The Legacy of Pierre Bourdieu: Critical Essays

The Legacy of Pierre Bourdieu: Critical Essays

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ISBN-13: 9781783080724
Publisher: Anthem Press
Publication date: 12/01/2013
Series: Key Issues in Modern Sociology Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 470
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Simon Susen is Lecturer in Social and Political Theory at Birkbeck College, University of London.


Bryan S. Turner is the Presidential Professor of Sociology and Director of the Committee on Religion at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and Director of the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Muslim Societies, University of Western Sydney.


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The Legacy of Pierre Bourdieu

Critical Essays


By Simon Susen, Bryan S. Turner

Wimbledon Publishing Company

Copyright © 2011 Simon Susen and Bryan S. Turner editorial matter and selection
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-85728-927-8



CHAPTER 1

Between Structuralism and Theory of Practice: The Cultural Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu


Hans Joas and Wolfgang Knöbl Translated by Alex Skinner

Bourdieu's work was deeply moulded by the national intellectual milieu in which it developed, that of France in the late 1940s and 1950s, a milieu characterised by disputes between phenomenologists and structuralists. But it is not this national and cultural dimension that distinguishes Bourdieu's writings from those of other 'grand theorists'. Habermas and Giddens, for example, owed as much to the academic or political context of their home countries. What set Bourdieu's approach apart from that of his German and British 'rivals' was a significantly stronger linkage of theoretical and empirical knowledge. Bourdieu was first and foremost an empirical sociologist, that is, a sociologist who developed and constantly refined his theoretical concepts on the basis of his empirical work — with all the advantages and disadvantages that theoretical production of this kind entails. We shall have more to say about this later. Bourdieu is thus to be understood primarily not as a theorist but as a cultural sociologist who systematically stimulated the theoretical debate through his empirical work.

Pierre Bourdieu was born in 1930 and is therefore of the same generation as Habermas and Luhmann. The fact that Bourdieu came from a modest background and grew up in the depths of provincial France is extremely important to understanding his work. Bourdieu himself repeatedly emphasised the importance of his origins: 'I spent most of my youth in a tiny and remote village of Southwestern France [...]. And I could meet the demands of schooling only by renouncing many of my primary experiences and acquisitions, and not only a certain accent [...]' (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992: 204). Despite these clearly unfavourable beginnings, Bourdieu was to succeed in gaining entry to the leading educational institutions in France, a fact of which many people became aware when he was elected to the famous Collège de France in 1982. This classic case of climbing the social and career ladder, the fact that Bourdieu had no privileged educational background to draw on, helped legitimise his pitiless take on the French education and university system and on intellectuals in general — a group he investigated in numerous studies over the course of his career. He thus made use of the classical sociological notion of the outsider — the 'marginal man' — in order to lay claim to special and, above all, critical insights into the functioning of 'normal' society.

In France, to come from a distant province, to be born south of the Loire, endows you with a number of properties that are not without parallel in the colonial situation. It gives you a sort of objective and subjective externality and puts you in a particular relation to the central institutions of French society and therefore to the intellectual institution. There are subtle (and not so subtle) forms of social racism that cannot but make you perceptive [...]. (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992: 209)


Yet, Bourdieu's path to the production of a sociology of French cultural institutions and to sociology more generally was anything but straightforward or self-evident — a state of affairs with which we are familiar from the biographies of other major social theorists, such as Habermas and Luhmann, who also took some time to settle on a career in sociology. A highly gifted student, Bourdieu studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he took philosophy – the most prestigious subject in the French disciplinary canon. He initially seems to have wanted to concentrate on this subject, given that he subsequently worked as a philosophy teacher in provincial France for a brief period, as is usual for those who go on to have an academic career in the humanities in France. But Bourdieu was increasingly disappointed by philosophy and developed an ever-greater interest in anthropology, so that he ultimately became a self-taught, empirically oriented, anthropologist, and later sociologist. This process of turning away from philosophy and towards anthropology and sociology was partly bound up with Lévi-Strauss's concurrent rise to prominence. With its claim to a strictly scientific approach, structuralist anthropology began to challenge philosophy's traditional pre-eminence within the disciplinary canon. Bourdieu was drawn towards this highly promising and up-and-coming subject. Structuralism's anti-philosophical tone held much appeal for him (see Joas and Knobl, 2009 [2004]: 339-370) and often appeared in his own work — for example, when he takes up arms against philosophy's purely theoretical rationality.

