Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 20

From Critical Social Theory to a Social Theory of

Critique: On the Critique of Ideology after the

Pragmatic Turn

Robin Celikates

[I]deology is the thought of my adversary, the thought of the other. He does

not know it, but I do.1 According to this quotation from Paul Ricur, talk about
ideology seems to structurally imply a rather problematic understanding of oneself
the critic and of ones relation to the other(s) the agent(s) one is talking about.
Ones own perspective is strictly separated from the others. The other is caught
in ideology whereas my perspective is that of critique, of science, of a knowledge
the other does not and cannot have. As Terry Eagleton notes, with ideology as
with bad breath it is always the other that has it.2
This strict separation of perspectives manifests itself in the conceptual
repertoire of the critique of ideology as it has traditionally been understood.
False consciousness, illusion, and distortion characterize the inside of
ideology, the nave condition of those who are subject to it. Their deplorable situ-
ation is then opposed to the unmasking critique that comes from a position out-
side ideology. Thanks to its sober character, this critical perspective makes
possible a scientific understanding of what is really going on in social reality.
What is really going on is then most often explained in terms of socio-economic
structures, hidden interests, and power relations that take place behind the agents
backs and condition what they are able to think and do.
If such a separation of perspectives is indeed constitutive for the critique of
ideology, the whole critical project apparently stands in contradiction to what has
been called the interpretive or pragmatic turn in social theory and philosophy
the now almost hegemonic view that social practices cannot be understood from
an objective standpoint alone, because they are internally related to the interpreta-
tions and self-images of their participants that can only be grasped if one takes
their perspective as fundamental.3
The hermeneutically more sensitive social theorist will therefore insist on the
primacy of practice, of the agents perspective and her self-understanding over the
standpoint of science or theory that claims the privilege of detachment. From the
hermeneutical and pragmatist perspectives, what drives the critique of ideology is
a hermeneutics of suspicion,4 an anti-hermeneutical attitude that always looks
for something beneath the surface, behind the agents backs, that is only visible
from its oblique perspective and thereby ends up not understanding them at all.

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK
and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
22 Constellations Volume 13, Number 1, 2006

On the other hand, from the perspective of critical social theory, those who
subscribe to a pragmatic or hermeneutic methodology only duplicate what
agents already say and do. The price for this seems to be that the approach loses
all scientific grounding and critical impact. We might gain a deeper sense of
how the agents understand themselves, but any critique of what they are doing
and what is done to them that is not already available to them is condemned to
Of course, this contrast is somewhat schematic.5 Nevertheless a similar
dialectic of accusations and counter-accusations has in fact characterized central
debates in social theory and philosophy over the last decades and made the
dialogue between philosophy and sociology increasingly difficult. In order to leave
this impasse, which faces us with the unattractive alternative uncomprehending
critique vs. uncritical understanding, we need to elaborate a new conceptual
framework for understanding social practices and the agents engaging in them
that integrates an account of the possibilities of critique.
I want to argue here for a two-fold claim: although the interpretive and
pragmatic turn is right in criticizing the idea of a break between the objective
standpoint of critique and the deluded perspective of the agents, it does not follow
that we have to abandon the project of a critique of ideology. However, the status
of that critique will change significantly in the new picture, since the social theory
of critique I outline here reconstructs the normative distinctions and theorems of
the critique of ideology as constantly being invoked and interpreted, made and
remade by agents themselves in the realm of social practice.
I begin by sketching one version of critical social theory that has been accused
of falling into a hermeneutics of suspicion (I). In a second step I present two
different ways of talking about ideology one hermeneutical, the other culturalist
or ethnological that understand ideology as shared value and belief systems
and thereby drop the confrontation with science or knowledge that animated the
critical enterprise (II). The concept of ideology is particularly well-suited to
distinguishing these two approaches and to bringing out their shortcomings.
Whereas Pierre Bourdieu my example of a critical social theory actually drops
the concept of ideology but develops a critical sociology that shares the most
problematic features of the classical critique of ideology, the more interpretive
approaches break with the underlying idea of critique while sticking to the
concept of ideology. Since this leaves us with a conventionalist and therefore
uncritical account of ideology in terms of what agents happen to believe, I
present an alternative view that claims to overcome the respective shortcomings
of the other models, drawing on recent work by Luc Boltanski, Laurent Thvenot,
and Eve Chiapello (III).6 My thesis is that only a social theory that takes the
critical capacities and practices of the agents themselves as a starting point can
present a viable framework for thinking both ideology and critique after the
pragmatic turn. Contra Bourdieu and hermeneutics, the standpoint of the agents
turns out to be the only standpoint of critique available.

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

From Critical Social Theory to a Social Theory of Critique: Robin Celikates 23

I. The Illusions of Practice and the Critique of Ideology

In this section I present one version of critical social theory that can be
understood as taking up the project of a critique of ideology albeit in a modified
form. I want to show that Pierre Bourdieus critical sociology shares many of the
most problematic features associated with the traditional version although he
dismisses the concept of ideology. It should be made clear at the outset, however,
that this critique primarily addresses Bourdieus theoretical vocabulary and self-
understanding, not his concrete sociological practice, the significance of which
I do not dispute.
Let me begin with a somewhat simplifying invocation of a sociological classic.
In his Rules of Sociological Method, mile Durkheim makes it clear from
the beginning that, in order to establish itself as a science, sociology has to follow
the example of the natural sciences and introduce a rigid break with what he calls
the traditional prejudices of the common man.7 The sociologists task is to lift
the veil that masks the way society really works, doing away with the confused
prejudices of the common sense of ordinary agents.8 Of course, they do not know
what they are doing and one cannot even blame them, since if they knew what
they were doing a more or less stable social order would most likely collapse into
chaos. It is important that the agents neither commit an error in the epistemological
sense nor lie in the moral sense. They rather live under a spell, a necessary illusion
in other words: their common sense turns into what one could call an ideology.9
The break with their perspective and the introduction of the theoretical standpoint
thus become necessary because of the agents incapacity to reflect on their own
condition, an incapacity that is a reliable sign of being subject to ideology.
Pierre Bourdieu unmistakably situates himself in this Durkheimian tradition.
In the introductory textbook The Craft of Sociology he states his first methodo-
logical principle under the heading The Break: The social fact is won against
the illusion of immediate knowledge.10 The sociologist is engaged in a continu-
ous struggle with spontaneous sociology because the self-understanding of
ordinary agents tends to impose itself on him as a permanent temptation, an easy
way out. In order for sociology to constitute itself as a science truly separate from
mere common sense and to overcome its complicity in the reproduction of exist-
ing social arrangements and their legitimation, it has to refute the nave philoso-
phy of the social, the spontaneous movements of nave practice that threaten
to contaminate the sociological analysis. Navely, ordinary subjects imagine
themselves to be a bit of a sociologist and thus succumb to the illusion of
reflexivity.11 This reflexivity turns out to be merely an illusion because the
agents are constitutively unconscious of the mediations and conditions of what
they perceive as self-evidently given and immediately true and valid. Only from
outside their practices can we perceive what they themselves cannot see. It seems
as if the sociologist has to distrust the agents lest she fall for their official but
inadequate self-representations.

