The Symbolic Economy of Authenticity as a Form of Symbolic Violence: The case of middle-class Minorities

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In contemporary societies, the language of authenticity has become central to the organization of work, manners, social ties, and most interestingly: social and moral evaluation. The paper explores how the ethic of authenticity informs symbolic economies of worth in Israel and the US. These new symbolic economies differ from Bourdieu's: mastery of legitimate practices and dispositions may indeed enhance the social worth of some actors, but also devaluate other actors, those whose class habitus and identity are considered 'inauthentic' independently of their performance. Based on analysis of wide empirical literatures on raced and classed identities in Israel and the US, the paper explores how this symbolic economy disadvantages social minorities. When dominant ethnic groups monopolize the symbolic recognition of authentic middle-classness, middle-class members of dominated ethnic groups are at risk of being accused of mimicry ('acting white', 'Ashkenazization'). This also applies to second-generation middle-class actors: following the racialization of class culture, their deeply entrenched middle-class tastes and dispositions may be suspected as inauthentic. While dispositions are often acquired in classed contexts and their distribution is hence class-based, the recognition of authenticity often follows race/ethnicity lines. In some cases, middle-class minorities react by investing in acquiring lower-class styles and habits that lack social legitimacy but may supply them with recognized authenticity. Far from being an emancipatory power that disembeds whimsical actors from social structure, the ethic of authenticity is embedded in structures of unequal recognition, and may thus encourage actors to participate in their own subjection. Inequalities in recognized authenticity are discursive products of the same symbolic power that naturalize hierarchies, yet they rely on ascriptive categories more than embodied habitus. Studying these inequalities as a unique form of symbolic violence necessitates expanding the Bourdieusian framework while sticking to its mission.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2016
Eventthe XVIII ISA World Congress of Sociology - Yokohama, Japan
Duration: 1 Jan 20161 Jan 2016


Conferencethe XVIII ISA World Congress of Sociology


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