November 11, 2005

Sri Aurobindo and Bourdieu

Lorenzo, David Joseph
How the sun-word rises: cultural synthesis and discursive persistence in the Aurobindo movement of India
Degree: PH.D.- 1993 / Yale University; 0265.- Adviser: Director: David E. Apter.- Dissertation Abstracts International (DAI), VOL. 54-06A, Page 2310, 00482 Pages.- Ann Arbor, MI. Article in: vol. 54 no. 6, 1993 Dec.- DAI No: DA9331321. Degree Granting Institution: Yale U, 1993.- PAGES: 2310A.- STANDARD NO: Pt. A, 0419-4209; Pt. B, 0419-4217; Pt. C, 1042-7279
ABSTRACT: This dissertation examines the Indian social movement founded by Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950) as a discourse community. Its purpose is to reveal and explain the problems discourse communities pose to the project of building consensus around a textual agreement that distributes wealth, power and rights. I approach this task by posing and answering two sets of questions:
  • (1) how discourse communities persist through time despite changing contexts and differences of interests, splitting rather than dissolving, and how do people use discourse as political culture?
  • (2) what are the empirical implications of the rise and persistence of discourse communities for normative theories claiming to show the way to lasting textual agreement?

To answer the first set of questions, I employ Bourdieu's concept of symbolic capital as I examine the split between two institutions in the movement. I argue that the movement members perpetuated their allegiance to the Aurobindian political culture through their ritualistic use of discursive symbols in arguments that defended particularistic policies and legitimized policies conducive to such interests. I show that these symbols are drawn from three customary sources (cosmic history, secular history, and descriptions of founders) and are used in two different ways:

  • as "problem solvers", and
  • as defenders of the discourse itself as a sacred text.

Examining a series of such usages before, during and after the split, I demonstrate that they perpetuate the discourse by making it relevant in different contexts (in problem-solving usages), and by elevating it above all possible competitors (in sacred usages).

My approach to the second set of questions is to juxtopose the evidence gathered from the examination of the Aurobindo movement (and its theoretical implications) with two theoretical strategies contemporary normative theorists employ--the communitarian and the modernization/rational, I argue that the Aurobindian case, taken as an example of the workings of a discourse community, exposes the inability of these strategies to come to grips with the power and tenacity of symbolic politics embedded within discourse communities. This inadequacy, I conclude, can only be made good by starting from the assumption that any governing text must be created synthetically, regarded as provisional, and interpreted contextually, rather than treated as an analytic, universal, and robust foundation.

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