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

24 Constellations Volume 13, Number 1, 2006

In Bourdieus view, the practices we engage in are shaped by habits and

routines without reflection and therefore leave no room for a more sophisticated
self-understanding. We get our orientation from a practical sense, a feel for the
social games we are participating in (being a student in a classroom, a white-
collar worker in a cubicle, a visitor to the museum) that enables us to play them
intuitively, without wasting too many thoughts. What is characteristic of our
engagement in those practices is a constitutive misrecognition of their real
nature, an incapacity to critically distance ourselves from what we are doing
and to question it. Now this description might seem adequate for certain
practices like engaging in religious rituals, but does it really characterize our
engagement in more complex (e.g., discursive) practices or even in such
ordinary practices as dressing? Bourdieu has to deny that there is a genuine
difference here and he ventures to explain why we tend to isolate esteemed and
recognized practices from such base and profane explanations as provided by
social science.12
It would therefore not be misleading to see the main object of Bourdieus
critical sociology and this may hold for the critique of ideology in general in
the resistance it encounters in social reality, the stubborn insistence of the
objects being studied that the scientists diagnosis you are behaving like this
because you come from a petty-bourgeois family from the French province
does not really capture what they take themselves to be doing. Their reaction
can be understood as a defense mechanism on the part of the patients of social
psychoanalysis, who cannot but negate the analysts diagnosis (which, of
course, already includes an explanation of this negation). Bourdieus theory is
therefore at the same time an account of how society works, of the obstacles
that account encounters in social reality, and of the necessity of these obstacles.
This methodological structure is nicely summed up in his two fundamental
credos: the principle of non-consciousness and the principle of resistance
to sociological objectification. In applying these principles rigorously, only
the sociologist is able to free herself from the distortions caused by immersion
and involvement in practices through the hard work of objectification and
This self-objectification constitutes a second break introduced by Bourdieu as
a follow-up to the break with ordinary practices and primary experiences. It is
meant to advance the reflexivity of the sociologist, who has to take the social
presuppositions of her enterprise and the effects this positionality has on her
observations into account in order to avoid the scholastic fallacy common
among her colleagues (especially philosophers). This introduces an interpretivist
element into Bourdieus work against structuralism (and especially against
Lvi-Strausss analysis of the gift exchange), he explicitly claims that the actors
self-understanding has to be taken into account since it is constitutive of the
social reality under investigation. Although this certainly constitutes a major
advantage over more positivist conceptions of social science that tend to take the

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

From Critical Social Theory to a Social Theory of Critique: Robin Celikates 25

data gained from empirical research for the thing itself, it does nothing to change
the methodological and epistemological primacy Bourdieu attributes to the
objectivist break with the experience and self-understanding of the natives,
since for him exprience native rhymes with exprience nave.14
So far my (very sketchy and certainly tendentious) reconstruction of
Bourdieus critical social theory has not made any reference to the concept of
ideology. And indeed Bourdieu himself has voiced increasingly strong doubts
about its usefulness:

It is because they fail to observe the action of deep-rooted mechanisms, such as

those which underlie the agreement between cognitive structures and social struc-
tures, and consequently the doxic experience of the social worldthat thinkers
with very different philosophical stances can attribute all the symbolic effects of
legitimation (or sociodicy) to factors belonging to the order of more or less
conscious and intentional representation (ideology, discourse, etc.).15

And on another occasion he notes:

In the notion of false consciousness which some Marxists invoke to explain the
effect of symbolic domination, it is the word consciousness which is excessive;
and to speak of ideology is to place in the order of representations, capable of
being transformed by the intellectual conversion that is called the awakening
of consciousness, what belongs to the order of beliefs, that is, at the deepest level
of bodily dispositions.16

Therefore, it would be a mistake to study ideologies solely as legitimizing dis-

courses; the focus rather has to be on the corresponding and underlying structural
and institutional mechanisms and their inscriptions into the bodies of their
subjects that make them efficacious in the first place.17
Although Bourdieu thus explicitly articulated his preference for talking about
symbolic power and violence, doxa, and embodied habits instead of ideol-
ogy, this is primarily due not so much to a revision of the idea of a constitutive
break between science and ordinary understandings as to a critique of the nar-
rowly cognitivist focus on representation and consciousness at the expense of
embodied habits and dispositions that has according to him characterized
most Marxist accounts of ideology.18 The deliberate use of the term doxa to
designate common, bodily inscribed self-understandings is quite telling in this
respect since it implies the contrast to episteme or true knowledge gained by
scientific procedure. The idea of a break a coupure pistmologique19
remains perfectly intact. And my thesis is that this is the more fundamental idea
whether those on the other side of the break are characterized (negatively) by lack
of reflection or (positively) by immersion in ideology is quite secondary.20
Like more orthodox theories of ideology (e.g., in the Marxist tradition21),
Bourdieu aims to explain how and why individuals systematically fail to see that

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

26 Constellations Volume 13, Number 1, 2006

they are participating in the reproduction of social arrangements that are

objectively against their own interests. Since the practice-guiding and embodied
systems of beliefs and dispositions that Bourdieu substitutes for the more
cognitivist notion of ideology are inherently legitimatory and thereby stabilize the
existing order, the question cui bono? not only always makes sense, but also
has a surprisingly simple answer. It then takes only a small step to redefine
ideologies in Bourdieus terminology as systems of beliefs and dispositions that
are at the same time objectively necessary i.e., adequate to the specific position
because induced by social structures and false i.e., inadequate because they
contain a basic misrecognition of their own condition, source, and effect. Of
course, in the Marxist tradition, false consciousness was used to describe just
that: distorted representations of reality that serve the interests of the dominant.22
Take out consciousness and representations, as Bourdieu himself suggested,
and fill in practice-guiding and embodied systems of belief and dispositions,
and the difference evaporates.
The tight link established by Bourdieu between macro-level social and
economic structures and meso- or micro-level practices and belief-systems opens
up the possibility of causal and functional explanations of the beliefs and dis-
positions of agents with reference to their place in the overall socio-economic
structure (their class position, as it were) which they could not possibly come up
with themselves. Bourdieu is therefore convinced that the scientific grounding of
his critique by explanations of this type distinguishes it from mere moralizing.
This assumed neutral basis even leads him to assert that, in opposition for
example to Jrgen Habermass theory, his version of critique is not an inherently
normative enterprise, and therefore superior in scientific status.23
Where are we, then, with respect to Bourdieus critical sociology and its
relation to the problematic presuppositions of a critique of ideology? It turns out
that the underlying common premise is that what people actually take themselves
to be doing and saying should not be taken at face value. It is the explanandum,
not the explanans, and it has to be explained with reference to something they do
not and cannot possibly grasp the hidden truth24 that somehow causally
influences them behind their backs, be it economic conditions or social structures.
The sociologists causal or functional explanations are then seen as having
destructive consequences for the nave self-understanding and everyday experi-
ence of the agents. This navet can only be overcome by a science, a science
and a critique based on such a science the very idea of which according to
Marxs famous dictum from Capital III wouldnt make any sense without the dis-
tinction between appearance and essence, without the break between what normal
people are able to see and to understand and what the scientist is able to see and to
understand from her position. What else could critique consist in under these
theoretical conditions than an operation of unmasking and unveiling that
discovers what is hidden beneath the surface, behind the appearances that
ordinarily deceive us into thinking that what we see is all there is? 25

