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The Theory of Bourdieu

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Francis Chee

on 20 November 2014

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Transcript of The Theory of Bourdieu

The Theory of
Who is He?
Pierre Bourdieu
His Influences
Class Distinction
Power and Practice
Media and Cultural Reproduction
Symbolic Violence
Cultural Capital
The Field
Network; structure

Made up of various social and institutional arenas

Express and reproduce their dispositions

Compete for the distribution of different kinds of capital

Discussing Bourdieu
Can capital be the negative expression of your habitus, disadvantaging the agent within the field?
Can a field exist without agents?
A field is always within a field: what/where is the agent’s first field?
Which comes first: agent or field?
Universe of tacit presuppositions that organize the field
- Determines effectiveness of action
- Agents in the field will share a common doxa
- But agents do not always agree to the rules of the game
- Agents can change power relations within the field according to their own advantage
- People use capital to impose rules that favour them the most
Max Weber
Karl Marx
Merleau-Ponty & Husserl
Mauss & Levi-Strauss
Weber, importance of domination and symbolic systems in social life; social orders, which he would transform into a theory of fields

Marx, concept of capital with respect to social activity, not just economics; all social life is essentially practical; deterministic style

Durkheim, deterministic style

Mauss and Levi-Strauss, structuralist style and the tendency of social structures to reproduce themselves

Merleau-Ponty and Husserl, focus on the body, action, and practical dispositions (manifested in his theory of habitus)
Where do we Situate Bourdieu?
Class Distinction
Power and Practice
Media and Cultural Reproduction
Symbolic Violence
- talk about his humble background (from the rural part of France)
o He is the embodiment of his own work (playing with the rules of the game which led him to be at the pinnacle of the social system)? Or is he not?
- we should explain by giving concrete examples
- compare Bourdieu with Sewell or other authors in social thought with comparable characteristics
- compare Bourdieu with structuralists: his previous works tended to be very structuralist but he gradually went away from this
- think about questions that may not have been solved by Bourdieu :O

- Is habitus something unconscious?
o Prof says no
o Intentionality without intention? → Bourdieu espoused that habitus is something that one absorbs through efforts and one may be unaware of it as it is seen as an accumulated biography
o Now comes the problem of durability: there is some tension with how Bourdieu uses the concept of habitus → habitus becomes more about how it relates and adapts to the field and less about the individual him/herself
- What’s the difference between habitus and capital?
o Habitus: accumulated biography
o Capital:
§ accumulation of labour of particular field
§ competition of capital within the field that buys someone social recognition e.g. literary capital in the artistic field
§ defines a field; whether it is autonomous enough
· in academic world, there are lots of academics that say that good ideas should prevail and dominate and the university should orient itself towards research for research’s sake
· Other people e.g. think-tanks are drawn into this field and dominate the field because they receive support and resources from external sources i.e. capitalists → these are the people who want to convert economic capital to academic capital and you can see that there is power struggle amongst the actors
· The autonomy of the field is dependent on whether a particular capital has more or less weight in that field
· If you have accumulated capital, you work effortlessly in that field; capital defines what habitus is legitimate/favoured in that field
· E.g. he talked about the ‘New Rich’, with reference to Week 8 but I didn’t really understand what he said
- Conversion rate of capital
o Converting economic capital to literary capital with reference to the 19th century literary field
o Define field according to intrinsic capital e.g. art for art’s sake
o Bourdieu rejecting those who reduce field to solely economic knowledge; he argues that there is pure literary writing that is intrinsic and dominating the field i.e. art for art’s sake

What he expects from the short paper
- Not just criticising him but engaging and being sympathetic with his point of view
- Elaborate our ideas with relation to readings
- He wants to see our thinking process and how we can critically engage with Bourdieu
- Potential/breaking point where we can perhaps extend his theories e.g ideas about social change, empirical research
Denguin, France
What's so important about knowing this?
Rural Area
Working-Class Background (Father was a Peasant)
Moved to elite academic institution only after high school
Is Bourdieu off the mark?
How significant is the influence of media institutions, which transcend multiple fields, on habitus, and how can we understand that influence?
How do we view the Articles?
Formation of Bourdieu’s theories
“The Genesis of the Concepts of Habitus and of Field”
“The Forms of Capital”

Application of His Ideas to the Literary Field
“The Field of Cultural Production, Or: The Economic World Reversed”
Holy Moley, I'm confused!!!
What does he mean?

