Bourdieu and Culture


Derek Robbins

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    For my wife, Diana, and our sons, Oliver and Felix.


    This book has been long delayed. This is not the place to describe the problems which arose with another publisher, but I am all the more grateful to Sage for moving so quickly to offer a contract for producing a revised text. In particular, I should like to thank Chris Rojek for his encouragement and support and I hope this publication will add to the reputation of Sage's list in relation to theory, culture and society in general and to its honourable record in advancing discussion of the work of Bourdieu by the publication of his texts and of constructive critical analysis such as that offered by Bridget Fowler in Pierre Bourdieu and Cultural Theory. Critical Investigations (1997).

    Much of the research for this book has been undertaken ‘on the ground’ in Paris, but, in London, I am indebted to the librarians of the University of East London for their diligent pursuit of my inter-library loan requests. The services of the British Library have, as always, been essential. Occasional visits to Paris have been funded from the allocation to UEL's Sociology unit of assessment following the 1996 Research Assessment Exercise. In Paris, I am grateful to the librarians in the Sorbonne and the Maison des Sciences de I'Homme, and, in relation to my chapter on Manet, I benefited particularly from the help of Jacques Thuillier of the Collège de France and of the administration of the Musée d'Orsay. I have valued the intellectual support which has been provided by the team of researchers in the Centre de Sociologie de I'Education et de la Culture in the Maison des Sciences de I'Homme, now under the direction of Rémi Lenoir, and I have also appreciated the accommodation facilities which have been available through the good offices of Jean-Michel Ageron of the Paris American Academy.

    Many of the thoughts in this book were tentatively articulated in sessions with students at UEL and I acknowledge the influence of discussions with students who have followed the third year Anthropology unit on Bourdieu that I have taught since 1995. Paramount, of course, is my indebtedness to Pierre Bourdieu himself and to staff associated with his work at the Collège de France — notably Marie-Christine Rivière, Rosine Christin and Gabrielle Balazs. As a team, they have been unreservedly open in their willingness to produce documents, papers, references or contacts in spite of the awesome workload that falls to a small workforce.

    As for Pierre Bourdieu himself, I can only say that this work is offered with respect and deference. I have had the good fortune in my career to have had contact with three intellectuals who could be said to be ‘charismatic’ — Leavis, Williams and Bourdieu. Encounters with the first two were disappointing in that, in different ways, their ‘charisma’ had become routinised. Somewhat surprisingly, however, the words which Williams found, in an obituary of 1978, to commemorate the achievement of Leavis, succeed in expressing what all three have in common and what, for me, Bourdieu still represents. Wiliams blamed the academy for making something merely academic of Leavis's life work, and he continued:

    What this excludes and is meant to exclude, is what must, in Leavis's whole work, be seen as central: not a profession but a vocation; an overwhelming, often overwhelmed response to a sense of a major cultural crisis… But I could never forget, and do not now forget, the intransigence, the integrity, the fierce courage of the man.

    Bourdieu rejects the notion of ‘charisma’, but his intellectual influence has been inspirational. He has not seen any part of this book in draft. In spite of his generalised encouragement and willingness to find time to meet with me at regular intervals, this book gives a wholly independent interpretation of his work. I believe that my attempt to treat Bourdieu's work with intellectual integrity cannot fail to do justice to the integrity of his endeavours.

    Lewisham, November 1998


    Faust. And what are you that live with Lucifer?

    Meph. Unhappy spirits that fell with Lucifer,

    Conspir'd against our God with Lucifer,

    And are for ever damn'd with Lucifer

    Faust. Where are you damn'd?

    Meph. In hell.

    Faust. How comes it, then, that thou art out of hell?

    Meph. Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.

    (Christopher Marlowe: The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, 1604)

    Garcin: Estelle, we shall get out of hell

    Garcin (to the two women): You disgust me, both of you. (He goes towards the door.)

    Estelle: What are you up to?

    Garcin: I'm going.

    Inez (quickly): You won't get far. The door is locked.

    Garcin: I'll make them open it. (He presses the bell-push. The bell does not ring.)

    Estelle: Please! Please!

    Inez (to Estelle): Don't worry; the bell doesn't work.

    (J.-P. Sartre: Huis Clos, first performed 1944)

    In the first chapter of La Distinction,1 Bourdieu wrote: ‘There is no way out of the game of culture…’2 Just as Marlowe presents his Faustus as being mistaken in supposing that hell might be a place that could be objectively observed, so Bourdieu is arguing — without infernal associations — that it is one of the defining characteristics of the human condition for people to be situated within culture. Culture is enacted by everyone. It is a game in which there are no non-participating spectators. It is a huis clos from which no one is excluded and from which there is no escape. It is a self-contained phenomenological enclosure which has no point of reference beyond or outside itself.

    Disconnecting Education and Culture

    Why does Bourdieu make this point on the second page of his text? The book is a sociological analysis of ‘taste’. In order to maintain the position of social dominance associated with the possession of ‘superior’ taste, those who possess such ‘taste’, Bourdieu argues at the outset, need to sustain a myth about their innate aesthetic sensitivities or gifts and to deny resolutely that these attributes can be learned. The objects of his sociological analysis, in other words, need to deny or negate its intentions. To counteract the self-sustaining, aestheticist ideology of the dominant classes, Bourdieu contends, however, that the sociologist has to do much more than demonstrate simply that ‘taste’ can be gained through education. Bourdieu implies that this is barely worth establishing precisely because the educational system itself is involved in endorsing pre-existent distinctions and in legitimating the notion that differences are the consequences of differing innate abilities rather than of differing social backgrounds. The sociologist may appear to have demonstrated that ‘taste’ is related to education but, for the dominant classes, this link already seemed self-evident precisely because education was not itself culturally neutral. Indeed, the degree of perceived self-evidence in the correlation between education and taste could be taken to be an indicator of the cultural partisanship of the educational experience. The research of the sociologist could be made to appear to state the obvious for as long as the sociologist failed to problematise the cultural function of schooling. Bourdieu proceeded to argue, therefore, that the sociologist must ‘… unravel the paradox whereby the relationship with educational capital is just as strong in areas which the educational system does not teach’3 — or, in other words, that the sociologist needs to recognise that schools as institutions function in maintaining class distinctions without reference to the cultural contents which they transmit. The collection of statistical data has traditionally sought to clarify the relationship between educational achievement and social origins, but, for Bourdieu, this very analytical process presupposes and imposes the notion of the cultural neutrality of the institutional means by which achievement is educationally secured. Unless this notion is challenged, unless we question the relation of education to culture which educational research ‘tacitly privileges’, we have no hope of puncturing the self-fulfilling complacency of the status quo. The questions which we unthinkingly pose have to be questioned, for, as Bourdieu continues in the following sentence: ‘There is no way out of the game of culture; and one's only chance of objectifying the true nature of the game is to objectify as fully as possible the very operations which one is obliged to use in order to achieve that objectification.’4

