Pierre Bourdieu

French sociologist, anthropologist, philosopher, and champion of the anti-globalisation movement, whose work spanned a broad range of subjects from ethnography to art, literature, education, language, cultural tastes, and television. Bourdieu’s most famous book is Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (1984). It was named one of the 20th century’s 10 most important works of sociology by the International Sociological Association.

“Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed.” (from ‘Distinction’)

Pierre Bourdieu was born in the village of Denguin, in the Pyrénees’ district of southwestern France. His father was the village postmaster. At school Bourdieu was a bright student but also gained fame as a star rugby player. He moved to Paris, where he studied at the École normale superiéure – his classmate was the philosopher Jacques Derrida. Bourdieu became interested in Merleau-Ponty, Edmund Husserl – Martin Heidegger‘s Being and Nothingness he had read earlier – and also in the writings of the young Karl Marx for academic reasons.

His thesis from 1953 was a translation and commentary of the Animadversiones of Leibniz. After attaining agrégé in philosophy, Bourdieu worked as a teacher for a year and was then drafted into the army. He served for two years in Algeria, where French troops tried to crush the Algerian rebels. In 1959-60 he lectured at the University of Algiers, and studied traditional farming and ethnic Berber culture. “I thought of myself as a philosopher and it took me a very long time to admit to myself that I had become an ethnologist,” Bourdieu once said. In 1960 he returned to France as a self-taught anthropologist.

Bourdieu married in 1962 Marie-Claire Brisard. He studied anthropology and sociology, and taught at the University of Paris (1960-62) and at the University of Lille (1962-64). In 1964 he joined the faculty of the École pratique des Hautes Etudes. In 1968 he became director of the Centre de Sociologie Européenne, where with a group of colleagues he embarked on pioneering extensive collective research on problems concerned with the maintenance of a system of power by means of the transmission of a dominant culture. One of the central themes in his works was that culture and education are central in the affirmation of differences between social classes and in the reproduction of those differences. In La Reproduction (1970) Bourdieu argued, that the French educational system reproduces the cultural division of society. He also implied a correspondence between “symbolic violence” of pedagogic actions and the state‘s monopoly of the legitimate use of physical violence.

In 1975 Bourdieu launched the journal Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales, devoted to deconsecrating the mechanism by which cultural production helps sustain the dominant structure of society. In 1981 he was appointed to the prestigious chair of sociology at the Collège de France. By the late 1980s Bourdieu had become one of the French social scientists most frequently cited in the United States. For his students he became a guru, Bour-dieu (god), or a terrible example of terrorism in the disguise of sociology. In the mid-1990s Bourdieu participated in a number of activities outside academic circles. He supported striking rail workers, spoke for the homeless, was a guest at television programs, and in 1996 he founded the publishing company Liber/Raisons d’agir. In 1998 he published in the newspaper Le Monde an article, in which he compared the “strong discourse” of neoliberalism with the position of the psychiatric discourse in an asylum. Bourdieu’s last publications dealt with such topics as masculine domination, neoliberal newspeak, Edouard Manet’s art, and Beethoven.

Bourdieu died of cancer in Paris at the Saint-Antoine hospital on January 24, 2002.

“Of all the oppositions that artificially divide social science, the most fundamental, and the most ruinous, is the one that is set up between subjectivism and objectivism.” (from The Logic of Practice, 1980)

Key terms in Bourdieu’s sociological thought are social field, capital, and habitus. Habitus is adopted through upbringing and education. The concept means on the individual level “a system of acquired dispositions functioning on the practical level as categories of perception and assessment… as well as being the organizing principles of action.” Bourdieu argues that the struggle for social distinction is a fundamental dimension of all social life. Thorstein Veblen’s (1857-1929) thoughts about conspicuous consumption come near Bourdieu’s view, but Bourdieu has corrected that: “la distinction” has another meaning. It refers to social space and is bound up with the system of dispositions (habitus). Social space has a very concrete meaning when Bourdieu presents graphically the space of social positions and the space of lifestyles. His diagram in Distinction shows that spatial distances are equivalent to social distances. “The very title Distinction serves as a reminder that what is commonly called distinction, that is, a certain quality of bearing and manners, most often considered innate (one speaks of distinction naturelle, “natural refinement”), is nothing other than difference, a gap, a distinctive feature, in short, a relational property existing only in and through its relation with other properties.” (from Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action, 1994)

