Personhood as fetish: how inequality becomes identity
Time: 3-5 PM, followed by drinks and snacks in the lunch room.
Venue: G335, Paradisgatan 5
I will discuss the ways in which increasingly in the UK (though also further afield) class inequality comes to be figured as an issue of faulty ‘character’ or of lacking the right personal resources. Class, then, becomes an issue of personhood: and upward social mobility is to be achieved (the rhetoric goes) through engendering ‘better’ forms . There is an apparent paradox here in that, in times when the logic of the market is held to be paramount and everything reduced to economic strictures, it is the person herself - her identity, we might say, which takes centre stage.
Yet, I’ll argue, this paradox is illusory, since the formulation of the correct character or personhood is understood to be achieved by those with the financial and other resources to effectively ‘buy’ this personhood. This becomes hidden, however, through processes of capital conversion (Bourdieu, 1986) such that economic capital becomes converted into forms of cultural and social capital. The result is a form of fetishism (Marx, 1894) in which value is assumed to lie in some transcendent property of the self, itself, rather than in the social relations that go to produce and define both value and personhood.