    Indirectly and abstractly, Bourdieu was moving towards an explanation of the purpose of La Distinction in relation to his previous work. In North Africa in the late 1950s, he had observed the cultures of Algerian tribes and had observed the processes of cultural adaptation amongst those tribes-people who were forced to leave the countryside to settle in Algiers. He had written a ‘sociology’ of Algeria and produced two other books analysing processes of acculturation in Algeria. In one of these — Travail et travailleurs en Algérie — he wrote a short section in which he articulated his disquiet about the role of the colonial anthropologist,5 but his work was what he was later to call ‘objectivist’ on two counts. First of all, he was unalterably an outsider by virtue of his French nationality, but, secondly, he constructed detachment by writing up some of his research findings in ways which deliberately situated them within the constructed discourse of anthropology by addressing issues, such as that of ‘honour’, which were of theoretical relevance to that discipline.

    Bourdieu's return to France at the beginning of the 1960s removed the first obstacle to ‘insider’ research and his ‘Célibat et condition paysanne’ (1962)6 was a self-imposed methodological test in respect of insider/ outsider issues in that he sought to analyse aspects of the culture of the region in which he had been brought up. Coming to terms with the objectivism imposed by established academic disciplines was more difficult. Bourdieu carried out research on the cultural interests and competences of students. The book which was the outcome of this research — Les Héritiers (1964)7 was subtitled: les Étudiants et la culture. In the terms discussed above, Les Héritiers privileged the relationship between education and culture, assuming that it was the function of the educational system to accommodate diverse regional and class cultures, without sufficiently asking whether educational institutions already embodied one particular, dominant class culture. Bourdieu analysed the cultures of students, but he did so in order to comment on the relationship between these cultures and those transmitted in educational institutions, to comment on the extent to which students who lacked the necessary ‘cultural capital’ were consigned to failure. Bourdieu's proposed solution — advocating ‘rational pedagogy’ whereby teachers would more efficiently transmit standardised course content by being trained to be sociologically sensitive to the cultural origins of their students — was one which continued to privilege an educational definition of culture within a social situation that was intrinsically multicultural.

    The Development of an Autonomous Sociology of Culture

    Bourdieu carried out two large research projects in the 1960s which could almost be said to be ‘cultural studies’ — one on museums and the other on photography — but his orientation was still dominantly educational, particularly in relation to museum attendance where the proposed solution to cultural exclusion was still that schools should perform the pedagogic function that would make museums more generally accessible. Bourdieu went some way to remedying the faults of Les Héritiers in La Reproduction (1970),8 but the argument was made very abstractly. Society was seen as a series of ‘arbitrary’, that is to say, non-referential, socially constructed, or relative, cultures which were in competition with each other and in which dominance was secured, not as the result of any intrinsic merit or superiority, but only, force majeure, as a result of a power struggle between institutions possessing ‘arbitrary’, that is to say, non-intrinsic, socially endowed, authority. The curriculum taught in state-controlled schools was just one example of the imposition of arbitrary content by arbitrary authority. For the first time, Bourdieu was beginning to establish a theoretical basis for liberating the study of culture from its hitherto subservient function within the study of education. Whereas his studies of the cultural tastes of students had been subordinated to the consideration of the appropriate form of pedagogy to be adopted within the educational system, Bourdieu began, instead, to develop a conceptual framework for analysing sociologically the distribution of diverse cultural tastes for themselves. The conceptual work began with ‘Champ intellectuel et projet créateur’ (1966)9 which, significantly, was published in a number of Les Temps modernes devoted to the problems of structuralism. At the same time that Bourdieu was rejecting the notion that the educational system should actually be privileged in structuring or reproducing culture within society, he was also rejecting a methodology which supposed that a detached, structuralist analysis of societies and cultures could adequately explain them. In the early 1970s, Bourdieu refined his concept of ‘field’ in such a way as to go beyond structuralist explanation. Agents are involved in the construction of the ‘fields’ within which their actions have meaning and receive recognition. Historical sociology enables us to understand the ‘genesis and structure’ of competing cultural fields. The ways in which people adopt different tastes or cultural affiliations are not to be understood by generating a post hoc interpretative correlation between these tastes and social conditions. This was the attempt, rejected by Bourdieu, most exemplified in France in the 1960s in the work of Lucien Goldmann. Rather, they are to be understood, not as reflections of class positions but, instead, as evidence of social position-taking in action. Importantly, Bourdieu also argued that this position-taking occurs, as it were, at two levels. People secure recognition for themselves within the assumptions of one field, but they also ‘trade’ that recognition for recognition within a different field altogether. Position-taking occurs, in other words, both within and between fields and, in this second, meta-context, people deploy ‘strategies of reconversion’.

    The development of Bourdieu's theoretical framework is described in more detail in Chapters 2 and 3. The important point here is that in extricating the analysis of culture from a pedagogical context, Bourdieu certainly did not wish to relinquish a sociological perspective. In 1975, he launched his journal — Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales. The prefatory article in the first number — ‘Méthode scientifique et hiérarchie sociale des objets’10 — made it clear that the journal was to be innovative in being prepared to apply social scientific method comprehensively to all possible social and cultural phenomena. As partial exemplification of this commitment, Bourdieu's ‘Anatomie du goût’11 appeared the following year and the culmination of this strand of Bourdieu's work was the publication of La Distinction.

