Contribution to the comparison of the theories

of Bourdieu and Luhmann

By Béla Pokol



On the level of overall social theory thinking, there have been only very few thinkers in the past decades who have conceived a theory that contain detailed analysis in terms of several social spheres. The French Pierre Bourdieu and the German Niklas Luhmann are definitely two of the few, and their impact can be shown, albeit the approach applied is different in each scientists’ community, all over the world in social science analyses. Having dug himself into the works of both sociologists, one will soon reveal that these two theories show similarities in several respects, and also find points of departure totally different from each other. This paper attempts to describe some of the differences and some of the similarities between the theories of Luhmann and Bourdieu.



1. Society’s double structure


When we address the more stable structures behind everyday social events and actions, that is, the more stable connections and divisions determining such events and actions, then we have two directions to follow. One such direction represents society being torn to groups of people, classes, layers, nationalities, races, etc., and it is the (cultural, political, etc.) distance, closeness between individual groups that provide the stable social structure under which particular events and actions take place, or in reply reproduce these structures themselves. With a view to research more stable structures, we may set out also towards the structure of the individual functional spheres of society, and here we shall find the institutional mechanisms which build up, operate, separate from or connect to one another the sphere of law, art, science, politics, education, healthcare, economy in various degrees and ways. Accordingly, we may examine a society in terms of what kind of stable patterns, norms the divisions of its groups of people, their cultural etc. separation or co-operation rest on; however, in many respects, it is independent of this that within the same society what kind of institutional mechanisms individual functional activities are organised by, and how they are separated or connected.


This double viewpoint of society emerged in the 60’s in David Lockwood’s short article analysing social integration (Lockwood 1979:124-140), who by and large indicating the above breaking into two, separated social integration (the issue of harmony between groups of people) from system integration (the issue of co-operation between institutions). Lockwood’s above breaking into two has been used by many in the past 30 years, but basically narrowed down to the issue of social integration, however, the starting point itself, the idea of the double structure of society has somewhere got lost. Although when we get away from Lockwood’s more specific problem, the issue of social integration, and confront the overall theories in the past decades with the double structure of society itself, we shall find that the line of the functional system theory, which, following Talcott Parsons’ initiative steps, has been fully expounded perhaps in the works of Niklas Luhmann, has entirely pushed the issue of the structure between groups of people out of the point of view, and the structures of institutional mechanisms represent the stable building blocks of the social world for it, while basically it is social division in terms of groups of people that the various theories of neo-Marxism place in the centre, and should the mechanisms of individual functional spheres emerge in their analyses, they analyse them only from this point of view. (That is, in terms of class struggles.) In other words, the entire construction of and most of the replies given by various theories are determined by the version of the social structure they take as a basis, and this far and away go beyond the differences of the reply given to the social integration kept in view by Lockwood.


Looking at the two theories examined in this paper from the above aspect, when first approaching the problem, it can be stated that Luhmann, ignoring the effects arising from the division between individual groups of people, examines the mechanisms and operation of the functional subsystems of society, while Bourdieu basically researches the minute details of the fine mechanisms of the separation of individual groups of people, classes. To a certain extent, these two theories stand in front of us confronted with each other as two half sides of a theoretical trend, however, the fact that Bourdieu examines the separation of and fights between social classes to the greatest extent in the framework of individual social fields, and to a certain extent they correspond to Luhmann’s social subsystem categories, allows us to compare the two theories and bring them closer to one another.



2. Luhmann’s theoretical points of departure


So far it has been ignored that from the end of the 70’s there has been a significant revolution in Luhman’s theoretical development, and that he has rebuilt his theory pursuant to the system concept of ‘autopoiesis’ already gaining ground in general system theory. In the course of this, he has reviewed his earlier analyses regarding social subsystems one after the other, and worked out a basically new theory in new massive books and studies. There is no space here to give reasons why this theoretical revolution seems to be a dead-end-road of thought (see: Pokol 1990a, 1990b); nevertheless, it is necessary to note that when below I am going to speak about Luhmann’s theory, then I shall always refer to Luhmann’s early works completed prior to the theoretical revolution.


