Bourdieu, Pierre.

Over the weekend, I read a book on Pierre Bourdieu (Pierre Bourdieu: Agent Provocateur  – 2 down, 50 to go), which traced the highlights of his career, bridging together the seemingly disparate strands of his work, from his early ethnographies on Algeria to his work on cultural taste. This is one stop shopping for all of your Bourdieu needs – without having to struggle with his strained prose and syntax.

What I kept thinking of while I was reading this book was how I wanted to be at his level one day, specifically in terms of his socio-political conscience and his desire to help the “dominated” in society.  Though he is known for his intellect and his sociology, he made every attempt to use these talents for “good.” One story near the end of the book recounts a protester holding up a sign that read “Remember Pierre Bourdieu!”

Agent Provocateur has reaffirmed my belief that Sociology has real potential to shape and influence the world. My collegue Soci Womyn and I recently had a conversation to this end, and how we are going to stop qualifying these kinds of statements as “I know it is idealistic, but…” Part of our problem right now (in the academy and in general society) is that we fear idealism, we don’t want to set ourselves up for dissapointment. That or the creeping fatalism (that I have discussed here previously) that “its all for naught anyway.”

This kind of thinking needs to be eradicated. What are we doing if not trying to change the world? As Bourdieu pointed out (at numerous different stages of his career), this type of thinking is a misrecognition,  steming from a system so totalizing as to offer no alternatives.

Do you think any of it matters outside of that anyway? That our small scale, smaller minded projects are worthwhile?


8 thoughts on “Bourdieu, Pierre.

  1. LOL….”This kind of thinking needs to be eradicated”…sounding a little totalitarian there bud. Which brings me to my point…

    Shape and influence the world into what?? What is “better”?? Any alternatives you offer, any changes you want to make simply stem from your personal opinions as to what constitutes a “good society” or a “good direction for society”. Ultimately, however, while you go about making your changes, you are simply shitting on someone else’s version who may not particularly share the way you envision the “good” world.

    I for one aim to make my own life better, and if in the process I happen to make the lives of a few others better as well…wonderful. I do, however, find the “Lets change the world” battlecry to be one of two things: The battlecry of the naive (which explains why you mostly hear it coming from teenagers), or the battlecry of people who are trying to forward their own personal agenda.

  2. I am not sure what you mean by false dichotomy. When you quote Soci Womyn as saying “I know it is idealistic…” and you both agree that your problem lies in fearing idealism…that sounds like a “lets change the world” battlecry to me. Even if you only aim to change small portions of the world…or aim to make change for small groups…or even individuals, you are ultimately shitting on someone else’s version of “good”. Action will always meet reaction. Who is to say what is “idealistic” is….you? And you didnt answer my question…and just so I am clear…i will quote you this time.

    “Agent Provocateur has reaffirmed my belief that Sociology has real potential to shape and influence the world”.

    Shape and influence the world towards what exactly?

    Simply shrugging my statement off as a false dichotomy?? Honestly…who is being a lazy thinker?

  3. Action doesn’t always equal reaction, just as helping one group doesn’t mean shitting on another group. Get your head out of your ass!

    Yes – I think Sociology has real potential to shape and influence the world, though obviously not in the tired form it is in now.

    We need to shake the system (and here I am referring to Sociology in particular) awake, in that we all know it isn’t sustainable as it is now. People don’t care about what we do… right now. We are writing for ourselves and are giving up the ghost (as I see you doing here) and letting someone else do this for us.

    It totally is a false dichotomy – really? Two choices – nievity or selfish ends? Since when do those two things stand in natural opposition? Come on!

  4. Sorry bud…but I live in the “real world”, not this little fantasy camp you live in.

    We need to shake the system? Has it ever occurred to you that many people in this “system” like it just the way it is? Or think that we are ruining a good “system” each time we make changes. Do you forget the laments of certain profs you know, who see our vision for sociology as the collapse of any viability it once had? Oh…yea right…they are irrelevant relics of the past…dinosaurs and ghosts is the metaphor I think I remember you once using. Although I don’t agree with their “vision” and you don’t agree with their “vision”, ultimately, by us trying to change it, we are shitting on their world. Not only that…WE ARE DOING IT TO ADVANCE OUR OWN CAUSE. We think we have a better answer…A better way of doing things.

    When you start publishing your work under “anonymous”, then I will believe in your little Ghandi’esque project. Until then, you are just part of the problem.