    The Changing English Field of Reception — from ‘Education’ to Cultural Studies'

    It is clear that Bourdieu's analyses of culture were produced as affirmations of the approach to social scientific research outlined in Le Métier de sociologue (1968).12 Nevertheless, Bourdieu has played the ‘game of culture’ that he has observed. There is no more escape from that game for him than for anyone else. His productions have, therefore, been elements in his strategic position-taking — within and between fields. Like everyone else, he has been caught up in situations which have meant that his achievements have been the consequence both of his own structuring and of the structuring imposed upon them by various fields of reception or consumption. Whilst, in the 1970s, he was laying the foundations for establishing a sociology of culture that could be independent of the sociology of education, within the English and American fields of reception he acquired a reputation as a sociologist of education. In the UK, specifically, Bourdieu's name was linked with the ‘new directions for the sociology of education’ movement as a result of the publication of two of his articles in M.F.D. Young's Knowledge and Control (1971).13 As a force for radical change, this movement was exhausted by the late 1970s. During that decade, interestingly, both the political Left and Right sought to over-privilege the role of educational change in securing social reform. The shift from Mrs Thatcher's endeavours as Minister of Education in the early 1970s-proposing curricular reforms in her White Paper, A Framework for Expansion (1972) — to her attempt to enforce economic sanctions over university affairs after her election as Prime Minister in 1979, parallels the waning of the influence of the ‘new directions’ movement. Throughout the 1970s, however, there was, in the UK, another context for Left-wing social and political criticism which apparently had little contact with the ‘new directions’ movement in education. The main leaders of the ‘New Left’ were primarily either historians or literary critics — Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, Eric Hobsbawm, E.P. Thompson and Francis Klingender. This is not the place to go into any detail about the work of this group and of those associated with them. I return to this ‘field’ — constructed through a network of social and intellectual contacts between the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham and the May Day Manifesto group that congregated around Williams in Cambridge and London — as a ‘field of reception’ for Bourdieu's work in Chapter 8. For the moment, my point is that, within the UK, a ‘field’ of Cultural Studies was established which derived its intellectual inspiration from the humanities rather than the social sciences.

    Bourdieu had cited Williams' Culture and Society in ‘Champ intellectuel et projet créateur’ and he had also participated in J. -C. Passeron's production, in 1970, of a translation of Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy.14 Passeron's prefatory ‘presentation’ of his translation sought to appropriate Hoggart as a proto-sociologist of culture even though Hoggart never had any sociological pretensions. In short, the affinity between the two types of cultural analysis was strained. Indeed, in 1971 Williams wrote an obituary of Lucien Goldmann15 in which he regretted that his premature death had prevented the development of sympathetic intellectual exchanges. Williams sought to introduce to English literary criticism the kind of Marxist structuralist method practised by Goldmann which Bourdieu had already rejected. Later in the decade, Williams was to produce his own critical evaluation of Marxist analyses of literature. In the Introduction to his Marxism and Literature (1977) Williams describes how he had first encountered Marxist literary argument when he came to Cambridge in 1939 to study English literature. He recalls how his ‘experience of growing up in a working-class family’ had led him ‘to accept the basic political position’ which Marxist analysis ‘supported and clarified’.16 Williams goes on, however, to show how the practice of Marxist cultural criticism had failed to do justice to his experience of culture. He writes:

    Instead of making cultural history material,… it was made dependent, secondary, ‘superstructural’: a realm of ‘mere’ ideas, beliefs, arts, customs, determined by the basic material history. What matters here is not only the element of reduction; it is the reproduction, in an altered form, of the separation of ‘culture’ from material social life, which had been the dominant tendency in idealist cultural thought.17

    Williams saw the need for a cultural materialism which would discard the remnants of idealist Kulturgeschichte. Marxist materialism had not been materialist enough in respect of culture. Marxist thought, if not the thought of Marx, had been too mechanical and had not recognised that cultural products are expressive of whole ways of life. In developing the notion of a ‘structure of feeling’ as a way of describing this organic integration of previously separated base and superstructure components, Williams sought to make all culture conform to his primary experience of working-class culture. What Terry Eagleton had already argued in respect of Williams' Culture and Society — that it was ‘in reality an idealist and academicist project’18 — was also true of the transformed Marxism of Williams' Marxism and Literature. Williams safeguarded the idealist cultural values he had espoused as a result of working as a cultural critic simply by calling them material and by claiming that the forms of high culture were constituted as holistically as those of an idealised working-class culture. In trying to totalise working-class culture, Williams surrendered the possibility of understanding competing cultures. Williams' cultural materialism was a sophisticated amalgamation of materialist and organicist elements of nineteenth-century cultural thought but, as such, it failed to think outside the tradition which had generated it. It failed to open up the possibility of a scientific analysis of material culture.

    Williams was well aware of the competing senses in which the word culture has been used. In 1976, he published his Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society.19 In the entry on ‘culture’, Williams argued that‘… culture was developing in English towards some of its modern senses before the decisive effects of a new social and intellectual movement’.20 The change in meaning, in other words, is tacitly explained causally by a new social and intellectual movement which, Williams continues, occurred mainly in Germany. It was Herder, Williams argues, who, in his Ideas on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind (1784–91), attacked the notion that ‘civilisation’ or ‘culture’ ‘… was what we would now call a unilinear process, leading to the high and dominant point of C18 European culture’21 with the result that, in what Williams calls ‘a decisive innovation’, he argued that it was necessary‘… to speak of “cultures” in the plural: the specific and variable cultures of different nations and periods, but also the specific and variable cultures of social and economic groups within a nation’.22

    Williams convincingly suggested that it was at the end of the eighteenth century that the word ‘culture’ accommodated a social anthropological interest in ‘cultures’ as well as an earlier meaning dominantly associated with the idea of ‘civilisation’. He also recognises a third usage which is ‘in fact relatively late’. This is:‘… the independent and abstract noun which describes the works and practices of intellectual and especially artistic activity. This seems often now the most widespread use: culture is music, literature, painting and sculpture, theatre and film.’23

    Williams' attempted social history of semantic change successfully identified the moment in which emerged an interest in ‘folk culture’ and in the social anthropological analysis of cultural practices and, equally, the moment in which certain cultural forms assumed a sense of superiority as ‘culture’ over ‘cultures’, but he wrote about these changes from within the discourse of ‘culture’. He could talk about the emergence of different meanings but only from within a conceptual framework concerning ‘culture’ that the approach attributed to Herder would seek to place relativistically as simply one framework amongst many.

