Wednesday, April 20, 2011

PL 12/11: Bourdieu in practice

Filed under: 1bib — plinius @ 9:19 am

I like Bourdieu because he talks with other people.

Most professors and intellectuals behave as preachers. They speak ex cathedra – but do not mention their pulpit. They seem to float in the air, like angels.

Everybody is grounded, of course. We speak from a specific place at a specific time. As writers, scholars and professionals we have also followed a particular trajectory to arrive at our current position. Bourdieu is very aware of that – and keeps saying it. That distresses many academics.

Bourdieu also emphasizes that positions belong to structured fields.  The angels are furiously competing for the best positions on the ground.

Like Freud, Bordieu offers a “talking cure”. He speaks about the things that are not mentioned in polite academic discourse. He turns academic tools against academic pretension. He reveals and disenchants.

Most of the articles in the collection  Bourdieu. A critical reader are written from the ex cathedra position. William Earle’s essay “Bourdieu nouveau” is not. Here I give some quotes.

What I really wanted was to break through the veil of mythologies drawn over our image of society, so that peope could act more reasonably and better.

[One of the introductory quotes, from Norbert Elias, p. 175]

Earle mentions that he went to one of Bourdieu’s lectures at Columbia University (NY). Intellectuals and academics from many disciplines were there, but hardly any philosophers.

My philosophical colleagues did not stay away from Bourdieu because they are particularly narrow or generally intolerant of the different.

Indeed, away from philosophy, they are apt to be great readers of European literature, people of wide culture and broad sympathies. … [A] philosopher or group of philosophers is caught up in the objective necessity of maintaining the integrity, the impermeability, the autonomy, of the philosophical field or champ against external competitors as well as maintaining, or improving, his (or their) position within the field. P. 176

Later he writes:

Bourdieu’s own definitions are slow and cumulative and are no more meant to be free-standing, or self-sufficient, than sentences in scientific papers which refer to experiments, technical apparatus, laboratories, accomplished research.

Bourdieu’s verbal formulations of the framework concepts are, in other words, implicitly indexical. P. 178.


  • William Earle. Bourdieu nouveau.
  • In Shusterman, Richard (ed.). Bourdieu. A critical reader. London: Blackwell, 1999. S. 175-191

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