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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 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, 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 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
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. 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
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: 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)