    Producing a Scientific Sociology of Culture

    There was no way out of the game of culture for Williams but, in Bourdieu's terms, he did not acknowledge reflexively the extent to which he had been initiated intellectually into a partisan position within the game. By contrast, Bourdieu tried to play the game of culture by analysing culturesincluding ‘culture’ or ‘high culture’ from outside the ‘culture’ tradition and, instead, from within a scientific tradition.24 He sought to deploy the credentials he had already acquired in sociological research in the field of cultural analysis. As a producer of cultural researches, Bourdieu placed himself outside the tradition of cultural analysis which confirms itself by never questioning its own value — by deliberately presenting himself as a scientist. Rejecting — or, rather, recognising the historical reasons for — the comfortable demarcation between Kulturwissenschaft and Naturwissenschaft, Bourdieu undertakes a scientific analysis of cultural forms and of the internal critical practices by which they are sustained. He has described himself as being in the epistemological tradition established by Claude Bernard in French life sciences towards the end of the nineteenth century. This tradition sees itself as being both anti-positivist and anti-metaphysical. It emphasises the continuous application of method more than the formulation of laws. It emphasises experimental testing more than empirical observation. It is neither materialist nor idealist, but presents itself as ‘naturalist’. In practice, this means that all thought in terms of the mind/body dualism has to be discarded in natural science as being an antiquated hangover of the concepts developed in medieval scholasticism. ‘Natural’ phenomena have to be confronted without these kinds of anachronistically philosophical preconceptions and they have to be confronted as they are by constructing analytical concepts which seem intrinsically appropriate and can be tested and refined. Naturalist scientists are naturally present with the natural phenomena on which they conduct experiments. Working hypotheses are artificial devices for generating testable findings. ‘Science’ is not static, or final, or absolute. Hypotheses are the products of historical, cultural conditions and they generate findings which culturally affect the production of subsequent hypotheses. The field of ‘science’ is one of the plurality of competing ‘cultures’ within society but, within the game of culture from which there is no escape, it provides a vantage point from which the assumptions of ‘culture’ can be analysed.

    Mobilising ‘Cultural Studies’ Strategically

    The point of the scientific intervention, for Bourdieu, is to show the ways in which cultural value judgements are deployed spuriously to legitimise social distinctions. This demonstration can only be achieved by conducting sociological analysis subversively but, equally importantly, the subversive critique of ‘culture’ can only be effective if, like a Trojan horse, it gains currency within the field which it criticises. It is significant, therefore, that there was an apparent approchement between Bourdieu and his associates and the writers of the English New Left who were in the process of establishing the new field of Cultural Studies. Translations of the work of Thompson, Williams, Hobsbawm and Klingender appeared in the Actes de la recherche en sciences socials between 1976 and 1978.25 This accommodation by Bourdieu of elements of English ‘New Left’ ‘cultural studies’ was matched by an English response. Referring specifically to Bourdieu's ‘Sur le pouvoir symbolique’ (1977)26 which, as yet, was only available in English translation as a stencilled, internal paper of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies,27 Stuart Hall, at the end of his ‘The hinterland of science: ideology and the “Sociology of knowledge”’ (1978),28 implied that Bourdieu's work potentially offered a way forward for cultural theory beyond the conflicting legacies of wholly internal or wholly external analyses of symbolic systems.

    Importantly, the following year (1980), the journal Media, Culture and Society devoted a number to the work of Bourdieu in which were published some prepublication selections from the translation of La Distinction29 a translation of ‘La production de la croyance: contribution à une économie des biens symboliques’ (1977)30; as well as a short bibliography of Bourdieu's work and an article by Nicholas Garnham and Raymond Williams.31 Entitled ‘Pierre Bourdieu and the sociology of culture’, this article was the most significant indication that the appropriation of Bourdieu's work in England had shifted from the field of educational analysis to the field of cultural studies.

    The translation of the full text of La Distinction was published in 1984. By this time, ‘Cultural Studies’ was beginning to establish itself as an academic field within British universities. As it became an increasingly popular ‘subject’ — generating an autonomous discourse and a discrete field of criticism and inquiry — the conjunction of the 1960s and 1970s between Left-wing politics and cultural study began to wane. Significantly, Stuart Hall moved from Birmingham in 1979 to become Professor of Sociology at the Open University, whilst, in 1983, Raymond Williams retired from his post at Cambridge after the publication of Towards 2000 and, for the rest of his life until his death in 1988, was to turn dominantly to the writing of novels.32 Bourdieu's work was to become assimilated within an intellectual field that was becoming pathologically depoliticised. In the same period, Bourdieu's own situation had changed. After his appointment to the Chair of Sociology at the Collège de France, Paris in 1981–82, he became increasingly interested in the relationship between the cultural capital that he had acquired personally and the institutionalised capital embodied in the institution which employed him. His new position enabled him to reflect upon-and apply to himself-those issues that he had discussed in the section of La Distinction entitled ‘Culture and polities’. Whereas, in the 1960s, Bourdieu had argued that the state-controlled education system was an instrument for imposing a dominant culture and of excluding the many functionally satisfactory, but dominated, cultures existing within society, by the 1980s he was more inclined to regard the political system and its associated political discourse as more powerful instruments of domination. He had shifted from the analysis of cultures within an educational frame of reference to the analysis of cultural diversity in relation to political participation. The ‘autonomisation’ of Cultural Studies is a political phenomenon which, in Bourdieu's view, has to be analysed as such sociologically.

