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From 'Amor Fati' to 'disgust': Affect, habitus, and class identity in Didier Eribon's Retour à Reims
Jeremy F. Lane French Cultural Studies 2012 23: 127 DOI: 10.1177/0957155812436533 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Focusing on those episodes in Retour à Reims which suggest that Eribon’s parents had a far more contradictory relationship to working-class identity than Bourdieu’s theory would suggest. 2013 .436533 2012 FRC23210. Beverley Skeggs Corresponding author: Jeremy F. frustration and rejection that marked his and his parents’ relationship to their working-class identity. questioning. shame. co. he draws on two different and potentially contradictory theoretical traditions: Eve Sedgwick’s work on shame and queer identity and Bourdieu’s emphasis on the centrality of affect to the workings of the class habitus. disgust. and the feelings of shame.nav DOI: 10. Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Didier Eribon draws on the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu and on his own earlier work on gay identity to offer a moving and insightful account of his social trajectory and of the issues of class.1177/0957155812436533 frc.sagepub. pre-reflexive way in which working-class subjects allegedly invest in and come to love their social identity and destiny. Keywords affect. Throughout this autobiographical account. disgust. disaffection. mind−body dualism. education and sexual identity that trajectory raises. University of class. and class identity in Didier Eribon’s Retour à Reims Jeremy F. Bourdieu’s insistence on the immediate. Lane. In so at BOSTON UNIV on March 4. Email: jeremy. The article concludes that the work of Beverley Skeggs on class and gender offers a more fruitful way of theorising the relationships between class. NG7 2RD.sagepub. This involves drawing on the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty as a means of thinking through the mind−body dualism that underpins Bourdieu’s concept of University of Nottingham Abstract In his Retour à Reims (2010).uk/journalsPermissions. Eve Sedgwick. the article calls for a reformulation of certain of the key tenets of Bourdieusian sociology. UK. social identity and political or social change.lane@nottingham. Department of French and Francophone Studies. Pierre Bourdieu. Eribon stresses the centrality of affect and emotion to social and sexual identity. Downloaded from frc. habitus. University Park. This article examines the tensions or potential contradictions between these two traditions. habitus. in particular. affect. Lane French Cultural Studies 23(2) 127­–140 © The Author(s) 2012 Reprints and permission: sagepub.1177/0957155812436533French Cultural StudiesLane French Cultural Studies From ‘Amor Fati’ to ‘disgust’:  Affect.

(2010: 99) In hindsight. from a young age. Hence perhaps one of the most significant innovations contained in Retour à Reims is Eribon’s attempt to expand on his earlier work on the centrality of affect to sexual identity so that this might also be brought to bear on the realms of class identity and political affiliation. affect or emotion. education and sexuality in post-war France. to offer a moving personal account of his own social trajectory − an account which also provides numerous insights into the relationships between class. Of course. ‘rejection’. even light-headedness at having escaped his social destiny: ‘Encore n’éprouvais-je que par intermittance cette culpabilité … Le sentiment de ma liberté me grisait. by extension. suggests that what was at stake in this instance related less to the realm of rational consciousness or deliberative judgement than to the workings of affect or at BOSTON UNIV on March 4. Didier Eribon draws on the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu. as elsewhere. Eribon’s relationship to his social origins appears to turn on a series of visceral affective reactions against that working-class milieu and all it represents: reactions of ‘disgust’. And in the course of Retour à Reims he will suggest that his rejection of his working-class identity and his assumption of his sexuality were very closely articulated.128 French Cultural Studies 23(2) In his autobiography. If we are to draw any general theoretical conclusions from Eribon’s personal experiences. he admits to his highly ambivalent relationship towards his working-class identity − a mixture of ‘proximité’ and ‘solidarité’. Eribon’s determination. les classes populaires’ (Eribon 2010: 27). early in the book. un refus du destin auquel j’étais assigné et la blessure secrète. on the feelings of disgust. Eribon describes this moment as ‘une prise de conscience’. de ce que sont. As Eribon puts it: Au fond. as well as on his own earlier work on gay identity. un dégoût de cette misère. Later. à jamais. Cela laissait peu de place au remords’ (2010: 116). witnessing his father’s drunken rage seems to Eribon to have played a catalytic role in what he terms his ‘désidentification’: it was that moment ‘qui installa en moi une volonté patiente et obstinée de contredire l’avenir auquel j’étais promis’ (2010: 97−8). Retour à Reims (2010). to theoretical understandings of the precise role played by affect and emotion in forming and re-forming social and sexual identities. While this unease and embarrassment sometimes trigger in their turn feelings of ‘culpabilité’ and ‘remords’. 2004). ‘au plus profond de moi-même un rejet du milieu ouvrier tel qu’il est réellement … Et je détestais de plus en plus me retrouver au contact immédiat de ce qu’étaient. and potentially. which coexists with. Thus he identifies as a pivotal moment in his own social trajectory his horrified reaction to his father’s return to the family home in a drunken violent rage after two or three days’ unexplained absence. to escape his working-class origins appears itself to have its genesis in these feelings of disgust and rejection. rejection and hatred it engendered. it would appear that his major contribution to social theory may be to the sociology of emotions. ce souvenir. d’avoir à porter en moi. these are outweighed by a stronger sense of joy. also in the emergence of political affiliations. yet the emphasis he places here. then. In this sense. je crois. he will confess to feeling ‘horriblement mal à l’aise’ (2010: 106) when attending family events or to ‘une terrible gêne’ when fielding questions about his brother’s modest profession of apprentice butcher (2010: 110). it might be possible to situate Eribon’s work within the so-called ‘turn to Downloaded from frc. ce n’est pas tant la personne qui avait accompli ces gestes que j’avais prise en horreur que le décor social dans lequel ces gestes étaient possibles. Le lancer de bouteilles ne dura peut-être que quelques minutes: il inscrivit en moi. plays a central role in Eribon’s theoretical work on gay identity (Eribon. La joie d’échapper à mon destin. mais toujours vive. ‘hatred’. notably in the form of shame. ultimately. For example. Eribon admits. 2013 . ‘embarrassment’ and ‘horrible unease’. One of the most striking features of Retour à Reims is the central role Eribon attributes to affect and emotion in his account of his conflicted relationship to the working-class milieu in which he grew up.

