2 Answers

  1. Pierre Bourdieu is perhaps one of the few sociologists of the second half of the 20th century who achieved a status comparable to the three indisputable classics of the discipline: Durkheim, Marx, and Weber. He managed to do this largely through combining and systematizing their main themes.

    The Bourdieu concept of the fields of science, art, law, etc. is a continuation of Durkheim's ideas about the separation of various professional spheres as a result of the division of social labor. Bourdieu also developed Marx's idea of history as a struggle for control of the key public goods-capital, the accumulation of which divides society into classes. However, the Frenchman supplemented the narrowly economic understanding of capital with other forms: social, cultural and symbolic. Finally, in response to Max Weber's theory of social action, Bourdieu proposed the concept ofhabitus, which implies pre-conscious, practical, and bodily schemas that precede agents ' understanding of common meanings. All three central concepts of Bourdieu's sociology are interrelated. Differences between agents in accumulated capital support the reproduction of fields. The positions of agents in the field determine the formation of their habits. Habituses define the possible trajectories of agents in the accumulation of capital. Capital differences… Well, you understand.

    Despite the stereotypical ideas about Bourdieu as a purely speculative theorist, all his constructions were focused on empirical research. For example, he proposed using the statistical method of multiple correspondence analysis to measure the axes of autonomy-heteronomy and dominance-subordination in the social field. At the same time, the concept of habitus is well suited for quality sociologists who make ethnographic observations of agents ' daily lives. In short, you can learn from Bourdieu's work not only interesting theory, but also look at original solutions for a variety of research designs.

    Pierre Bourdieu's philosophical interests led him to think about the epistemology of the social sciences. As a sociologist, he emphasized that any process of cognition is a social process that must be rationally studied. Unlike many radical constructivists, he did not believe that revealing the social circumstances of a scientific discovery undermines the status of truth. On the contrary, sociological reflection can help researchers overcome doxus-beliefs that are generally accepted in any field. Objective knowledge of society for Bourdieu is both overcoming the dox of a particular discipline and debunking the dox of all other fields. It is impossible to engage in high-quality science without simultaneously fighting dogmas and stereotypes. Paradoxically, it is precisely because real scientists strive for objectivity that they inevitably enter the wider public and political arena. There is no insurmountable obstacle between the truth about society and social justice. These are two sides of the same coin.

    In short, Pierre Bourdieu took on a wide variety of questions in sociology and always offered original answers. The combination of versatility and unity of his intellectual system is what attracts interest to him so far. To all those who have not yet read his works, read urgently!

  2. In my opinion, the main significance of Bourdieu's work lies in the synthesis of key ideas and concepts of such diverse thinkers and scientists as Marx, Durkheim, Weber, and – perhaps most importantly-Heidegger (who influenced mainly through the Heideggerian philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty) and Wittgenstein.

    One of the main tasks that Bourdieu set for himself was to overcome the dichotomies (conceptual oppositions like “subject/object”, etc.) that prevail in sociology, and in particular the opposition of individualism/holism (or social laws/individual agent).

    In political and social philosophy, since the time of Hobbes and Adam Smith, there has been a tradition of reducing society to a separate subject (methodological individualism). Methodological individualists believe that society and its laws can be explained by explaining how individual agents make decisions and act. In contrast, methodological holists (collectivists) believe that explaining the objective laws of society is more primary than explaining the decisions and actions of agents. The laws of society determine the behavior of agents, not the other way around. The most important methodological holist of the early 20th century was Emil Durkheim, and his work is mainly devoted to the study of “solidarity” – how diverse modern society functions as a whole. Thus, he is one of the pioneers of sociological structuralism (or structural functionalism) – a theory that considers society, figuratively speaking, as a single organism, where the role of organs is performed by different social strata. It can be noted that the methodologies of individualists and holists exclude each other.

    In order to overcome the dualism of holism/individualism, Bourdieu developed the concepts of the social field and habitus. The subject exists in the multidimensional world of social fields (social space). The social field is a relatively autonomous context or “setting” of certain human practices that exists in the referential whole of society. (Wittgenstein has a similar concept of the “language game”.) Fields interact and there are power and hierarchical relations between them (for example, most fields are subordinate to a wider field of power and class relations).

    The position of an entity in the field is determined by its capital and habitat. Unlike Marx, in addition to material capital, Bourdieu also distinguished cultural (knowledge, skills, skills, education, etc.), social (social connections, social networks of mutual assistance and support) and symbolic capital. Symbolic capital is the capital available to a person based on their” authority ” in a particular behavioral and symbolic context (for example, the reputation of an honest person). However, any capital under certain conditions can be realized as symbolic. Symbolic capital makes it possible to use “symbolic violence” – the realization of power over a person, which confirms his place in the network of social relations, and is perceived by him as something legitimate, due. It should be noted that the relationship between fields and subjects in the field is not a static, but a dynamic structure in which there is a constant struggle for power and capital.

    Habitus is the usual, habitual, everyday human behavior and predispositions to this or that behavior. Habitus is formed in the process of participation in social fields and serves as the basis for” doxa ” – the sum of basic, unquestionable, self-evident ideas about the world that determine a person's actions and thinking in a particular field. For example, the structure of power relations is perceived as something proper and natural. Thus, social structures are prone to self-maintenance and reproduction in an unchanged form (cultural reproduction) – changes are possible only because of dynamism due to the constant struggle in social fields. (One can note a certain influence of the Marxist theory of conflict, but not in the general form of class confrontation on an economic basis – the form that the struggle takes in each particular field depends on the specifics of this field.)

    This hermeneutical unity “field-habitus”, according to Bourdieu, solves the problem of subject / object, individualism/holism in sociology.

    Another important idea of Bourdieu (very similar to that developed in parallel by Michel Foucault) is about language as an instrument of power. Language is not only a method of communication, it is inseparable from social practices, from behavior, and therefore from power and power relations.

    Bourdieu saw sociology as a method of uncovering the structures of the world hidden beneath conventional practices and doxic attitudes – especially symbolic violence-believing that it could help people become more free. (Revealing hidden “existential structures” is another Heideggerian concept.) It is quite difficult to read and difficult to interpret unambiguously*, but Bourdieu's great importance for modern social sciences cannot be overestimated, and his works are still relevant today.

    * The famous philosopher John Searle often tells a joke: he once talked to Foucault and asked him: “Why write so obscurely, can't everything be expressed clearly and in simple words?”: “In France, at least ten percent should be unclear. (En France, il faut avoir au moins dix pour cent incomprehensible.)” Later, Searle talked to Bourdieu, and asked him if this was a joke. To which Bourdieu says: “No, no, it should be at least twenty percent unclear.”

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