projects.
It might be that we could do with a healthy turn back towards believing in ourselves even in the inner spaces of our scholarly analysis–to allow ourselves the luxury of a little faith in the things we have done, presently do and want to keep on doing? To give ourselves over more to a scholarship that’s about making, building, doing and less about suspicion and negation?