The most important point of departure in Luhmann’s theory, which moves this theory away from the structures between groups of people, is provided by the concept on the basis of which he does not consider individual beings to be the parts of sociality, but psychical systems, which are the precondition of sociality. Social systems, i.e., social formations assume that psychical systems (people) exist, however, sociality is generated only from the communication among them, and people, together with their psychic and biological components, cannot be considered the basic units of the social world. Luhmann notes that in social theory development, instead of individual beings as the basic units of sociality, it is the roles and actions dividing them that have come into focus, which allows of getting to a more precise reconstruction of the social world (Luhmann 1986: Intersubjektivität oder Kommunikation). However, Luhmann finds this insufficient since activity, after all, also refers to the human being, and, instead of that, he places communication into the position of the basic unit of the social world which represents the processing of intelligence between psychic systems, or, in other less explicate words, the transferring and reception of intelligence. Sociality is created through communication coming into being, which always rises above the level of the inner processes of psychic systems (that is, the processes of the consciousness of an individual being). Thus, the social world is built on the world of psychic systems. Basically it comes from this point of departure that Luhmann is open in his analyses not towards divisions and structures among groups of people but towards various communications getting organised into systems.


Luhmann radicalises the concept of system, and determines each social formation as a system. In order to do that, he extends the concept of system, and as he views each social formation as a system, he differentiates three system levels within the social world (Luhmann 1971:9-21). He calls single communication, the elementary unit of social world, a simple social system, or, in other terms, an interaction system. On this system level, where under the current circumstances billions of interactive systems come into being and cease, the system borders are built up according to presence and absence. Absence excludes. The next system level is the level of organisation systems, where communications are organised into more stable connections, and here the existence or lack of members draws the borders between organisation systems. Finally, the most overall system level is that of society, where communication accessibility determines the act of individual social systems delimiting themselves. As now communication intertwinement has evolved all over the world, therefore, in Luhmann’s view, we can speak of only one world society.


In this theory the conception of the functional subsystems of society is an important element. Individual functional subsystems, as it can be shown especially in the progress of the European and its outgrowth, the North American civilisation, gradually break away from the formerly intertwined fabric of sociality, and reproduction of sociality takes place, instead of diffuse activities and institutions, in functionally differentiated subsystems. It was Luhmann’s important departure from Talcott Parsons’s views that he refused the concept of the analytic system, which for Parsons represented a systematising hypothesis necessary only for the scientist and not empirical/particular subsystem like delimitation in the real world of society. Luhmann found that a single functional subsystem can be separated also in reality if it can be organised around a binary code, which controls the decision selections of the communications belonging to the subsystem. E.g., communication orientates pursuant to the binary code of true/false in science, lawful/unlawful in law, and government/opposition in the political system. Thus, individual subsystems process pieces of reality cut out in different segments, subsequently, they are able to fulfil specific social functions on high level. The evolution of modern societies, starting from Europe, has been followed by the separation of organisation subsystems, and simultaneously, the multitudes of organisation systems on organisation system level, and the billions of interactions on the level of simple social systems allow of a more and more complex social world to come into being.



3. Bourdieu’s theoretical points of departure


In Bourdieu’s work the option of wilfully choosing from various possible basic units does not emerge as a preliminary question of theory technique in the make-up of the social world; also Luhmann has happened to find this primarily ‘standing on Parsons’s shoulder’, who made it the subject of analysis several times; and in his analyses Bourdieu evidently sets out along the line of social formations built from individual beings. And, in his view, separations between various classes (groups of people) represent the basic divisions of society made up of individual beings, and in the examination of various social formations from making photos through various kinds of sport to the operation of the arts and politics, he analyses the determinedness arising from the differences between social classes.


