2013년 8월 24일 토요일


October 2006

RR Working n°2006-2 Série PH ( www.theorie-regulation.org )
Association Recherche & Régulation c/o LEPII-CNRS, Université Pierre Mendès France

(*) CNRS, Bureau d'économie théorique et appliquée. This text has been presented at the conference ^Practicing Pierre Bourdieu, in the field and across the disciplines^, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 28-30 September 2006.

※ 발췌(excerpt): 

Bourdieu was a great reader of Spinoza. It then should be no surprise that a spinozist flavour may often rise from his work and, furthermore, that the concepts of Spinoza's philosophy appear to be highly compatible with Bourdieu's theoretical setting. They may do even more than simply "fit", and add their own intellectual effect, namely provide enrichments, if not some kind of foundation. It is especially true when it comes to Bourdieu's general view of the social world as crossed with struggles and domination relationships between uneven powers. Returning to Spinoza may be here particularly valuable insofar as both his ^Ethics^ and his ^Political Treatise^ provide what could be called a "metaphysics of struggles"[n1]. The core concept of Spinoza's philosophy, read from a social scientist viewpoint, is definitely the concept of "conatus", defined as the striving made by every thing to "persevere in its being" (^Eth.^, III, 6). The conatus is an endeavour not only to resist destruction but also to expand and achieve a higher degree of power. The conatus is a momentum, a going force, the expression of an ontology of activity according to which every thing is in itself an acting power. But why have thingsㅡ^modes^ in Spinoza's lexiconㅡto ^strive^ to persevere in their being? Because they are numerous and thus potentially conflicting: the exercising of the inner powers of a mode becomes an endeavour as soon as it encounters resistance from other modes striving in opposite directions. Struggles and conflicts are thus the direct outcome of the coexistence of conatuses as unlimited expansive endeavours.  As is domination, which is the other name given to asymmetric relations and showdowns between unequal powers. What can then be done with the concept of conatus in social sciences, and more practically how can it mix with Bourdieu's sociological theory? No doubt both viewpoints strongly resonate on the issue of struggles within the social world. One step further, it is not too difficult to have a hint of possible complementarities between them. Whereas Bourdieu's sociology endlessly stresses the role of social structures in shaping individual actions and interactions, the conatus, as an energy, provides not the ghost!, but, so to speak, the fuel in the machine. The conatus is the generic driving force of human action, but determined to know where to go by structures onlyㅡthus calling for an articulate theory of the social structures effectiveness. Reciprocally, the spinozist ontology of power is particularly relevant to help view fields as more or less institutionalized agonistic realms insofar as vying and rivalries intimately pertain to the idea of a power striving. Both combined, Spinoza's onto-anthropology of conatus and Bourdieu's theory of fields provide altogether, on the one hand, the elementary energies and forces inhabitating the human-social world, and on the other hand the structural principles ruling the shaping of these energies, their orientation, their encountersㅡmost of the time their collisions.
[n1] See F. Lordon (2006), "Métaphysique des luttes", in F. Lordon (ed), Conflits et pouvoirs dans les institutions du capitalisme, Press de Science-Po, forthcoming, also avaliable at: http://web.upmf-grenoble.fr/lepii/regulation/wp/document/RR_seriePH_2006-1.pdf.