It is important, however, to be aware of the fact that Bourdieu's path to anthropology and sociology was also determined by external factors: he was stationed in Algeria during the second half of the 1950s while completing his military service. There, in the undoubtedly very difficult circumstances of the war of independence, he gathered data for his first book, a sociology of Algeria (Bourdieu, 1958) — in which he came to terms intellectually with his experiences in this French colony (see Robbins, 1991: 10 ff.). In this setting, he also carried out field research among the Kabyle, a Berber people of northern Algeria, which led to the publication of a number of anthropological monographs and essays that, in collected and eventually expanded form, appeared as a book entitled Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977 [1972]). This work, published in French in 1972, and then expanded greatly for the English (and German) translation, became tremendously famous and influential because Bourdieu departed from the structuralism of Lévi-Strauss, in whose footsteps he had originally followed, and developed his own set of concepts, which held out the promise of a genuine theoretical synthesis.

At around the same time as these basically anthropological studies, Bourdieu began to utilise the theoretical insights they contained to subject French society to sociological analysis – particularly its cultural, educational and class system. With respect to the socially critical thrust of his writings, the work of Marx was, in many ways, his model and touchstone, and a large number of essays appeared in the 1960s which were later translated into English — for example, in Photography: A Middle-Brow Art (1990 [1965]). In these studies, Bourdieu and his co-authors attempt to describe the perception of art and culture, which varies so greatly from one class to another, and to elucidate how class struggle involves contrasting ways of appropriating art and culture. Classes set themselves apart by means of a very different understanding of art and culture and thus reproduce, more or less unintentionally, the class structures of (French) society. Bourdieu elaborated this thesis in a particularly spectacular way in perhaps his most famous work of cultural sociology, La distinction. Critique sociale du jugement (English title: Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, 1984 [1979]).

Bourdieu's subsequent publications merely complemented or completed a theoretical research orientation set at an early stage. In terms of cultural sociology, two major studies have become particularly important: Homo Academicus (1988 [1984]), an analysis of the French university system, particularly the crisis it faced towards the end of the 1960s, and Les règles de l'art (English title: The Rules of Art, 1996 [1992]), a historical and sociological study of the development of an autonomous art scene in France in the second half of the nineteenth century. Alongside these works, Bourdieu also published a steady flow of writings that fleshed out his theoretical ambitions, Le sens pratique (English title: The Logic of Practice, 1990 [1980]) and Meditations pascaliennes (English title: Pascalian Meditations, 2000 [1997]) being the key texts in this regard. But even in these basically theoretical studies, it is fair to say that he expands on the conceptual apparatus presented in Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977 [1972]) only to a limited degree; above all, he defends it against criticisms. It is almost impossible, however, to discern any theoretical development here. Bourdieu's theory thus distinguishes itself from that of other grand theorists. To deploy the language of the building trade, not only the foundation walls, but also the overall structure and even the roof were in place very quickly, while the later theoretical work related solely to the facade and décor. Ever since it was developed in the 1960s, his theory has thus remained basically the same.