As an introductory general statement it can be said that as it is functional subsystems that stand in the centre of Luhmann’s analyses, it is social fields that provide the framework in Bourdieu’s theory for analysis, and social events and actions take place within individual fields. However, here individual participants’ actions are determined not by functional imperatives, but by the driving force to attain higher and higher share in the special kind of capital available in each social field. And sharing in the given capital will develop different kind of groups of people within the fields, and conditions of subordination and superordination between them, special relations of exploitation, on the one hand, and subjection, on the other hand, will develop. Due to the stable conflicts and struggles between groups of people organised around the special kind of capital of a specific field, each field can be described to have dynamism; furthermore, the inner class struggles and sub/superordination of various fields will compose a more overall condition of sub/superordination, and specific kinds of capital can be converted through the relation between such fields. Let us look at Bourdieu’s position in more detail.


The first question concerns Bourdieu’s relation to the problem of social evolution. To what extent are his analyses imbued with paying attention to overall historic processes? The answer to this can be nothing else but that it is not from the point of view of social evolution that Bourdieu pursues his examinations, which have branched off in the past decades. Thus, for example, when examining the Arab tribes in Algeria, he underlines the high efficiency of their problem solving mechanism, not even touching the issue of requirements arising from different levels of social development (Bourdieu 1978:379-400). The same point is underlined by the fact that while analysing various features of modern society, he refers to the examples of his early researches in Algeria as a comparison without any restraint. Therefore societies having reached different stages of evolution do not seem to exist for him, and that is why the inner features of various societies can be compared.


However, he sometimes pushes this general attitude aside, and without drawing conclusions on theoretical level, he reaches back to social evolution based explanations, and occasionally uses them in some of his arguments. This can be seen in his recent book where he argues with utilitarian social theories (Bourdieu 1994:157-161). In recent years, especially in the United States, the utilitarian theory has gained ground in the form of ‘the theory of rational choices’ in various social sciences. One of the points of departure for this is that it explains actions in the widest range of social spheres on the grounds of economic motifs (striving for utility measurable in terms of earnings). It is against this that Bourdieu goes back to the analyses of Herbert Spencer and Durkheim at the end of the last century, and in contrast to them focuses on the functional differentiation of social actions taking place on a more developed level. In addition to the economy, further ‘social fields’ become independent, and here rewards different from economic factors motivate. Thus, he performs, in the purest sense, an economist curtailment in the social analyses of ‘the theory of rational choices’: ‘There is a statement regarding the bases of the theory on social fields which one can find as early as in the works of Spencer, Durkheim and Weber, and which asserts that a process of differentiation is taking place in the social world…Durkheim repeatedly reminds us that in archaic societies, and also in pre-capitalist societies, social spheres which have become differentiated in our societies (such as religion, art and science) were still undifferentiated, and human actions were multifunctional…, which could be interpreted as being simultaneously religious, economic and aesthetic actions (Bourdieu 1994:158-159). After that Bourdieu inserts the separation of various social fields into the process of the above described functional differentiation of social evolution: ‘The evolution of societies more and more represents various spheres (which I call fields) that have their own logic’ (Bourdieu 1994:159). Thus it is the society divided into different spheres that utilitarian theory (in this case the theory of rational choices) fails to grasp when it assumes that human activity can be reduced to economic motivations, and social institutions can be comprehended from the terms of economic calculation.