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

From Critical Social Theory to a Social Theory of Critique: Robin Celikates 27

II. The Hermeneutical and Ethnological Metacritique of the Critique of

That such an idea of a science of society and of the scientific foundations of
critique makes no sense since the distinctions it presupposes cannot be made to
work is the metacritique of the critique of ideology suggested by hermeneutical
positions in social theory. In this section I want to present attempts to hold onto
the concept of ideology while abandoning its critical connotation and the funda-
mental distinctions associated with it especially those of appearance vs. reality
and ideology vs. science.26
What has been called the interpretive turn was primarily directed against a
positivist conception of the supposed neutrality of observation and the givenness
of facts especially in the human and social sciences. But it also challenged some
of the presuppositions of post-positivist critical social theory, as exemplified in
Bourdieu. Because we are, in Charles Taylors phrase, self-interpreting
animals, the meaning of our actions can never be apprehended solely from an
observers standpoint but is always for us. This does not necessarily imply that
there is only one correct interpretation and that the agents perspective her
first-person authority trumps all other perspectives; such conclusions would
only follow if the meaning of an action as apprehended by the agent herself were
considered to be a matter of fact and this would certainly be wrong given its
interpretive and therefore potentially contested nature. It does follow, however,
that the experiences of the agents themselves and their articulation in self-
interpretations have to play the role of an explanans and not only of an explanan-
dum. And it does follow that the interpretation of society and culture is not a
search for hidden structures and law-governed processes but an attempt to under-
stand the meaning of social practices and self-understandings. As we have seen,
both of these points contradict basic methodological commitments of Bourdieus
social theory and the underlying idea of a coupure pistmologique.27
On the hermeneutic view, social practices, institutions, and discourses do not
constitute a reality that can be apprehended from the perspective of a detached
observer. The objects the social and human sciences interpret are themselves
already interpretations. They are, therefore, doubly hermeneutic since they give
interpretations of interpretations, and these interpretations are doubly
underdetermined since there is, on both levels, no simple fact of the matter
independent of interpretation to which one could refer in order to validate ones
On such a view, interpretive patterns that map social space, providing meaning
and orientation to the members of society, are an integral part of social reality,
inseparable from and constitutive of its more material aspects. With Cornelius
Castoriadis and Charles Taylor, we could call this dimension the social
imaginary. Another name that suggests itself is, of course, ideology. Some
hermeneutic face-lifting has, however, been necessary in order to integrate it into

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

28 Constellations Volume 13, Number 1, 2006

this new theoretical context. The first step was to cancel the reference to false
consciousness and to understand ideology as a structural element of social life
that should not be pathologized.
One of the reasons for this shift was what Clifford Geertz has called
Mannheims paradox: how do we know that the position from which we iden-
tify and criticize ideologies is not itself ideological? In the absence of a neutral
point of view from which we could view the totality of occupied positions and
their relation to some observation-independent reality, the possibility had to be
taken into account that every viewpoint from which we expose another viewpoint
as ideological could in principle itself be exposed as ideological. For Mannheim
this meant that we should use the notion of ideology only in a neutral and self-
implicating sense as referring to the fact that every form of thought is determined
by the social conditions under which it develops.29 The one who speaks about
the others ideology is not standing hors de combat but occupies a definite position
in the ideological field.
Against this background we can distinguish two versions of the metacritique of
the critique of ideology that give the notion of ideology a different sense from
that of critical social theory: the culturalist or ethnological one and the herme-
neutic one.
A culturalist or ethnological understanding of ideology can be found in the
work of Clifford Geertz and Louis Dumont, among others. For them ideologies
are primarily shared symbolic mediations and social representations that serve
social integration, patterns of thought through which individuals understand the
political world they inhabit and in which they act. In this function they cannot be
replaced and therefore they cannot be overcome.30
In his essay Ideology as a Cultural System, Geertz argues against under-
standing ideology solely as a mask (hiding the real interests), a weapon (in class
struggle), a symptom (of social frictions and contradictions), or a remedy (for the
very same frictions and contradictions). In all these accepted uses of the notion of
ideology, the most important element is neglected, namely the process of
symbolic formulation itself, which can only be grasped if the anthropologist tries
to understand it from the natives point of view.31 Geertz himself therefore
proposes a more neutral, culturalist definition of ideologies as systems of
interacting symbols, as patterns of interworking meanings,32 and opposes this to
a flattened view of other peoples mentalities and an inadequate interpretation
of ideology according to which it either deceives the uninformed, or excites
the unreflective.33 In this sense, ideology can even be given a positive meaning,
since it is a map, making intelligent rather than blind or deluded behavior possible
in the first place. It provides not necessarily nave, but often quite sophisticated
cultural patterns for the perception, understanding, judgment, and manipulation
of the world and renders otherwise incomprehensible social situations meaningful
so that we can purposefully act within and on them. The distinction between
ideology and its other science or knowledge is then not only secondary but