  Both these ideas are definitely required when it comes to challenging the neoclassical economic views, be they abstract, on markets in general, or more applied, on globalization for instance. As if it were itself striving and vying like a conatus, the neoclassical economics does all it can to keep other social sciences at bay, thrust them aside and deter any contest of its monopoly over economic facts. Most of the time a kind of self-censorship regrettably prevents these social sciences, at the same time mesmerized, repelled and daunted by mathematical apparatus, to enter the fray and asserts their own views on economic issues, thus leaving the ground to a seemingly triumphant economic "science". Yet mathematical technicalities are most often a smoke screen veiling either intellectual misery or very disputable theoretical optionsㅡwhich would be much more harshly contended if they appeared more clearly. In particular, neoclassical models have to hide two major blind spots that are: i) an individualistic theoretical setting completely forgetful of the role of the structures, focusing only on supposedly autonomous "actors" and their face-to-face "free" interactions; ii) the complete denial of the political nature of economic interactions, which goes along with the assertion of economy as a particular and separate realm, "subsequently" stripped of any power issues, dismissed as irrelevant: purportedly a sheer question of interest calculations between symmetrical and equal trades, economic behaviours would be free of any violence or power bias... An elementary observation of the real economic practices suggests quite the opposite, especially at a time of widespread market liberalization. Far from being the peaceful areas of the trade harmony described by he neoclassical economics, markets may surely be better seen as a particular kind of field, as places where the intrinsic violence akin to an ontology of struggles is shaped and institutionalized as ^competition^. If markets are to be viewed as scenes of a particular agonismㅡthe economic agonismㅡ, the globalization, which is nothing but a general process of market deregulation, may in turn  be appraised in the terms of a General Economy of Violence, as any field or set of fieldsㅡin the present case a General Economy of the economic Violence.


Conatus, illusio and fields

How can Spinoza's ontological views be of some help for social sciences and lead to an understanding of the social world? The answer could be that the conatus provides the basis for a theory of action. However, one could object that "perseverance in its being" gives a rather fuzzy principle of human actin... True, even supplemented with the ideas of endeavour, expansion or power, the conatus as enunciated in (Eth., III 6) [n2] only appeals to philosophers but remains meaningless for social scientists. A particular conceptual work must thus be made so as to circulate properly the initially philosophical concept of conatus in the specific plan of social sciences. A conceptual distinction should then be made between what could respectively be called the "essential" and "actual" contatus.
  • The "essential" conatus, formally presented in (Eth., III, 6) is a generic endeavour, an intransitive desiring force, at that stage still ignoring what it should aim and where it should go. This is the conatus understood from an ontological viewpoint. 
  • But the social world only displays specific strivings to persevere in one's being as..., namely striving to persevere in certain and determinate forms of social being. This transitive endeavour, this directed force, this fully determinate desire, we can call it the "actual" conatus.
[n2] "Each thing, as far as it can by its own power, strives to persevere in its being", ^Ethics^, translated by Edwin Curley, Penguin Classics, 1996
