What's in the Cracks Between Concepts? Meeting Bourdieu and Laclau-Mouffe for a Multi-Level Analysis of Urban Conflicts

Monday, 11 July 2016: 10:00
Location: Hörsaal 26 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Nikola VENKOV, University of Sofia, Bulgaria
How can we build an integrative methodological frame for looking at complex social and political conflicts embedded in the multi-level structures of modern society, yet in the heightened fluidity of its neoliberal phase? Can we hold in view both structure and agency, both discourse and subject; how can we tease out the mutual embeddedness and mutual constituting of these entities during social action? I am attempting to approach these questions by critical rethinking and cross-pollination between Bourdieu’s field & habitus theory and the Essex School discourse theory. My work is grounded empirically in a 3-year anthropological case-study of a conflict between urban communities, which is embedded in (and triggering) a project for urban development, in its turn engendered in a number of institutional and discursive environments. An urban project forces different levels of the urban social into contact and into a competition over the interpretation of a ‘problem’ to be solved.

Unlike discourse theory, my analysis looks at conflicts not merely as antagonism of discursive systems trying to colonise more discursive elements, or political subjects trying to forge alliances through chains of equivalence, but as a struggle between whole structured fields that bring along their inner social complexity, dynamics and power structures. On the other hand the underlying principles of Laclau & Mouffe’s discourse theory help unsettle the rather static structuralist conceptual apparatus of Bourdieu. It gives us instruments to look at the in-between space of heteronomy that Bourdieu never seriously approached, and to postulate it as the most significant site of contention in a contemporary society.

Further, the question can be approached how a complex urban (or political) project may endure as ‘one’ and not fall apart in the polymorphic context of diversity of positions and conflicting interests constituting the very institutional and social ‘structure’.