1st Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Piazzesi

Chiara Piazzesi

Power as Social Learning

Power is not only a direct subject-to-subject relation, i.e. a relation or an influence between a dominant subject (or self) and a dominated one. Pierre Bourdieu’s inquiries on habitus and social fields explain how power can be something learned as incorporation of the agent’s social position. There can be in that case domination without a dominant subject. According to Popitz’s definition of “authority power” or “authority bond”, the dominated subject seems to be able to incorporate his dominated position (as well as the dominant seems to do with his own position) and to act in accordance with dominant agent’s expectations, even when his expectations are not communicated or explicit. Both the partners of an authority bond learn, from their relation, from a relational way of being: they incorporate their relation and the roles they play in it. There’s no need of confirming the power bond, for both the agents are this bond, they ‘automatically’ think and act according to it. A power-related way of thinking and self-representing seems to become automatic through social learning and through the forming of a habit (or habitus, with Bourdieu’s word). Habit means the moulding of some functions of the self rather than mere ‘repetition’: some functions, some behaviours, some meanings become ‘natural’, there’s so to say no need for conscious thinking to be involved in their working. But there’s one more step in power analysis: domination without dominant. Bourdieu has detected this form of ‘objective’ domination through his inquiry on aesthetic taste in connection with social positions. ‘Taste’ is not an inborn faculty, but a socially learned way of communication, in conformity with a specific social, symbolic communication code. Aesthetic choices depend strictly on social position and express it in conventional ways. This connection means that self-perception and consequently self-expression are social and relational. Habitus is the incorporated sense of social position, and its expression through acting, thinking, making choices, choosing strategies. Habitus is as well the “inborn” sense of possibilities connected to social position: being a learned system of social dispositions (habits), the habitus generates practices that are not-mediately consistent with this system. According to these assumptions, power seems to be realized through the general, socially learned disposition and willingness of social agents to think, act, behave and communicate accordingly to their positions – expressed through a code of symbolic signs, which form social communication.