This argumentation of Bourdieu, however, as we have already noted, allows of drawing interesting conclusions even with regard to his own theory. One of them is that it reveals that Bourdieu’s theoretical orientation is defective. The proposition on the functional differentiation of society has developed one of the most strikingly marked trends of sociological theories in the past 40 years from Talcott Parsons through numerous modernisation theories to Niklas Luhmann. For Bourdieu these, apart from providing superficial knowledge, do not exist in effect, and even today he finds this proposition without any problem in the observations of Spencer and Durkheim made at the end of the last century. (The same way it is in a short footnote in his large monograph ‘La noblesse d’état’ that Bourdieu indicates that the concept of the differentiation of social fields goes back to Spencer and Durkheim. See: Bourdieu 1989:376). The explanation for this deficiency can be found presumably in the fact that the French sociological scene is strongly embedded into a wider intellectual/political arena, through which a dominant leftist-libertarian attitude makes all the theories that are politically deemed ‘conservative’ negligible; and Parsons, the functionalism and the system theory have been qualified like that in intellectual circles both in America and Western Europe. Although Bourdieu’s intellectual socialisation took place at a definite distance from the French new leftists trends present at the time but a considerable part of the material of his readings left the impact of various trends of Marxism in his theoretical approach (see: Robbins: 1992, on Bourdieu’s position in today’s French theory of sociology see: Ansart 1990; on placing him in a more overall intellectual field, see: Rieffel 1993).


In another approach, Bourdieu’s recent attachment to functionalism raises the point of neglecting functional imperatives in the operation of social fields so far. Until now in his theory Bourdeu has seen the wholeness of society not as an entity existing as a functional whole, whose existence becomes possible subject to meeting certain functional requirements, and he interprets individual social fields as the terrain of fights between groups of people for special capitals in specific fields, rather than as separated and functionally specialised spheres. The operation of a single field depends on the status of the balance of power of groups of people fighting in them, and it is well expressed by the fact that Bourdieu usually refers to fields as ‘fields of various forces’ and ‘fields of battle’ (le champ des luttes), but only recently can we hear of them as functional fields. Although if individual fields fulfil special functions also for the wholeness of society, then, apart from the relation of groups of people fighting for special favours, functional imperatives and requirements also shape the internal structure of fields. To sum it up, Bourdieu’s airy attachment to Spencer’s and Durkheim’s proposition on functional differentiation would make it necessary to profoundly review his entire theory, specifically his genuine confrontation with functionalist system theory.


Subsequently, Luhmann and Bourdieu have thought over their theories in a diametrically opposite direction from the point of view of the double social structure; and while in Luhmann’s theory the operation of the social world is governed by the institutional logic of functional subsystems and the imperatives set by them, in Bourdeu’s theory, this world can be described as the struggles of groups of people fighting for greater and greater share in the special kind of capital in each social field.


On a general level, these two theories are diametrically opposite. However, if we correct Luhmann’s theory, taking his early writings as a basis and insisting on some of his premises more determinedly than he himself, and in such fashion we compare it to some of Bourdeu’s writings which analyse specific social fields in detail, then it can be shown that they have numerous common features.



4. Possibilities for nearing the theories of Luhmann and Bourdieu


If the examiner accepts Luhmann’s proposition that in the historic progress of European modernisation in the past centuries one can discern the separation of various functional subsystems with a homogeneous assessment dimension in each (e.g., orientating according to true/false in science, or, lawful/unlawful in law), then this is supported by the evidence that we are looking at the separation of the lawyer, the artist, the politician, the scientist, etc. from one another in the course of European history. Former multifunctional activities, roles and institutions, which, e.g., characterised the operation of society in the Middle Ages, have been functionally separated, and divided in a one-dimension direction. This is extensively proven by the existing historic analyses, thus Luhmann’s proposition on differentiation, which followed the early analyses of Durkheim and Spencer, has become widely accepted in the past decades. This acceptance that pays attention to historic trends, however, goes beyond Luhmann’s theory because it sets out from the separation of the roles and actions of professional actors, and, from the first, excludes laymen from functional subsystems. On the contrary, the only thing Luhmann says is if communication is controlled by a binary code, that is, selection in decision making and processing of reality take place according to a value dual, then it belongs to the functional subsystem whose binary code provides its core of organisation. Luhmann, of course, did not raise the point in general terms that the communication by professional participants and laymen should be separated. It is only with regard to the legal subsystem that we can find passages in his writings which touch on these issues; and because, in addition to professional lawyers, the institution of actions at law by laymen is indispensable to ensure the operation of law, he argued that laymen’s activities could not be excluded (Luhmann 1986:178). Of course, if we keep it in view that Luhmann’s theoretical point of departure is that a single person (a psychic system) does not constitute a part of the social world, only a precondition of it, then we may not include the prints of lasting socialisation of the personality which separate the lawyer, the scientist, the artist from one another in the discussion.


