The attack on the US Capitol building on Wednesday, 6 January 2021 and the preparedness of the police in defending that building, has been compared unfavourably to police actions toward Black Lives Matter protestors in June 2020 (Borger 2021). The conclusion drawn in some areas of the media is that the response of security forces differs depending on the group which is protesting. In an exploration of why groups receive differing responses from those in authority, provided here is a discussion of capital, not in the US building type, but the kind that, ‘at any moment represents the immanent structure of the social world’ (Bourdieu 1986:242).
The responses to the protesters are argued here to differ because of the group’s social, economic and cultural capital. Their wealth, or economic capital, does not alone correspond to the power that they have, or the response they get when protesting. If a group’s ethos is recognised as being culturally viable and valuable, that group will be treated with more respect. Arguably then, if security forces empathise with a protesting group and their ideology corresponds, even if such ideas are based on the same unsubstantiated information, then those security forces will be inclined to treat the group leniently when they protest. A group’s acceptance of Information, and its legitimacy, is a key factor in understanding the corresponding acceptability of a group’s motivation. The intelligence that security forces have of a situation will be mediated within this context. Evidence will be moderated not subject to its validity but in terms of the belief system of the institution; here the institution being the security forces; the police and army of the US.
It is not argued here that the security forces are supporting violent protestors, but that the protestors benefit from social capital. Their social capital is based on their shared membership of a ‘group’, where there is a recognition of cultural norms and values, of imagined community experiences because of common characteristics exacerbated through right wing populism. Frankly, the majority of the protestors were white, as Wallace (2016:38) posits, ‘class positionality’ can be experienced in terms of a person’s ethnic group. Although it is not productive to essentialise ‘a group’; as people are not all the same, there is an intersection where many of the protesters needs and arguments cross, and this intersection occurs in their perceived utopia of a promise and a common name, Trump.
Further, Bourdieu’s (1986) understanding of capital extends to cultural ‘instruments’ which as Wallace (2016:38) explains, encompass: ‘cultural cues, social styles, schemes of expression, acquired bodies of knowledge, (re)presentation styles, manners of speaking, consumption practices and patterns’. Arguably, the security forces have more in common in terms of these factors, with the crowd of largely white protesters that stormed the capital than with Black Life Matter protesters.
To conclude, the amount of power a group holds in society depends on how much cultural capital or social capital the group has. As Bourdieu (1986) argues, the power that groups hold has often been understood in terms of economic capital or wealth and other aspects of the groups’ power or capital has been ignored ignored. However, a group’s power should be understood in terms of how it is regarded culturally and the social networks it can employ.
The protesters appeared happy entering the area of the capitol building, comfortable protesting and comfortable entering the building. Bourdieu (2000) describes how, when people are faced with an unusual and different social situation or place, they can feel dislocated. However, this was not the case for the crowd entering the Capitol Building. The British ITV news showed footage of protesters shouting: ‘This is our house!’ They did not feel ‘out of place’ strangers in an uncommon field. Friedman & Laurison (2019:23) argue that there is a connection ‘between class background and self-confidence’ and they explore this further as ‘embodied’ cultural capital. Here, Friedman & Laurison’s (2019) argument has been expanded to understand cultural and social capital as the way that class needs to be understood, at the intersection with ethnicity. Therefore, this idea of class background and embodied confidence needs be extended, as Wallace (2016) does, to issues of ‘race’.
Borger, J. (2021) MAGA V. BLM: how police handled the Capitol mob and George Floyd activists – in pictures The Guardian (7th January 2021) Maga v BLM: how police handled the Capitol mob and George Floyd activists – in pictures | US news | The Guardian
Bourdieu, P. (1986) ‘The Forms of Capital’ in Richardson, J, G. [ed] (1986) Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education Connecticut: Greenwood Press
Bourdieu, P. (2000) Pascalian Meditations Stanford: Stanford University Press
Friedman, S. & Laurison, D. (2020) The Class Ceiling why it pays to be privileged Bristol: Policy Press
Wallace, D. O. (2015) ‘Re-interpreting Bourdieu, belonging and Black identities: exploring ‘Black’ cultural capital among Black Caribbean youth in London’ in Thatcher, J. Ingram, N. Burke, C. & Abrahams, J. [eds] Bourdieu The Next Generation the development of Bourdieu’s intellectual heritage in contemporary UK sociology London: Routledge
Lyndsey Kramer is a third year PhD Sociology research student at the University of York. Her PhD applies Bourdieu’s capital theory to empirical data gathered from Latvian EU workers living in the UK. Lyndsey is a GTA for Social Policy at the University of York and she is the event coordinator for the Early Careers Network of the Political Studies Association. Twitter: @LyndseyKramer19