The "Invisible Hand" of Oppression - Symbolic Violence in the Precarisation of the German Labour Market

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 4:40 PM
Room: 302
Oral Presentation
Maria NORKUS , Institut für Soziologie, Technical University Berlin, Berlin, Germany
When we think about oppression and global inequality, we also have to ask why it is that many underprivileged groups suffer from oppression without any real resistance? With the analytical framework of Bourdieu's theory of practice I will argue that any theory that draws on the concept of intersectionality has to take into regard the symbolic dimension of society in which social practice takes place and which causes and reproduces social structures of domination. Symbolic violence, this “gentle violence [...] invisible to victims” (Bourdieu 2001, 1-2), is the key to understand how oppression reproduces and legitimatises itself. It contributes both to the recognition of oppression and at the same time to the misrecognition of its arbitrariness. 

This contribution deals with the precarisation of labor in contemporary Germany. This field is mainly structured by race, class and gender. Women, immigrants, disabled persons and lower classes are disproportionately affected by adverse working conditions, lack of job security and lower payments, and are furthermore badly integrated into the social security system.

I want to argue that the precarisation of labor and life is a new form of symbolic violence, which affects different groups in different ways for the purpose of labor exploitation. This process cannot be understood solely by looking at economic constraints or pure violence. Deterioration of working conditions is legitimised by the apparent naturalness and inevitability of economic development.

To theorize the different axes of oppression in the field of precarious work, I will consider not only different categories of inequality but also the very processes of categorisation through labour. Taking into account this symbolic dimension of oppression in society may lead to a better understanding of its inveterate persistence.

Pierre Bourdieu. 2001. Masculine Domination. Stanford: Stanford UP