where Sedgwick attributes a transformative. 2003). following the Stoics. As he has acknowledged. yet it is forestalled by his adherence to a Bourdieusianism of the most orthodox kind whenever he discusses questions of class. first. For Bourdieu.sagepub. the objective conditions of working-class identity are incorporated into a workingclass habitus such that working-class subjects come not merely to accept but also to love their socially determined fate. education and social at BOSTON UNIV on March 4. a field of potentiality that. Eribon’s deployment of Sedgwick’s work on shame alongside Bourdieusian sociology raises questions about how he can reconcile these two rather different. In short. There is little sign of such love of one’s fate either in Eribon’s disgust at his social milieu. exemplified by the work of Brian Massumi. on the other. when it comes to theorising the role of affect in the production and reproduction of the working-class identities of his parents and brothers. on the one hand. At the empirical level. and Eribon’s acknowledged debts to the work of Sedgwick.2 However. More specifically. potentially even contradictory conceptions of the relationship between affect and social or sexual identity. Eribon’s accounts of the ambivalence of his own parents’ relationship to their working-class identity seem difficult to reconcile with his and Bourdieu’s emphasis on the ‘amor fati’ − the fact that working-class subjects are apparently defined by the way they come to love their socially determined fate. in Bourdieu’s work that realm is most closely associated with a certain social inertia. of creativity.Lane 129 affect’ that has characterised certain trends in social and cultural theory over roughly the last decade or so. and with the reproduction of the status quo. or indeed in his mother’s ultimately vain attempts to escape her social destiny by retraining as an IT worker. Thus. Eribon shares this emphasis on the potentially creative and emancipatory character of affect. has had considerable impact in the realms of cultural and political theory (Massumi. precedes the overwriting of the body through subjectivity and personal history’. Despite their differences. at least as regards the role he attributes to shame in the emergence of his own. meanwhile. among which two have perhaps proved most influential. To quote Constantina Papoulias and Felicity Callard (2010: 34). his work here owes a considerable debt to Sedgwick’s theories on the role of shame in the production and transformation of queer identities (Eribon. as well as some attempt to resolve the potential contradictions between Bourdieusian sociology. politically engaged sense of gay identity. he terms ‘amor fati’. creative potential to the realm of affect. before showing Downloaded from frc. Eribon echoes Bourdieu’s emphasis on what. Here he draws on Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology. some such reformulation is implicitly called for by the empirical evidence Eribon presents in Retour à Reims. 2013 . Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s engagement with the work of psychologist Silvan Tomkins has had an important impact in the realm of Queer Theory (Sedgwick and Frank. habitus and social reproduction. At the theoretical level. 2011: 44). for these theorists of affect the body and its affects are typically conceived as ‘a creative space. crucially. Sedgwick. or in his father’s unexplained disappearance from and return to the family home in a violent drunken rage. it is to a rather different theory of affect that Eribon turns. reiterating the latter’s emphasis on the centrality of affect to the production of a class habitus considered capable of guaranteeing the reproduction of existing class divisions and social distinctions. and hence emancipation. meanwhile. This article will hence seek. 2002). 1995. Allowing and accounting for such visceral affective reactions against one’s social fate and the attempts to escape they can generate would necessitate a significant reformulation of Bourdieu’s theories of habitus and class. then. transformation. what these two currents share is a tendency to figure embodied affect as a source of affirmative potential. the ‘amor fati’ corresponds to the ‘immediate’ or ‘doxic’ manner in which. As this article will argue. he claims. to clarify Bourdieu’s understanding of the role of affect in his theory of class.1 This much broader ‘turn to affect’ contains a range of different strands. A more Deleuzian−Spinozist strand. at BOSTON UNIV on March 4. comme le rougissement. Moreover. nécessité faite vertu qui implique une forme d’amour de la nécessité. emancipatory potential contained within shame. in a way that sits uneasily with both Sedgwick’s and Eribon’s emphasis on the transformative. position in the relations of production. class identity and social reproduction. l’embarras verbal. whereby working-class subjects find their freedom in socially determined necessity. which themselves ‘se trahissent dans des manifestations visibles. anxiété. la croyance. For Bourdieu will argue that it is because the practical dispositions incorporated into the habitus operate at the affective. It will then turn to a number of empirical examples drawn from Retour à Reims that sit uneasily with Eribon’s theoretical commitments to Bourdieusian sociology. will serve as a pretext for reformulating some of the assumptions regarding affect and social identity that underpin Eribon’s analyses. one can easily see why Eribon might be attracted by the prospect of allying Bourdieu’s concept of the habitus to Sedgwick’s and his own theoris­ ations of the centrality of shame to the formation of minority sexual identities. inherent to Bourdieu’s conceptualisation of the affective nature of the habitus. aversions. Or again: l’investissement. habits and affections. if often overlooked role in Bourdieu’s accounts of habitus. la maladresse. is as much about a shared set of tastes. This problem. qui sont inscrits dans la relation entre l’habitus et le monde social (ou le champ) dont il est le produit font qu’il est des choses que l’on ne peut pas faire dans certaines situations (‘ça ne se fait pas’) et d’autres que l’on ne peut pas ne pas faire (l’exemple par excellence étant tout ce qu’impose le principe ‘noblesse oblige’). embodied level that they are unconscious. So. affects. as we have already noted. say. the working-class habitus is what allows objective necessity to be experienced as a subjective choice undertaken in accordance with a