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.


Happy Winter Solstice to All!

My apologies for missing my latest self-imposed Friday deadline for an update on Spain. Things were just too chaotic last week, in our personal lives more than in Spain. For starters, Saturday Dec. 15 we rushed to Madrid in disorderly fashion (the refrigerator door fell off while we were cleaning our apartment, my external hard-drive went into infinite spin when I tried to back up my laptop, the train we were scheduled to take from Almería to Madrid had been canceled due to a track defect), so I got here without my laptop. Then, the apartment we had planned to move into wasn't really completed so we had to stay in a hotel with limited Internet access. The Madrid apartment is really tiny but very well located, right next to the Reina Sofía museum and very near the Atocha train station; it will be our urban pied-a-terre, while the main house (still not finished) will be in Carboneras. We're moved into the apartment now, and expect the final work to be completed today, and just this morning we discovered this wonderful Madrid institution, a cultural center with exhibitions and other activities and rooms where anyone can use computers or sit and study, absolutely free. It's called La Casa Encendida, an obra social of the savings bank Caja Madrid. "Obra social" -- there must be a common expression like that in English. Here it means an activity for community benefit. In Spain, savings banks (unlike the other banks such as BBVA) all have "obra social" as their chief mission -- their gains must go into such projects rather than as dividends to shareholders. Good system.

As I implied above, the week in Spain as a whole was much less chaotic than in our personal lives. The Socialist government even managed to get its budget approved in Congress at the last minute! This involved a lot of negotiation and patience with all the smaller parties and the one big opposition party, so it's further evidence of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's abilities as a political operative.

I hope to have something more substantive to say about events here this coming Friday. And now that I've discovered the resources of the Casa Encendida, I'll be able to post. Till then, Happy Winter Solstice!

(By the way, does anybody know why the early Christians, trying to peg their holiday to the pagan festival that everybody was already celebrating, missed by 3 days? The solstice is December 22, I believe. How could they get that wrong?

Hasta pronto.