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The Doxa and Doxosophers

May 29, 2010

Pierre Bourdieu suggests in Outline of a Theory of Practice that both orthodox and heterodox groups take for granted a “doxa.” The doxa is what everyone on a society/community has so deeply internalized that it is beyond consideration.

In Acts of Resistance, he uses the word “doxosophers” and distinguishes them from sociologists and philosophers:

The sociologist [like the philosopher] is opposed to the doxosopher … in that she questions the things that are self-evident …. This profoundly shocks the doxosopher, who sees a political bias in the refusal to grant the profoundly political submission implied in the unconscious acceptance of commonplaces, in Aristotle’s sense—notions or theses with which people argue, but over which they do not argue.

“Doxosopher” is an annoying word—how does one pronounce it?—but I love the idea.

Most of the new atheists are doxosophers: they’re playing out an argument on the basis of old Enlightenment ideas that contemporary philosophers and sociologists call into question.

Most of the people who argue about separation of church and state are doxosophers: they take for granted a four-hundred-year-old set of concepts and assumptions that should seriously be reconsidered.

I could go on; who would you consider a doxospher?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. pinkcollarscholar permalink
    May 29, 2010 12:08 pm

    Evolutionary psychologists.

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    May 29, 2010 12:30 pm

    How so? They can’t all be bad …

  3. May 29, 2010 1:07 pm

    What’s going on with the word though? ‘Doxo-sopher’: ‘Belief-wisdom’? Differing from philosophers in that they believe wisdom without befriending or loving it? Why not ‘Philodoxers’ or something, ‘lovers of opinion’?

  4. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    May 29, 2010 1:21 pm

    Pinkcollarscholar: I wasn’t questioning your judgment—I’m just not familiar with evolutionary psychology and am genuinely interested in your thoughts …

  5. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    May 29, 2010 1:24 pm

    Luke: I think that he took orthodox and heterodox and subtracted the prefixes, which left “dox,” which is what they all share in common. The “doxa” is that which those arguing amongst themselves take for granted. Therefore, a philosopher who argues without questioning his “doxa” would be a “doxosopher.” I’m guessing that’s how he got there.

  6. Deane permalink
    May 29, 2010 8:10 pm

    Any utopian vision, especially Marxism, obviously.

    ‘A new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away,’ we read in Revelations. Cross out ‘heaven’, just keep ‘the new earth’, and you have the secret and the recipe of all utopian systems.’ – E.M. Cioran, History and Utopia, 81.

  7. pinkcollarscholar permalink
    May 29, 2010 8:53 pm

    Sorry I didn’t see your reply sooner. I posted and then headed out for a day of errands.

    Evolutionary psychologists are trying to find evolutionary rationales for human behavior. I think that’s an interesting project, but I get skeptical when the sorts of human nature they say are the “fittest” so closely resemble the status quo — particularly with regards to gender, i.e., women are naturally monogamous, men naturally polygamous, etc. I’m sure there are EPs doing much more subtle work, but they don’t get the same sort of traction in the popular press.

    I see two important ways for sociologists/philosophers/anti-doxosophers to intervene here: 1) questioning why the most evolutionarily sound behaviors would so closely resemble our conventional wisdom about human nature and the types of power hierarchies we set up; and 2) questioning our need to come up with these universalizing sorts of explanations in the first place. I guess there’s also room for questioning science as the ultimate source of these sorts of explanations as well.

    (This is what comes of reading Bruno Latour first thing in the morning. )


  8. Darin permalink
    May 30, 2010 5:54 pm

    I like this concept, although I also don’t know how to pronounce it. DOX-uh-saw-fer? Dox-AH-suh-fer?

    Coming from legal scholarship, I see this all the time in just about every constitutional argument you could think of. Robin West calls it the “critical dilemma” – that the law is so bound up with our normative framework that we can’t really disentangle the two. So all legal scholars are in some sense doxosophers.

    Also, when Bordeiu says “notions or theses with which people argue,” does he mean “within which people argue?” (i.e. they don’t step outside of the doxa). Or does he mean that they argue with the doxa, as in, they use the doxa as a basis for their arguments? Because he can’t mean it in the sense that we would normally use the phrase “with which people argue.”

  9. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    May 30, 2010 6:13 pm

    Who knows how to pronounce it …. I’d guess the second of your suggestions over the first.

    “Within which people argue” is exactly what he means, as I take it. That’s an appropriate clarification, thanks!

  10. June 3, 2010 3:19 pm

    This sounds not much different from the kinds of things Foucault thought and wrote, and which the Comaroff’s have used to such magnificent effect. There also is a hint of Weber in this doxa-de-analysis. In cinematic terms, the doxa might be likened to the matrix.

  11. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    June 5, 2010 9:55 am

    I think there’s a LOT of overlap between Bourdieu and Foucault, except that Bourdieu is much much more willing to talk about ideology, distortion, etc. In addition, Bourdieu tries to be more systematic that F. Who’re the Comaroffs?

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