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Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002)
Basic Facts…
Born August 1, 1930 in
Denguin, PyrénéesAtlantiques, France
Grandfather was a
sharecropper, and father was
a postman, later postmaster
Married Marie-Claire Brizard in
Had three sons
French sociologist
Died January 23, 2002 in
Paris, France
Academic Career
Studied philosophy in Paris at the École Normale
He worked as a teacher for a year
Established sociological reputation with ethnographic
research while in French Army during Algerian War
of Independence (1958-62)
1964+ Director of Studies at the École Pratique des
Hautes Études
1968 until death, headed Centre de Sociologie
Européenne, a research center founded by Aron
1975 edited sociological journal, “Actes de la
recherche en sciences sociale,” with Luc Boltanski
1981 until retirement, Chair of Sociology at Collége
de France (position formerly held by Raymond Aron
et al.)
1993 received “Medaille d’or du Centre
National de la Recherche Scientifique
 1996 received Goffman prize from UC
 2002 received Huxley Medal of the
Royal Anthropological Institute
Gaston Bachelard
Georges Canguilhem
Emile Durkheim
Norbert Elias
Edmund Husserl
Maurice MerleauPonty
Claude Lévi-Strauss
Blaise Pascal
Ferdinand De
Karl Marx
Max Weber
Thornstein Veblen
Marcel Mauss
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Influences Cont’d…
From Weber, importance of domination and symbolic
systems in social life; social orders, which he would
transform into a theory of fields
From Marx, concept of capital with respect to social
activity, not just economics
From Durkheim, deterministic style
From Mauss and Lévi-Strauss, structuralist style and
the tendency of social structures to reproduce
From Merleau-Ponty and Husserl, focus on the body,
action, and practical dispositions (manifested in his
theory of habitus)
Major Works
Outline of a Theory of Practice, 1977
Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of
Taste, 1984
Homo Academicus, 1988
The Logic of Practice, 1990
Language and Symbolic Power, 1991
Free Exchange, 1995
The State Nobility, 1996
The Rules of Art, 1996
Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action, 1998
Firing Back: Against the Tyranny of the Market, 2003
Main interests: power, symbolic
violence, academia, the relationship
between historical structures and
subjective agents (development of
methodologies), and language and how
it connects to power.
 Other key ideas: cultural capital, field,
habitus, illusio, reflexivity, social capital,
and symbolic capital
Overview of Bourdieu’s Work
work amounts to cultural sociology or theory of practice
Focused on empirical investigation
“theorist” label is too confining
“habitus,” “field,” and “Cultural capital” commonplace in
major sociological journals
Shares intellectual roots with poststructuralist or
postmodernist, Foucault, Lacan, and Derrida
More of a social theorist, language is used by particular
actors for particular ends
Connection between structure and action
Uses conceptual tools to explain process of social life in
concrete settings
Trained as an anthropologist, and within structuralist
Bourdieu’s Work Cont’d…
Politically engaged and had no affiliation; supported
work against influence of political elites and
neoliberal capitalism, but also considered an enemy
of French left
First published studies- fieldwork in Algeria
Accepted by English-language sociologists by end of
Criticized “theoretical theory,” work more concerned
with developing ideas or concepts rather than using
them to understand the world
Remained active in research projects and was
subject of documentary, La sociologie est un sport
de combat (“Sociology is a Combat Sport”)
Work emphasized how social classes (esp.
