Why Bourdieu?

Another book I picked up in Paris last month was by sociologist Nathalie Heinich, Pourquoi Bourdieu. (Paris: Gallimard, 2007. 188 p.) Among other things, the book has helped me understand better the anger of Alain Touraine, whom Heinich describes as a "collègue et ennemi" of Bourdieu, in the first half of his Penser autrement (discussed below, blog of 11-27), where he inveighs against a view of a society "without actors." It was the determinism of Bourdieu, Foucault, Derrida, Lacan and others that Touraine continues to combat.

Heinich first encountered Pierre Bourdieu (1930-1992) when she arrived in Paris as a beginning graduate student in 1977, and fell under his spell. His style of "domination" was "charismatic," she argues, in the strict sense defined by Max Weber (1919): based on "personal, extraordinary grace" ("la grâce personnelle extra-quotidienne" in the French translation she's using). The book is mainly about why she and scores of other young students and even non-sociologists were so overwhelmed by him, and why it was important for her and probably all of us to break the enchantment. I don't have time this morning, and you probably don't have patience for an extensive summary. Briefly, she (and others) found him extraordinarily attractive even physically (in 1977, he was "un homme jeune, beau..., souriant," ... etc.), and a lecturer who seemed to trap new ideas on the fly and appreciate enormously the little suggestions that his students dared to offer, treating students (his clear inferiors) as equals and researchers in other fields as friends -- whereas other sociologists of his own generation he viewed as competitors and treated them scornfully. If you were to be his student-collaborator-colleague, you had to be with him all the way, with no tolerance for other approaches -- e.g., Alain Touraine or even more distant intellectuals such as Barthes or Bachelard.

But it wasn't just his personal magnetism that made him such a towering figure. He really had interesting ideas, a great number of them, and Heinich describes some of the main ones critically but sympathetically. For my purposes here, as I seek to comprehend developments in Spain, these seem powerful tools. Stratification and hierarchy (of all social relations), the importance of non-material resources ("cultural capital") motivations and motives ("distinction"), etc.; the power of "habitus" and the arena of competition or "champ", etc.

But my time on this borrowed computer is nearly up. These are just notes to help me and maybe intrigue you. If I get a chance, I'll be back tomorrow, to talk not about Bourdieu but about other phenomena where Bourdieu, Touraine, Alvin Gouldner and others may help us understand. Hasta mañana.

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