Taking the above analysis as a basis, we may say that the acceptance of the proposition on functional differentiation by wide ranges of scientists has been possible only with leaving Luhmann’s overall theory in the background. On the contrary, if we insist on Luhmann’s theory, and push single persons (and the socialised/motivated personality) out of the make-up of social structures, then the evidence of the differentiation of functional subsystems will be lost. These expositions, and the act of bringing this problem to the surface, however, might also turn the analyser’s attention to the direction where he considers Luhmann’s point of departure itself, i.e., the pushing of man as a psychic system outside the social world, an abortive attempt. Because if he does not do that, then the lasting structures of the social world, which socialise the personality, and thereafter continuously reward it or apply sanctions against it, will fall out of the point of view, and only the phenomena that appear in the course of point like/momentary communications may enter the analysis. Thus the structures addressing the personality of the participants in the communication will need to disappear from the analysis. E.g., the differences between the personalities of the professional scientist and the layman need to be referred to here in the communications controlled by the true/false dual, and in the first place it is necessary to call the attention to the assessing/rewarding mechanisms, which orientate the scientist, but which do not even emerge in the event of laymen.


Subsequently, we may correct Luhmann, it is necessary to bring man back into the explanation of the social world, while recognising that the functionally differentiated mechanisms enforce that the whole personality is orderly pushed into the background regarding many activities, and they allow of actions, assessment no other than those determined by defined roles. That is, I take man into consideration as a personality divided into differentiated roles in the composition of the social world, and not as an undividable unit (See: Pokol 1991). Now it becomes possible, by making a theoretical decision against Luhmann, to narrow down the organisation of functional subsystems to the communication of professional participants, and laymen’s occasional orientation according to the binary code, any caretaker can argue with glowing eyes to defend his truth, should be excluded from here.


When in such fashion reshaping the proposition on functional differentiation, however, we need to pay attention, in addition to professional subsystems being separated from one another, also to laymen’s separation from the communication maintained in everyday life. Consequently, the concept of everyday life needs to be included in this theory with a regular place-value, and then it is necessary to divide the system level of society into everyday life and professional subsystems, in the first place.


With this correction Luhmann’s analyses regarding functional (professional) subsystems become more easily comparable to Bourdieu’s writings, which analyse certain social fields. This comparison can be well made in the event of the academic field (subsystem), where both the differences and similarities between the theories of Luhmann and Bourdieu can be clearly seen.


Luhmann wrote the first systematic analysis about the organisation of science as a social subsystem in 1968 (Luhmann 1971:232-252), and at this early stage he did not apply his point of departure, i.e., the exclusion of man and his personality from the explanation of the formations of society, in his analyses as consistently as it can be seen in his writings from the 80’s. In this study Luhmann keeps the scientist orientating according to the binary code of true/false in view, and, exhaustively leaning on the empirical materials addressed by Merton’s science sociology school, emphasises the phenomenon that scientific results become firmly rooted in reputation and the hierarchy of such results as well as the elements that make them appear on the surface in order to comprehend the organisation of science as a social subsystem. With the extension of the complexity of this subsystem, when ten thousands of scientists constitute communities of scientists in various fields of science, without the hierarchy of scientific reputation and the elements that make them appear on the surface, chaos and disorganisation would ensue. Whose book or study should be read by the profession, and especially by the growing, new generation of scientists, in the fist place, if every two week thousands of papers and volumes come out in the various fields of science? Who should be appointed professor at a noted university, and who at a sixth-rate university in the provinces? Without reliable hierarchy of reputation actual scientific accomplishments would be unable to reach wider communities of scientists, and the rewarding of great scientific results could not be separated from sixth-rate scientific performances. Scientific reputation and its hierarchy appear here as the key mechanisms of the self-organisation of science. And, especially, if to Luhmann’s shorter study we add the analysis of the monograph entitled ‘The scientific community’ by the American sociologist, Warren O. Hagstrom, whom was taken also by Luhmann as a basis, the assessing/rewarding mechanism of science will emerge, which organises the self-control of the complex scientific subsystem in the dimension of processing reality according to the binary code of true/false.