ruling and intellectual classes) preserve social
privileges across generations despite the
false idea of equality of opportunity and high
social mobility, achieved through education
For him sociology was about exposing the
latent structures that influence actions and
combating symbolic violence
Produced hundreds of articles and three
dozen books, translated into two dozen
Impacted several disciplines other than sociology;
works were considered classics in not only
sociology, but anthropology, education, and
cultural studies
Not seen as an “ivory tower academic,” but a
passionate activist for those he thought to be
subordinated by society
Influenced sociologists, such as Loïc Wacquant,
who applied Bourdieu’s theory (participant
objectivization) to boxing, and Michel de Certeau
Most quoted living sociologist, including 7,000 web
Based on theoretical model in Distinction
Emphasizes need for empirical data and its
inseparability from the theoretical
Focus on practical examples and case studies to
show how theoretical applies to real world
Use range of “observation and measurement”
methods—”quantitative and qualitative, statistical
and ethnographic, macrosociological and
microsociological,” which are “meaningless
oppositions,” or indistinct in their usefulness—all
are necessary and linked to each other
Methodology cont’d
Models of societies must be based on structures and habitus
rather than particularities and manifest differences between
two societies
Habitus = loose guidelines/framework/tastes which
influence social agents within a social position (to be
covered in more detail later)
Though basing model on structures of one society may
appear ethnocentric, this technique will produce models
more accurate and universally applicable than looking at
differences between unique aspects of culture, which tends
to such evils as racism and chauvinism
Ex.: urged Japanese to apply his model of 1970s French
society to contemporary Japanese society rather than
focusing on peculiar customs or roles in each society
Methodology cont’d
Habitus and structure apply across time and culture,
but positions and practices do not; therefore,
focusing on the latter causes errors and dated
research, but the former generates a universal
Warns against looking at practices in isolation from
their influences (structure and habitus) and
attempting to compare between systems
Ex.: Golf in France and Japan seem to be the same
game, but may serve different roles and be
practiced by different social positions/classes. At
the same time, two other practices which may seem
different may actually serve similar roles.
Social Space
Social Space
Positions and practices arrayed on graph (and in social space)
on one hand (y-axis) according to capital volume, the total
accumulation of social capital
On the other hand, positions and practices arrayed by
“relative weight” of two types of social capital—economic and
At left extreme of x-axis, positions possess relatively more
cultural capital than economic, and vice versa at right
Economic capital = money and material
Cultural capital = education
X-axis and its distinction between two capital types better
determines political leanings than y-axis; those with relatively
higher cultural capital tend to vote with leftist parties; those
with relatively higher economic capital tend to vote right
Symbolic Space
Position-taking = agents’ choices that
signal their position; ex.: country club
membership signals wealth
 These choices, the differences between a
certain position and another, constitute a
symbolic set defining that position
 This symoblic set is like the set of
phonemes or sounds that comprise a
The Logic of Classes
Construction of social space (set of positions)
allows creation of theoretical classes
 Theoretical classes exist “only on paper”;
Bourdieu warns against pretending they exist
as distinctive groups in reality
 Bourdieu’s theoretical classes made of
positions close to each other in social
space—those proximate on his graph—who
are most likely to interact and co-exist well
The Logic of Classes cont’d
Bourdieu says his theoretical classes are more likely to become
real, Marxist classes (those “mobilized for common purposes”)
than ones based on gender or racial distinctions, for ex.
But theoretical classes do not become real ones necessarily;
socially close positions and groups are simply probable to
unite; criticized Marx for making the leap from theoretical to
Says political parties could not survive uniting those distant in
social space, but certain circumstances, such as crisis or
nationalism, may temporarily, superficially bring them together
Said “[s]ocial classes do not exist”; rather, “[w]hat exists is a
social space, a space of differences” which one cannot deny
and which persist when one expects to find homogeneity;
these are what are recognized as classes, but it is difficult to
categorize real people into classes
Discussion Questions
Do you agree with Bourdieu’s focus on
structure and habitus rather than cultural
particularities in forming social models? If
so, what are some potential problems with
focusing on cultural particularities instead?
 Do you think Bourdieu’s distinction between
economic and cultural capital and his
arrangement of positions in social space are
valid across societies? Is Bourdieu’s model
Structures, Habitus, Practices
(1974, 1980)
Bourdieu’s attempt at defining how structures
affect action, actions affect structure, and so
on- part of his theory of practice
Believed it was “possible to step down from
the sovereign viewpoint from which
objectivist materialism orders the world . .
.but without having to abandon to it the
“active aspect” of apprehension of the world
by reducing knowledge to a mere recording.”
Claimed people’s actions can be explained by
not only the structures that they are living in
as objective reality enforcing its inescapable
will, but by their habitus
Bourdieu warns us to be careful not to fall
prey to appealing to context or situation to
account for variation ,exceptions and
accidents - what he called “situational
analysis”- because this type of analysis
“remains locked in the framework of rule and
“The theory of practice as insists,
contrary to positivist materialism, that
the objects of knowledge are
constructed, not passively recorded,
and, contrary to intellectualist idealism,
that the principle of this construction is
the system of structured, structuring
dispositions, the habitus, which is
constituted in practice and is always
oriented towards practical functions.”