  5. As sociologists, I do believe that it is our task to unravel the ‘taken-for-granted’, and, in doing so, evidence the consequences (often unintended) of the taken-for-granted ways in which we structure our relationships, families, institutions, and global connections. In doing this, we are essentially opening up the discussion for the possibility—not necessarily the execution of, just the possibility—of social change. While this may not necessarily lead to mass revolution or enormous social restructuring, it is an important exercise in engendering reflexivity regarding the ways in which we organize our lives. In engendering this reflexivity, we are absolutely talking about ‘idealism,’ insofar as we are opening up the discussion for IDEAS about alternative ways I which we can conduct our activities, often in ways that may decrease the possibility of these negative unintended consequences.
    Furthermore, while I know that the ‘slippery slope’ argument is often conceptualized as the catch-all ‘comeback’ of the politically left, I think it applies here: stating that what’s ‘good’ for society is entirely subjective and relational is a dangerous, dangerous argument to make, and positions our discipline on a slippery slope towards academic and activist-based nihilism. Certainly, a brief historical survey should warn us of the dangers of this thinking, in that I’m hard pressed to think of ANY historical period in which a society that is unexamined and un-criticized has successfully promoted equality, safety and general well-being, or, in fact (and this may resonate more with you, in that arguing for the aforementioned values may fall under your definition of subjective value judgments), been sustainable at all. To characterize the world as ‘just fine the way it is’ is both empirically and ethically problematic, in that it glosses over the inequalities of gender, race and class that plague us, and the suffering, sadness and disease that are related to such inequalities. Conceiving of these social realities as ‘subjective’ is not only academically arrogant, but deeply offensive to anyone who’s experienced them: “The philosopher is a man who has all the answers, until it happens to him.”
    What truly respected sociologist(s) have you ever read that posited the system as inherently desirable and largely unproblematic? In reviewing my own readings, the only paradigm that comes to mind is structural-functionalism, which, in my experience anyway, seems to be the laughing stock of current social theory, in that it reifies social inequality by positing it as a natural outcropping of some bullshit, quasi-scientific ‘law’ of social development. While I know that this might elicit a response of the nature, ‘that’s because we don’t agree with the ‘vision’ of those theorists,’ that largely ignores the historical fact that the work of the vast majority of theorists is a deep, critical reflection on the societies of which they are members (i.e.: Marx’s work on the ills of capitalism; DuBois’ work on racial composition and tension; Smith’s work on gendered sociology); thus, if we see a movement towards the strongly critical and action-based sociological work that Bourdieu advocates in the work of other theorists as well—and a simultaneous departure from these former modes of thought—does that not reflect on the dearth of activism that our society is currently characterized by? And/or the need for it?
    In addition to this, I’d like to point out that changing the ‘world’ and changing a ‘few friends’ are not necessarily mutually exclusive tasks. If there’s one seminal lesson that contemporary sociological theory has left with me (in particular the work of Foucault, Latour, and Smith), it is that the bifurcation between the global and the local is arbitrary and methodologically inaccurate: what we do at the local is precisely what simultaneously influences and creates the global. I think we ought to start recognizing this, and, in that, realizing the power that each of us holds in creating the possibility for alternatives. Without this, I fear that we’ll stay on the path that I seem to be surrounded by constantly, which is a world full of unthinking, boring people who are either compliant with, or go so far as to reify, every bullshit social value centered on materialism and selfishness that they’re constantly getting shoved in their face (and Zaph, I do want to preemptively point out that I do NOT think you’re one of these people! )
    Much like qmass stated that your presentation of the dichotomy between naivety and selfishness was ‘lazy thinking,’ ANY form of sociology that unproblematically, unmethodologically, and uncritically states, ‘why change a system that many people like the way it is,’ is lazy sociology. In fact, I think it begs the question: is it even sociology at all?

    -The Shamelessly Unapologetic Idealist

  6. Ok that was LONG, but I can play that game also. So allow me throw a few points back at you.

    You can open up any discussions you want regarding the possibility of creating social change. I don’t deny you that right. Nor do I deny you kudos if you happen to instigate change. Ultimately, however, what you have to realize, as I said before, is that any alternatives you offer, any changes you want to make, simply stem from your personal opinions and values as to what constitutes a “good society”, a “just society” or a “good direction for society”. These values and personal opinions may be shared by hundreds, thousands or even millions of people, but they will NOT be shared by hundreds, thousands or millions of others. When you talk about “idealisms”, just whose “idealisms” are you talking about??

    If you want to talk about conducting YOUR life activities in ways that make YOUR life better, and more beautiful to live, and if you happen to convince countless others that YOUR way is the better way, then fine. I am all for that. That is precisely the project I aim at…to make MY life as good a life as I can make it for ME (and those I truly care about), and if my words happen to make the lives of others (who I may or may not care about) better as a consequence…wonderful. However, I make no assertion that MY way is the best way for all. I share NO grand illusion of “shaping and influencing the WORLD”, as Qmass stated in his original post. We have all seen how successful the attempts at trying to shape and influence the world according to OUR value systems have been over recent years. That is exactly the type of thinking that is behind G.W’s little plan. “Bring democracy to the world…after all, it is what is best”. Sorry, that is NOT what is best, it is only what we THINK is best…what WE happen to value as a good and just society (and I happen to think that you would agree with this point). Furthermore, I am not going to put up this bullshit front and say that I actually care about everyone and their problems. Fact is…I don’t.

