Alexei Penzin on Symbolic Capital

The expression “symbolic capital” is all the rage in Russia. It is perhaps the only term in Pierre Bourdieu’s entire social theory that has found its way into everyday usage. A Google search returns something like a million and a half links to the term in various languages.

Not long ago I had occasion to ponder the usage of the concept. The Chto Delat group and the Forward Socialist Movement carried out a collective action against the plans of Gleb Pavlovsky’s Foundation for Effective Politics to invite French leftist philosopher to Russia. Badiou heeded the arguments of his Moscow comrades and refused to come to the Russian capital at the bidding of this pro-Kremlin organization. Afterwards, the Internet was filled with accusations that Chto Delat and Forward had simply wanted to cause a fuss and raise some “symbolic capital” in the process.

This take totally nullified the intentions, political motives, and internal debates of the people who took part in this action. Everything was reduced to an instrument for raising that elusive substance known as symbolic capital (fame, reputation). The activists were told that they hadn’t done anything special. You’re just like us, their critics said; you’re out to get what everyone else is after, only you use different means and work in a different area. Continue reading “Alexei Penzin on Symbolic Capital”