All human actions take place within social fields, which are arenas for the struggle of the resources. Individuals, institutions, and other agents try to distinguish themselves from others, and acquire capital which is useful or valuable on the arena. In modern societies, there are two distinct systems of social hierarchization. The first is economic, in which position and power are determined by money and property, the capital one commands. The second system is cultural or symbolic. In this one’s status is determined by how much cultural or “symbolic capital” one possesses. Culture is also a source of domination, in which intellectuals are in the key role as specialists of cultural production and creators of symbolic power. In Distinction, based on empirical material gathered in the 1960s, Bourdieu argued that taste, an acquired “cultural competence,” is used to legitimise social differences. The habitus of the dominant class can be discerned in the notion that ‘taste’ is a gift from nature. Taste functions to make social “distinctions”.

Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field (1992) examined the work of Flaubert, and how it was shaped by the different currents, movements, schools and authors of the time. It can also be read as a collective biography, a Bildungsroman, presentation of a method, and an examination of Bourdieu’s own philosophy. On Television (1996), based on two lectures, was a surprise best seller in France. Bourdieu considered television a serious danger for all the various areas of cultural production. Television is degrading journalism because it must attempt to be inoffensive. “Above all, time limits make it highly unlikely that anything can be said. I am undoubtedly expected to say that this television censorship – of guests but also of the true journalists who are its agents – is political. It is true that political intervenes, and that there is political control… It is also true that at a time such as today, when great numbers of people are looking for work and there is so little job security in television and radio, there is a greater tendency toward political conformity. Consciously or unconsciously, people censor themselves – they don’t need to be called into line.”

Major Works of Pierre Bourdieu

– Leibnitii animadversiones in partem generalem principiorum Cartesianorum, 1953
– Sociologie de l’Algérie, 1958 (rev. ed. 1961) – The Algerians
– Travail et travailleurs en Algérie, 1963 (with Alain Darbel, Jean-Paul Rivet, Claude Seibel)
– Le déracinement. La crise de l’agriculture traditionelle en Algérie, 1964 (with Abdelmalek Sayad)
– Les hérities, 1964 (with Jean-Claude Passeron) – The Inheritors
– Un art moyen. Essais sur les usages sociaux de la photographie, 1965 (with others) – Photography. A Middle-Brow Art
– La reproduction. Elèments pour une théorie du système d’enseignement, 1970 – Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture (with Jean-Claude Passeron)
– Esquisse d’une théorie de la pratique, précéde de trois études d’ethnologie kabyle, 1972 – Outline of a Theory of Practice
– La distinction. Critique sociale du jugement, , 1979 – Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste
– Le sens pratique, 1980 – The Logic of Practice
– Questions de sociologie, 1980 – Sociology in Question – Sosiologian kysymyksiä
– Ce que parler veut dire. L’économie des échanges linguistiques, 1982 – Language and Symbolic Power
– Homo academicus, 1984 – Homo Academicus
– La Sociologie de Bourdieu. Textes choisis et commentés, 1986 (ed. by Alain Accardo und Philippe Corcuff)
– Choses dites, 1987 – In Other Words: Essays toward a Reflective Sociology
– L’ontologie politique de Martin Heidegger, 1988 – The Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger
– La Noblesse d’état. Grandes écoles et esprit de corps, 1989 – The State Nobility: Elite Schools in the Field of Power
– Les régles de l’art, 1992 – The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field
– The Field of Cultural Production, 1993 (ed. by Randall Johnson)
– Libre-Échange, 1994 – Free Exchange (with Hans Haacke) – Ajatusten vapaa-kauppa
– An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology (with Loic Wacquant), 1992
– Raisons pratiques. Sur la théorie de l’action, 1994 – Practical Reason
– Sur la télévision; suivi de l’emprise du journalisme, 1996 – On Television – Televisiosta
– Méditations pascaliennes. Éléments pur une philosophie négative, 1997 – Pascalian Meditations.
– Contre-feux. Propos pour servir à la résistance contre l’invasion néo-libérale, 1998 – Acts of Resistance: Against the New Myths of Our Time – Vastatulet
– La domination masculine, 1998 – Masculine domination
– Les structures sociales de l’économie, 2000
– Propos sur le champ politique, 2000
– Contre-Feux 2. Pour un mouvement social européen, 2001
– Science de la science et réflexivité: Cours du Collège de France, 2000-2001, 2001
– Langage et pouvoir symbolique, 2001
– Interventions politiques (1960-2000). Textes & contextes d’un mode d’intervention politique spécifique, 2002
– Science de la science et reflexivité, 2002

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