  Contrarily to the "essential" conatus which was an abstract ontological concept, the "actual" conatus is of special interest for social sciences: the one is the concrete conatus, the determined driving force of particular actions, in other words the conatus as it may be practically observed in the social world. Nothing more concrete as the endeavours of some to persevere in their being as, say, a stateman, an artist, a sport or rock star, or an entrepreneur! All their actions are the outcome of a generic desiring force become specified and transitive, namely oriented towards specific goals. But striving to persevere in its being ^as^ a politician, or ^as^ and entrepreneur, is nothing but expressing a politician's or an entrepreneur's ^illusio^. The illusion defined by Bourdieu as an interest to play a certain (social) game in a certain field, exactly depicts the desiring dash, the energy beneath the impetus, the driving force encapsulated in the idea of "actual conatus". If fields can be viewed under a topological and structuralist perspectiveㅡfields as differential spaces in which location means determinationㅡthey can also be considered as spaces where ^ex ante^ shapeless energy, call it libido [n3] or conatus, will be shaped as an illusio, which means: determined to find an interest at pursuing specific objects and aims. The libido ^sciendi^ is the specific illusio of the scientist, in other words the expression of his striving to persevere in its being ^as a scientist^, in the specific field. One could thus say that ^the illusion is tantamount to a vocational actualization of the conatus.^[n4]
[n3] Under the condition to understand "libido" in a broad sense, beyond a restricted sexual acception.
[n4] For a more substantial elaboration of the (close) links between Spinoza's philosophy and Bourdieu's social theory, see Frédéric Lordon (2003), "Conatus et institutions. Pour un structuralisme énergétique, L'Année de la Régulation, vol.7, Presses de Sciences-Po, Paris, also available at: http://frederic.lordon.perso.cegetel.net/Travaux/recherches_spinozistes.htm
  It is all the more relevant to bring together this two conceptsㅡBourdieu's illusio and Spinoza's conatusㅡthat it helps addressing the outstanding question of where and how the ^essential^ conatus received the complementary determinations which made it an ^actual^ conatusㅡthe answer being: in fields! The undeterminacy of the essential conatus, as an intransitive desiring force, thus calling for complementary external determinations, makes it all the more necessary to dismiss the idea that a conatus-based theory of action could be something like an individualistic monadology of power. Quite on the contrary, the conatus receiving its full determination from the outside, from the social structures within which it is striving, such a spinozist theory of action is not only coherent with what we could roughly call a "structuralist" viewpoint, but it logically appeals for an anti-individualistic perspective. There should not be any surprise here, considering that, even more radically, Spinoza's philosophy of consciousness and metaphysics of subjectivity, Spinoza strongly claims that men are deeply heteronomous and determined by external forces of which they almost ignore everythingㅡstarting with their sheer existence (Eth., II, 35, scholium) adamantly denies any autonomy to the consciousness and any existence to a fictitious "free will": "Men are deceived in that they think themselves free, an opinion which only consists in this, that they are conscious of their actions and ignorant of the causes by which they are determined (...) they say, of course, that human actions depend on the will, but these are only words for which they have no idea". How not to think of what Bourdieu wrote in the foreword of ^Le Sens Pratique^, trying to dispel the delusions of the subject (1980) [n5]
[n5] In the English translation: The Logic of Practice, Cambridge, Polity Pres, 1990.