communally maintained sense of what might constitute an appropriate or proper course of action. d’amor fati’ (Bourdieu 1997: 170). for example. the low objective chances of a working-class student attending an elite highereducation establishment becomes internalised into a working-class habitus which rejects such an establishment as being ‘not for the likes of us’ or which condemns as unacceptable pretension any aspiration to escape one’s social destiny. Bourdieu argues. le tremblement. is highlighted when he comes to theorise the conditions of possibility for any social or political change. for Bourdieu. working-class identity. (1997: 174−5) It is because these affective investments are at the centre of class habitus and identity. However. finally. and marked by an Downloaded from frc. As we have seen. practices and dispositions as it is about. fundamentally resistant to change. that those situations in which such identities are at play or in question can so often provoke immediate emotional responses of ‘honte. 2013 . timidité. in Bourdieu’s sociology affect tends to be understood above all as a force of social inertia. As he puts it in Méditations pascaliennes (1997): ‘[L’agent] se sent chez lui dans le monde parce que le monde est aussi en lui sous la forme de l’habitus. Affect. l’amor fati. la passion. habitus and social reproduction Affect plays an absolutely central. This. That shared set of dispositions. There is no doubt that Bourdieu has identified something very important here about the nature of social experience and class identity. humiliation. tastes and aversions reflects the manner in which objective social necessity has become incorporated into the structures of the habitus in such a way as to be experienced as so many subjective choices which are in fundamental accord with any working-class subject’s deepest sentiments. to give the obvious example. In this way. culpabilité’. la colère ou la rage impuissante’ (Bourdieu 1998: 44−5).130 French Cultural Studies 23(2) how faithfully Eribon echoes this theory in his Retour à Reims. Bourdieu adopts the Stoic notion of ‘amor fati’ to describe this process.

channelling and directing those energies towards rational goals for future change (1982: 150). embodied. ne sont pas de celles que l’on peut suspendre par un simple effort de la volonté. is contingent on their relative material wealth. an implicit sense of what one could or could not hope to achieve in the future. Second.sagepub. dispositional structures of the working-class habitus generate a ‘practical knowledge’ of the social world that is qualitatively different from the objective or scientific knowledge of that world accessible to the bourgeois intellectual − the kind of knowledge that is the prerequisite for constructing a rational project for future political change. fondé sur une prise de conscience libératrice. a ‘représentation pratique’ of the social world. relation sociale somatisée. In Bourdieu’s account. this will secure ‘une sorte d’adhésion originaire à l’ordre établi’.com at BOSTON UNIV on March 4. only bourgeois intellectuals have the ability to articulate ‘la vérité de Downloaded from frc. then. As he puts it in La Domination masculine: Les passions de l’habitus dominé (du point de vue du genre. since ‘l’essentiel de l’expérience du monde social et du travail de construction qu’elle implique s’opère dans la pratique en deça du niveau de la représentation explicite et de l’expression verbale’ (Bourdieu 1984: 5). he insists that this is ‘plus proche d’un inconscient de classe que d’une « conscience de classe » au sens marxiste’. This ‘doxic’ level of consciousness implies a ‘practical sense’ of the social world. c’est que les effets et les conditions de son efficacité sont durablement inscrits au plus intime des corps sous forme de dispositions. for Bourdieu. a sense of one’s place and one’s limits which works to naturalise and reproduce the status quo. only bourgeois intellectuals can elaborate such a rational critical discourse. their ability to achieve critical distance on the social world. dependent on a certain level of material wealth. to ‘suspend’ their immediate investment in the self-evidence of the doxa. As he puts it in Méditations pascaliennes. the social world will appear immediately self-evident.Lane 131 extraordinary inertia. an ability to formulate coherent political projects for the future. (Bourdieu 1998: 45) For Bourdieu. which Bourdieu terms ‘la doxa originaire’ (Bourdieu 1982: 150). de la culture ou de la langue). he evokes what he terms ‘l’extraordinaire inertie qui résulte de l’inscription des structures sociales dans les corps’ (Bourdieu 1997: 206). Bourdieu thus distinguishes between a rational consciousness of the social world. according to Bourdieu. natural and beyond question. two conditions have to be fulfilled. Bourdieu argues that as long as the ‘practical expectations’ internalised in the habitus are in accord with the ‘objective chances’ of those expectations being met. 2013 . First. by definition incapable of achieving that critical distance. In order for this situation to end and for the established order to be challenged. to undertake an ‘epistemological break’ vis-à-vis its self-evident immediacy. the dominated classes are. of undertaking that epistemological break. de l’ethnie. the affective. S’il est tout à fait illusoire de croire que la violence symbolique peut être vaincue par les seules armes de la conscience et de la volonté. while Bourdieu acknowledges that this ‘sens pratique’ does imply ‘un acte de construction’. and the ‘doxic’ level of consciousness available to the dominated classes in society. there has to be a conjuncture between this objective crisis and ‘un discours critique’: the discourse elaborated by intellectuals which will exploit the collective energies unleashed by the practical épochè. Further. However. In his theorisations of political change. loi sociale convertie en loi incorporée. he argues that it is because they are embodied that the social imperatives incorporated into the habitus cannot be suspended by a mere act of will. Lacking that material wealth and constrained by a host of pressing immediate material needs. Thus. in Méditations pascaliennes. there has to be ‘une crise objective’ which brings to an end the correspondence between practical expectations and objective chances and hence causes dominated agents to undergo an ‘épochè pratique’. As long as there is a ‘correspondance entre … les structures objectives et les structures mentales’.

