Pierre Bourdieu and Literature

Substance 29 (3):84-102 (2000)
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Bourdieu’s thought is disturbing. Provocative. Scandalous even, at least for those who do not easily tolerate the unmitigated truth about the social. Nonetheless his ideas, among the most important and innovative of our time, are here to stay. This thought has taken form in the course of a career and through works on diverse subjects that have constructed a far-reaching analytical model of social life, which the author calls more readily an anthropology rather than a sociology. In their totality, they constitute today an original and powerful proposal to explain human practices. In the face of criticisms commonly leveled at Bourdieu’s thought (notably the charge that it reduces everything to a single schematic model), it is important to identify the spirit of his enterprise. Early on, it is true, his thought drew on a few fundamental concepts—the trilogy habitus, field (champ), practice (pratique)—to which it constantly returned, and followed a clearly defined trajectory. At the same time, however, he continually reformulated, adapted, and refined his analytical model, depending on the operations to which he subjected new objects of inquiry. The regenerative and transformative force of his thought was supported by two convictions. First, that there being nothing more vain than theory for theory’s sake, it is preferable that theoretical production originate in the study of concrete and occasionally very specific cases. Second, that in order to escape stereotypical classifications, boundaries separating disciplines are best transgressed, thereby favoring new constructions of the object of inquiry.



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