    Whilst Bourdieu was assembling the findings of some of his earlier research to expose, in La Noblesse d'état (1989),33 the mechanisms by which dominant educational capital converted into dominant political power within the specific French social system, Polity Press began the process which would ‘market’ Bourdieu as a social theorist of global significance. Bourdieu's Homo Academicus (1984)34 was translated into English in 1988, and the translation was offered with a ‘Preface to the English edition’35 in which Bourdieu somewhat nervously sought to guard against the possibility that his works would become socially decontexted intellectual commodities. The increasingly widespread international translation of his work forced Bourdieu to reflect systematically in respect of his own cultural production — in precisely the terms that he had outlined objectively as early as 1966 in ‘Intellectual Field and Creative Project’ — on the relationship between the meanings of texts as products of the trajectories of authors and their meanings as free-standing items within a field of reception.

    The game of culture that Bourdieu, in part, plays and which, in part, plays him, has become increasingly complex. As someone who was insistent that he was intent on producing sociological analyses of culture, he nevertheless colluded in, or acquiesced in, a process which inserted his texts within the field of cultural study. The shift in his attitude towards Flaubert, discussed in Chapter 4, is indicative of his own changing intellectual strategy. At first, Flaubert was found guilty of distorting his social perceptions by inserting them, as fictions, within a literary cultural field. Bourdieu came to acknowledge, however, that interventions made within cultural fields — including the novels of Flaubert — might possess greater potential for effecting social and political change than supposedly ‘scientific’ interventions made within a field of social science which is increasingly subjected to state apparatuses or system worlds which sponsor it financially. Bourdieu moved away from the view that insertion within an autonomous cultural field implied an aesthetic escape from social engagement towards the view that the constructed autonomy of the cultural field could be deployed more effectively for political purposes than could a social science field whose autonomy had become dangerously weak. The key was to ensure that the autonomy of the cultural field should be a functional autonomy and should not become self-indulgently detached from politics.

    This tension explains the way in which Bourdieu has tried to play the game of the autonomous field of reception offered to him by Cultural Studies whilst at the same time asserting his dominantly social and political commitments. Within the market of Bourdieu's symbolic goods, the situation is confused by the detemporalising effect of the production of translations of some of his texts: the translation of La Noblesse d'état (1989) did not appear until after Polity had published English versions of the two texts of the 1960s (L'Amour de l'art (1966)36 and Un art moyen (196537) which can be characterised as ‘precultural study’ studies of culture — The Love of Art (1990)38 and Photography (1990).39 The political control exercised over cultural study within Bourdieu's field of production was, therefore, missed initially as the chronologically indifferent republications of The Love of Art and Photography seemed to confirm that Bourdieu was now a contributor within the field of Cultural Studies. Presumably, Bourdieu himself colluded in the timing of the publication, by Polity Press, of a collection of his essays under the title of The Field of Cultural Production (1993).40 It was only as a result of the publication of Les Règles de l'art (1992)41 — translated in 1996 as The Rules of Art42 — and of Libre-Échange (1994)43 — translated in 1995 as Free Exchange44 — that it became clear that, like Zola, Bourdieu was seeking to deploy strategically in the political sphere the capital that he had accumulated through his cultural studies and that, like Hans Haacke, he was interested in the capacity of art to instigate subversive social criticism.

    Explicating Bourdieu's Sociological Contribution to the Study of Cultures

    The bulk of this book was written between 1994 and 1996. It was commissioned and commenced during the temporal hiatus generated by the cross-Channel and transatlantic translation of Les Règies de l'art and Libre-Échange described above. It was commissioned to be an assessment of Bourdieu's contribution to cultural analysis which would itself be located within the field of cultural criticism. In Bourdieu's own terms, therefore, it was due to be the kind of criticism from within a discourse which has the over-riding, but covert, purpose of sustaining the legitimacy of that discourse. To borrow the distinction made by Bourdieu in ‘On symbolic power’ that was favourably received by Stuart Hall, my commission was to analyse Bourdieu's work in terms of the ‘internal relations’ within the field of cultural study — to analyse his work as ‘structured structure’ — rather than to see it in its external context and understand it as a ‘structuring structure’. The essence of the argument advanced by Bourdieu in ‘On symbolic power’ and, indeed, the essence of his poststructuralist analysis of culture in general, is that we must go beyond these alternative stances and should seek to establish a synthetic position which accepts that cultural forms are susceptible to analysis both as forms in themselves and as social constructs. As a consequence of my acceptance of Bourdieu's synthetic solution — one which places what formal criticism can say about cultural products in an analytic alliance with what socioeconomic history may say about the conditions of that production without subscribing to materialist determinism — it became necessary myself to adopt a double stance. In taking three distinct areas of Bourdieu's cultural analysis — his discussions of Flaubert, fashion and Manet — I have tried to consider Bourdieu's work in relation to the work of other contributors to the cultural subfields of literature, fashion and art. These analyses that are internal to the subfields are, however, presented in such a way as to show that this conceptual framework belongs to our field of reception whilst, for Bourdieu, the production of his analyses was consistent with a wholly different agenda. The book offers an introductory account of Bourdieu's career and also an exegesis of his main concepts, but the intention is that these sections should provide sufficient detail to indicate that Bourdieu's career trajectory and his conceptual development interact and mutually constitute each other. The intention is that, jointly, these sections should show that Bourdieu's specific cultural analyses are the means by which he transforms his personal cultural position. The book is organised in such a way, in other words, to allow the reader to appreciate Bourdieu's cultural analyses both as ‘structures’ and as elements in his own ‘structuring’ or position-taking activity.