Habitus is defined as “systems of durable,
transposable dispositions, structured
structures predisposed to function as
structuring structures, that is, as principals
which generate and organize practices and
representations that can be objectively
adapted to their outcomes without
presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or
an express mastery of the operations
necessary in order to attain them”
Habitus is produced by “the
conditionings associated with a
particular class of conditions of
 Habitus is regulated and regular, but it
does not require people to follow
“rules” in order to act in ways that are
predictable- “can be collectively
orchestrated without being the product
of the organizing action of a conductor”
Although habitus is not conscious, the
responses of habitus “may be accompanied
by a strategic calculation tending to perform
in a conscious mode the operation that the
habitus performs quite differently, namely an
estimation of chances presupposing
transformation of the past effect into an
expected objective.”
However, these “responses are first defined,
without any calculation, in relation to
objective potentialities, immediately inscribed
in the present”
Because habitus is created by past
experiences, early experiences have a large
affect on a person’s perceptions- such
experiences can have more an affect on a
person’s perception than “objective” reality
“The very conditions of the production of the
habitus, a virtue made of necessity, mean
that the anticipation it generates tend to
ignore the restrictions to which its validity of
calculation of probabilities is subordinated.”
Practice is “what people do” meaning the actions
people take
Practice is produced by the habitus- both individual
and collective practices
Habitus is produced by history and by structures
(which are themselves a product of history and of
This is because “habitus, a product of history”,
produces structures which promote practices in
accordance with that history- self-propagated
“The structures characterizing a determinate class of
conditions of existence produce the structures of
habitus, which in turn are the basis of the perception
and appreciation of all subsequent experiences”
Habitus “ensures active presence of past
experiences, which, deposited in each
organism in the form of schemes of
perception, thought and action, tend to
guarantee the ‘correctness’ of practices and
their constancy over time, more reliably than
all formal rules and explicit norms.”
“As an acquired system of generative
schemes, the habitus makes possible the free
production of all the thoughts, perceptions
and actions inherent in the particular
conditions of its production- and only those.”
“Being the product of a particular class
of objective regularities, the habitus
tends to generate all the ‘reasonable’,
‘common-sense’ behaviors (and only
these) which are possible and which
are going to be positively sanctioned”
 It excludes all behaviors that would be
negatively sanctioned because they are
incompatible with objective conditions
“Practices cannot be deduced either from the
present conditions which may seem to have
provoked them or from the past conditions
which may have produced the habitus, the
durable principal of their production. They
can therefore only be accounted for by
relating the social conditions in which the
habitus that generated them was constituted,
to the social conditions in which it is
The “unconscious” is “never anything
but the forgetting of history which
history itself produces by realizing the
objective structures that it generates in
the quasi-nature of habitus”
 Habitus is the “active presense of the
whole past of which it is a product.”
The “real logic of action” bring together two
objectifications of history- that in institutions and that in
bodies- or two states of capital, objectified and
Habitus is what makes it possible to have institutions- we
take advantage of the bodies willingness to regulate to
attain “full realization” of the institutions“Property appropriates its owner, embodying itself in the
form of a structure generating practices perfectly
conforming with its logic and demands.”
“An institution is only complete and fully viable if it is
durably objectified not only in things, that is, in the logic,
transcending individual agents, but also in bodies, in
durable dispositions to recognize and comply with the
demands immanent in the field.”- This means we must be
convinced of the validity of the bank and banker as
objective reality, not socially constructed truths.
Discussion Questions…
In your social position what is your
habitus? What influences your actions
and choices?
 Do you agree with Bourdieu’s idea of
habitus, or do you believe there is
some other concept that better explains
what influences/motivates an agent to
The literary or artistic field is a field of
forces and a field of struggles.
The Field of Cultural Production cont.
The Field of Cultural Production and the Field of Power
The literary and artistic field is
contained within the filed of power,
while possessing a relative autonomy
with respect to it , especially as regards
its economic and political principles of
 It occupies a dominated position in this
field, which is itself situated at the
dominant pole of the field of class
The Field of Cultural Production cont.
The Field of Cultural Production and the Field of Power
1. Field of
Class Relations
 2. Field of
 3.Artistic Field
2 3
- +
The Field of Cultural Production cont.