It was solely Bourdieu's identity or role that seemed to change significantly over the course of time. While Bourdieu was always politically active on the left, this generally took a less spectacular form than in the case of other French intellectuals, occurring away from the light of day and basically unnoticed by most people. The fact that he pursued such activities away from the limelight was partly bound up with his frequently expressed critique of high-profile French intellectuals à la Jean-Paul Sartre, who frequently overshot the bounds of their specialisms and claimed a universal competence and public responsibility to which they were scarcely entitled. Yet, Bourdieu abandoned such restraint from the 1990s (at the latest) until his death in 2002. He increasingly emerged as a symbolic figure for critics of globalisation in this period and was almost automatically made the kind of major intellectual he had never wished to be. His book, La Misère du Monde (English title: The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society, 1999 [1993]) was conceived as a kind of empirical demonstration of the negative effects of globalisation in different spheres of life and cultures. One has to give Bourdieu credit for having avoided a purely pamphleteering role to the very last. He was too strongly oriented towards empirical research, and his Durkheim-like ambition to strengthen the position of sociology within the disciplinary canon of France and to set it apart from other subjects — especially philosophy and social philosophy — was too strong for him to take on such a role. Bourdieu, so aware of power, had an ongoing interest in developing the kind of empirical sociological research which he favoured at an institutional level, as demonstrated in his role as editor of the journal Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, which he founded in 1975 and which was accessible to a broad readership (on Bourdieu's intellectual biography, see the interview in Bourdieu, 1990 [1987]: 3-33).

Our account of Bourdieusian theory will proceed as follows. First, we shall take a closer look at his early work, Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977 [1972]), which is of particular theoretical relevance as it features the basic elements of his arguments. Though we shall frequently draw on explanations and more precise formulations from subsequent works, our key aim is to lay bare why, and with the help of which ideas, Bourdieu tackled certain problems at a relatively early stage (1). Always bearing this early work in mind, and while presenting Bourdieu's key concepts, we shall then critically examine the model of action advocated by Bourdieu and the problems it entails (2). We then go on to present the overall architecture of Bourdieusian theory and identify the nodal points within it (3) before presenting, as vividly and as briefly as possible, some characteristic aspects of Bourdieu's works of cultural sociology (4) and shedding light on the impact of his work (5).

1. We therefore begin with the early study of Kabyle society mentioned above, whose programmatic title requires explication: Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977 [1972]). Bourdieu — as intimated in our remarks on his intellectual biography — was caught up in the enthusiasm for Lévi-Straussian anthropology in the 1950s and began his anthropological research in Kabylia by focusing on key structuralist topics. Studies of kinship patterns, marriage behaviour and mythology were to provide insights into the logic of the processes occurring within this society and into the way in which it continually reproduces itself on the basis of certain rules. Yet, Bourdieu's research had unexpected results. Above all, these did not confirm the structuralist premise of the constancy of rules (of marriage, exchange, communication) in line with which people supposedly always act. Rather, Bourdieu concluded that actors either play rules off against each other more or less as they see fit, so that one can scarcely refer to the following of rules, or follow them only in order to disguise concrete interests. This is particularly apparent in the first chapter of the book, in which Bourdieu scrutinises the phenomenon of 'honour'. In Kabyle society — and in other places as well, of course — honour plays a very important role; it seems impossible to link it with base economic interests because 'honourable behaviour' is directly opposed to action oriented towards profit. A man is honourable only if he is not greedy and cannot be bought. And, in Kabyle society, the rituals by means of which one demonstrates that one's actions are honourable and that one is an honourable person are particularly pronounced. Bourdieu, however, demonstrates that these rituals of honour often merely mask (profit-related) interests; the actors see this link between honour and interests – or at least unconsciously produce it – and people uphold rituals of honour because they enable them to promote their interests.

The ritual of the ceremony of presenting the bridewealth is the occasion for a total confrontation between the two groups, in which the economic stakes are no more than an index and pretext. To demand a large payment for one's daughter, or to pay a large sum to marry off one's son, is in either case to assert one's prestige, and thereby to acquire prestige [...]. By a sort of inverted haggling, disguised under the appearance of ordinary bargaining, the two groups tacitly agree to step up the amount of the payment by successive bids, because they have a common interest in raising this indisputable index of the symbolic value of their products on the matrimonial exchange market. And no feat is more highly praised than the prowess of the bride's father who, after vigorous bargaining has been concluded, solemnly returns a large share of the sum received. The greater the proportion returned, the greater the honour accruing from it, as if, in crowning the transaction with an act of generosity, the intention was to make an exchange of honour out of bargaining which could be so overtly keen only because the pursuit of maximum material profit was masked under the contests of honour and the pursuit of maximum symbolic profit. (Bourdieu, 1977 [1972]: 56)