Where's my Example???
“The work of art is an object which exists as such only by virtue of the (collective) belief which knows and acknowledges it as a work of art. ...it has to take into account everything which helps to constitute the work as such...” (p. 317)

Toilet bowl as modern art
Fountaine by Marcel Duchamp

The toilet was never considered art, and may even be a ludicrous idea, yet it is art because it is acknowledged by the field
At the same time, not all agents in the artistic field agree to the toilet bowl as art
“a structuring structure which organises practices and the perception of practices”

“the incorporated and quasi-postural disposition but that of the acting agent”

“a system of lasting transposable dispositions which, integrating past experiences, functions at every moment as a matrix of perceptions, appreciations, and actions, and makes possible the achievement of infinitely diversified tasks, thanks to analogical transfers of schemes permitting the solution of similarly shaped problems” (1997, p. 83)
Always constituted in moments of practice

Actively constructs our knowledge and perception
(the way we understand the world, our beliefs and values)

Disposition towards certain attitudes, values or ways of behaving because of the influence exerted by our personal trajectories

Operates at a subconscious level, but acquisition of habitus can be active

In Understandable English
Rosie the Riveter
Social Reproduction
Where's my Example???
"Capital, which, in its objectified or embodied forms,
takes time to accumulate
and which, as a
potential capacity to produce profits and to reproduce itself
in identical or expanded form, contains a
tendency to persist in its being
, is a force inscribed in the objectivity of things so that
everything is not equally possible or impossible
” (1986, p. 241)
Accumulated labour that is accumulated over time

Allows appropriation of social energy

Potential to produce or reproduce profits

Tendency to persist in its being

Structural distributions of capital are representative of inherent social structures
Economic Capital
Social Capital
Cultural Capital
Accounting for Change

Bourdieu gives strict criteria for change within the structure of the field:
1) when you have newcomers
2) from agents who are not ‘consecrated’
3) must be coupled with "external change", such as a political revolution

What then exactly does this “internal change” refer to?
The alteration of Doxa (the rules of the game)

Internal change can happen but may not be sustainable for a subverting of existing domination →- dependent upon external change
Agent with Habitus
habitus is expressed in field, determined by personal life experience and trajectory, displays your social standing
dominant class negotiates doxa, determines which capital is advantageous
our current habitus affects our accumulation of capital
enters into the field
bring in change (field is never static)
What Change?
“Bourdieu’s habitus retains precisely the agent-proof quality that the concept of the duality of structure is supposed to overcome. In Bourdieu’s habitus, schemas and resources (i.e. habitus and field) so powerfully reproduce one another that even the most cunning or improvisational actions undertaken by agents necessarily reproduce the structure”
Social Mobility is Fatalistic to the Working Class!
La Distinction
Cultural capital (education, non-financial social assets) and habitus central to Bourdieu’s theory of social reproduction
Appropriation of cultural capital by dominant classes to exert ‘symbolic violence’

‘accumulation’ vs ‘acquisition’ of cultural capital: social mobility possible, but Bourdieu’s language suggests he is not optimistic
Difficulty of accumulating cultural capital
Stuck in a ‘capital-poverty’ cycle
Relative vs. absolute social mobility
That's Not Entirely True
Singapore: education facilitates upward social mobility
Social policies do not perfectly ‘level the playing field’ but it greatly increases access to accumulation of cultural capital, even if one does not have other capital to begin with
Rise of educational achievement amongst all classes

Doxa of academic field (meritocracy) and economic field (coordinated market economy) values educational achievement above other forms of capital -> facilitates conversion from cultural capital to economic capital
Social Mobility IS Possible
Even within disadvantaged classes, values favouring education may still prevail
Schools function as important agencies of re-socialisation
Education overcoming effects of social origins and reshaping habitus

Student’s cultural capital less important and relative to academic ability

Relative vs absolute mobility
Bourdieu says
Bourdieu says
Philosopher | Anthropologist | Sociologist
Algeria - 1958
Confrontation with the Algerian war, and with the transformations wrought by French colonialism and capitalism, left a searing personal mark on Bourdieu, solidifying his commitment to the principle that research must matter for the lives of others. Scarred but also toughened, he stayed on to teach at the University of Algiers and became a self-taught ethnographer. He proved himself an extraordinarily keen observer of the interpenetration of large-scale social change and the struggles and solidarities of daily life. Among other reasons, his native familiarity with the peasant society of Béarn gave him an affinity with the traditional agrarian societies of rural Algeria that were being destroyed by French colonialism
As a self-taught researcher in Algeria, Bourdieu fused ethnography and statistics, theory and observation, to begin crafting a distinctive approach to social inquiry aimed at informing progressive politics through scientific production
‘feel for the game’
'rules of the game'
The Field of Cultural Production
Literary/artistic field is a “field of forces” and a “field of struggles”
◦Analysis of power negotiation and possibility of change

To understand a work of art, we must consider
the purpose or reasons of its origin
◦Art for art’s sake
◦For economic value (to sell for money)
◦As a tool for cultural hegemony by the dominant class
◦As an expression of autonomy (spoof/parody, or a twist on an original)
Still Deterministic
Bourdieu attempts to overcome 'deterministic' Structuralism and Marxism but his theory of social reproduction suggests otherwise

Social reproduction of existing class relations via symbolic violence, cultural capital and pedagogy

Inability to escape from existing structure

This can be overcome by social change, which has to involve both internal and external change
Full transcript