In Hagstrom’s book, as later in the studies of Storer, Glaser, Ben-David and Merton, it becomes apparent that distortions cannot be held under the level of a threshold in the assessing mechanisms of a scientific subsystem unless a scientific community is dispersed into plenty of organisations (at universities, institutions, etc.), and thus the relations among the members of scientific communities are characterised by acting side by side rather than union in one community, or subordination/superordination in them. Taking this proposition as a basis, Joseph Ben-David demonstrated in his university history researches that the focal point of scientific life was placed where the competing university model and the community of scientists were active side by side to the greatest extent in an age, and which in time was considered to be the leading centre of science all over the world. Thus, the universities of the culturally decentralised Germany in the 19th century, the American universities after the first decades in the 20th century driving competition to extremes could be referred to in this respect (see: Ben-David: 1971).


To sum up the point of view taken by Luhmann and that of Merton’s science sociology school that served for him as empirical background: in the social organisation of science, after having passed a stage of complexity, the key role of reputation hierarchies, scientists’ orientation pursuant to these and the striving for higher level of reputation need to be stressed as the basis for the neutral self-control of science. Or, again it should be noted that in the event of monopolistic structures these might be distorted.


After completing the analysis in several minor studies, Pierre Bourdieu systematically examined the academic-scientific field in his book ‘Homo academicus’ (Bourdieu 1994). It is important to note right at the point of departure that Bourdieu performed the analysis of this field leaning on an earlier empirical survey of French society, and this society, as a counterpoint to the competition/market mechanisms prevalent in the society of the United States, developed in each of its social sphere centralised mechanisms that rested on central authorisation and assessment. This refers as much to the structure of public administration and the legal system as to the sphere of education or academic activity. If we keep the possibility of distortions described under the Luhmann-Hagstrom scientific subsystem model in view, then it can be stated that the French academic/university field with its central authorisation, doctoral committee system and other central decision making bodies represents the case that is mostly inclined to turn into an oligarchy, where the mechanisms of reputation make the differences in the position of power whether being subordinated or superodinated rather than the differences in scientific results rooted in the hierarchies of reputation, and, thus, it realises a science authority sub/superordination and vassal-patron system rather than neutral self-control.


Consequently, Bourdieu’s point of departure, the struggle for a special kind of capital in each social field among groups of people involved in each field, under the distorted French conditions corresponds in many respects to the facts. (And the same way this is the case in Hungary and other centralised Eastern European countries!) What for Luhmann is a functional necessity in the scientific reputation and the hierarchies of reputation built of these, which make scientific accomplishments rooted and appear on the surface just as it is done by money in connection with economic accomplishments, for Bourdieu becomes scientific capital, which allows of sub- and superordination of power and special exploitation and domination.


Well, then, in this social field (or, to use Luhmann’s terminology, subsystem) the half-sidedness of the two theories becomes clearly visible. The sub- and superordination of power explored by Bourdieu and its organising force must be considered by all means existing within the social subsystem of science, even if within various scientific communities strong dispersion ensues as it can be seen in the United States. With monopolistic structures and centralised organisation of science this may also become dominant. This point of view is definitely not applied by Luhmann, and Bourdieu pushes the neutral/functional role of scientific ‘capital of reputation’ out of the point of view, and thus does not analyse the mechanisms that may reduce the extent science is organised on the grounds of power/domination, and harder enforce the setting up, operation of hierarchies of reputation in compliance with actual scientific accomplishments and the organisation of science in the assessment dimension of true/false.