    Bourdieu's discussions of Flaubert, Courrèges and Manet — considered in Chapters 4, 5 and 6 — are objective but they are also crucially self-regarding. Not only is the content of the analyses self-regarding but, for Bourdieu, the form of the analytical activity is also performative. He considers the consequences of Flaubert's transformation of social observation into cultural form, but, at the different moments at which Bourdieu was making an objective analysis of the relative merits, in the case of Flaubert, of social scientific or creative representations, Bourdieu was making a contextually contingent assessment of these same relative merits in his own case and, additionally, allowing the submission of his analyses to differing fields of reception to be an enactment in practice of the conclusions reached theoretically and vicariously within the texts. Just as Bourdieu argues, against Sartre, that Flaubert's Frédéric in L'Éducation sentimentale is not an autobiographical self-representation but, rather, a constructed persona through whom Flaubert explored experimentally, in fiction, a range of potential social trajectories that he might, in fact, adopt, so Bourdieu's analyses of Flaubert are similarly exploratory rather than representational.

    In short, producing cultural analyses is one of the ways in which Bourdieu has played the game of culture. The analyses and the game-playing are reciprocally related and inseparable. In practical terms, my attempt to offer a synthetic account of Bourdieu's contribution to the analysis of culture has resulted in an organised argument which can be summarised briefly for the guidance of readers.

    The Structure of This Book

    Part I (‘The career’) contains one chapter which provides an outline of Bourdieu's career as, in his own terms, an intellectual ‘trajectory’ manifesting a series of strategic developments, sometimes ‘planned’ and sometimes ‘random’.

    The career is presented in three phases — the ‘intellectual apprenticeship’ from 1950 to about 1970; ‘from lector to auctor’ during the 1970s; and the ‘politics of self-presentation’ in the period since his appointment to the Chair of Sociology at the Collège de France in 1981–82. This account is not to be read as the biographical ‘background’ to his work. The purpose is not to present an objectified or fixed version of the relationship between Bourdieu's works and his career but, rather, to provide the basis for an understanding of the dynamic pragmatism underlying all the work of Bourdieu which is to be examined in the rest of the book. Subsequent chapters are to be read with reference to this introductory historical contextualisation.

    Part II (‘The concepts’) contains two chapters which provide an account of the key concepts which Bourdieu has developed and which have shaped his empirical findings and the way in which he has conceptualised society. Bourdieu has insisted that these concepts are historically contingent and have been deployed strategically. These chapters seek to clarify the meanings of the concepts and to evaluate them whilst still accepting Bourdieu's view that, for him, they have always been tools of investigation and should only be used pragmatically by others in full knowledge of the complexity of conceptual transfer and not replicated routinely. This means that the pragmatism of their genesis as well as of their potential use has to be appreciated. The first chapter initially discusses what Bourdieu might mean by a ‘concept’ and then outlines the development of his use of, amongst others, ‘habitus’, ‘field’ and ‘cultural capital’. These are certainly operational concepts that have performed slightly different functions for Bourdieu at different points in his career. The second chapter considers the development of Bourdieu's use of ‘reproduction’ in the context of the contemporary thinking about ‘production’ and ‘consumption’ or ‘reception’. It asks whether, for Bourdieu, ‘reproduction’ is more than a conceptual tool for understanding social processes and is, instead, in spite of his disclaimers, more nearly an explanation of social reality.

    If Part II isolates Bourdieu's conceptual activity, Part III (‘The case studies’), consisting of three chapters, explores the ways in which the concepts have functioned in providing an approach to cultural forms. It is not possible, however, to maintain a clear distinction between concept and object. Bourdieu's concepts are not applied to self-existent facts because, for him, there is a constant reciprocity between observed phenomena and the language in which observation is expressed. Bourdieu's concepts develop, are refined, as they are used. Separate chapters isolate Bourdieu's work on Flaubert, fashion and Manet, partly to show his analysis in action and partly to extract from his multidisciplinary practice some contributions made by Bourdieu which can be compared with other contributions in the established fields of literary and art criticism. These are, therefore, artificially constructed case studies of Bourdieu's practice — partially circumscribed by discipline boundaries which he refuses to accept. At the same time, the chapters seek to do justice to this refusal. They suggest the ways in which these paradigmatic studies are most significant as evidence of an intellectual style which should be recognised as the true Bourdieu paradigm. They demonstrate that it should be clear from what Bourdieu says about Manet or Flaubert or Zola that he wants, like them, to sustain the affinities between cultural production and scientific naturalism, which means that Bourdieu wants to carry on producing objects and does not want to contribute to any ‘definitive’ objectification of those artists who are his models. Relating to the discussions in Part I and Part II, the chapters of Part III show the ways in which Bourdieu's thinking about individual artists has shifted both in relation to his developing career and in relation to his continuing refinement of his concepts.

    The corollary of Bourdieu's view of the mutually reinforcing integrity of his career and his concepts is that he renders his work abstractly uncriticisable or, put another way, that he obliges all criticism of his work to be ad hominem criticism. Bourdieu seeks to elicit a response to the package of his life and work and to deny the possibility that the work can usefully be extracted and subjected to impersonal criticism. The two chapters in Part IV (‘The criticisms’) explore the criticisms of Bourdieu that have been made and examine the validity of his strategic evasion of criticism. The first chapter summarises the main lines of criticism that have been advanced in the secondary literature. The presentation is not comprehensive, but it takes a range of significant arguments, evaluates them and, in doing so, seeks to clarify Bourdieu's position. The second chapter considers the case Bourdieu has offered in self-defence against criticism and then seeks a way out of the apparent impasse whereby debate and disagreement about the value of Bourdieu's work seem logically interminable.

    The last chapter attempts to summarise the development of the argument in the text and to reach a judgement of Bourdieu's work. If, as the book argues, Bourdieu's cultural analyses and findings were, and still are, integrally related to his social position-taking, but if it is also possible, as the book demonstrates, tactically to appreciate them both as functioning conceptual objects and as components of his subjective, socio-genetic trajectory, is it not, nevertheless, illegitimate or undesirable to propose a divided response to his life and work? Bourdieu has sought to live, or incorporate, his concepts, but is it open to us to take critical advantage of the disembodied concepts without reference to any ethical judgement of his career — or does this inclination to treat his concepts autonomously amount to a form of idealism and constitute, therefore, a complete rejection of his unified intellectual and existential project? Is it defensible to adopt the relativism of Bourdieu's cultural analysis whilst simultaneously ‘bracketing’ a relativist analysis of its cultural provenance? Pursuing these questions, the Conclusion argues that it is not possible to disintegrate Bourdieu's life and work. It argues for a pragmatic response — not to his disembodied concepts but to his paradigmatic life of creative conceptualisation.