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

From Critical Social Theory to a Social Theory of Critique: Robin Celikates 29

can only be understood as an internal distinction between different attitudes one

can take with regard to cultural phenomena that are not directly linked to cogni-
tive status or content.
A similarly ethnological definition of ideology can also be found in the work
of Dumont, which tries to view our own forms of thought from an anthropo-
logical perspective. For him, ideologies refer to the ensemble the unity of
the shared ideas, values, and representations existing in a given society at a par-
ticular point in time. He explicitly drops the opposition to science or knowledge
since it obscures the fact that ideologies serve a vital function as grids mediat-
ing our experience of reality.34 Of course, there then can be no position that is
non- or extra-ideological in the sense of not symbolically mediated or outside
the realm of representation. Dumont, however, still insists on a difference
between culture and ideology, since the former contains ideological as well as
non-ideological elements, but he makes it clear that this difference is no longer
understood as one between true and false forms of thought since it can only be made
internal to a culture that itself cannot meaningfully be called true or false.35
The culturalist or ethnological conception of ideology can be regarded as
drawing the consequences of the interpretive turn. What this turn amounts to has
already been hinted at above, but I want to take it up again since Paul Ricur has
on a more general level indicated its significance for the hermeneutical metacri-
tique of the theory of ideology. I already mentioned him as reproaching the
critique of ideology for pursuing a strategy of suspicion. The reason for this
reproach does not lie in a rejection of the notion of ideology. Rather, Ricur
like Geertz and Dumont contends that if every engagement in practices involves
being subject to ideology (in the sense of symbolic mediation, not distortion), it
becomes quite difficult to see how a neutral, non-ideological, scientific viewpoint
could be reached simply by a break with these practices. That does not mean that
ideologies do not fulfill a dissimulative function, but it means that dissimulation
is not the only, and in fact not even the primary characteristic of ideologies. More
basic is their integrative and orienting function; dissimulation and distortion only
become possible against the background of ideologically organized systems of
meaning. Ideological distortions are therefore derivative and secondary with
respect to an always already symbolically mediated reality.36
With regard to the possibility of a scientific approach to ideologies, this means
that in the field of the human and social sciences the interpretive nature of the
object under investigation itself precludes any clear coupure pistmologique that
was supposed to make possible the passage from ideology to science and critique
conceived as a strictly separated realm.37 With this break, however, the herme-
neutic and ethnological metacritique also dismisses the very idea of critique (or,
as in the case of Ricur, reformulates it as an internal critique that imaginatively
draws on the utopian disclosure of the hidden possibilities of the present). It
thereby seems to subscribe to the same fundamental premise as Bourdieu: a
critique of ideology would only be possible from a standpoint outside of practice.

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

30 Constellations Volume 13, Number 1, 2006

III. Practices of Critique and Justification

In the preceding sections I have presented two versions of social theory that can
be seen as diametrically opposed ways of taking up the notion of ideology:
Bourdieus critical sociology tries to avoid the concept of ideology but neverthe-
less shares many structural features with more classical versions of the critique of
ideology; the culturalist or hermeneutic social theories take up the notion of
ideology but do so in an affirmative way, without the intention of engaging in a
critique of ideologies. In this last section I want to suggest a third alternative that
claims to overcome the shortcomings of the other two. It claims to avoid both the
problems that an explicitly critical theory seems to run into from a hermeneutic
perspective and the from a critical point of view deplorable quietism implied
by hermeneutic or culturalist models. These respective shortcomings can now be
seen as stemming from a shared fundamental premise, namely that if critique is
possible it would have to come from a standpoint outside practice. For Bourdieu
there is such a standpoint, for hermeneutics there is not.
The hermeneutic or ethnological understanding of ideology tends to equate the
latter with those repertoires and practices of justification that are accepted in a
society. The problem is that it seems to stop there. Neither does it give a more
detailed account of the normative structure of these repertoires and practices nor
does it characterize the capacities the agents engaging in those practices have to
have. Due to its conventionalist tendency, it seems to leave out the dimension of
conflict and contestation that is inextricably linked with the possibility of critique.
The interpretive turn does lead in the right direction, though, since it cautions
against theories that tend to turn the agent into a judgmental dope of a cultural or
psychological sort, or both,who produces the stable features of society by act-
ing in compliance with preestablished and legitimate alternatives of action that
the common culture provides [or] by choices among alternative courses of action
that are compelled on the grounds of psychiatric biography, conditioning history,
and the variables of mental functioning.38
However, one obviously does not have to be a professional sociologist in order
to exercise ones capacity to articulate oneself, to reflect on what one is doing,
and to defend the reasons one is acting on against criticisms as well as to criticize
others for what they believe and do. Agents do not only do and think what they
are doing and thinking, but they are able to relate to what they and others are
doing and thinking either critically or affirmatively. Of course they do not always
reflect on and justify what they are doing, but they are in principle capable of
doing so and actually do so quite regularly in everyday situations of crisis and
conflict, i.e., when a situation is experienced and interpreted as problematic by
themselves or by relevant others. They do not have to be fully autonomous and
self-transparent in order to be able to do so.
In order to understand these everyday practices and fairly common capacities
of justification and critique we have to abandon both the standpoint of the critique

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

From Critical Social Theory to a Social Theory of Critique: Robin Celikates 31

of ideology, since it cuts us off from exactly these practices and capacities, and
the standpoint of hermeneutics or culturalism, which deflates their critical poten-
tial by offering a conventionalist characterization. I think elements of a theory
that can accomplish this task are to be found in recent work by Luc Boltanski and
his collaborators Laurent Thvenot and Eve Chiapello. Their social theory has a
dual structure that is particularly suited to our purposes: it starts with the com-
petencies and capacities of knowledgeable agents, which are conceived not as
obscure mental faculties but as realized in the actual performances of the
agents;39 those performances are then understood as taking place in a complex
web of action and justification (somewhat misleadingly called cits by Boltanski
and Thvenot). These plural contexts and regimes of action each involve their
own normative criteria, a sort of grammar of critique and justification, and they
are irreducible to each other. Since they are, however, neither neatly separated
nor self-evidently imposing themselves in concrete situations, it takes agents that
possess the capacity of judgment (in the sense of Kants reflective judgment) to
perform these practices and to shift between different regimes of action and
different repertoires of critique and justification.40
This pluralism should not be understood in a conventionalist or relativist sense
as in hermeneutic and ethnologist approaches since what counts as a justifica-
tion in a specific situation is by no means arbitrary. At least from the perspectives
of the agents involved, the registers of critique and justification that are pertinent
are so for reasons and not just by chance. Furthermore, they impose argumenta-
tive constraints on those who refer to them, so that not just anything will count as
a legitimate move in a specific context of critique and justification.41
The difference with Michael Walzers distinction of various spheres of justice,
each governed by a specific normative principle, is that for Boltanski and
Thvenot there is no direct and stable relation between specific principles and
specific institutional contexts (the state, the market, the family, etc.). Rather, dif-
ferent modalities of justification can be pertinent in one and the same institutional
context, e.g., when a worker claims her rights as a citizen in a place, the factory,
where she wasnt expected to; and one mode of justification can be equally
pertinent in different institutional contexts, e.g., when I claim that being an equal
member of society does not only have effects in the political domain, but also in
the educational system. That means that the different regimes of justification can
also be used to criticize each other in certain contexts. This plurality enables
agents to distance themselves critically from a situation and to put the justifica-
tions offered into question by referring to another regime of justification, the per-
tinence of which has then to be demonstrated with reference to the situation.42
Within this model we can therefore distinguish (at least) two general cases of
critique. The first is comparatively easy to handle since there is no conflict about
the regime of justification that should govern the situation, but one of the agents
is accused of having in fact applied another regime (e.g., when in a business the
official policy is that people are promoted according to merit and the director is

