Symbolic Power and Violence

Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology is above all a sociology of ‘symbolic power’ and ‘symbolic violence’, the terms often being used interchangeably in his work. Symbolic power is the structured capacity for actors to impose meanings and systems of classifications that subsequently become taken as legitimate and natural. Religious actors and institutions have long specialised in the exercise of symbolic power, though the religious field has been increasingly crowded out by the modern state’s attempts to monopolise the use of symbolic violence in the contemporary world. While Bourdieu does not accept the dichotomy between the symbolic and the material, he does nevertheless tend to emphasise the former; accordingly, he has been criticised for paying insufficient heed to the role of symbolic violence in supporting the use of ...

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