Perhaps it is not useless to refer to the fact that the medium theory of Luhmann’s ‘master’, Talcott Parsons differs from Bourdieu’s extended capital theory in a way similar to the above. Parsons set out from money as a medium of exchange containing neutral exchange relations in a generalised form, and asserted that if such a symbolic generalised medium of exchange was indispensable in economy as one of the social subsystems, then such medium of exchange should exist, even if organised in another kind of specific form, in the other subsystems too. He considered, e.g., the medium of ‘power’ in the political subsystem, the medium of ‘influence’ in the societal community (or, in other terms, integration subsystems) to be such medium. The point of departure of Bourdieu’s capital analyses was also money, in line with Marx’s analyses, but here money became the point of departure not as a neutral means of exchange but as a means that allows of sub- and superordination among groups of people and exploitation. Thus, the extension of the concept of money capital and research for other special kinds of capital in social fields beyond the economy was attained with a kind of logic similar to the one applied in Parsons’ research for special media. Regarding science this similarity can be grasped in the fact that while the hierarchies of reputation referred to in Luhmann’s study from 1968, which further developed Parsons’ medium theory, were addressed as the elements making the medium of science appear on the surface, in Bourdieu’s book ‘Homo academicus’ they were made part of the analysis in terms of the distribution of and the struggle for scientific capital.


After the above analysis, the half-sided approach of the two theories is perhaps much more apparent: the same way as money is both a functionally indispensable generalised means of exchange in the economy and a means that produces exploitation and power/subordination relations, scientific hierarchies of reputation also fulfil both functions/exert both effects, and the dominance of either of the two effects in the scientific subsystem of a given country depends on to what extent the scientific community is scattered/competitive, or, if, on the contrary, a centralised/monopolistic kind of construction is prevalent.


The possibilities of nearing the theories of Luhmann and Bourdieu are exemplified by the analysis of the telecommunication sphere too. In his study in 1994 Bourdieu examined this sphere (see Bourdieu 1994b), and, although Luhmann did not specifically touch upon the matter, on the grounds of the instructions set forth in his analyses developed regarding numerous other subsystems it was easy to reconstruct Luhmann’s theory regarding this sphere (see Pokol 1991b). A social subsystem is established when a larger sphere of activity becomes organised round a binary code, thus detaching it from other subsystems which orientate according to other codes; and with regard to modern telecommunication this can be demonstrated pursuant to the existence or lack of newsworthiness. This value dual enforces professional journalists, reporters, editors, etc. to apply a uniform aspect of selection in the course of processing reality. It is not lawfulness, truth, as great rehabilitation as possible or aesthetic value that a journalist strives for but to find, or possibly create the most newsworthy event, and to show more and more new aspects of that event. This binary code, of course, cannot become dominant and cannot subordinate all the other aspects of selection to itself in this sphere unless there is a severe competition among various newspapers, channels and programs, and by that the biased journals, radio programs will lose the attention of their public the same way as dull, clumsy newspapers, programs that produce newsworthiness only on a low level. The rationality of the market, the orientation according to the code of profitable/non-profitable thus ‘holds’ the act of striving for newsworthiness ‘tight’, but this impact of the market can be demonstrated by how the inner logic of the sports sphere (to win/to lose) or the university-scientific sphere is held tight (on sport see: Bette 1984, on the latter: Ben-David 1971). In his aforesaid study from 1994 Bourdieu analyses this sphere as the ‘field of journalism’. In the entire article he concentrates on professional journalists and their motivations in his analyses, and this again proves the righteousness of the statement that by limiting Luhmann’s social subsystem category to professional components these two theories have become definitely close to each other.