Fields as scenes of an organized violence

If fields are socializing and conatus-actualizing spaces, they are also agonistic and sometimes violent universes. This violence is straightforwardly pertaining to the very nature of conatus which, as an endeavour to expand, is doomed to encounter... and engage rivals. Considering the deepest anthropological consequences of the hypothesis of the conatus, one could even say the the most primitive, the rawest gesture of the conatus is to grab, to conquer for itself. As a projection of power, the conatus set with the world a relation of appropriation and possession. Its endeavour is a compulsion to capture, absord and metabolize. This fundamental grabbing and gripping nature of the conatus is the origin of an anthropological violence as soon as what is to grab is not to pick from the natural environment but to snatch from someone else's hands. The grabbing compulsion of the conatus is thus an antisocial force, a permanent risk of violence spread, the highest jeopardy the group has to face. It is then possible to see the archaic gift exchange as one of the very first civilisational "devices" capable of regulating the violent grabbing compulsions of the conatuses: i) the obligations to give, receive, and give back implicitly prohibits the unilateral grabbing, indentified as the utmost peril threatening the group, and asserts the civilisational value of giving; ii) the gift exchange bans the grabbing as a way to acquire things and replaces it with the receiving: "don't take anything that hasn't been given to you" could be its civilisational motto; iii) but the core property of the gift exchange lies in the fact that it does not merely bar the gripping energies of the conatuses but offers them a substitute way to strive: the conquest of things is replaced by the quest for prestige and reputation; iv) in so doing the "institution" of the gift exchange performs a remarkable operation of symbolization and sublimation of the raw grabbing compulsions of the conatus: instead of violently and anarchically fighting for things, the conatuses are engaged in well organized ^social^ struggles for symbolic and even immaterial objectsㅡtrophies and prestige. What could turn the group into a violent chaos is transformed into a regulated social agonism. The conative violence cannot be uprooted: "The striving by which each thing strives to persevere in its being is nothing but the actual essence of the thing" reads (Eth., III, 7). It is a fundamental given of every mode[n6] in Spinoza's ontology of activity, and thus anthropological given when the considered mode is the man. If anything but "removable", the conquering energy of the conatus may however be accommodated through various kinds of social "channeling"ㅡgift exchange competitions are oneㅡand its grabbing compulsions may be sublimated and regulated in institutionalized agonistic realms.
[n6] Recall that Spinoza calls things "modes".
  Although irrelevant at first sight for a socio-anthropology of the modern world, it was worth devoting some time to the conatus-regulating solution of the gift exchange insofar as it already provides the core social "mechanisms" tackling the problem of the potentially lethal violence pertaining to the gripping compulsions of the conatusㅡnamely: "channeling" and sublimation. To this extent, the gift exchange could be viewed as a civilisational paradigm considering that all the institutional forms dealing with the same problem more or less borrow to its general principles. In particular, unfolding this spinozist reading of Bourdieu, fields could definitey be considered ^as scenes of an institutionalized agonism^. Letting aside the somehow functionalist tone of the wording, one could say that fields are part of the civilisational response to the challenge of conatus violence. Put otherwise, field are major institutions of a General Economy of Violence, if it is possible to label so the theoretical perspective stemming from the onto-anthropology of the conatus and acknowledging its consubstantial violence. How do social formations organize the redirections and the conversions of the streams of conative energies, how do they give a socially sustainable form to their potentially violent conquering compulsions? Part of the answer is given in fields. If conatuses are doomed to collide and conflict, at least be they involved into institutionalized struggles, within universes where shocks occur and fights unfold according to socially agreed rules. Fields are particularly efficient in accommodating conatues violence insofar as ... they are the sheer places where conatuses have been actualized, and by the same token socialized and civilized. Fields, then, do not see the highly violent shocks of raw conatuses but the competitive interactions of actualized conatuses, already determined to play by the rules of the social games institutionalized by the fields. In the political field, the grabbing and conquering compulsions of the conatuses are to be shaped and re-expressed through the rules of the electoral "democratic" competition for power; in the scientific field they are redirected towards the specific forms of academic achievements and distinction; in the literary field towards the conquest of editorial positions, of special prizes and awards or longer term acknowledgement, and so on. The competition in the fields may be ferocious, and these interactions of the utmost violenceㅡbut always of a ^symbolic violence! One can die in a fieldㅡbut always of a symbolic and social death. Fields are typical outcomes of the process of civilisation. Doesn't Elias exemplify this historical process through the case of royal court...which is typically a field? And doesn't the sheer idea of the "process of civilisation" echo with the perspective of a "general economy of violence", both addressing the issue of the imperative regulation of individual violent impulses.

