The work of Bourdieu is critical of the domination

Source: Journal Discussion. By Patrick Dean.


Interview with Loïc Wacquant, a sociologist and a disciple of Pierre Bourdieu, examines the validity of the French thinker to ten years of his death.

El trabajo de Bourdieu es una crítica de la dominación

Ten years have passed since the death of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. In this decade, the dissemination and influence in the world of his work have grown exponentially, making it the first and only social scientist of the second half of the twentieth century to join Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim and Max Weber as one of the classics of the social sciences. This milestone is highlighted with the publication of Sur lÉtat, book based on the classes that he gave at the Collège de France between 1989 and 1992, and by a set of conferences, and dossiers published in major newspapers from several countries. In this interview, Loïc Wacquant, his disciple more prominent, discusses the intellectual legacy of Bourdieu and the growing relevance of the work of his master in the social sciences and in the contemporary public debate.

How was your first encounter with Pierre Bourdieu?

I first met Bourdieu in a public class he was giving on “political Issues”, a night of gray in November of 1980, at the Ecole Polytechnique of the outside of Paris. After the class, which I found dense and obtuse, the discussion continued informally with a group of students until the early morning hours, in the school cafeteria. There, He searched, with the skill of a surgeon, the underground connections between politics and society in France, on the eve of the elections of 1981 that led to the victory of Mitterrand. It was an illumination, and immediately I thought: “If this is sociology, this is what I want to do.” So it was that I started taking the course of sociology at the University of Paris in Nanterre and miss my classes at the École des HEC (school of economics most important in France) to attend the lectures of Bourdieu in the Collège de France, where he had just been elected. At the end of each one of their classes, waited patiently and what bombed with questions until it exhausted. We develop the habit of returning to their home walking the streets of Paris. It was a great private class for a student of sociology.

How is it perceived in relation to other luminaries of French thought as Claude Lévi-Strauss, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida?

Bourdieu was already famous as the author of Outline of a Theory of Practice, which questioned the structuralism mentalist from Lévi-Strauss to worry about capturing the most ordinary of people in concrete situations, but also for being the author of The distinction, which refuted the philosophical vision of taste advocated by Derrida, to reveal that our preferences are more intimate are permeated by our position and our track record in the society. But, in that moment, did not understand Bourdieu in relation to other major thinkers, in the first place because it had no intellectual ambition and also because he was a man very approachable, warm, shy. What he saw as the conductor of the journal Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, to which I had subscribed in spite of my great difficulties to read it. Actes is an academic journal only because it takes readers into the kitchen of the social sciences: it enables us to see the process of production of an object sociological, which is constructed by breaking with the common sense. For a generation of researchers, the best way to learn of Bourdieu was to read the magazine he founded and edited for a quarter of a century. Then others discovered his thought by means of the series of books of short Raisons d agir, which launched in 1996.

What adjectives would you use to characterize the sociology of Bourdieu?

Bourdieu is a sociologist encyclopedic. He published 30 books and nearly 400 articles on a wide variety of themes, from relationships of kinship in the rural communities to education, social class, culture and intellectuals, science, law and religion, male domination, the economy, the State, and the list goes on. But, under an amazing array of objects of the empirical, one can find a small number of concepts and principles that give his work a striking unity and coherence. Bourdieu developed a science of practice, which feeds a critique of domination in all its forms: class, ethnic, sexual, national, bureaucratic, etc. This science is antidualista, agonistic, and reflective. Antidualista because it escapes to the antinomies legacy of classical philosophy and sociology, between the body and the mind, individual and collective, material and symbolic, and combines the interpretation (looking for reasons) and the explanation (that detects or causes), as well as the micro levels and macro analysis. This sociology is agonistic because it postulates that all the universes are social, even in what appears to be more conciliatory as the family or the art, are sites of struggles multifaceted and endless. Finally, the sociology of Bourdieu is different from others, including that of the founding fathers, Marx, Weber and Durkheim, in that it is reflexive: the sociologists should be so imperative to use their tools for their craft to the effects of control determinations social that weigh on them as social beings and as cultural producers.

What are the concepts distinctive that are at the heart of the sociology of Bourdieu?