comme ce fut mon cas. 1987). seem to present a number of interrelated problems. (2010: 51) And Eribon goes on to argue that it was this social break with his working-class origins that was the condition of possibility of the epistemological break that allows him to objectify the mechanisms of social reproduction: Seule une rupture épistémologique avec la manière dont les individus se pensent spontanément permet de décrire. Eribon rehearses each of these Bourdieusian tenets. however. ‘Amor fati’ in the eye of the beholder Eribon’s very orthodox application of Bourdieusian social theory to his own personal experiences at BOSTON UNIV on March 4. ni le loisir. The role of such delegates is to transform the mute. trade union or intellectual representatives (Bourdieu. we may wonder whether the relationship of Downloaded from frc. Second. As he puts it: ‘Lui correspondait sans problème et sans distance au monde qui était le nôtre. we might want to question his assertion that the ability to stage some kind of break. Thus Bourdieu will conclude that the dominated classes are forced to ‘delegate’ responsibility for articulating rational projects for future political change in their favour to mandated party. In the course of his Retour à Reims. He repeats Bourdieu’s claims about the fundamental ‘inertia’ of the working-class habitus and the ‘doxic’ nature of working-class agents’ relation to the social world (2010: 119). 1977: 70−1). 2013 . et notamment la façon dont les dominés ratifient la domination en élisant l’exclusion scolaire à laquelle ils sont voués. First. aux métiers qui se proposaient à nous. practical dispositions of the class habitus or ethos into the coherent. in explaining how he was able to escape his social destiny. à l’avenir qui se dessinait pour nous’ (Eribon. pre-reflexive. 2010: 42). en reconstituant l’ensemble du système. the term Bourdieu coined to describe those rare working-class students who do succeed academically but whose success ultimately serves merely to justify the republican ideology of equal educational opportunity for all. His analyses of the role played by the French Communist Party in his family’s working-class milieu draw heavily on Bourdieu’s theories of political delegation (Eribon. As he puts it: Il faut être passé. He echoes Bourdieu in assuming that his elder brother’s apparent acceptance of his social destiny reflected the latter’s immediate affective investment in working-class culture and identity. whether at the affective or the rational level. (2010: 52) Finally. explicit form of a rational political programme: ‘la systématicité « en soi » des pratiques ou jugements engendrés à partir des principes inconscients de l’ethos’ into ‘la systématicité consciente et quasi forcée du « parti » politique’ (Bourdieu.132 French Cultural Studies 23(2) ceux qui n’ont ni l’intérêt.sagepub. Eribon has recourse to the Bourdieusian notion of the ‘miraculé’ (2010: 119). ni les instruments nécessaires pour entreprendre de s’approprier la vérité objective et subjective de ce qu’ils sont et de ce qu’ils font’ (Bourdieu 1997: 228). 2010: 111). He argues that the condition of possibility of his own break with the immediate assumptions of the working-class habitus was the social break with his working-class milieu that was secured by his academic success and social ascension. d’un côté à l’autre de la ligne de démarcation pour échapper à l’implacable logique de ce qui va de soi et apercevoir la terrible injustice de cette distribution inégalitaire des chances et des possibles. with the apparent self-evidence of the social world is necessarily contingent upon prior academic success and/or relative material wealth. les mécanismes par lesquels le social se reproduit.

both of Eribon’s parents made strenuous. that what first allowed him to escape the apparent self-evidence of the values of his working-class milieu were his affective reactions of disgust. namely their affective and financial investment in mass consumerism. (Eribon 2010: 87) This apparent investment in conspicuous consumption. en multipliant les crédits. et même par la jalousie … Chacun. periodically bringing them out to show family members and friends in poignant testimony to both his thwarted ambitions and the persistence of his desire to be someone else (2010: 54). des meubles qu’ils commandaient sur catalogue … Je déplorais de les voir mus en permanence par la seule recherche du bien-être matériel. puis une voiture neuve. As we learn in the course of Retour à Reims.sagepub. ils achetèrent. aimait à se vanter du prix qu’avait coûté tel ou tel objet. 2013 . or on their immediate affective investment in or doxic adherence Downloaded from frc. following Bourdieu in this. une télévision. like the parents’ thwarted educational ambitions and violent rages. As he puts it: ‘Je me suis décrit plus haut. will elsewhere have us believe she uncritically and spontaneously invested. As we have seen. it would also seem reasonable to interpret the violent rages into which both of Eribon’s parents regularly flew as so many expressions of their disgust and frustration at their social fate. According to this account. comme un « miraculé »: il se pourrait bien que. bigoted working-class masculinity personified by his father. but vain efforts to escape their working-class destinies through education. dans ma famille. As was implied at the beginning of this article. However. The father attended evening classes in the hope of becoming an industrial designer and kept his notebooks in a drawer. car cela montrait qu’on n’était pas dans le besoin. It is also important to note that this affective rejection of the working-class habitus appears neither to have been exclusive to Eribon nor to have been contingent upon the ‘miracle’ of his academic success. elsewhere in Retour à Reims. horror and rejection of the normative model of violent. en évoquant ma trajectoire scolaire.Lane 133 all working-class subjects to their status and likely social destiny is always and by definition characterised by the ‘amor fati’ − by their immediate and unquestioning investment in what society has in store for them. On such occasions. Eribon speculates that it may have been his rejection of that heterosexual identity that proved the catalyst and motor for his miraculous academic success and for his flight from his working-class origins. A series of episodes recounted by Eribon in Retour à Reims suggest that these two fundamental assumptions of Bourdieusian sociology may be highly at BOSTON UNIV on March 4. le ressort de ce «  miracle  » ait été l’homosexualité’ (Eribon 2010: 203). His mother. for lack of the necessary cultural capital. qu’on s’en était bien sorti. ce dont ils rêvaient: une voiture d’occasion. Eribon maintains that it was his academic success and consequent social ascension that formed the condition of possibility for his escaping ‘l’implacable logique de ce qui va de soi’ and noticing ‘la terrible injustice de cette distribution inégalitaire des chances et des possibles’. meanwhile. As he puts it: Dès qu’ils le purent. Elsewhere in Retour à Reims. spontaneous doxic assumptions of his working-class habitus. Eribon describes a rather different form of affective investment characteristic of his working-class family. Eribon’s initial disgust at and rejection of a certain kind of working-class masculinity at the affective level preceded and determined the subsequent academic success and social ascension that he also wants to claim were the conditions of possibility of breaking the immediate. wasted significant amounts of money on an IT course (2010: 84) − easy prey. en ce qui me concerne. to those seeking to exploit her desire for social advancement. their rejection of or dis-identification from their working-class identities. this seems to contradict his assertions. seems difficult to reconcile with Eribon’s and Bourdieu’s insistence on the working class’s amor fati. Les sentiments de la fierté et de l’honneur s’investissaient dans ce goût prononcé pour l’affichage chiffré. again expressed at the level of affect. and again to escape from the social destiny in which Eribon.