Market as fields, competition as sublimated violence

Among fields, one perhaps deserves a special attentin: the economic field. Economy is definitely one of the scenes of a general economy of violence... Isn't the field which claims epitomizing the purest, and even the primary idea of ^competition^? Ture, the interactions of the economic conatuses are regulated by the rules of economic competitionㅡmore fundamentally: they ^take the form^ of economic competition. Actualizing the conatus as an ^economic^ conatus has thus the effect of converting the raw grabbing compulsions in various kinds of endeavours towards economic power. For sure, the endless accumulation of profit and wealth gives a striking illustration of conatus as an indefinite expansion striving. However, wealth is not the only form of the social being in which economic conatuses strive to persevere in. Or, put otherwise, the striving for wealth leads the conatuses to pursue more specific and instrumental aims. These intermediary targets give their particular and precise forms to the various kinds of economic strugglesㅡand thus to the economic expressions of the general economy of violence.

  Hence, for instance, economic conatuses may be vying for market shares. The "goods market" is one of the scenes of the economic agonism. Viewing competition for market shares under this perspective is perhaps the best way to see what is flawed in the concept of "market" which implicitly conveys the idea of a single and homogeneous place, and loses all the concrete interactions of agents hidden and absorbed into the aggregate supply and demand. Going back to these concrete interactions, knowing that they cannot be explained without referring to the overall structure of the interaction space, is a way to unveil the inner violence pertaining to struggling conatuses and to break with the harmonious pictures, rid of any conflict, of the so-called "market theory". The misleading and derealising concept of "market" should thus be replaced by the more realistic concept of field, which, when included in the perspective of a general economy of violence, is more appropriate to faithfully capture the fundamental violence of economic rivalries, even if they are "adequately" shaped and regulated by the economic game so as to be clearly distinguished from purely physical violence. As Bourdieu often emphasized it, the local interactions between agents are determined by the general structure of the fieldㅡwhich prevents a sociology of fields to be assimilated to an interactionism. In the economic case, it should be added that these interactions are deeply influenced not only by the differential positions of the agents, and the subsequent uneven distribution of bargaining power, but also by the precise nature of the general rule of competition such as they are largely determined by public policy. Actually, what could be called the ^competition regime^, namely the restriction or the freedom of trade, the existence or not of protected sectors, the existence or not of state-owned companies, and all the rules that determines the ^intensity^ of the competition, all this, in turn, determine the likelihood and the degree of violence of the shocks between economic conatuses struggling for market shares. To this extent, it is no surprise that the general process of deregulation and liberalisation of trade within and between countries has dramatically risen the intensity of the competetitve struggles and the level of economic and social violence within firms, which are facing unprecedented pressures. The brutality of the adjustments on wages, employment, and the general conditions of work are the faithful reflect of a general economy of the economic violence whom structures have incurred a major shiftㅡin the direction of a higher, less sublimated, less regulated violence. Quite logically, deregulated markets are leading to less regulated violence insofar as markets are themselves a form of regulation of conatuses' violence...

Unleashed Conatuses in the Deregulated Finance

This general surge in economic violence is definitely one of the most distinctive features of the so-called "globalized" capitalism, and may be seen in many areas. In particular, besides the "goods market:, the rivalries between firms have reached unparalleled levels as it tuns to corporate control. Finance in all its componentsㅡcorporate finance, security marketsㅡis definitely the economic realm where the power logics of the conatus may be best observed, and the violence-rising effects of the deregulation as well. Actually it must be emphasized once again that, far from the interactionist view, the interactions between agents are deeply shaped by the structural and institutional environment within which they take place. Only the particular configuration of these structures at a certain moment of time may explain the nature, the form and the degree of violence of the phenomenal interactions; and the variations in these nature, form and degree of violence should be ascribed to variations in the underlying structures. Today's financial capitalism spectacularly exemplifies these general propositions.

The great shift in the structures of finance

It is now trivial to observe that the structures of the capitalism have incurred a dramatic shift since the beginning of the 1980s. In this global evolution, the proper transformations of the financial sphere and its growing hegemony on the overall economic system have not been least noticed. What is less clear is the interpretation to be given to what could be called, in Polanyi's terms, a new Great Transformation. The General Economy of Violence perspective suggests one which of course is not exactly in line with the mainstream economics analyses according to which every step in the direction of making the real economy closer to the walrasian idealtype is a progress towards efficiency, welfare and harmony. One should not be surprised of this rift as soon as are recalled the derealizing effectsㅡpurpose?ㅡof the neoclassical economics which systematically "forgets"ㅡhides?ㅡthe work of forces, powers and the violence of conflicts. It is quite clear that choosing to seize the economic facts under the category of "market economy"ㅡinstead of "capitalism"ㅡ, to consider the economic interactions as purely bilateral and perfectly even, to emphasize the allocative issues and dismiss the power ones, to view the "economic order" as the spontaneous and harmonious outcome of equilibrium adjustment mechanisms whereas it could more realistically be seen as the more or less sustainable resultant of balances of forces, are all too coherent option... Bourdieu's viewpoint, which unveils the domination effects beneath the surface of "interactions", and relates these effects to the structures shaping the interactions, backed by Spiniza's onto-anthropology which, with the conatus, provides the concept of these domination strivings, an image of ^energies^ acting within the structures, determined by the structures, and sometimes determining a change in the structures, both these theoretical viewpoints make it possible to challenge the neoclassical economics, moreover where it seems the strongest, namely in the sphere of finance, often presented as the best realisation of the idealized walarsian market.