    The game of culture is not static. It is one which is inescapably changing, generating its own dynamism like an internal combustion engine. Having carried out his intellectual reconnaissance of the relations between culture and politics, and having increased his cultural capital as a result of his interventions in the field of Cultural Studies, Bourdieu has recently embarked on a process of reconversion, offering the authority that he has acquired intellectually in the political service of the socially, politically and culturally dominated members of society.

    In an interview of October, 1992, about Les Règles de l'art, entitled ‘Tout est social!’,45 Bourdieu argued that the research that he had directed leading to the publication of La Misère du monde (1993)46 was not unconnected with the interests underlying Les Règles de l'art. He claimed that he was trying to use literary form to allow the dispossessed of French society to have a political voice. This marks a shift away from a concentration on the political potential of collective intellectuals towards an attempt to find grounds for collective action which unite intellectuals and non-intellectuals.

    One of the bases for such collective action is the conviction that social solidarity between individuals in society has been undermined by the distorting affects of media coverage which, in turn, is a consequence of the effects of an unregulated market economy. Related is the view that neo-liberal politics are the consequence of the world dominance of Anglo-Saxon ideologies based on the elevation of individual freedom rather than collective welfare. The recent article (with Loïc Wacquant): ‘Sur les ruses de la raison impérialiste’47 is a diatribe against the way in which particular American ideologies masquerade as universal truths.

    Since La Misère du monde, Bourdieu has sought to transpose what he called the ‘social maieutics’ of that text from the formal, written, sphere to the sphere of direct political action. After supporting the striking railway workers in December 1995, Bourdieu established a social movement entitled ‘Raisons d'agir’, backed by a publishing venture — Liber-Raisons d'agir. His first publication followed from the identification of the media as significant culprits in relation to our current social and political malaises. Sur la télévision, suivi de l'emprise du journalisme was published in December 1996.48 Two other texts by associates followed in 1997: ARESER (Association for Reflection on Higher Education and Research): Quelques diagnostics et remèdes urgents pour une universityé en péril, and S. Halimi: Les Nouveaux Chiens de garde. In 1998, other associates have produced Le ‘Décembre’ des intellectuels français and Bourdieu has published a collection of his own speeches and interventions, assembled from the period between 1992 and 1998: Contre-feux.49 Within this period, Bourdieu has also published Méditations pascaliennes (1997)50 in which, amongst other things, he has presented himself as a reluctant intellectual and has tried to deconstruct the academic gaze in order to liberate the possibility of collective social action which is not contaminated by artificial academic and status distinctions.

    Bourdieu has also recently published La Domination masculine (1998)51 which has generated debate in Paris. Part of the same debate has also been the publication of a book which attempts to put the brake on Bourdieu's political influence. This is J. Vèrdes-Leroux: Le Savant et la politique: essai sur le terrorisme sociologique de Pierre Bourdieu.52 Although this text offers analysis of Bourdieu's earlier work, it seems to be mainly motivated by the views, first, that Bourdieu is too influential, and, more significantly, that he has transgressed hallowed boundaries between the scientific and the political.

    Bourdieu is currently deploying in the political field the cultural capital that he has acquired through his scientific research. In my view he is doing this legitimately precisely because his present actions follow logically from and seek to actualise the theory of practice which first brought him intellectual authority. There is no abuse of authority for its own sake but a coherent implementation of a life-long strategy. Writing in ‘Sur les ruses de la raison impérialiste’ (1998), Bourdieu (and Wacquant) now cite the spread of ‘Cultural Studies’ as one example of the general pathology whereby concepts and social movements acquire artificial status and currency in a field of international intellectual exchange that has become divorced from their particular conditions of production. Bourdieu and Wacquant argue:

    Thus it is that decisions of pure book marketing orient research and university teaching in the direction of homogenisation and of submission to fashions coming from America, when they do not fabricate wholesale ‘disciplines’ such as Cultural Studies, this mongrel domain born in England in the 70s, which owes its international dissemination (which is the whole of its existence) to a successful publishing policy.53

    This attack on ‘Cultural Studies’ here has two elements. The authors complain that it is a commercial product and, separately, that it was, in origin, a mongrel construct. I have suggested in this Introduction that this second point does not represent a new position for Bourdieu. He has consistently seen himself as a sociologist of cultural phenomena and has, therefore, believed that the development of ‘Cultural Studies’ as a discipline has illustrated a methodological error in that it has allowed the object of inquiry to prescribe the framework within which it is conceived. I have also suggested, however, that Bourdieu has acquired cultural capital as a result of the insertion of his texts in the field of commercial exchange that he now disowns. What we see in ‘Sur les ruses de la raison impérialiste’, therefore, is Bourdieu seeking to regain control over his international griffe or brand-label (to use the terminology used by Bourdieu in relation to fashion — as discussed in Chapter 5), to reassert that cultural analyses are instruments of strategic action in particular situations and not repositories of universal explanation.

    In the light of Bourdieu's new moves within the game of culture, this book offers the opportunity to observe the ways in which Bourdieu's cultural analyses were integral to a developing theoretical understanding of the relations between culture and politics — the publication and dissemination of which within the cultural field have provided him with the power to enact it through direct action in the political sphere.


    1. P. Bourdieu (1979) La Distinction. Critique sociale du jugement, Paris, Éditions de Minuit.

    2. P. Bourdieu (1984) Distinction, A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 12.

    3. Ibid., 11–12.

    4. Ibid., 12.

    5. See the Foreword to the second part of P. Bourdieu et al. (1963) Travail et travailleurs en Algérie, Paris and The Hague, Mouton, 257–67.