Noting that the field of journalism has a logic of its own just as the literary field, or the field of the arts, Bourdieu finds the core of this organisation in striving for the latest news: ‘The specific logic of this field addresses ephemeral things such as news, and as a result of competition for customers this striving places the most recent news in the centre (Bourdieu 1994b:5). When first approaching the problem, it seems that by a minor correction of Luhmann’s theory it is possible to develop a theoretical framework regarding this sphere almost perfectly identical with Bourdieu’s theory, but apart from the identity regarding the core element, there are two major differences that need to be emphasised though. Firstly, Bourdieu speaks about striving for ‘the most recent news’, while, on the contrary, the concept of ‘striving for newsworthy events’ is wider than that (see Erbing 1989). Secondly, and this is more important, Bourdieu analyses how the field of journalism is intertwined with other fields of cultural nature in a specific way. He defines the French situation special in the Western world, where the sphere of journalism and the other cultural and political activities have been only incompletely separated, that through this intertwining the market mechanisms that dominate the field of journalism settle on the other cultural fields, and here, forcing the inner logic of these into the background, mass-produced products are put in the foreground. That is, the intrusion of the field of journalism into the other cultural fields cause these fields to turn into markets: ‘The strengthening of the intrusion of the field of journalism more and more subjects the other fields to commercial logic, and this threatens the autonomy of such fields…’ (Bourdieu 1994b:6). Without refusing that this impact does exist, we deem there is a more important connection not specified by Bourdieu that the field of journalism, whose separation from politics can be in any way ensured more or less clearly subject to meeting several preconditions, may become dominated by the interests and political opinion of various social groups, and then by intruding into other cultural fields is able to help the given social group to obtain intellectual hegemony over the whole society. In this structure only those can become great writers, musicians, philosophers, sociologists and political theorists, etc. who are helped by mass media through presenting them in cultural supplements, TV panel discussions, etc., to make a reputation for themselves. Thus, it is the minor problem that instead of ‘pure’ artistic, literary values mass-produced works and authors are rewarded in the cultural fields organised by the field of journalism. It constitutes a greater distortion that through that those authors and their works are highlighted that come from the given social group or, at least, does not risk voicing their opposition to the views of the opinion leaders in this group. By this means the social group that is able to dominate the field of journalism will be able to obtain dominance in matters of spiritual issues, language policy, taste, etc. over an entire society. In the centralised French intellectual life centred in Paris these tendencies can be fairly palpable, and it may be deemed quite odd that this aspect is left unnoticed by Bourdieu, who is otherwise, as we have seen, quite sensitive of exploring mechanisms that refer to dominance and subjection.


I close this paper by pointing out that the issue of converting capital between various fields/subsystems of society emerges in both theories. In Luhmann’s theory, regarding functionally differentiated modern societies, this opportunity enters the analysis only as a distortion, and fundamentally he places unexchangeability at the centre. Because functionally separated subsystems have their own mechanisms for processing reality and their own aspects of selection, and for each subsystem the rest of the subsystems will degenerate into environment. The fact that accomplishments produced by different binary codes can be exchanged for rewards and positions in other subsystems implies nothing else but that functional differentiation has been completed improperly. On the contrary, in Bourdieu’s theory the capital and accomplishments of various fields of society are convertible into other types of capital, and among them regular connections, established ways of conversion can be shown in terms of the wholeness of society. Through that Bourdieu is able to demonstrate, beyond exploitations and subordination within each field of society, division into various classes in the entire society. In Luhmann’s theory this does not even emerge, and for him the wholeness of society represents merely the totality of functionally differentiated subsystems, which are harmonised through spontaneous co-ordination, but no subsystem is able to control the entire society. Subsequently, concentration on the different branches of the double social structure referred to in the initial expositions apparently enforces diametrically opposite solutions in the two theories.







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