  It is yet rather easy to have a glimpse of the power stakes related to the transformations of the structures of finance which all appear to revolve around the issue of corporate ^control^ㅡa notion in itself clear enough to give an idea of the struggles it can encompass... even though neutralized by neoclassical economics as unsurprising... "^market^ for control". The transformations of the corporate control ^regime^ (not ^market^) consisted of the unraveling of the shareholder crossholdings which previously helped firms to mutually protect themselves against hostile raids. As a result, the widespread circulation of the property rights on the stock markets and the rising proportion of the floating capital have left firms more vulnerable than ever. That was exactly the intended goal... for the big institutional shareholders, who have seen in the increased vulnerability a powerful mean to enhance their own power on the management teams. Whereas executive had become increasingly autonomous and out of reach during the fordian period, the financeㅡmore precisely: institutional investorsㅡ, in this move, has looked for a renewed power of reining in managers who could be tempted to forget that they are at the helm of the firm only to serve shareholders interests and deliver the highest returnㅡnot build empires for the sake of empire or succumb to any delirium of grandeur. Actually the free circulation of big chunks of the capital on the equity market has raised to an unprecedented level the grip of finance upon corporations through what is usually called the "Wall Street Walk": as soon as the investors want to express a strong dissent with the management of a firm, and after the usual shareholder "diplomacy" has been exhausted, the best way to do so consists in voting with their feet! namely selling shares on the market, as a straightforward no-confidence vote. This is quite a powerful deterrentㅡbeforeㅡ, and quite an effective instrument when used, because, to the extent that the dissent and the sales moves are widespread, they can seriously affect the stock price which, if dipping too low, makes the firm dangerously exposed to a hostile takeover bidㅡthe logical outcome of which will be the sacking of the management team. Why, then, are managers so obsessed with getting the approval of the investors and satisfying all their requirements? Simply because their own perseverance in their executive being is directly at stake! Hardly stronger motive could be imagined...

Corporate control as a predation game: the conatus between excitement and fear

Of course, fitting the investors' rationale was not in itself a sufficient reason for this shift in the corporate control regime to occur. Why did it then? Put crudely, the answer seems paradoxically to make first the problem even more puzzling: this transformatin occurred because ^all protagonists agreed to push it^ㅡ"all protagonists" including thus not only the great financial actors but also the firms themselves... to which, in the first place, this transformation appears highly detrimental! How comes that firms may have approved of a move intended to submit them to a tighter monitoring? How may they have cooperated in a situation which seems to just sharpen the conflict opposing them to the shareholder finance and tilt the balance of power at their expense? Solving the riddle requires to see that the same new institutional setting of the liberalized finance which gives to shareholders an unprecedented hold on firms also appears to expand tremendously growth opportunities for firm themselves. But what kind of growth exactly? No longer the usual "organic" growth obtained from surplus and investment and brought about by new plants, new products, wider commercial networks or whatsoever. In the new financial environment a firm can now grow simply by buying another one, thus directly adding to hers a readymade set of plants, products, patents, subsidiaries, etc. This so-called "external" growth has superseded the former "internal" growth, and most of the expansion plans of management teams are now taking the way of the financial marketㅡnot at all to raise funds, as holds the common wisdom of "going public", but to seek and seize the opportunities of ^growing by merging^, in other words: finding a prey fit to swallow and absorb. How the expansion dash of the capitalist conatus couldn't feel spurred in these conditions where scooping property rights on the market can make you almost instantly a sector-if not a world-leader [n7]? Recall that in the previous configuration of the capitalism, the same achievements required years, if not decades, through the slow-pace organic growth and the patient re-investment of the surplus... Mergers and acquisitions have thus become the magic formula for hurried capitalists who, fascinated by this "acceleration power", were doomed to succumb the temptations of the (very) fast tract. If one-shot well-targeted operation can propel you to the highest places of the ranking, you should be an idiot to resist and not seize the opportunity. Grabbing and absorbing directly a competitor (capturing and metabolizingㅡperhaps the most fundamental compulsions of the conatus) has logically become the most obvious strategy for growth now that the financial structures have made it possible.

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