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Daniel Bultmann: A Global and Diachronic Approach to the Study of Social Fields. [Abstract]

This article aims to strengthen and further theorize a global and diachronic reading of social fields. It maintains that, in order to understand social positions in a field – the Cambodian field of power in this case – one needs first to trace the diachronic ruptures between sociocultures. Secondly, it maintains that social fields need to be understood as global configurations. To support this, it argues that the theory of fields developed by Pierre Bourdieu needs to be provincialized, widened to the global on several levels, and freed from a narrow reading of fields as spaces of competitive struggle and investment. This neoliberal reading of Bourdieu’s theory risks reducing multiple forms of knowledge and power to an ahistorical miniature struggle happening along the dimensions of symbolic power and symbolic violence. While Bourdieu provides a more complex theory of social inequality, his analysis regularly slips – usually not while studying but when theorizing fields – into a neoliberal explanation of the historical emergence of inequalities: Agents in fields occupy certain positions in society because they have previously been more successful than others in accumulating symbolic power. By contrast, this article makes an argument for reading social fields as diachronic pluriverses of power, knowledge, and potentially even ontologies, thereby strengthening a particular line of interpretation of Bourdieu’s concepts. It proposes a stronger emphasis on asynchronous and biographical methods to study inequalities and their time- and space-specific configurations. This article supports its arguments by analyzing the biographies of two members of the Cambodian field of power: a princess and an oligarch.

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