Sometimes I think of myself as a “material girl” but then I remember I’m not young, I’m not a girl and I’m not fond of Marvin Harris. Harris was a material girl, in the sense that he argued, as Madonna said, “we are living in a material world and I am a material girl”. In other words, it all comes down to material culture for Marvin Madonna and Marilyn.
For Harris, the lyrics might have gone something like this:
“Only cows that pull and poop (and lactate) make my theory sway” (bonus points to any who can decipher that cryptic line).
ON OTHER HAND, Philippe Bourgois is cool, looks cool and has some very good points to make. Maybe his appellation caused this but he seems to be the least bourgois (i.e., in Marxist contexts, “upholding the interests of capitalism; not communist”) Bourgois I can imagine.
I am most impressed by Philippe Bourgois‘ resurrection of the word “Lumpen”. In his Lumpen Abuse: The Human Cost of Righteous Neoliberalism (2011), he states,
This chapter argues for re-framing Marx’s concept of class through a redefinition of the problematic but creative category of “lumpen” to develop a “theory of lumpen abuse under punitive neoliberalism.” To do this, we draw from Foucault’s understanding of subjectivity and biopower, Bourdieu’s concepts of symbolic violence and habitus, and Primo Levi’s insights on the invisibility of Holocaust-like gray areas in routine daily life and we re-define the lumpen as those vulnerable populations for whom biopower (the state-mediated forces and discourses of disciplinary modernity that are normally life- enhancing) has become abusive rather than productive. Our era’s economy, its structures of service provision, and the symbolic violence of individual achievement and free market efficiency condemns increasingly large proportions of the transgressive and unemployed poor to processes of lumpenization, which decimate bodies and amplify suffering. (2011:7)
The term “lumpen” comes from lumpenproletariat (lum·pen·pro·le·tar·i·at) or for the linguistically inclined, /ˈləmpənˌprōləˈte(ə)rēət,ˈlo͝om-/ . It is a noun in Marxist terminology and refers to the lowest of the lower classes. Those poor people that are so unorganized and unpolitical that they are unaware of their victimization. Consequently, they are on no use to Marx’s ideas about revolution and in fact, may be an impediment to it. In grad school, they made us read The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. This is the first and likely last time it will be of use to me!
In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852), Marx gives this description of the lumpenproletariat:
- Alongside decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, alongside ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks,lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux [pimps], brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars — in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither, which the French call la bohème.