For Bourdieu, the historical action exists in two forms, embodied and institutionalised, sedimented in the bodies and concretized in things. On the one hand, “subjetiviza” to be deposited in the depth of the individual organisms in the form of categories of perception and appreciation, sets of provisions long-lasting that he called habitus. On the other hand, the historical action, it “objectifies” in the distribution of effective resources, which Bourdieu captures with the notion of capital, and in microcosm, which possess a specific logic of operation, which Bourdieu calls fields (political, legal, artistic, etc.). The agenda of sociology consists in elucidating the dialectic of history made body and history made thing, the counterpoint between habitus and field, arrangement and position, which takes us to the heart of the mystery of the social life. Bourdieu proposes that the mental structures (habitus) and social structures (field) call, you respond and correspond to each other because they are linked in a genetic relation and recursive: the society shapes the dispositions, ways of being, feeling and thinking characteristics of a class of people; the provisions that guide the actions by means of which people shape society. Add to this the central idea of the plurality and the convertibility of the different species of capital: in contemporary societies, inequalities do not arise only from the differences between economic capital (wealth, income) but also between cultural capital (educational credentials), social capital (social bonds, effective) and symbolic capital (prestige, recognition). If you stir you will get the recipe for a sociology agonistic flexible and dynamic, able to trace the struggles, material and symbolic, by means of which men and women produce the story.

What to do with the political commitment of Bourdieu, especially with their interventions after the social upheaval of 1995, when a million French citizens took to the streets to protest against the government’s plans of reduction of the Welfare State?

In truth, the “engagement” policy of Bourdieu dates back to work of youth, during the crisis, algerian, unleashed after the nationalist uprising against the French power in 1955-1962. As a recent graduate of the École normale supérieure, was converted from philosophy to anthropology -this is the pure reflection of the empirical research – to absorb the shock of this horrible war, and to apply a clinical eye on decolonization, which shook and eventually brought down the Fourth Republic. Doing social science was always the way in which Bourdieu contributed to the civic discussion. All of their books to attend to and reformulating the issues, socio-political most important of the day. This is true in The reproduction (1970), which reveals the myth of meritocratic school liberating, as it is of The nobility of the state (1989) which shows the mechanisms of legitimation of the power of technocratic and, of course, the field study that led to the misery of The world (1993), published two years before his famous speech to the railway in the gare de Lyon in December of 1995, where they were protesting at the cuts to public spending. What changed in this time is the manner in which their civic engagement manifested itself. At the beginning, entirely sublimed, and through its scientific work. Then, assuming gradually a more discernible, that finally led to concrete actions, visible to the general public. This is for two reasons. First, Bourdieu changed: aged, accumulated scientific authority, and he understood better the workings of the universes political and journalistic, acquiring a better capacity to produce effects on them. But the world also changed: in the 90s, the dictatorship of the market threatened directly the collective achievements of the democratic struggles, and intervene on that it became a matter of social emergency. What remains constant is the passion powerhouse of Bourdieu in research, and his devotion to science, which he defended with tooth and nail against the encroachment represented in the “philosophy journal” and the irrationalism of the so-called postmodernists.

What is the difference between the reception of his work in France than it has had in the united States?

Abroad, lee Bourdieu without political interference and without the prism distorsivo of its media image: as a classical author, who created weapons that are innovative and powerful to think about contemporary societies and as an important figure of the intellectual, which extends the lineage of Émile Zola, Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault. In the nest of spiders of Paris, the prejudices are hard to kill, and some have continued posthumously with the war of the clans of academic enlodaron the reception of Bourdieu as long as she lived. Bad for France…

In your own research, what does it take Bourdieu and what to do with it?

I extend and revise their teachings on three fronts: the body, the ghetto and the criminal state. In Between the ropes (2004), I do a double test of the concept of habitus. First, as an empirical object: I distinguish how one weapon his mental schemes, competencies kinéticas and desires of the flesh which, put together, make the professional boxer apetente and competent. Second, as a research method: I purchased the habitus pugilístico via a three-year training in a gym in the black ghetto of Chicago to facilitate the path towards a sociology of flesh that it treats the body as a vector of its production, and not as an obstacle to knowledge. In the front of the inequities of urban and ethnic, my book Outcasts to urban (2008) developed models of Bourdieu to show how, with its structure and policies, the State gives form to urban life at the turn of the century, leading to the emergence of the “hipergueto” in the united States and of the “antiguetos” of France and Western Europe. Finally, my research on global diffusion of the themes of “law and order”, under the concept of “zero tolerance”, as summarized in The prisons of poverty (1999, expanded in 2009), reveals that the return of the prison marks the advent of a new regime of management of poverty, which joins the “invisible hand” of the labour market deregulated with the “iron fist” of a penal apparatus intrusive and hyperactive. The neo-liberalism not only brings us a “small government” but also the shift from the welfare state (welfare) to the “workfare”, focused on the individual work, and the massive expansion of a “state prison” on the side of the criminal justice system.

And, on the contrary, what do you find less useful or less relevant in Bourdieu?