what Eribon’s own account in Retour à Reims strongly suggests is that his parents’ relationship to their own class identity was just as ambivalent as his own − just as much characterised by a mixture of sometimes solidarity and pride. it could reasonably be argued that the difference between Eribon and his parents is not that Eribon achieved a critical distance on his working-class milieu that was. he was able successfully to exploit his rejection of his social fate. On the one hand is Eribon’s own rational grasp of the objective mechanisms of that world. which is ‘productrice de crainte et de rébellion’ (Eribon 2011: 44). namely the existence of a vocal gay movement. Eribon comes close to endorsing this alternative interpretation in the course of the second of the two interviews published in Retours sur Retour à Reims (2011). Here Eribon acknowledges his debt to Sedgwick’s conception of shame as a kind of ‘énergie transformatrice’. innate talent and changes to the structures of post-war French education. Eribon would have us believe that what distinguishes him from his stillworking-class parents and family members is a fundamental difference in their cognitive relationship to the social world. rejection or shame Downloaded from frc. As we have seen. and his parents who were not able to do so. Rather.134 French Cultural Studies 23(2) to their working-class culture and identity. Rather. however. reflected a set of purely contingent conditions. We might speculate that the reasons for Eribon’s success. We might then suggest that his parents’ occasional violent rages. It would be possible. but also feelings of disgust. but between Eribon. secured by an epistemological break whose condition of possibility is his academic success and consequent social ascension. to give a very different interpretation of this situation and to suggest that what really distinguishes Eribon from his parents and family is that where their sentiments of frustration and disgust at their social fate were destined to lead nowhere but sporadic outbursts of violent impotent rage. knowledge or intelligence. uncritical. what appears to lie behind such conspicuous consumption is a surely understandable desire both to escape the limitations of working-class existence and to demonstrate to one’s peers ‘qu’on s’en était bien sorti’. It would surely be possible to extend these purely personal reflections and apply them to Eribon’s own family members or to working-class subjects more generally. the decline of the worker’s movement deprived him of ‘la possibilité de revendiquer comme sien ce dont l’accès à un autre monde lui a donné plus ou moins honte’ (Eribon 2011: 45). 2013 . where the gay movement provided him with a conceptual vocabulary through which to articulate his gay identity. and this for purely contingent reasons. yes. by definition and a priori. immediate. reflect a mixture of good fortune. validating his sexual­ ity as a legitimate form of identity in a way that contrasted strongly with the contemporaneous disappearance of Marxism and the decline of the workers’ movement in France. What distinguishes Eribon from his parents is thus not the difference between two qualitatively different kinds of consciousness. This. he argues. In other words. a series of reflections on the reception of Retour à Reims. who are destined to give their immediate and spontaneous adherence to their social fate. and to at BOSTON UNIV on March 4. their thwarted educational ambitions and their investment in conspicuous consumption were all expressions of moments of disgust. and ‘la honte sociale’. of his working-class social and sexual identity. doxic adherence to its values. whose relation to that milieu was thus characterised by a spontaneous. provoked by his working-class origins. He suggests that he found it easier to transform his sexual shame into the basis for his own self-affirmation and political engagement as a gay man than he did to transform his social shame into the equivalent basis for any working-class self-affirmation and political engagement. inaccessible to his parents. He goes on to speculate about the relationship between ‘la honte sexuelle’. which ‘à la fois réduit au silence et pousse à la prise de parole’. he felt in regard to his sexual identity. notably the establishment of ‘l’école unique’. rejection and frustration. who was able successfully to act on those feelings of disgust and rejection. On the other hand lies the realm of mute doxic immediacy inhabited by his parents and family. as against his parents’ failure. Thus.sagepub.

