Elucidating how hegemony and allodoxia connect
Bourdieu emphasised that the first step in ‘creating new social relations, and organising social and political life in alternative ways, is to understand the socially instituted limits of our ways of speaking, thinking and acting that are characteristic of our societies today’.[i] As the next step, allodoxic interventions can be undertaken within wider social activity: as individual citizen acts, as discrete actions by employees within power structures, or by those who occupy other privileged spaces. Making these achievements known in the public sphere through policy, capable programs, or legislation can extend the possible impacts of the intervention and work towards preventing what Arendt warned us of — that is, the erosion or deliberate destruction of that which we share in common. The conditions of what might be described as neoliberalism threaten the commons.
Reverence for culture, as described by Bourdieu, exposes people to cultural allodoxia. It is the mistaken identifications and false recognitions that expose the gap between acknowledgement and knowledge that we see in representations such as kitsch, which are often saccharine reproductions of an original.[ii]
As a point of access, kitsch can help practitioners of allodoxic interventions to understand the ways in which hegemony and allodoxia interconnect. This can lead to greater critical awareness about the way habitus inculcates anxiety as part of hegemony. This may be a first step towards breaking the hegemonic stranglehold, perhaps followed by tactics such as the wink and an exploration of some of the key performance works of Baroness Elsa (as provided below).
My work Wink explores the criticality many Indigenous Australians possess to interrogate and sum up a range of interlocking hegemonic social games, as indicated through their use of the wink. The wink often opens up a space of inclusion that provides cues to the social games being played, which, to me, can be described as the handshake of the undercommons. The aim is to assist the Indigenous people present in the group in acquiring the critical awareness to discern the acts of division, domination and exclusion being played out in the social games. The wink is often accompanied by a short joke, thereby enabling the whole action to rupture the hold of the habitus while also playing in the terrain of what Bourdieu calls the open secret. This can subvert the power imbalance at play in the situation.
Wink is a response to an event, announced in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper in 2009. This related to a New South Wales Government inquiry report about opening up parklands for cultural tourism, which recommended an Indigenous Arts Festival on Cockatoo Island. Indigenous curator Djon Mundine was quoted in the newspaper article, and there was a suggestion that he should direct the festival. In a conversation I had with Mundine at the time, he told me that, if it played out, it would more than likely involve him standing alone on a hill on the island, winking at everyone walking past.
In doing so, Mundine would be maintaining an open secret. He wouldn’t be breaking the taboo of explicitly stating what everyone knows, but instead weaves it into his story and involves the imagined festivalgoers. In both tactics, he is referring to opportunistic government announcements that tout promises of outcomes for the community but are typically empty. In this case, it would be an empty, umbrella arts spectacle with little new programme content provided. This is entirely in keeping with the diminishing strategic support for genuine arts development, especially within the Indigenous sector. Within the broader societal context, this is continuing exploitation of the Indigenous community. Policies presented as redress of their needs and concerns relating to the original invasion will always be smoke screens, tokenistic acts where the tourism dollars will not even flow back to them.
Knowledge about hegemony diffuses the hold of the habitus, and Mundine’s witty story indicates he possesses the appropriate type and amount of knowledge to step in and out of social games. This provides him with the capability to check his participation in them. It is the development of this particular skill that is the aim of allodoxic interventions. Influence on or insertion into the power structures of various fields requires participation in the social games that they support.
I made Wink later that year, after the conversation with Mundine. It comprises individual portrait snapshots of Mundine and other Indigenous people winking. Even without Mundine’s festival story, their gazes and winks can be read as a collective participation in another open secret. This one includes references to the first white invasion, my role as photographer standing in for the anthropologist’s gaze, and the possible stealing of spirit through photography.
[ii] Clement Greenberg, ‘Avant-garde and Kitsch’, in Art and Culture Critical Essays (Boston: Boston Beacon Press, 1961), p. 3.