The State as God: On Bourdieu's Political Theology


  • Victor L. Shammas Work Research Institute (AFI), Oslo Metropolitan University



Bourdieu, state theory, symbolic power, social categories, anamnesis


Bourdieu’s anthropology of the state can be interpreted as a form of political theology, premised on a panentheistic conception of the state, which is transcendental to social reality while simultaneously being lodged in all social matter. The state is a Leviathan that imposes a horizon of meaning beyond which social agents rarely, if ever, move. The anthropologist must transcend the doxic structures of the state by engaging in a labor of anamnesis, enacting a bringing-to-consciousness of the invisible and occluded operations of the state in its deployment of symbolic power, which serves to naturalize a series of dominant (yet arbitrary) categories, concepts, and representations. Bourdieu’s ontological vision can be summarized in the concise formula, ‘state = society = God.’ A guiding methodical imperative for sociologists of the state-as-divinity is extracted from Bourdieu’s lectures on the state: the Deus Absconditus Principle, which mandates detecting and uncovering the veiled divinity of the state in all aspects of social reality. It is the task of the anthropologist to channel, interpret, and challenge the panentheistic state.