these moments of disaffection. they may also form part of a compensatory mechanism whereby subjects seek to defend the validity of working-class culture against outside criticism even as. Not only are such sentiments surely not shared by all working-class subjects all of the time. the apparent self-evidence of the social world is contingent upon having achieved a prior social and hence epistemological break with that social world seems equally dubious. although the chances of that break being successfully achieved may well be strongly correlated with a series of other social preconditions. This. affects and values of the working-class habitus are spontaneously or immediately incorporated by all workingclass agents seems particularly questionable. as traditionally understood. To raise this possibility is to do no more than to suggest that working-class subjects’ relationship to their own social identity is as potentially complex and contradictory as that of any other social group. On the contrary. at another level. question Bourdieu’s understanding of the workings of habitus and social reproduction on at least two levels. What needs to be questioned here is the Bourdieusian assumption that the innate capacity to question or reject one’s initial class habitus is determined by class position. it is easier for someone from a wealthy middle-class background to act upon their affective rejection of their class habitus since their wealth provides them with greater opportunities for translating that affective rejection into effective action. or to reject. in turn. This. in turn. That these affective responses to their situation. would involve acknowledging the possibility that working-class ‘amor fati’ − the tendency of some working-class subjects aggressively to proclaim their love for their way of life while rejecting more legitimate cultural forms or lifestyles − may not be as straightforward as it might initially appear to the outside observer. However. the assumption that the injunctions. immediate or doxic investment in their working-class identities. what is needed here is a reformulation of the Bourdieusian framework in such a way as to recognise and account for the inherent possibility of processes of incorporation going awry. such apparent ‘amor fati’ may co-exist. they might bridle at its rigidities and limitations. Such complex and contradictory relationships between working-class subjects. at the affective level. First. but rather the purely contingent lack of those political forms and institutions. their identity and culture are certainly implicit in Eribon’s accounts of his own family members’ lives.Lane 135 in the face of the limitations of their working-class identity. and their evident aspirations to social mobility and educational achievement. and of his parents’ thwarted ambitions and violent rages. his application of an orthodox Bourdieusianism to his analyses of working-class life prevents Eribon from accounting for such evident complexity and contradiction in a convincing manner. the evidence of Retour à Reims strongly suggests that a prior rejection of the apparently self-evident values of one’s class habitus can prove to be the motor or catalyst for a subsequent social break. with feelings of disgust at or rejection of the limitations of working-class at BOSTON UNIV on March 4.sagepub. In short. in a contradictory way. then. the notion that the ability to question. were to come to nought reflected not working-class subjects’ spontaneous. Second. would necessitate questioning Bourdieu’s assumption as to the inherent ‘inertia’ of the habitus and his consequent theorisation Downloaded from frc. Eribon’s accounts of his own affective rejection of his working-class identity. In short. those opportunities which might facilitate the translation of such disaffection into a more positive form of ‘énergie transformatrice’. Beyond the mind−body dualism While he applies Bourdieusian sociology to explain his personal experiences. To put it more simply. 2013 . and by extension. their violent rages. and going awry in such a way that may not imply a ‘prise de conscience’ or an act of deliberative judgement. with varied but nonetheless potentially highly significant consequences. at the rational level. but may indeed be more a matter of an affective reaction or rejection.

Rejecting such a rigid dualism would involve acknowledging that if affective and embodied forms of experience can indeed play a central role in securing agents’ adherence to existing social identities and institutions. any mention of the evolutionary determinations and hence regulatory functions. affirmative force seen as preceding and constantly escaping those forces that strive to channel. and to his phenomenological philosophy. the mind−body dualism may be inverted here but it is certainly not deconstructed. not least because Bourdieu’s theory of practice owes such a debt to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s account of intentionality. This is the danger inherent in much of what falls under the rubric of the ‘affective turn’ in social theory. 2013 . objective knowledge and rational political agency have as their necessary preconditions the affective investment and embodied presence of agents in the social and cultural worlds. ‘Affect is vivacity of context’. rather than being in opposition to one another.3 Leys (2011: 465 n. According to Massumi. by contrast. inherently dynamic and affirmative life force. at such moments affect theorists reveal their disavowed adherence to a ‘classical dualism of mind and body’. is ignored.136 French Cultural Studies 23(2) of any political change as necessitating an epistemological break − a break that secures access to a realm of rational or scientific knowledge which defines itself in opposition to the realm of practical. discipline or capture affect within pre-existing identities of class. on the other. affective embodied knowledge. In his Phénoménologie de la perception (1945). gender. Affect. self-organizing biology/nature is presented as the guarantor for an emancipatory and creative politics’ (Papoulias and Callard 2010: 49). offers one particularly clear example of this tendency. For Merleau-Ponty. As a result. To acknowledge that affective reactions to existing social identities may be more ambivalent and contradictory than Bourdieu’s social theory suggests is not simply to invert the mind−body binary so that the affective and the embodied are idealised as the locus of a dynamic. Merleau-Ponty sets out to elaborate a theory of human practice that sees embodiment and rational or objective knowledge as existing on a continuum. Massumi claims. ‘affect enlivens’ (Massumi 2002: 220). whether at the purely individual or the more collective level. there is no a priori reason why affective reactions of disgust or rejection of those identities and institutions might not play an equally significant role as motors of social and political change. so that ‘an essentially dynamic. For there appears to be only one reason for assuming that the practical schemes of the habitus are inert because they are embodied and that social or political change demands accession to a level of rationality defined in opposition to the embodied and affective. Rather than seeing freedom of thought or action as necessitating an epistemological break with the realm of embodied Downloaded from frc. 56) attributes such failings to affect theorists’ embrace of an ‘anti-intentionalist paradigm’. is described in an idealised and hypostatised manner as a kind of immediate. much of the social theory produced within this affective turn relies on a highly selective reading of experimental work in psychology and neuroscience. And that reason is continued adherence to a rigid mind−body dualism. emotion is ‘qualified intensity’ or ‘intensity owned and recognised’ through the ‘sociological fixing of the quality of the experience which is from that point onward defined as personal’ (Massumi 2002: 28). characterised precisely by its unthinking inertia. with the result that the affective turn ultimately risks amounting to little more than a kind of reheated at BOSTON UNIV on March 4. As Papoulias and Callard (2010: 49) have convincingly argued. from Sedgwick’s appropriations of the work of Silvan Tomkins to Brian Massumi’s Deleuzo-Spinozist theories of the politics of affect. thus implying that intentionalist accounts of consciousness may offer one way out of the mind−body dualism that continues to underpin both the work of affect theorists and Bourdieu’s sociology.sagepub. binary distinction between affect. and emotion. As Leys (2011: 455) argues. sexuality or nation. Massumi’s attempt to draw a rigid. on the one hand. which scientists regularly ascribe to the affects. of which it represents a kind of sociological re-reading. This is a suggestion that is surely worth pursuing.

