Pierre Bourdieu

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Bourdieu routinely sought to connect his theoretical ideas with empirical research, grounded in everyday life, and his work can be seen as sociology of culture or, as he labelled it, a "Theory of Practice". His contributions to sociology were both evidential and theoretical (that is, calculated through both systems). His key terms were habitus, capital and field.

He extended the idea of capital to categories such as social capital, cultural capital, and symbolic capital. For Bourdieu each individual occupies a position in a multidimensional social space; he or she is not defined only by social class membership, but by every single kind of capital he or she can articulate through social relations. That capital includes the value of social networks, which Bourdieu showed could be used to produce or reproduce inequality.

Ultimately, each relatively autonomous field of modern life, such as economy, politics, arts, journalism, bureaucracy, science or education engenders a specific complex of social relations where the agents will engage their everyday practice. Through this practice, they'll develop a certain disposition for social action that is conditioned by their position on the field (dominant/dominated and orthodox/heterodox are only two possible ways of positioning the agents on the field; these basic binary distinctions are always further analysed considering the specifities of each field). This disposition, combined with every other disposition the individual develops through his engagement on a multidimensional (in the sense of multi-field) social world, will eventually tend to become a sense of the game, a partial understanding of the field and of social order in general, a practical sense, a practical reason, a way of di-vision (or classification) of the world, an opinion, a taste, a tone of voice, a group of typical body movements and mannerisms and so on. Through this, the social field may become more complex and autonomous, while the individual develops a certain habitus that is typical of his position in the social space. By doing so, social agents will often acknowledge, legitimate and reproduce the social forms of domination (including prejudices) and the common opinions of each field as self-evident, clouding from conscience and practice even the acknowledgment of other possible means of production (including, of course, symbolic production) and power relations.

Though not deterministic, the inculcation of the subjective structures of the habitus can be observed through statistical data, for example, while its selective affinity with the objective structures of the social world explains the continuity of the social order through time. As the individual habitus is always a mix of multiple engagements in the social world through the person's life, while the social fields are put into practice through the agency of the individuals, no social field or order can be completely stable. In other words, if the relation between individual predisposition and social structure is far stronger than common sense tends to believe, it is not a perfect match also.

Some examples of his empirical results include showing that despite the apparent freedom of choice in the arts, people's artistic preferences (such as classical music, rock, traditional music) strongly tie in with their social position; and showing that subtleties of language such as accent, grammar, spelling and style – all part of cultural capital – are a major factor in social mobility (for example, getting a higher-paid, higher-status job).

Pierre Bourdieu's work emphasized how social classes, especially the ruling and intellectual classes, preserve their social privileges across generations despite the myth that contemporary post-industrial society boasts equality of opportunity and high social mobility, achieved through formal education.

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