Monday, April 23, 2007


An attempt to explicate some of my earlier thoughts on habitus and field...

Authoritarian regimes ultimately rely neither on persuasion nor on censorship but on the silent harmonization that they establish in everyday routines. Such regimes are often described as "states of exception," a term associated with Carl Schmitt, whose Political Theology defines the sovereign as "he who decides on the exception" (5). For an analysis of states of exception in Latin America, see Brian Loveman's The Constitution of Tyranny. The Chilean constitutions of 1925, 1980, and 1985 (those in force during the Pinochet regime) codified the instances in which states of exception could be enforced, and Pinochet meticulously obeyed the letter of this constitutional authority in his promulgation of states of emergency and states of siege. His regime eventually promulgated its own Law of the States of Exception in 1985, further codifying and regularizing exceptionality. As Snyder observes, the government, using both old and new legislation, "created a complex hierarchy of states of exception, which could be declared by the government in cases of internal disturbance, subversion, or public calamity. These included the state of siege, the most repressive, the state of emergency, and in the wake of the 1980 Constitution, the State of Danger of Disturbance to Internal Peace" ("The Dirty Legal War" 264). But amid this increasingly complex typology and perhaps surprising adherence to the rule of law, what is important is how such exceptionality soon becomes normal: "The states of exception were renewed constantly, with the state of emergency in force from 1973 until 1988 when the plebiscite was held" (264). Exceptionality thus became the norm, as indeed it was throughout much of Latin America during this period: the state of emergency in Paraguay under Stroessner, for instance, was uninterrupted from 1954 to 1988. The exception became routine, while protest became exceptional.

Hence despite the understandable attention paid to the resistance against the Pinochet dictatorship, what should be noted, because it otherwise goes without saying, is how limited it was. Little has been written about "everyday" authoritarianism in Chile, the long periods of relative calm (however uneasy) that predominated in most of the country, most of the time. (Perhaps we could find such accounts in the novel or the chronicle rather than in social scientific studies.) For instance, Samuel Chavkin's Storm over Chile takes its subtitle "The Junta Under Siege" from a chapter describing the protests of 1983-1984, but has nothing at all to say about either the period 1974-1983, from the coup's consolidation to the outbreak of protest, or 1984-1988, from the height of the protests to the plebiscite that eventually brought down Pinochet. Or rather, the entirety of what Chavkin has to say about the period 1984-1988 is the following single sentence: "For yet another four years Pinochet continued to hang on to power by torture and murder of his opponents" (278). Hence Chavkin hardly explains either the quiescence that was the rule or indeed why that quiescence should be broken, however briefly, by the protests that he celebrates. By contrast, Cathy Schneider's fuller account of the protests is more thoughtful about the reason for their abeyance in the mid-1980s. She quotes one activist, Leo, arguing that "people left their homes, were beaten, saw no clear purpose to endure the abuse, grew bored with the protests, and returned to their homes" (Shantytown Protest 187). Leo's comment indicates not simply state-sponsored opposition, but also a fatigue and a boredom that took over even in the most radicalized of barrios, a tiredness echoed elsewhere in Schneider's text: "activists grew weary," she notes, commenting on a 1986 survey that showed the remarkable percentage of Chileans who felt tense, "resigned and disappointed," or "sad" (187-8); she remarks on the "state of numbness" that psychologists diagnosed even among activists (202); and she endorses Aristide Zolberg's argument that "movements of political enthusiasm are followed [. . .] always by the restoration of boredom" (qtd. 211). In this panorama of a movement that has worn itself out, a low-level anxiety comes to the fore as ideological concerns recede. Schneider quotes Duncan Green's observation that the new generation of Chilean workers is "a collection of anxious individualists" who are no longer, now in Schneider's words, "ideologically predisposed" (206). A general state of "physical and mental exhaustion" prevails (206). Tiredness and waiting. In body and mind, Chileans in Schneider's description were, by the end of the dictatorship, afflicted by the affects that Spinoza categorizes as sad passions: the "sadness [that] diminishes or hinders a man's powers of action" (Ethics 3P37 109). In Bourdieu's terms, we see the "resignation to necessity" that, he argues, characterizes the habitus of the dominated classes (Distinction 380).

It is in this context of exhaustion, and against the celebration of popular resistance found for example in Kenneth Aman and Cristián Parker's Popular Culture in Chile, that Ton Salman emphasizes that the explosion of energy and enthusiasm in the revolt of Chile's new social movements was "an exceptional episode" (The Diffident Movement 4). Salman points to the "lengthy periods of 'normalcy'" during which "what is involved are dispositions that do not solely play a role at the level of consciousness" (4). He employs Bourdieu's concept of habitus to explain the delay in the emergence of poblador militancy in terms of a "class unconsciousness" (146) incarnating a "sensitivity to authority" and "a wider and deeper tendency to reject deviancy" (147). The pobladores' dispositions were "fragmentary and pragmatic and not politically articulated" (153). Protest only erupted once "the specific habitual and internalized ways of interpreting and perceiving Chilean reality and one's own position and options within it became inadequate" (207). Even then, the ensuing mobilization was essentially conservative. For instance, women became active in the name of family and community survival, fostering "a practical, non-ideological politicization of the disrupted linkages in the traditional family, and in the traditional poblador strategies" (212). Salman emphasizes habitus as a source of inertia, as the embodied sedimentation of a collective history that structures the present and so "resists change and guarantees the continuity of subjects" (49). Politics, in its traditional conception as a spectacular and articulate attempt to set or change the public agenda through discourse, arises only when there is a breakdown between the expectations incarnated in habitus and the objective conditions of the moment, when traditional (unspoken, unconscious) strategies fail because the field that molded them has changed. Thus the protests' emergence and their decline had the same cause: a radical disenchantment. In the first instance, and especially for women and the young, the call to mobilization in 1983 and 1984 catalyzed a "disillusioned optimism" (193) that arose from the failure of inherited strategies that had enabled survival and the prospect of social betterment for an earlier generation of male workers. But as the protests became routine, they became subject to the same disenchantment: disappointment itself became embodied within the pobladores' habitus. So it is less that the protests "set the stage," as Schneider suggests, "for a negotiated transition to democracy" (Shantytown Protest 194) than that they were the visible symptom of a deeper transition in the regime of affect, from a sense of expectation nurtured by the state to the all-pervasive low-level anxiety that characterizes a postdictatorial order in which the market sets the tone for social interaction. The period of the new social movements, in other words, effected a step-change within the habitus of the majority of Chile's population, habituating them to the order that would come fully into its own only after the end of the dictatorship, with the institutionalization of the state of exception under neoliberalism.

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