The assumption that there is a closer match between our chances objective and subjective aspirations is no longer valid given the universalization of secondary education and the disruption that widespread of the strategies of reproduction of the household workers, who are facing the degradation and shrinkage of the work. The national framework from which He built his analysis must be extended and complemented by an analysis of the transnational phenomena, for which his own work provides conceptual tools crucial, as evidenced in the recent development of a branch of the theory of international relations derived from their work. As with all scientists, we must take the ideas of Bourdieu and push them to the limit. Bourdieu would be the first to incite us to do so.

His courses at the Collège de France from 1989 to 1992 have just been published under the title of On the State (2012). What is it that adds this bulky volume the sociology of Bourdieu and the sociology in general?

In terms of its form, is the first of several books to come, which enable us to see Bourdieu in action as a teacher, going to grope towards this “monster” cold-who named Nietzsche; those things of which we are so familiar that we no longer realize that in fact we have become invisible. To clarify why you raised the issues so that makes it (closer to the State from small, mundane acts, such as filling out a form bureaucratic or sign a medical certificate), to point out the pitfalls of the escapes, to reveal their own errors, doubts and anxieties, Bourdieu invites us to his sociological laboratory, and gives us a propaedeutic sociological in action. In terms of its contents, Bourdieu invigorates the theory of the State caracterizándola as “the central bank of symbolic capital”: the agency that monopolizes its legitimate use, not only in terms of physical violence with the police and the army (as proposed by Max Weber a century ago) but also the symbolic violence. That is, the ability to grant categories and assign identities, in particular from the school system and the right, and then the power of veridicción of the world. The book follows in the footsteps of the incredible series of inventions historical through which “the house of the king”, founded on the appropriation and transmission dynastic powers, it quickly transformed itself into “reason of State”, founded on academic credentials and reproduced by means of tape. The State, thus, emerges as an institution with two faces like the god Janus: on the one hand, is a vehicle used by those who build and move its levers, to create a universalism that benefit them; on the other, is the medium through which it is possible to move towards universalism, and thus promote justice.

What would you think Bourdieu of the current european economic crisis and the way that it is threatening their conceptions of the State as regulator and protector?

With perspective in the long term, the book provides precise tools to better capture what is at stake in the political struggles induced by the crash of financial and monetary that has shaken the world. He reminds us that States can build markets and, therefore, who may reign over them, as long as those who run to boost the collective political will in that direction. The analysis of Bourdieu suggests that the expressions of apparently scientific -as the rating agencies of debt – on which the economic order is strong there are more than a series of coups symbolic. Rest simply in the collective belief, a confidence acicateada by those who respond to these mechanisms (starting with the mass media). About this is a good idea to reread the chapter of the little book of Bourdieu titled Firewall (1998), where he criticizes what he baptized as “Thinking Tietmeyer” (such was the name of the German who presided over the Bundesbank, the chief apostle of the euro), then become “Thought Tricht,” and “Thinking Draghi”. Is the idea of a dictatorship, financial as inevitable, when it is fundamentally arbitrary and hard only because of the voluntary servitude of the political leaders.

What is more strange, since the death of Bourdieu and what we should retain from your life?

Personally, their phone calls at two in the morning in Berkeley, which used to begin with a touch of anxiety, and leading invariably to the laughter, and where I was a electrical energy. The breakfasts that we had in your kitchen is tiny, in which he mixed everything: academic research, policy discussion and life advice, all of this immersed in sociology. Although it denies that sociology is a combat sport, the film that Pierre Carles made on him, Bourdieu never took their lenses sociological. But the author of The practical sense (1980) is still present and lives among us, through the myriad of jobs that his thought stimulated all over the planet. Bourdieu is now the name of a collective enterprise of research that crosses the barriers between all disciplines and countries, encouraging a social science that is rigorous, critical of the established order, and ready to expand the spectrum of historical possibilities.


Translation: Ignacio Pardo , and Javier Auyero

Rights transferred by Loïc Wacquant and Javier Auyero


Who is Loïc Wacquant?Loïc Wacquant is professor of sociology at the University of California-Berkeley and a researcher at the Centre Européen de Sociologie et de Science Politique de Paris. He was a fellow of the MacArthur Foundation and received the Lewis Sewing Award. His research work deals with the relegation of urban domination etnorracial, the criminal state, the body, social theory and the politics of reason. His books were translated into twenty languages and include the trilogy Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality (2008), Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity (2009) and Deadly Symbiosis: Race and the Rise of the Penal State (next to appear on Polity Press this year). Some of his works are published in



Thanks Cisolog to Sociology Contemporary for your role as a content curator on this interesting interview.

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