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

32 Constellations Volume 13, Number 1, 2006

accused of having privileged her niece). The criticism becomes more radical
and can take the form of a critique of ideology in the second case, where the
very regime of justification being applied to a situation is rejected (e.g., when it is
argued that grades should not be given according to achievement but in order to
further the advancement of working-class students who are disadvantaged under
the ideology of equal opportunity).
What Bourdieu somewhat condescendingly calls spontaneous sociology and
nave philosophy of the social therefore turns out to be in fact not so spontane-
ous and not so nave at all. Taking seriously the exigencies of justification with
which agents confront each other makes it possible to reverse Bourdieus break
with agents experiences and self-understandings. And only thereby will it
become possible to account for the complexity of the normative structure of
practices of judging, justifying, and criticizing that both he and the more herme-
neutical or culturalist models miss.
Those regimes and the exercise of the capacity of judgment within them cannot
be reconstructed from Bourdieus perspective since he excludes the perspective
of the judging agents themselves and presents them as unable to reflect on what
they are doing.43 It is in this sense that Distinction is as the subtitle suggests a
paradigmatic case of a sociological critique of judgment. Bourdieu tends to
elevate the incapacity to reflect which might of course be a mark of engaging in
certain practices into a general feature of practice tout court, which in turn
makes it necessary to situate reflection and critique in a standpoint outside
practice, namely that of the disengaged sociologist (who is, on the other hand,
engaged in a constant fight against the danger of scholasticism, as Bourdieu has
so convincingly argued). However, it not only seems quite unlikely that most
human beings most of the time neither know what they are doing nor know what
they want; furthermore such a position is just inconsistent with how agents under-
stand themselves, namely as persons that can answer to normative questions and
usually take others to be able to do the same.
Rather than not taking the agents seriously, social theory should subscribe to a
kind of generalized application of the principle of charity that mandates attribut-
ing quite complex cognitive capacities to the agents engaging in the practices one
studies. This also implies a generalization of the principle of symmetry, espe-
cially with regard to sociological and ordinary knowledge: there is no radical
break no radical asymmetry between the two. And even if there has to be a de
facto break for contingent reasons (time constraints, etc.), social theory should
not invoke a de jure break with ordinary experiences and self-understandings in
order to justify its theoretical stance: All humans must [in principle] be granted
the same elementary capacities as social scientists when it comes to questioning
ideologies and social representations.44 In the vocabulary of Bruno Latour, we
can see this as an instance of questioning the great division the radical
coupure pistmologique between science and its objects, between scientific
knowledge and common sense. The critique of ideology as it has traditionally

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

From Critical Social Theory to a Social Theory of Critique: Robin Celikates 33

been understood and as it is, albeit not explicitly, practiced by Bourdieu, is thus
part of the specifically modern project of purification that aims with a some-
what inquisitory dynamic at the liquidation of all idols and distortions in order
to achieve a completely demystified picture of the (natural and social) world.45
Bourdieu was of course correct to say that the insights of critical sociology
would only seem disenchanting to those who hold enchanted views of the social
world in the first place; but the argument of Boltanski and Thvenot is precisely
that Bourdieus sociological disenchantment, once it is understood as a possible
move inside ordinary practices of justification and critique, might very well lose
some of its disenchanting quality. In concrete cases in which agents are
confronted with Bourdieu-style arguments, they might have a disenchanting
effect or not, depending on whether the critic can substantiate her doubts about
the justifications offered and on whether the addressee of the critique does in fact
have an enchanted picture of herself and her social environment.
There is, however, also the often-invoked fact that empirically moral and
other judgments seem to vary according to the social positions of the judging
subjects. For obvious reasons I will have to leave the answer to this question to
empirical social science. It seems, however, that agents themselves would be able
to react to such a diagnosis if they were confronted with it in a particular case. If
somebody tells me, for example, that my judgments on the beauty of a painting are
really conditioned by my social position and by the evaluative and perceptive
dispositions I acquired through education, I should and in normal circumstances:
I will take this into account given adequate evidence is produced. Such a
confrontation might very well change the way I see and judge things, though this
might turn out to be a slow and difficult process. Processes such as these are reac-
tions to what Raymond Geuss calls reflexive unacceptability: once I am shown
that my judgments were made under conditions I did not know and cannot approve
of, I may have to revise them. The point is, of course, that the agent herself has to
be capable of this insight.46 All of this has nothing to do with what Bourdieu
denigrates as a charitable social philosophy and a soft sociology that, by
taking over the standpoint of the agent, just duplicates her self-mystifications. 47
The aim of this social theory of critique, as I am presenting it here, is not a
dismissal of the critique of ideology as in the hermeneutic and ethnological cases,
but a reconstruction of its distinctions and theorems as constantly being invoked
and interpreted, made and remade in the realm of social practices.
To give an example: the attempt to show that particular interests stand behind a
moral position that presents itself as universal, that an agent was lured into a
moral judgment by arranged evidence, or that under certain social conditions
someone was unable to come to the right insight, is part of the practice of
morality. It becomes ineffective if voiced as a generalized suspicion from a stand-
point that localizes itself outside of this practice.
Critique therefore does not become obsolete or even impossible if one accepts
the premise that the justifications put forth by agents themselves have to be taken

