Federico Zuolo

How to Think Efficacy. A Comparison between Jullien, Bourdieu, and Latour

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Informations and abstract

Keywords: Efficacy, Effectiveness, Actor-network theory, Jullien, Bourdieu, Latour.

How can we properly theorize successful actions of social change? Standard analytical accounts in theory of action and rational choice adopt a (broadly conceived) individualistic approach which reduces collective actions to individuals. In this paper, I investigate and critically assess some alternatives to individualistic approaches that understand rationality as context sensitive and individual action as structurally determined by non-individual factors. In particular, I discuss Jullien’s account of efficacy, Bourdieu’s theory of heretic ruptures, and Latour’s theory of action with a view to assessing their capacity to understand efficacy in social change. I argue that all these theories are unconvincing in their own terms. Jullien’s account of efficacy eventually collapses into the idea of efficiency; Bourdieu’s theory grapples with the theoretical difficulty of making room for social change enacted by alternative (oppressed) actors; and although Latour’s approach focuses on chance, it does so without criteria to discern acceptable from non-acceptable ones. However, I conclude that some elements of these theories (the focus on strategy, the diversity of practical capacities of social actors, and the idea that action occurs through mediators) should be retained in the outline of a rich and plausible theory of efficacy in social change.

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