The Field of Cultural Production and the Field of Power
This is the site of a Double Hierarchy
 Economic
gauge of success
 Success would be measured by, for example,
book sales, number of theatrical performances,
 Degree
 The
of Specific Consecration
more completely it fulfils its own logic as a
field, the more it tends to suspend or reverse
the dominant principle of hierarchization
The Field of Cultural Production cont.
The Field of Cultural Production and the Field of Power
Relative Autonomy
relative autonomy:
1. ". . .the more autonomous it is, i.e. the more completely
it fulfills its own logic as a field, the more it tends to
suspend or reverse the dominant principle of
2. whatever its degree of independence, it continues to be
affected by the laws of the field which encompasses it,
those of economic and political profit"
3. The more autonomous the field becomes, the more
favorable the symbolic power balance is to the most
autonomous producers and the more clear-cut is the
division between the field of restricted production . . .and
the field of large-scale production.. . .
The Field of Cultural Production cont.
The Field of Cultural Production and the Field of Power
4. systematic inversion of the fundamental
principles of all ordinary economies: that
of business. . . that of power.. .that of
institutionalized cultural authority.
5. specific capital: at a given level of
overall autonomy, intellectuals are, other
things being equal, proportionately more
responsive to the deduction of the powers
that be, the less well endowed they are
with specific capital.
The Field of Cultural Production cont.
The Field of Cultural Production and the Field of Power
Lack of success is not in itself a sign and
guarantee of election.
 Similarly, Box-office successes can also be
seen as genuine art.
The Field of Cultural Production Cont.
The Struggle for the Dominant Principle of Hierarchization
The literary or artistic field is at all
times the site of a struggle between
the two principles of hierarchization:
Heteronomous v. Autonomous
 “Bourgeois art” v. “art for art’s sake”
The Field of Cultural Production Cont.
The Struggle for the Dominant Principle of Hierarchization
The state of the power relations in this
struggle depends on the overall degree of
autonomy possessed by the field.
That is the extent to which it manages to
impose its own norms and sanctions on the
whole set of producers, including those who
are closest to the dominant pole of the field
of power and therefore most responsive to
external demands.
This degree of autonomy varies considerably
from one period and one national tradition to
The Struggle Within the dominant pole
Everything seems to indicate that it depends
on the value which the specific capital of
writers and artists represents for the
dominant factions
Struggle to conserve the established order
between the factions.
Bourgeoisie and aristocracy
Old bourgeoisie and new bourgeoisie, etc.
Struggle to conserve the established order of
production and reproduction of economic capital.
The less well-endowed intellectuals are the more
responsive they are to the powers that be.
The struggle in the field of cultural
reproduction over the imposition of
legitimate mode of cultural production is
inseparable for the struggle within the
dominant class to impose the dominant
principle of domination.
Human Accomplishment
Competitors use their economic success to say
they serve interest other than their art.
The more heteronomous the producer, the
less defense they have against the dominant
In short, the fundamental stake in literary
struggles in the monopoly of literary
i.e. the monopoly of the power to say with
authority who is authorized to call themselves a
Therefore the definition of a writer will
always be historical.
i.e. to say it will only reflect the current state of
the struggle at the time of analysis.
The boundary of the field is a stake of
 The job of the social scientist is to
describe a state of these struggles.
 The field of cultural production
separates itself from other fields
because it represents on of the
indeterminate sites in the social
The effect of the homologies
Creates a sense of solidarity amongst
the cultural producers.
 By obeying the logic of the objective
competition between mutually exclusive
positions within the field, the various
categories of producers tend to supply
products adjusted to the expectations
of the various positions in the field of
power, but without any conscious
striving for such adjustment.
Positions and Dispositions
The meeting of two histories
To understand the practices of writers and
artists is to understand that they are the
result of the meeting of two histories:
1. The history of the positions they occupy
2. The history of their dispositions
In other words, there are little to no
Successive generations with the same disposition
will have different outcomes.
The progression is not mechanical.
Discussion Questions…
In what ways does Bourdieu’s theory of
Cultural Production apply to modern
 Can you think of ways that Bourdieu’s
hierarchy is flawed?
1.Field of Class Relations
 2. Field of Power
 3.Artistic Field