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

34 Constellations Volume 13, Number 1, 2006

seriously and cannot be denounced as ideological from the start. Rather, the
critique of ideology has to be understood as a specific regime of action and
justification among others. Its specificity is that it is based on a number of argu-
mentative operations that would not count as legitimate moves in other regimes
(e.g., that of love or friendship48). The repertoire of critique, the grammar or
topics of the critique of ideology for a long time considered to be the privilege
of the theorist or scientist can be seen as being put into action by ordinary
people in their (non-violent) engagement with ordinary situations of conflict and
dispute. Critique even the very sophisticated one voiced by the critical social
theorist is therefore located on the same level as the ordinary situations it aims
at and from which it seemed to break away so radically.
As in critical social theory, the critique of opinions and worldviews as
ideological in ordinary life most often begins with operations of denunciation and
unmasking that employ such distinctions as conscious vs. unconscious, authentic
vs. inauthentic or alienated, legitimate vs. arbitrary, sincere vs. strategic. In order
not to be dismissed as a paranoid or a troublemaker, the critic then has to engage
in practices of justification that departicularize her claim and produce adequate
evidence. If the critic can plausibly show that her complaint is an exercise of her
right to justification (Rainer Forst), the addressee (assuming there is one and
the critique is not totalizing) is subjected to an imperative of justification she
cannot ignore. The distinction between legitimate and illegitimate moves agents
can employ in such practices of critique and justification must of course be rene-
gotiated as they go along, since there is no fixed table of clear rules they would
have to follow in order to determine who is right. What the right to justification
entails and what the imperative of justification mandates are therefore clearly
matters that can themselves be disputed. The process of generalization and decon-
textualization, in which the agents leave behind the concrete circumstances of the
dispute in order to invoke ever more general principles with the aim of settling
the dispute, does not have to end with a standpoint that is imagined to be
absolutely impartial and with reasons that anyone could in principle accept. It is
sufficient to reach justifications that are considered adequate to the situation, in
the sense of being good enough, where what counts as good enough clearly
depends on the context and may in every particular context be open to contesta-
tion and revision.
It should be admitted, however, that this relocation of critique does not solve
the problem of who is to determine who is right; it simply proceduralizes and
thereby in a way postpones it. An optimistic version would imagine a Taylor-
style critical dialogue in which the critic tries to convince her interlocutors that if
they understand themselves correctly, they would have to drop the specific view
she denounces as ideological. However, there are clearly cases in which this will
not work, conflicts that cannot be resolved discursively or rationally because they
are about the very terms of discourse or the borders of the space of reasons. But it
is important to see that the alternatives are not conversion and consensus vs.

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

From Critical Social Theory to a Social Theory of Critique: Robin Celikates 35

silence and violence. The practical logic of the critique of ideology is of course
not exhausted by this sketch and it would be necessary to clarify its relation to
other forms of critique and to indicate the concrete social conditions of its
exercise. But it does seem clear that neither the orthodox project of a critique of
ideology nor its hermeneutic counterpart are in a position to achieve this.
The move Boltanski and his collaborators propose is thus from critical social
theory to a social theory of the practice of critique that starts with the critical
capacities of agents themselves.49 The critique of ideology can then be reformu-
lated as a specific case of the practice of critique without presupposing a privi-
leged epistemic position and a break with ordinary practices of justification.
Here it might well be added that there certainly are dominant positions in the
social field that allow agents to impose their hegemonic definition of reality on
others without having to engage in elaborate justifications. Since social arrange-
ments can, however, not be maintained by force alone but depend for their stabil-
ity on a belief in their legitimacy and thus on the availability of some justification,
they make themselves vulnerable to a critique that questions the ideological char-
acter of these justifications and their normative credentials. Social arrangements
can therefore never totally immunize themselves against critique; they can only
afford a certain amount of ideological closure.50 The idea of an all-encompassing
ideology a totaler Verblendungszusammenhang thereby loses its meaning.
Ideologies are always heterogeneous and operate locally, even if they present
themselves as totalities without an outside and can therefore always be
subjected to critique.
The critique of ideology be it in the form of critical social theory or an
ordinary practice of critique can therefore be understood as directed against
such closed social conditions and symbolic representations that hinder the use of
critical and judgmental capacities in social practices, that block the transforma-
tion of capacities into abilities and prevent the practical realization of ones self-
understanding as a judging and acting subject. But how do we know when a
regime of justification is ideological? The answer to this question cannot be given
with reference to abstract (epistemic or normative) criteria, but only from within
practices of critique. There are, however, two levels on which it still makes sense
to speak of ideology: agents themselves use that term to criticize specific systems
of belief or regimes of justification, while those systems of belief and regimes of
justification can be called ideological by the social theorist herself if they can be
shown to block the exercise of the agents critical capacities. Aiming at the gap
that separates those capacities the social theorist has to attribute to agents in order
to make sense of their practices from the actual exercise of the corresponding
abilities, critique makes agency possible by criticizing social arrangements,
practices, and self-understandings that have an inhibitory rather than an enabling
effect (and it is here that the relevance of Bourdieus work is so obvious).
From a social theory of incapacity the focus thereby shifts to a social theory of
capacities that is anti-fatalistic insofar as it exposes as changeable what seems

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

36 Constellations Volume 13, Number 1, 2006

ahistorical and natural but is in fact socially instituted.51 Social arrangements,

practices, and self-understandings are never only constraining but always leave
room for agents to relate to them in a variety of ways. The critique of ideology
therefore aims at undoing the decontesting effect of ideology, at making room for
more critique. If ideologies primarily function via the attribution of decontested
meanings, critique in turn has to expose the essential contestability of social
reality and its interpretations.52 The construction of a scientific vantage point for
critique is not only unnecessary, it is counterproductive since it feeds the fantasy
that critique could itself be neutrally grounded in a scientific view of social reality
and thereby decontested. As a consequence of the recontextualization and
processualization of the critique of ideology suggested above, such a decontested
model of critique that would in fact imply the end of critique becomes impossible.
On the contrary, all forms of thought that suggest that criticism and change have
come to an end, that there is no room left for contestation, can be understood and
criticized as ideological.
Is there, then, still any difference between ordinary practices of critique and a
critical social theory? This distinction certainly loses its categorical status, but it
does not disappear altogether, since the theorist at least has the advantage of
professionalization, i.e., the means and environment to develop her critical
capacities and exercise them without some of the constraints of normal practice.
However, members of society that do social theory and critique, lay or profes-
sional, are no longer divided by a line separating the realm of ideology from that
of science or critique.


I would like to thank the participants of Christoph Menkes colloquium at the University of
Potsdam and of the workshop on ideology at the conference Philosophy and the Social Sciences
(Prague, May 2005) as well as Maeve Cooke, Ciaran Cronin, Eva Engels, James Ingram, Rahel
Jaeggi, Felix Koch, Hartmut Rosa, and the anonymous reviewer of this journal for their helpful
comments and criticisms.
1. Paul Ricur, Science and Ideology, in From Text to Action (Evanston: Northwestern
University Press, 1991), 248.
2. Terry Eagleton, Ideology: An Introduction (London: Verso, 1991), ch. 1.
3. See James Bohman, David Hiley, and Richard Shusterman, eds., The Interpretive Turn
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991); Theodore Schatzki, Karin Knorr-Cetina, and Eike von
Savigny, eds., The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory (London: Routledge, 2001).
4. See Paul Ricur, Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1977), bk. I, ch. 2.
5. It should be emphasized at the beginning that there are of course other models of the cri-
tique of ideology that try to understand it for example as immanent critique and that therefore do
not presuppose the idea of a break that I treat as central. What should be clear at the end of the art-
icle is that these models are quite easy to integrate into the theoretical frame I propose.
6. In the presentation I will follow some of the distinctions proposed in the lengthy essay by
Thomas Bnatoul, Critique et pragmatique en sociologie: quelques principes de lecture, in
Annales (H.S.S.) 54, no. 2 (1999): 281317.

