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In this response I’d particularly like to focus on the discussion we had regarding the relationship between the state and aesthetics, taking a very broad definition of the aesthetic. I’d then like to move on to attempt to combine what seem to me to be useful and interesting ways of dealing with the maintenance of the state; Althusser’s conviction that the state necessarily reproduces the conditions of its production, and Routledge’s (somewhat aphoristic?) claim that the state is always in the process of production. In essence this piece is more of a manifesto which takes the seminar as its beginning point, rather than a strict response to points raised.
It would seem hard to debate that the state produces a distinct aesthetic, which is furthermore both dominant and omnipresent. This aesthetic is internalized to greater or lesser degrees by the subjects of the state, and is manifested in a diverse fashion. The definition of aesthetic adopted here is broad, covering spatial organization, types and ways of movement, and appropriate social behaviors, alongside the more traditional definition of the aesthetic.
In this sense it can be seen that the state aesthetic is inherently linked to practice in the sense implied by Bourdieu. The aesthetic and the practices which constitute the state and are also derived from it are mutually reinforcing; more on this below. However, we must first make a distinction about the types of practice being dealt with. Bourdieu (1977) focuses on micropractice in a Foucauldian sense, the day-to-day individualized habitus. Yet there must exist another type of practice (macropractice) which extends beyond the local to the general. This macropractice is both constitutive of the state and simultaneously derived from it. It is this type of practice which is most intimately linked to the state, and the generalizing state aesthetic.
(A note on micro versus macro. It is obvious that there are structures which oppose the state – that is, the state aesthetic is not fully internalized, and the macropractices which reinforce the state are not the only types of habitus in which people engage. Following Given (only the first few pages of ch.2; I'm afraid I didn't have enough time to do the entire chapter), we can see local aesthetics and practices (the vernacular) as implicitly opposed to the state. However, the discussion here is in the abstract, and we will not consider the impact of anti-state structures in the account below).
However, this discussion leads us to a problem. It has been suggested that the state aesthetic and state-associated macropractice are mutually reinforcing. Yet surely pre-state or non-state societies possess similar mechanisms ensuring the maintenance of the status quo. It seems that what we are in fact talking about here is the social, or rather the social structure. To summarise so far, then; the state aesthetic and generalizing practices both reproduce the conditions of their production, viz. the social.
Here we may usefully make use of an idea which has long since gone out of fashion. Althusser’s concept (which we have adapted) of the state (the social in our terms) reproducing itself seems analogous to Renfrew’s (1972) understanding of society as homeostatic; that is, it actively discourages deviation through certain internal relationships. To understand these relationships we must borrow Renfrew’s terminology. He understands the social to be a system composed of subsystems. His subsystems are predictably processual; exchange, subsistence, elite needs etc. Negative feedback between these subsystems militates against deviation from the norm, and hence the state quo is maintained (i.e. the social reproduces the conditions of its production). Deviation in an individual subsystem is repressed by this process of negative feedback (i.e. output alters in relation to changing input to maintain balance). However, if two subsystems deviate simultaneously then the possibility of positive feedback exists. In this process, the deviations reinforce each other and fundamentally alter the subsystemic level; the social is realigned (see Renfrew 1972, The Emergence of Civilisation, for applications).
We may drop our terminology into this and produce a model. The social is comprised of subsystems, which are inherently interlinked. These subsystems are; the practice subsystem, the aesthetic subsystem, the ideological subsystem, and arguably a regulatory subsystem. Negative feedback loops between these subsystems (i.e. mutual reinforcement) discourage change, so that the composition of the social remains constant. However, when two or more subsystems deviate simultaneously then the possibility for a positive feedback process to begin arises. In this instance the social undergoes a paradigmatic shift of the sort envisaged by Bourdieu for practice alone, and is reconstituted. The system then normalizes under a re-aligned negative feedback process. Moreover, it should be noted that the medium in which all subsystemic interrelations occur is material. For the sake of argument, I’m interpreting power and the social as largely co-extensive.
In using systems theory I may or may not expose myself to the usual critique, that it generalizes, ignores the potential agency of actors, dehumanizes etc. But perhaps not; the subsystems I proposed are ones that are intrinsically agent-oriented. Essentially, I suppose this response is derived from my own attempt to reconcile my problem with the top-down versus bottom-up conception of state, and concerns about the validity of "state" itself, and about its composition and boundaries. Any thoughts?
Posted at Sep 24/2007 12:34AM:
Omur: Fascinating Tom. I guess, I would perhaps make a brief comment about the making of an "aesthetics" in the public sphere. I have found David Turnbull's concept of "knowledge-space" rather useful when thinking about the formation of visual and material culture that embodies a corpus of knowledge that is collectively shared, understood and reproduced. Think of for instance a particular stone carving tradition that envelopes the urban space. It is produced by stone quarrying, cutting and dressing techniques of the stone masons of the city, and it creates a fabric of materiality across the shared built environment that is very much part of the everyday "lived experience" of the citizens in the urban landscape. The state adopts/appropriates this "practice at large" to construct its own monumental stately structures with specific deviations and the addition of a visual spectacularity, and develops an ideological discourse that gives extra credit to the state for the true making of real spaces. The state's appropriation of broader social practices already works well for representing an speaking to a collective imagination. Having articulated on this, I would also argue that the state also subscribes to various inter-regional rhetorics of statehood that also primarily involves the use of cross-cutting categories of material, literary and visual culture.
Posted at Sep 24/2007 12:45AM:
Omur: What wouldn't work in the systems model in Bourdieu's understanding of habitus/practice, I would say, is that systems models do not leave much room to arbitrariness and serendpity, unpredictable phenomena in every specific "cumulative formation of the state".