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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, who was the village postmaster, admired figures such as Robespierre, Jaurès, Léon Blum and Edouard Herriot. While he never completed his own schooling, Bourdieu's mother continued her education to the age of sixteen. At home the family spoke  Gascon. 

After leaving his local elementary school, Bourdieu went to the lycée in Pau. He was a bright student but also gained fame as a star rugby player. He then moved to Paris, where he began his studies at the École normale superiéure in 1951 – his classmate was the philosopher 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 Leibniz.

After attaining agrégé in philosophy, Bourdieu worked as a teacher for a year in the Lycée de Moulins 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. 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. His experiences Bourdieu recorded in the posthumously published books Esquisse pour une auto-analyse (2004) and Images de l'Algerie: Une affinité élective.

Bourdieu married in 1962 the former Marie-Claire Brisard; they had 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. 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.

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), or 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 arenas 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. 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: 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 themselves– 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 "Althusserian."

For further reading: 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)

Selected works:

  • Leibnitii animadversiones in partem generalem principiorum Cartesianorum, 1953
  • Sociologie de l'Algérie, 1958 (rev. ed. 1961)
    - The Algerians (tr. in 1962)
  • 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: French Students and Their Relation to Culture (translated by Richard Nice, 1979)
  • Un art moyen. Essais sur les usages sociaux de la photographie, 1965 (with others)
    - Photography. A Middle-Brow Art (translated by Shaun Whiteside, 1990)
  • La reproduction. Elèments pour une théorie du système d'enseignement, 1970 (with Jean-Claude Passeron)
    - Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture (translated by Richard Nice)
  • Esquisse d'une théorie de la pratique, précéde de trois études d'ethnologie kabyle, 1972
    - Outline of a Theory of Practice (translated by Richard Nice, 1977)
  • Algérie 60: structures économiqes et structures temporelles, 1977
    - Algeria 1960 (translated by R Nice, 1979)
  • La distinction. Critique sociale du jugement, 1979
    - Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (translated by Richard Nice, 1984)
  • Le sens pratique, 1980
    - The Logic of Practice (translated by Richard Nice, 1990)
  • Questions de sociologie, 1980
    - Sociology in Question (translated by Richard Nice, 1993)
    - Sosiologian kysymyksiä (suom. J.P.Roos, 1985)
  • Ce que parler veut dire. L'économie des échanges linguistiques, 1982
    - Language and Symbolic Power (translated by G. Raymond and M. Adamson, 1991)
  • Homo academicus, 1984
    - Homo Academicus (translated by P. Collier, 1988)
  • La Sociologie de Bourdieu. Textes choisis et commentés, 1986 (edited by Alain Accardo und Philippe Corcuff)
  • Choses dites, 1987
    - In Other Words: Essays toward a Reflective Sociology (translated by Matthew Adamson, 1990)
  • L'ontologie politique de Martin Heidegger, 1988
    - The Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger (translated by P Collier, 1991)
  • La Noblesse d'état. Grandes écoles et esprit de corps, 1989
    - The State Nobility: Elite Schools in the Field of Power (translated by Lauretta Clough, 1996)
  • Réponses. Pour une anthropologie réflexive, 1992 (with Loïc Wacquant)
    - An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology (translated by L. Wacquant, 1992
  • Les régles de l'art: Genèse et structure du champ littéraire, 1992
    - The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field (translated by S. Emanuel, 1996)
  • The Field of Cultural Production, 1993 (edited by Randall Johnson)
  • Libre-Échange, 1994 (with Hans Haacke)
    - Free Exchange (tr. in 1995)
    - Ajatusten vapaa-kauppa (suom. Kaija Kaitvuori, Rolf Büchi ja Leena Nieminen, 1997)
  • Raisons pratiques. Sur la théorie de l'action, 1994
    - Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action (tr. in 1998)
    - Järjen käytännöllisyys: toiminnan teorian lähtökohtia (suom. Mika Siimes, 1998)
  • Sur la télévision; suivi de l'emprise du journalisme, 1996
    - On Television (translated by Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, 1998) / On Television and Journalism (tr. in 1998)
    - Televisiosta (suom. Tiina Arppe, 1999)
  • Méditations pascaliennes. Éléments pur une philosophie négative, 1997
    - Pascalian Meditations (translated by R. Nice, 2000)
  • Contre-feux. Propos pour servir à la résistance contre l'invasion néo-libérale, 1998
    - Acts of Resistance: Against the New Myths of Our Time (translated by Richard Nice, 1998)
    - Vastatulet: ohjeita uusliberalismin vastaiseen taisteluun (suom. Tiina Arppe, 1999)
  • La domination masculine, 1998
    - Masculine Domination (translated by Richard Nice, 2001)
  • Les structures sociales de l'économie, 2000
    - The Social Structures of the Economy  (translated by Chris Turner, 2005) 
  • Propos sur le champ politique, 2000
  • Contre-Feux 2. Pour un mouvement social européen, 2001
    - Firing Back: Against the Tyranny of the Market 2 (translated by Loïc Wacquant, 2003) 
  • Science de la science et réflexivité: Cours du Collège de France, 2000-2001, 2001
    - Science of Science and Reflexivity  (translated by Richard Nice, 2004) 
  • Langage et pouvoir symbolique, 2001
  • Interventions, 1961-2001: science sociale & action politique, 2002 (edited by Franck Poupeau and Thierry Discepolo)
  • Science de la science et reflexivité, 2002
    - Science of Science and Reflexivity (translated by Richard Nice, 2004)
  • Le Bal des célibataires. Crise de la société paysanne, 2002
    - The Bachelors’ Ball: The Crisis of Peasant Society in Béarn  (translated by Richard Nice, 2008)
  • Images D'algérie. Une Affinité Sélective, 2003
    - Picturing Algeria (edited by Franz Schultheis and Christine Frisinghelli, 2012) 
  • Esquisse pour une auto-analyse, 2004
    - Sketch for a Self-Analysis (translated by Richard Nice, 2008)
  • Political Interventions: Social Science and Political Action, 2008 (texts selected and introduced by Franck Poupeau and Thierry Discepolo; translated by David Fernbach)
  • Sociology is a Martial Art: Political Writings by Pierre Bourdieu, 2010 (edited by Gisèle Sapiro; translated by Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, Richard Nice, and Loïc Wacquant)
  • Sur l’État: cours au Collège de France, 1989-1992, 2012 (edited by Patrick Champagne, et al.)

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