    Making the statement you made…about your fear of staying on the path, surrounded by unthinking, boring people who are either compliant with, or go so far as to reify, every bullshit social value centered on materialism and selfishness, this illustrates my point exactly. This statement is completely value laden. What I read in this statement is that you want everyone to see things how YOU see them as being best for ALL…and by doing so, will result in a better world. By employing the term “bullshit social values” you point to what you find to be bullshit. I would argue that not everyone, not even the majority, find materialism particularly bullshit. Who are you to impose your value system on others?

    This is NOT the same as characterizing the world as ‘just fine the way it is’…it is here where you put words in my mouth, and hence, that to which I take the greatest offense (in an academic way of course). I make no allusions to such a world as being “fine”. The world is not “fine”. The way I see it, the world is a shitheap. The world would still not be “fine” if by some sudden magic, I managed to recreate a world that is “perfectly fine” according to me. Others would absolutely HATE it…and of this I am fairly certain. I dont “gloss over the inequalities of gender, race and class that plague us, and the suffering, sadness and disease that are related to such inequalities”. The world has a lot of shit in it…but guess what…it always will, right up until the time that the freakin sun burns itself out and solves all the problems in one fell swoop. We have been talking about issues of race, class, and gender inequalities for a fucking century now. Ultimately, problematics in all three life categories are still with us…they have only shifted slightly and been obscured in the rhetoric of “political correctness”

    What you (and I don’t mean only you…but all of us)…what we have to get through our heads is the following: There will always be inequality, there will always be suffering, there will always be sadness, there will always be disease. In your brief historical survey you mention, please show me ANY historical period in which an examined and criticized society has “successfully” promoted equality, safety and general well-being.

    Going one step further: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS EQUALITY. This is Marx’s failure. This is Smith’s failure and this is Dubois’ failure (sorry I dont even know who Dubois is). Forget about it. Well, don’t forget about it, strive towards it, but at least be honest enough to own up to the truth…that being that the end result will only be a balance shift. Those who were once at the bottom will now be on the top, and those who were on the top will now have to fight back. If you learned ANYTHING from Foucault (Since you mention him), it should have been that there are ALWAYS unintended consequences to any discourse put forth.

    And of course no truly respected sociologist(s) have ever posited the system as inherently desirable and largely unproblematic. This is what we do. This is our work. To take such a perspective would be to make our jobs obsolete. The simple fact is, no system will EVER be inherently desirable and largely unproblematic as long as there are such things as sociologists.

    P.S: Nothing personal Becca…you know I love you :)

  7. Alright, I think I have to get involved now, since this is a great discussion. Consider the following I just read today:

    In South Side Chicago, there is this Robert Taylor Homes housing project which has the single largest physical concentration of urban poverty in the US AND in the Western industrialized world. Buildings are run down, lay abandoned, or encaged, often unsuitable for housing. Neighborhoods in that area have nicknames such as The Zone, Killing Fields, The Graveyard, or Murdertown. It is now more likely for an African-American man to get shot in the ghetto than it was for a soldier to die in Vietnam. More than half of all households live below the poverty line with a median household income of only $6900. The official unemployment rate is 24% but in reality is much closer to 75% and 63% of all residence depend on public aid. Only 10% have a checking account, because they have neither a steady income nor a bank infrastructure that would allow for such luxury. (Loïc Wacquant: Inside the Zone, 1998)

    I don’t agree with your severe pessimism, Zaph, even though I think that you are making a valid point. Just because I think that people in the ghetto live under Third World conditions which are absolutely unacceptable doesn’t mean that there aren’t a million people out there (including some African-American writers) who think that it is all their fault to begin with and that they simply get what they deserve. Fair enough. It’s just a different way of looking at things. Who tells me that my interpretation and subsequently my outlook is right? That would entail that there is such thing as a universal truth, a notion I would fiercely reject.

    However, what this boils down to is a clash of ideologies. Neither side is right or wrong. It is a political game and I think it is important to keep that in mind. I have a political agenda and the question is whether I will be able to assemble enough power to dominate the discourse and steer in my direction. That again entails, that I will have to go contra opposite opinions. I think it’s a power game which we play, nothing more or less. Say goodbye to academic neutrality, there is no such fucking thing.

    I think that there are a lot of things that go terribly wrong in this world right now. Will I be able to take on all of them ? Probably not. Is there a chance that no one cares what I have to say? Probably yes. However, that doesn’t mean that we as sociologist have to burry our heads in sand, not doing anything because we won’t change the way the world turns. It is actually sad to hear that because if everyone thought that way, we could just as well stop academic research that doesn’t support the status quo because what’s the point anyways. There are so many conservative and right wing academics who do not shy away from steering the public discourse in their direction, taking full advantage of the media, influencing the public opinion and top-level policy maker. I think it is about time that we get to work and do the same rather than arguing endlessly about whether this makes sense or not, whether it will change anything or whether we are just turning the system upside down by imposing our point of view. Pointing to the fact that many people buy into the system neglects every single individual that lives at the margins of this society and from my point of view, there are plenty.

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