Rituals of honour thus conceal very tangible interests, which are overlooked if one merely describes the logic of the rules, as do structuralist anthropologists. What is more, for precisely this reason, rules are by no means as rigid and have nothing like the determining effect on behaviour that orthodox structuralist authors assume. As Bourdieu observed, rules that do not tally with actors' interests are often broken, leading him to conclude that an element of 'unpredictability' is clearly inherent in human action with respect to rules and patterns, rituals and regulations (Bourdieu, 1977 [1972]: 9). This places a question mark over the entire structuralist terminology of rules and its underlying premises. Bourdieu puts forward the counter-argument that the following of rules is always associated with an element of conflict. If rules are not, in fact, ignored entirely — which certainly occurs at times — every rule-based act of exchange, every rule-based conversation, every rule-based marriage must also at least protect or enforce the interests of those involved or improve the social position of the parties to interaction. Rules are thus consciously instrumentalised by actors:

Every exchange contains a more or less dissimulated challenge, and the logic of challenge and riposte is but the limit towards which every act of communication tends. Generous exchange tends towards overwhelming generosity; the greatest gift is at the same time the gift most likely to throw its recipient into dishonour by prohibiting any counter-gift. To reduce to the function of communication – albeit by the transfer of borrowed concepts – phenomena such as the dialectic of challenge and riposte and, more generally, the exchange of gifts, words, or women, is to ignore the structural ambivalence which predisposes them to fulfil a political function of domination in and through performance of the communication function. (Bourdieu, 1977 [1972]: 14, emphasis in original)


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Legacy of Pierre Bourdieu by Simon Susen, Bryan S. Turner. Copyright © 2011 Simon Susen and Bryan S. Turner editorial matter and selection. Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
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Table of Contents

‘Introduction: Preliminary Reflections on the Legacy of Pierre Bourdieu’, Simon Susen and Bryan S. Turner; ‘Between Structuralism and Theory of Practice: The Cultural Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu’, Hans Joas and Wolfgang Knöbl (Translated by Alex Skinner); ‘Pierre Bourdieu: Unorthodox Marxist?’, Bridget Fowler; ‘From Marx to Bourdieu: The Limits of the Structuralism of Practice’, Bruno Karsenti (Translated by Simon Susen); ‘Durkheim and Bourdieu: The Common Plinth and its Cracks’, Loïc Wacquant (Translated by Tarik Wareh); ‘With Weber Against Weber: In Conversation With Pierre Bourdieu’, Pierre Bourdieu, Franz Schultheis, and Andreas Pfeuffer (Translated by Simon Susen); ‘Bourdieu and Nietzsche: Taste as a Struggle’, Keijo Rahkonen; ‘Elias and Bourdieu’, Bowen Paulle, Bart van Heerikhuizen, and Mustafa Emirbayer; ‘Bourdieu and Adorno on the Transformation of Culture in Modern Society: Towards a Critical Theory of Cultural Production’, Simon Susen; ‘The Grammar of an Ambivalence: On the Legacy of Pierre Bourdieu in the Critical Theory of Axel Honneth’, Mauro Basaure; ‘Pierre Bourdieu and the Sociology of Religion’, Bryan S. Turner; ‘Bourdieu’s Sociological Fiction: A Phenomenological Reading of Habitus’, Bruno Frère; ‘Overcoming Semiotic Structuralism: Language and Habitus in Bourdieu’, Hans-Herbert Kögler; ‘Social Theory and Politics: Aron, Bourdieu and Passeron, and the Events of May 1968’, Derek Robbins; ‘Intellectual Critique and the Public Sphere: Between the Corporatism of the Universal and the “Realpolitik” of Reason’, Yves Sintomer; ‘Practice as Temporalisation: Bourdieu and Economic Crisis’, Lisa Adkins; ‘Afterword: Concluding Reflections on the Legacy of Pierre Bourdieu’, Simon Susen; Index of Names; Index of Subjects


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