Terry Eagleton Hello and welcome. footnote＊ Pierre Bourdieu and I will discuss some of the themes in our new books—primarily his book, Language and Symbolic Power, but also my book, Ideology.footnote1 And then we will invite questions and comments.
I would like to welcome you, Pierre, on one of your too rare visits to this country. We are delighted to see you and to have these translated essays. One of the themes of your work is that language is as much—or is perhaps more—an instrument of power and of action than of communication. This is a theme that informs everything you write in this book and that leads you to be properly hostile, as I would see it, to any mere semiotics. You want to look instead at what you call at one point ‘the social conditions of the production of utterances’, and also, I suppose, at the conditions of the reception of utterances. In other words, you are arguing that what matters in talk, in discourse, is not some power inherent in language itself, but the kind of authority or legitimacy with which it is backed. And that leads you to mobilize concepts that, I think, many of us are very familiar with from your other work—such as ‘symbolic power’, ‘symbolic violence’, ‘linguistic capital’ and the rest. I would like to ask you whether I have got this right and to explain how these processes might relate to the concept of ideology—are they synonymous, or is ideology for you something quite different? The concept of ideology does sometimes crop up in your work, but it is not a central concern in this particular book.
Pierre Bourdieu Thank you for what you say about my book; in only a few sentences you have summarized its main intention, so it is now easier for me to answer the question. In fact, I tend to avoid the word ‘ideology’ because, as your own book shows, it has very often been misused, or used in a very vague manner. It seems to convey a sort of discredit. To describe a statement as ideological is very often an insult, so that this ascription itself becomes an instrument of
te This prompts me to explain why I still write about ideology, even though I agree with what you say about the frequent vagueness of the concept and that there are many different notions of ideology in circulation. My book was partly an attempt to clarify the concept. I also think there are reasons now why the concept of ideology seems to be superfluous or redundant, and I try to look at these in my book too. One is that the theory of ideology would seem to depend on a concept of representation, and certain models of representation have been called into question and thereby also, so it is thought, the notion of ideology. Another reason—perhaps a more interesting one—is that it is often felt now that in order to identify a form of thought as ideological you would need to have some kind of access to absolute truth. If the idea of absolute truth is called into question then the concept of ideology would seem to fall to the ground with it.
There are two further reasons why it seems that ideology is no longer a fashionable concept. One is what has been called ‘enlightened false consciousness’, namely, that in a postmodern epoch the idea that we simply labour under false consciousness is too simple—that people are actually much more cynically or shrewdly aware of their values than that would suggest. This again calls the concept of ideology into question. Finally, there is the argument that what keeps the system going is less rhetoric or discourse than, as it were, its own systemic logic: the idea that advanced capitalism works all by itself, that it doesn’t any longer need to pass through consciousness to be validated, that it somehow secures its own reproduction. I actually am dubious about whether all of that is sufficient to ditch the concept of ideology. I accept there is a force in those various points, but I suppose one reason I want to retain the concept of ideology is that I do think there is something that corresponds to the notion of false consciousness, and I am interested in your own work in that respect. Can I put it this way: when you use concepts like doxa, spontaneous belief or opinion, then in a sense those are operating as notions of ideology for you, in that doxa would seem unquestionable and natural. On the other hand, does that allow you to talk about false consciousness in the sense of false notions or propositions that actually sustain unjust
pb I agree with the first part of your reasoning—the doubts you expressed about the concept of ideology. I agree and can expand on your objections. In particular, I think that one of the main uses of the concept of ideology was to make a strong break between the scientist and others. For example, Althusser and those influenced by him made a very violent symbolic use of the concept. They used it as a sort of religious notion by which you must climb by degrees to the truth, never being sure to have achieved the true Marxist theory. The theorist was able to say ‘You are an ideologist.’ For example, Althusser would refer disparagingly to the ‘so-called social sciences’. It was a manner of making visible a sort of invisible separation between the true knowledge—the possessor of science—and false consciousness. That, I think, is very aristocratic—indeed one of the reasons why I don’t like the word ‘ideology’ is because of the aristocratic thinking of Althusser.
So now to move on to more familiar ground: why do I think the notion of doxa is more useful? Many things that are called ideology in Marxist tradition in fact operate in a very obscure manner. For example, I could say that all the academic systems, all the educational systems, are a sort of ideological mechanism; they are a mechanism that produces an unequal distribution of personal capital, and they legitimate this production. Such mechanisms are unconscious. They are accepted and that is something very powerful, which is not grasped, in my view, in the traditional definition of ideology as representation, as false consciousness. I think that Marxism, in fact, remains a sort of Cartesian philosophy, in which you have a conscious agent who is the scholar, the learned person, and the others who don’t have access to consciousness. We have spoken too much about consciousness, too much in terms of representation. The social world doesn’t work in terms of consciousness; it works in terms of practices, mechanisms and so forth. By using doxa we accept many things without knowing them, and that is what is called ideology. In my view we must work with a philosophy of change. We must move away from the Cartesian philosophy of the Marxist tradition towards a different philosophy in which agents are not aiming consciously towards things, or mistakenly guided by false representation. I think all that is wrong, and I don’t believe in it.