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

From Critical Social Theory to a Social Theory of Critique: Robin Celikates 37
7. mile Durkheim, The Rules of Sociological Method, 8e (New York: Free Press, 1968),
8. Ibid., 15, 31. Durkheim claims that philosophy and psychology merely reproduce this
common sense and therefore cannot be regarded as scientific.
9. Ideology is not one of Durkheims main concepts. My point is not that he identifies
common sense and ideology but that the way he characterizes common sense the notiones
vulgares of ordinary agents resembles a frequent understanding of ideology (and it will turn out
that the same holds for Bourdieu).
10. Pierre Bourdieu, Jean-Claude Chamboredon, and Jean-Claude Passeron, The Craft of
Sociology: Epistemological Preliminaries (Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1991), 13. The
Durkheimian legacy is nicely pointed out in Franois Dosse, Histoire du structuralisme, vol. II: Le
chant du cygne, 1967 nos jours (Paris: La Dcouverte, 1992), ch. 6: Le second souffle des
durkheimiens: Pierre Bourdieu.
11. Bourdieu, Chamboredon, and Passeron, The Craft of Sociology, 13, 15, 24.
12. Since Bourdieu claims that his theory is supported by his empirical findings (especially in
Distinction), at some point any critique of his theory would also have to address these findings and
their relevance. Here I can only point to the fact that the empirical claim too is contested among
social scientists (see, for an example, Stefan Hradil, System und Akteur. Eine empirische Kritik
der soziologischen Kulturtheorie Pierre Bourdieus, in Klaus Eder, ed., Klassenlage, Lebensstil und
kulturelle Praxis (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1989), 11140). I am, however, aware of the limits of
any primarily theoretical or philosophical discussion of Bourdieus work.
13. Bourdieu claims to overcome both the limits of phenomenological sociology (which he
qualifies as subjectivist since it just reproduces the subjects self-understanding) and objectivist
approaches (that fail to explain the agents self-understanding and experience). Whether he
succeeds is disputed; see the following note.
14. One of the more frequent criticisms of Bourdieus work remarks that notwithstanding his
announcements to overcome the most entrenched dichotomies of social thought (agency vs. struc-
ture, micro vs. macro etc.) in the end the envisaged dialectic breaks down under the weight
accorded to social structures (for an example see Jeffrey Alexander, The Reality of Reduction: The
Failed Synthesis of Pierre Bourdieu, in Fin-de-Sicle Social Theory (London: Routledge, 1995),
128217). One should not forget that it is Bourdieu himself who calls his approach genetic
15. Pierre Bourdieu, Masculine Domination (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 9.
16. Pierre Bourdieu, Pascalian Meditations (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 177,
cf. 181.
17. See Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990),
133; and Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 188.
18. See Pierre Bourdieu and Terry Eagleton, Doxa and Common Life: An Interview, in Sla-
voj iek, ed., Mapping Ideology (London: Verso, 1994), 265277; Bourdieu, Pascalian Medita-
tions, 17172.
19. For a statement of Althussers rigid opposition (the famous coupure pistmologique) of
science and ideology, see For Marx (London: Verso, 1996), 3337, 18284.
20. Reformulating his account of the resistances to his own theory in the vocabulary of the
critique of ideology, Bourdieu even seeks to preemptively disarm every critique of his version
of the critique of ideology by unveiling it as ideological: Ideological production is all the more
successful when it is able to put in the wrong anyone who attempts to reduce it to its objective truth.
The ability to accuse the science of ideology of being ideological is a specific characteristic of the
dominant ideology: uttering the hidden truth of a discourse is scandalous because it says something
which was the last thing to be said. Pierre Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power (Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 153. Although this might under certain circumstances be an
adequate rejoinder to the powers that be (and to their claim that we live in a post-ideological age),
turning it into a general point serves the immunization of Bourdieus own theory against criticism of
any kind.

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

38 Constellations Volume 13, Number 1, 2006
21. The occasional references to Marxism and Marxist theorems in this paper do not (even
pretend to) do justice to Marxs own theory of ideology. As is well known, the latter is not only very
complex but has furthermore changed significantly over time.
22. Of course, there are unorthodox humanist or culturalist positions within the Marxist
tradition that not only do not understand ideology as false consciousness and as an epiphenomenon
but also reject the notion of a clear break between ideology and science (two prominent examples
are E.P. Thompson and Stuart Hall).
23. Anton Leist has called this idea of a critique of ideology that is not itself normative but has
normative significance the myth of the critique of ideology; see Schwierigkeiten mit der Ideolo-
giekritik, in Emil Angehrn and Georg Lohmann, eds., Ethik und Marx (Knigstein/Ts.: Athenum,
1986), 5879.
24. See n. 20 above.
25. In Science of Science and Reflexivity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), ch. 3,
Bourdieu names what his science seeks to detect: the hidden par excellence, the transcendental
unconscious. It is therefore not surprising that Bourdieu often cites Gaston Bachelards famous
statement There is no science except of what is hidden. See also the petit postscriptum normatif
in Pierre Bourdieu, Lemprise du journalisme, in Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 101/
102 (1994): 9: to unveil hidden constraintsto try to offera possibility of freeing oneself
through awareness. The optimistic evaluation of the impact of consciousness-raising is interest-
ingly at odds with the more pessimist one in the quote from n. 16 above.
26. For the following, see also Eve Chiapello, Reconciling the Two Principal Meanings of the
Notion of Ideology: The Example of the Concept of the Spirit of Capitalism, European Journal of
Social Theory 6, no. 2 (2003): 15571.
27. At this point two differentiations seem to be in order: 1) Of course structuralists do not
deny meaning but try to account for it in a different way, without reference to the self-understanding
of the speakers or actors; 2) Hermeneutic philosophy is not a unitary enterprise but consists of dif-
ferent conflicting variants; of these I only consider the variant associated with Gadamer, Ricur,
and Taylor (who, for all their differences, occupy more or less the same position in the philosophy
of social science).
28. See James Bohman, New Philosophy of Social Science: Problems of Indeterminacy
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991).
29. See Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia (London: Routledge, 1998).
30. This was also the position Niklas Luhmann advanced in one of his earliest essays where he
argued that ideologies are structures of justification that privilege some possible actions or out-
comes over others that they cut off; they are therefore a condition, not an impediment to rational
action, since they provide the necessary orientation; see Wahrheit und Ideologie, Soziologische
Aufklrung, vol. 1 (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1970), 5465; later, of course, he joined those
who argued against the very notion of ideology itself: Ich sehe was, was du nicht siehst, Sozio-
logische Aufklrung, vol. 5 (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1990), 22834; and Am Ende der
kritischen Soziologie, Zeitschrift fr Soziologie 20, no. 2 (1991): 14752.
31. See Clifford Geertz, From the Natives Point of View. On the Nature of Anthropologi-
cal Understanding, Local Knowledge, 2e (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 5570.
32. Clifford Geertz, Ideology as a Cultural System, The Interpretation of Cultures, 2e (New
York: Basic Books, 2000), 207.
33. Ibid., 210.
34. Louis Dumont, Homo aequalis. Gense et panouissement de lidologie conomique, 2e
(Paris: Gallimard, 1985), 16, 26, 31.
35. For somewhat similar reasons, Michel Foucault has rejected the notion of ideology as
such: 1) the opposition between ideology and truth is untenable since truth is itself an effect internal
to particular discursive formations that cannot be called either true or false; 2) talk of ideology pre-
supposes the notion of a subject that has itself to be understood as an effect of discursive forma-
tions; 3) ideology is seen as being founded on a material or economic basis that is itself wrongly
supposed to be non-ideological. See Michel Foucault, Truth and Power, Power/Knowledge:

