Fields, Logics, and Social Movements: Prison Abolition and the Social Justice Field


  • An earlier version of this article was presented at the “Putting Pierre Bourdieu to Work II” conference in May 2005. I would like to thank Dawne Moon for her advice and support throughout this project; and Katrina Kimport, Debra Minkoff, Ben Moodie, Aliya Saperstein, Rachel Sullivan Robinson, Loic Wacquant, Margaret Weir, Laurel Westbrook, Nick Wilson, and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article. Please direct correspondence to: Damon Mayrl, Comparative Sociology Group, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Calle Madrid 126, 28903 Getafe, Madrid, Spain; e-mail:


This essay argues that field analyses of social movements can be improved by incorporating more insights from Pierre Bourdieu. In particular, Bourdieu’s concepts of logic, symbolic capital, illusio, and doxa can enrich social movement scholarship by enabling scholars to identify new objects of study, connect organizational- and individual-level effects, and shed new light on a variety of familiar features of social movements. I demonstrate this claim by delineating the contours of one such field, the “social justice field” (SJF). I argue that the SJF is a delimited, trans-movement arena of contentious politics united by the logic of the pursuit of radical social justice. Drawing upon existing scholarship, as well as my own research on the prison abolition movement, I argue that the competitive demands of the field produce characteristic effects on organizations and individual activists within the field. I conclude by considering how a Bourdieuian approach can provide fresh insights into familiar problematics within the social movements literature.