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||Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002)|
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, the son of a peasant sharecropper, ran the village post office; he voted on the Left and admired figures such as Robespierre, Jaurès, Léon Blum and Edouard Herriot. While Bourdieu's father never completed his own schooling, his mother continued her education to the age of sixteen. At home the family spoke Gascon.
leaving his local elementary school, Bourdieu went to
the lycée in Pau. Because of his classical education, Bourdieu was
fluent in Latin all his life. Besides being a bright student he gained
fame as a star rugby player.
Upon graduation, he moved to Paris, where he
began his studies
at the École normale superiéure in 1951 – his classmate was the
Jacques Derrida. Bourdieu became interested in Merleau-Ponty, Husserl –
Heidegger's Being and Time he had read earlier – and also in
the writings of the young Marx for academic reasons. His thesis from
1953 was a translation and commentary of the Animadversiones of
attaining agrégé in philosophy, Bourdieu worked as a teacher for a year
in the a lycée in Moulins, a small provincial town, and was
then drafted into the army. He served
for two years in Algeria, where French troops tried to crush the
Algerian rebels. Bourdieu was first assigned to guard duty at an
ammunitions deport, and then he was reassigned to a desk job. When his
military service was over he took a post of assistant processor in the
faculty of Letters of the University of Algiers. During vacations
traditional farming and ethnic culture in northern Algeria. He was
introduced to the
Berber-speaking Kabyle by his student and field
collaborator Abdelmalek Sayad. A friend of his sent him a copy of Max Weber's Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus (1904/1905).
Bourdieu learned German and translated entire sections of the work.
Weber's analysis of the relationship between religion – in this case
Calvinist theology and ethics – economy, and social development helped Bourdieu
to understand the lifestyle of Kharijites, traders, who practice very
"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 committed to empirical research. His experiences Bourdieu recorded in the posthumously published books Esquisse pour une auto-analyse (2004) and Images de l'Algerie: Une affinité élective.
married in 1962 the former Marie-Claire Brisard; they
three children. 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. He became in 1968 director of the Centre de Sociologie
Européenne, founded by Raymond Aron. There, 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. Both Bourdieu and Aron appreciated Weber's work, but
Bourdieu come to realize that "the Weber with whom I was concerned was
very different from the Weber in whom Aros was interested." ('With
Weber Against Weber: In Conversation With Pierre Bourdieu' by Pierre
Bourdieu, Franz Schultheis, and Andreas Pfeuffer, in The Legacy of Pierre Bourdieu: Critical Essays, edited by Simon Susen and Bryan S. Turner, 2013, p. 112)
The ideals of the French Revolution echoed in Bourdieu's writings. During the 1960s he published articles in the left-leaning cultural and political journal Le Temps Modernes, co-founded by Jean-Paul Sartre. Although he rarely signed public petitions or participated in public demonstrations, he appeared alonside strikers gathered at the Gare de Lyon, Paris, in December 1995. In discussing the role of the intellectuals, he repeatedly referred to Emile Zola's J'accuse. Bourdieu was regularly associated with the CFDT, the Socialist trade union.
One of the central themes in Bourdieu's work is 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. Because power structures have a tendency to reproduce themselves in order to ensure their own survival, the education system is designated to help the children of those in power to fill up similar positions of influence. 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. With his election in
1981 to the prestigious chair of sociology at the Collège de France, he
joined the ranks of such prominent figures as Raymond Aron and Claude
Lévi.Strauss. By the late 1980s Bourdieu had become one of the French
social scientists most frequently cited in the United States,
surpassing Lévi-Strauss. For his students he became a guru, Bour-dieu
(god), and for his fierce opponents a terrible example of terrorism in the disguise of sociology.
Bourdieu participated in the mid-1990s 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.
Though characterized as a theorist
of social reproduction, in dealing with these concerns he became an
advocate of social transformation.
In 1998 Bourdieu 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
for the struggle of the resources. Bourdieu used the term in its wider
sense in the 1966 essay 'Champ intellectuel et projet créateur'
(Intellectual Field and Creative Project). The essay was prompted
by a dispute between Roland Barthes
and Raymond Picard. Bourdieu argued that the two adversaries
tried to impose their particular critical approach to Racine as
legitimate. Individuals, institutions, and other
agents try to distinguish themselves from others, and acquire capital
which is useful or valuable on the arena. Differing from Marx, in his social analysis Bourdieu
pays more attention to cultural and social
capital than to economic capital. Objectified cultural capital can be inherited, bought and sold.
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. Differing from Marx, Bourdieu pays more attention in social analysis to cultural and social capital than to economic capital. Cultural capital (such as works of art) can be inherited, bought and sold. Like economic capital, it is unequally distributed among social classes.
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
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: journalism is a part of the field of power. "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
they don't need to be called into line." This deceptively simple book
was dismissed by some critics as "the same old Frankfurt school" or
For further reading: Symbolic Violence: Conversations with Bourdieu by Michael Burawoy (2019); The Oxford Handbook of Pierre Bourdieu, edited by Thomas Medvetz, Jeffrey J. Sallaz (2018); Bourdieu and Historical Analysis, edited by Philip S. Gorski (2013); Culture, Class, and Critical Theory: Between Bourdieu and the Frankfurt School by David Gartman (2013); Bourdieu, Language and the Media by John F. Myles (2010); Pierre Bourdieu: the Last Musketeer of the French Revolution by Gad Yair (2009); Art Rules: Pierre Bourdieu and the Visual Arts by Michael Grenfell and Cheryl Hardy (2007); Bourdieu and the Journalistic Field, edited by Rodney Benson and Erik Neveu (2005); Understanding Bourdieu by Jen Webb, Tony Schirato, and Geoff Danaher (2002); Bourdieu: A Critical Reader, ed. by Richard Shusterman (1999); Pierre Bourdieu; Language, culture and education - theory into practice, eds. Michael Grenfell, and Michael Kelly (1999); Le savant et la politique. Essai sur le terrorisme sociologique de Pierre Bourdieu by Jeannine Verdès-Leroux (1998); Pierre Bourdieu and Cultural Theory by Bridget Fowler (1997); Pierre Bourdieu: A Bibliography by Joan Nordquist (1997); Culture and Power by David Swartz (1997); Bourdieu: Critical Perspectives, ed. by Craig Calhoun, Edward LiPuma, and Moishe Postone (1993); Cultural Capital by John Guillory (1993); Pierre Bourdieu by Richard Jenkins (1992); An Introduction to the Work of Pierre Bourdieu, ed. by Richard Harker, Chellen Mahar, and Chris Wilkes (1990) - Documentary film: La sociologie est un sport de combat, dir. by Pierre Charles, 146 mininutes (2001)