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

From Critical Social Theory to a Social Theory of Critique: Robin Celikates 39
Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 19721977, ed. Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon,
1980), 118; Martin Saar, From Ideology to Governmentality, unpublished ms.
36. Paul Ricur, Lectures on Ideology and Utopia (New York: Columbia University Press,
1986), ch. 1. In stressing the legitimizing and motivating force of ideologies, Ricur follows Max
37. Ricur, Science and Ideology and Hermeneutics and the Critique of Ideology, From
Text to Action, 270307. In the words of the historian Paul Veyne, who sees ideologies as answer-
ing the need and demand for justification independent of their truth or falsity: A reflection? No, an
entanglement; a disguise? No, a diversion. See Paul Veyne, Le pain et le cirque. Sociologie
historique dun pluralisme politique (Paris: Seuil, 1976), ch. IV:7: A quoi sert lidologie, et
comment on y croit, 630.
38. Harold Garfinkel, Studies in Ethnomethodology, 2e (Cambridge: Polity, 1984), 75. This
criticism was originally directed against Talcott Parsons. In Bourdieus case things are a little more
complicated since he stresses the agents capacity to improvise and their strategic skill. At the same
time, however, these are only operating within the more or less determinate limits set by social
structures to which the agents unconsciously adapt, thereby reproducing these very structures.
Furthermore, for Bourdieu improvisation and strategy are intuitive (and therefore unreflexive)
39. The theory can therefore remain silent on the issue of where these capacities come from
(e.g., whether they are naturally given or acquired through socialization); they have to be attributed
to the agents in order to make sense of the complex practices they are engaging in.
40. See Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thvenot, De la justification (Paris: Gallimard, 1991; a
translation is about to be published by Princeton University Press); Luc Boltanski, Critique sociale
et sens moral. Pour une sociologie du jugement, in Tetsuji Yamamoto, ed., Philosophical Designs
for a Socio-Cultural Transformation (Tokyo: EHESC, 1998), 24873; Laurent Thvenot, Juge-
ments ordinaires et jugements de droit, in Annales (E.S.C.) 47, no. 6 (1992): 127999; Luc Boltanski
and Laurent Thvenot, The Sociology of Critical Capacity, in European Journal of Social Theory
2, no. 3 (1999): 35977. On the role of judgment in social and political philosophy in general see
Alessandro Ferrara, Reflective Authenticity: Rethinking the Project of Modernity (London:
Routledge, 1998).
41. Laurent Thvenot, Un pluralisme sans relativisme? Thories et pratiques du sens de la
justice, in Jolle Affichard and Jean-Baptiste de Foucauld, eds., Justice sociale et ingalit (Paris:
Esprit, 1992), 22153.
42. The reference to a context does not only mean that every act of justification takes place in
a specific context which is trivial. It means that the specific context is formative, so that the ade-
quacy of justification depends on the context. The context, however, is not something given or
existing prior to or outside interpretation; what the relevant context is and how it should be charac-
terized can be equally contested matters.
43. See Bourdieus remarks in The Logic of Practice: Simply because he (the observer) is
questioned, and questions himself, about the reasons and the raison dtre of his practice, he cannot
communicate the essential point, which is that the very nature of practice is that it excludes this
question.Practice excludes attention to itself (9192).
44. Chiapello, Reconciling the Two Principal Meanings of the Notion of Ideology, 157.
Obviously, the project of ethnomethodology is of some relevance for this position.
45. See Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1993); Petite rflexion sur le culte moderne des dieux faitiches (Paris: Les Empecheurs de
penser en rond, 1996).
46. Raymond Geuss, The Idea of a Critical Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1981), ch. III.1.
47. Pierre Bourdieu, Contre-feux 2 (Paris: Raisons dAgir. 2001), 53 (these epithets seem to
be directed against his former student and collaborator Boltanski).
48. Luc Boltanski, Lamour et la justice comme comptences. Trois essais de sociologie de
laction (Paris: Mtaili, 1990).

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

40 Constellations Volume 13, Number 1, 2006
49. See ibid., ch. I:3: Dnonciations ordinaires et sociologie critique; and 54: [A]ctors all
have critical capacities, they all, though to different degrees, have access to critical resources and
put them to work in a semi-constant way way in the ordinary course of social life. That does not
mean that the agents have to be trusted blindly but this certainly also holds for everyday interac-
tions; see Luc Boltanski, La condition ftale. Une sociologie de lengendrement et de lavortement
(Paris: Gallimard, 2004), 1417.
50. See Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism (London: Verso,
2005). Compare this to Adornos view: For ideology is justification.Where mere unmediated
relations of power prevail, there are really no ideologies.Accordingly, the critique of ideology
too, as a confrontation of ideology with its own truth, is only possible to the extent that it contains
a rational element on which critique can work [sich abarbeiten]. Adorno, Beitrag zur
Ideologienlehre, Soziologische Schriften 1, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 8 (Frankfurt/M.:
Suhrkamp, 1979), 465.
51. Boltanski and Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism, Postscript: Sociology against
Fatalism. It is at this stage that Bourdieus theory could be reintroduced as offering a particular
description of social reality that allows agents to better reflect on what they are doing and to do
things differently.
52. Michael Freeden, Ideology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 54; Marc Hunyadi,
La vertu du conflit. Pour une morale de mdiation (Paris: Cerf, 1995), ch. 1.

Robin Celikates is junior faculty member at the Center for Philosophy at Justus
Liebig University, Gieen, and Doctoral Fellow at the Max Weber Center for
Advanced Cultural and Social Studies, University of Erfurt.

Constellations Volume 13, No 1, 2006. 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.