chaque réponse particulière d’occuper tout son champ pratique. et qu’ils sont tous deux orientés vers un pôle intentionnel ou vers un monde.sagepub. Skeggs does not engage with the work of Merleau-Ponty per se. when he recounts both his own rejection of his working-class identity and the rejections and violent impotent rages of his parents. Ainsi. que chaque situation momentanée cesse d’être pour lui la totalité de l’être. it is necessary. Merleau-Ponty argues that it is precisely the incorporation of certain habitual actions and reflexes that is the precondition for consciousness and freedom of action. c’est en renonçant à une partie de sa spontanéité. Eribon implicitly also undermines this dichotomy between mind and body. Sans doute les deux histoires ne se recouvrent jamais tout à fait: l’une est banale et cyclique. and dissimulate’ their working-class identity (Skeggs 1997: 94). that: les stimulations du dehors ne le touchent plus qu’avec « respect ». Skeggs applies Bourdieu’s concepts of class identity and cultural capital to her research subjects but rejects his assumption regarding the immediate or unproblematic manner in which working-class subjects supposedly adhere to existing class or gender identities. au lieu de se faire au centre de son existence. en s’engageant dans le monde par des organes stables et des circuits préétablis que l’homme peut acquérir l’espace mental et pratique qui le dégagera en principe de son milieu et le lui fera voir. as Skeggs puts it. according to Merleau-Ponty. Formations of Class and Gender is a study of young working-class British women training to be care assistants. or on staging an epistemological break with their social milieu. Such responses also reveal aspirations to ‘social betterment’. Skeggs observes ‘strenuous efforts to deny. as Bourdieu does. if it reformulated Bourdieu’s social theory on the lines suggested here. she does reject the mind−body dualism. In order for an agent to gain consciousness of the external world. Downloaded from frc. and his call for us conceptually to reintegrate the physiological and the psychic. l’autre peut être ouverte et singulière. as Bourdieu and Eribon would both assume. que l’élaboration de ces réponses. Yet these efforts are in no way contingent on prior academic success or social at BOSTON UNIV on March 4. (Merleau-Ponty. se passe à la périphérie et qu’enfin les réponses elles-mêmes n’exigent plus chaque fois une prise de position singulière et soient dessinées une fois pour toutes dans leur généralité. c’est que. ‘affective responses’ motivated by a sense of injustice at their ‘social and cultural positioning’. Et à condition de replacer dans l’ordre de l’existence jusqu’à la prise de conscience d’un monde objectif.Lane 137 practice. In the behaviour of her subjects. even as we acknowledge that these two ‘ne se recouvrent jamais tout à fait’. As I have sought to demonstrate. réintégrés à l’existence. ils ne se distinguent plus comme l’ordre de l’en soi et l’ordre du pour soi. surely offers a more convincing theoretical model through which to make sense of both Eribon’s and his parents’ ambivalent affective responses to their class identity. epistemological break and doxic adherence − a dichotomy his adherence to an orthodox Bourdieusianism constantly works to reimpose. while retaining an emphasis on the centrality of affect in ways broadly consistent with Merleau-Ponty’s approach. in her efforts to engage with and reformulate the tenets of Bourdieusian sociology. but. 1945: 103) When Bourdieu attempts to graft Gaston Bachelard’s concept of an epistemological break on to his sociological re-reading of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology. Merleau-Ponty’s insistence that there is no contradiction between ‘une prise de conscience’ and ‘le conditionnement corporel’. disidentify. nous ne trouverons plus de contradiction entre elle et le conditionnement corporel: c’est une nécessité interne pour l’existence la plus intégrée de se donner un corps habituel. and to the kind of middle-class respectability. is offered by British sociologist Beverley Skeggs in her Formations of Class and Gender (1997). 2013 . These are rather. he unwittingly reasserts the mind−body dualism that Merleau-Ponty had worked so hard to think through and reject. One indication of what a sociology of working-class experience might look like. Ce qui nous permet de relier l’un à l’autre le ‘physiologique’ et le ‘psychique’.

It cannot be emphasised enough that to question these fundamental tenets of Bourdieusian sociology is not to seek to deny the continuing importance of class to the shockingly divergent life chances of those born and brought up in the developed Western economies. Yet she does this in such a way as to avoid the tendency to idealise or romanticise the realm of affect. to avoid simplistic or one-dimensional accounts of working-class identity. as Bourdieu would have it. et peu enviables. in his excessive reliance on Bourdieu’s social theory. of unthinking inertia. mind−body dualism generates the assumption that working-class agents’ relationship to the social world is defined by a pre-reflexive. is all the greater.sagepub. Downloaded from frc. horror or rejection of such values. This. in turn. It is sufficient to acknowledge that the possibility of human agents not immediately adhering to the values contained in their class habitus and identity. As we have argued. Eribon argues that to provide a realistic account of the inherent limitations of working-class life and culture is necessarily to invite the accusation that one is guilty of reproducing a form of class prejudice. (Eribon 2011:25) What Skeggs’s work shows is that Eribon has presented us with a false dichotomy here. Affect. These assumptions are very closely and logically interrelated. The paradox Eribon evokes here is in no way ‘indépassable’. However. Je le sais. contre le racisme social qui le cimente. avoiding this danger is surely not as difficult as Eribon implies. so that a classical. doxic immediacy. populiste. hence acknowledging that such responses and reactions can often produce quite conservative political or social effects. Inasmuch as Eribon’s Retour à Reims has brought these important questions of class once more to the fore of the French intellectual field. and hypocritically. for it is quite possible to acknowledge and account for the ambivalence and complexity of working-class agents’ relationships to their social identity without in any way endorsing ‘la mythologie ouvriériste. in a context where the relevance of social class is routinely. the onus on those undertaking class analysis to get it right. Skegg’s important contribution here is to allow for the possibility of processes of incorporation going awry. As he puts it: Mon livre entend s’insurger contre cet ordre social. populiste’. As this article has sought to demonstrate. as a Sedgwick or a Massumi would imply. the book is to be warmly welcomed. validates Bourdieu’s and Eribon’s constant slippage from registering material inequalities to making the illegitimate assumption that these must correspond to inequalities of inherent intellectual capacity. dismissed as hopelessly outdated. In Retours sur Retour à Reims. and for affective responses or reactions against one’s allotted social identity which produce real social and political effects. is neither idealised as inherently creative. provided one eschews one-dimensional depictions of working-class agents and hence rejects or at least reworks certain of the fundamental assumptions underpinning Bourdieu’s sociology. contre la violence sociale qu’il véhicule. Skeggs shows how affective reactions against a working-class milieu can generate impulses towards significant political and social changes. C’est un paradoxe indépassable. Mais pour parler des dominés sans tomber dans la mythologie ouvriériste. nor is it characterised as a realm of immediate doxic investment. There is nothing essentially affirmative or progressive in such affective reactions. and the potential for affective reactions of disgust. Eribon unwittingly risks reproducing a damagingly one-dimensional account of working-class experience. 2013 . if strenuously disavowed. et cela peut être ressenti par ceux qui sont concernés comme du racisme de classe.138 French Cultural Studies 23(2) femininity and material comfort embodied in the person and politics of Margaret Thatcher and her form of market populism (Skeggs 1997: 76). on est obligé de dire des choses qui renvoient à des réalités parfois peu at BOSTON UNIV on March 4. yet any social theory worth its name must surely be able to acknowledge and account for their possibility and potential effects. in Skeggs’ work.

or rebellion against the status quo. Within this broad body of work. for affect theorists attending to affect ‘is about stepping closer to lived. Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 52−3: 3−15. 2013 . Sensation. Merleau-Ponty M (1945) Phénoménologie de la perception. For one can assert the universality of the innate capacity to reject or react against one’s class habitus. 185−201. carefully conserving the notebooks that bear witness to his thwarted ambition to escape his social destiny. Eribon D (2011) Retours sur Retour à Reims. Durham. References Beasley-Murray J (2010) Posthegemony: Political Theory and Latin America. x−xxii. Bourdieu P (1984) Espace social et genèse des ‘classes’. For Sedgwick. NC: Duke University Press. Bourdieu P (1982) Décrire et prescrire: les conditions de possibilité et les limites de l’efficacité politique. Paris: Fayard. Massumi B (2002) Parables of the Virtual: Movement. The image of Eribon’s father drunkenly smashing all the bottles in the family home in a violent rage. Critical Inquiry 37(3): 434−72. ‘affect’ is conventionally considered to be conceptually distinct from ‘emotion’. “fleshed” experience. Radical Philosophy. see Leys (2011) and Papoulias and Callard (2010). Derbyshire P (2011) Romanticism of the multitude. M Lucey. Notes 1 For two useful critical surveys of this ‘turn to affect’. Durham. Ce que parler veut dire: l’économie des échanges linguistiques. and it forms part of our very species-being. Downloaded from frc. 149−61. rejection of. Paris: Seuil. Bourdieu P (1977) Questions de politique. Paris: Éditions Cartouche. Eribon D (2010) Retour à Reims. itself an attempt to synthesise a Deleuzo-Spinozist reading of affect with Bourdieu’s theory of practice. I concur with Leys (2011: 435) in considering this distinction to be ultimately unsustainable and will hence employ the two terms interchangeably throughout my analysis. Paris: Seuil.sagepub. Bourdieu P (1997) Méditations pascaliennes. and Queer Performativity: Henry James’s The Art of the Novel’ (in Sedgwick 2003: 35−65). Paris: Flammarion/Champs Essais. perhaps more movingly still. Eribon D (2004) Preface. Paris: Minuit. Affect. In: Choses dites. In: P Bourdieu. while still acknowledging that the chances of being able successfully to move from that affective response to escape one’s social destiny vary greatly depending upon one’s social origin. Paris: Gallimard. surely bears witness to both of those truths. 2 The key reference here is Sedgwick’s essay ‘Shame. Derbyshire (2011) has made this same accusation of Romanticism in his critique of Beasley-Murray’s book Posthegemony (2010). In: Insult and the Making of the Gay at BOSTON UNIV on March 4. or. Bourdieu P (1998) La Domination masculine. Papoulias C and Callard F (2010) Biology’s gift: interrogating the turn to affect. Theatricality. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. To argue this is not to embrace a naïve idealism. 3 As Papoulias and Callard (2010: 38) point out. trans. Bourdieu P (1987) La Délégation et le fétichisme politique.Lane 139 is intrinsic to us all. NC: Duke University Press). For reasons that will become clear in the main body of my argument. the shame felt at society’s rejection of one’s sexuality as ‘deviant’ possesses a potentially transformative force inasmuch as it can provide the basis for a sexual identity defined by its resistance to. Actes de la recherche en sciences socials 16: 55−89. Leys R (2011) The turn to affect: a critique. which ignores the weight of social conditions and the very different life chances and opportunities these offer agents of different social origins. a stepping closer that is frequently regarded as a kind of re-enchantment’. Body and Society 16(1): 29−56. 169 (September/October): 51−3.

Pedagogy. Jeremy F. 1−28. Problems and Possibilities (2006). He is author of Pierre Bourdieu: A Critical Introduction (2000) and Bourdieu’s Politics. Downloaded from frc. Performativity. Feeling: Affect. Lane is Associate Professor in the Department of French and Francophone Studies at Nottingham University. 2013 . Sedgwick EK and Frank A (1995) Shame in the cybernetic fold: reading Silvan Tomkins. In: EK Sedgwick and A Frank (eds) Shame and its Sisters: A Silvan Tomkins Reader. Durham.sagepub. Durham. Skeggs B (1997) Formations of Class and Gender. London: SAGE. NC: Duke University Press. NC: Duke University Press.140 French Cultural Studies 23(2) Sedgwick EK (2003) at BOSTON UNIV on March 4.

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