    6. P. Bourdieu (1962) ‘Célibat et condition paysanne’, Études rurales, 5–6, 32–136.

    7. P. Bourdieu (with J.-C. Passeron) (1964) Les Héntiers. Les Étudiants et la culture, Paris, Éditions de Minuit.

    8. P. Bourdieu (with J.-C. Passeron) (1970) La Reproduction. Élements pour une théorie du système d'enseignement, Paris, Éditions de Minuit.

    9. P. Bourdieu (1966) ‘Champ intellectuel et projet créateur’, Les Temps modernes, 246, 865–906.

    10. P. Bourdieu (1975) ‘Méthode scientifique et hiérarchie sociale des objets’, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 1, 4–6.

    11. P. Bourdieu (with M. de Saint Martin) (1976) ‘Anatomie du goût’, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 5, 2–112.

    12. P. Bourdieu (with J.C. Chamboredon and J.-C. Passeron) (1968) Le Métier de sociologue, Paris, Mouton-Bordas, translated (1991) as The Craft of Sociology, Berlin and New York, de Gruyter.

    13. P. Bourdieu (1971) ‘Intellectual field and creative project’ and ‘Systems of education and systems of thought’ in M.F.D. Young, ed. Knowledge and Control. New Directions for the Sociology of Education, London, Collier-Macmillan.

    14. R. Hoggart (1970) La Culture du pauvre (présentation de J.-C. Passeron), Paris, Éditions de Minuit.

    15. R. Williams (1971) ‘Literature and sociology: in memory of Lucien Goldmann’, New Left Review, 67, 3–18.

    16. R. Williams (1977) Marxism and Literature, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1.

    17. Ibid., 19.

    18. T. Eagleton (1976) Marxism and Literary Criticism, London, Routledge, 25.

    19. R. Williams (1976) Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (Fontana Communications Series), London, Collins.

    20. Ibid., 88.

    21. Ibid., 89.

    22. Ibid.

    23. Ibid., 90.

    24. For a more detailed discussion of the differences between Williams and Bourdieu, see my (1997) ‘Ways of knowing cultures: Williams and Bourdieu’, in J. Wallace et al., eds. Raymond Williams Now. Knowledge, Limits and the Future, London, Macmillan, 40–55.

    25. E. P. Thompson (1976) ‘Modes de domination et rEeAvolutions en Angleterre’, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 2–3, 133–51; R. Williams (1977) ‘Plaisantes perspectives. Invention du paysage et abolition du paysan’, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 17–18, 29–36; E. Hobsbawm (1978) ‘Sexe, symboles, vêtements et socialisme’, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 23, 2–18; F. Klingender (1978) ‘Joseph Wright de Derby, peintre de la Révolution industrielle’, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 23, 23–36.

    26. P. Bourdieu (1977) ‘Sur le pouvoir symbolique’, Annales, 3, 405–11.

    27. Translated by Richard Nice (who was working at CCCS at that time) in Two Bourdieu Texts, CCCS stencilled Papers no. 46 (1977). This translation was subsequently published in Critique of Anthropology, (1979), 4, 77–85; whilst a different translation (by C. Wringe) was published in D. Gleeson, ed. (1977) Identity and Structure: Issues in the Sociology of Education, Driffield, Naffer-ton Books, 112–19.

    28. S. Hall (1978) in S. Hall (1978) On Ideology, London, CCCS/Hutchinson.

    29. ‘The aristocracy of culture’ — translation of La Distinction, 9 — 61–in Media, Culture and Society, (1980), 2, 225–54; ‘A diagram of social position and lifestyle’ — translation of La Distinction, 139–44 — in Media, Culture and Society, (1980), 2, 255–9.

    30. P. Bourdieu (1977) ‘La production de la croyance: contribution à une économic des biens symboliques’, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 13, 3–43; translated by R. Nice as ‘The production of belief: contribution to an economy of symbolic goods’, Media, Culture and Society, (1980), 2, 261–93.

    31. N. Garnham and R. Williams (1980) ‘Pierre Bourdieu and the sociology of culture’, Media, Culture and Society, 2, 209–223.

    32. For detail and comment on this phase of Williams' life, see F. Inglis (1995) Raymond Williams, London, Routledge, Chap. 12, 266–96.

    33. P. Bourdieu (1989) La Noblesse d'état. Grandes Éccoles et esprit de corps, Paris, Éditions de Minuit.

    34. P. Bourdieu (1984) Homo Academicus, Paris, Éditions de Minuit.

    35. P. Bourdieu (1988) Homo Academicus, Oxford, Polity Press, xi — xxvi.

    36. P. Bourdieu (with A. Darbel and D. Schnapper) (1966) L'Amour de l'art. Les Musées d'art et leur public, Paris, Éditions de Minuit.

    37. P. Bourdieu (with L. Boltanski, R. Castel and J. C. Chamboredon) (1965) Un art moyen. Essai sur les usages sociaux de la photographie, Paris, Éditions de Minuit.

    38. P. Bourdieu (with A. Darbel and D. Schnapper) (1990) The Love of Art, European Art Museums and Their Public, Oxford, Polity Press.

    39. P. Bourdieu (with L. Boltanski, R. Castel and J. C. Chamboredon) (1990) Photography, A Middle-Brow Art, Oxford, Polity Press.

    40. P. Bourdieu (ed. and int. by R. Johnson) (1993) The Field of Cultural Production. Essays on Art and Literature, Oxford, Polity Press.

    41. P. Bourdieu (1992) Les Règles de l'art. Genèse et structure du champ littéraire, Paris, Éditions du Seuil.

    42. P. Bourdieu (1996) The Rules of Art. Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, Oxford, Polity Press.

    43. P. Bourdieu and H. Haacke (1994) Libre-Échange, Paris, Éditions du Seuil.

    44. P. Bourdieu and H. Haacke (1995) Free Exchange, Oxford, Polity Press.

    45. P. Bourdieu (1992) ‘Tout est social!’, Magazine littéraire, 303, 104–11.

    46. P. Bourdieu et al. (1993) La Misère du monde, Paris, Éditions du Seuil.

    47. P. Bourdieu and L. Wacquant (1998) ‘Sur les ruses de la raison impérialiste’, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 121–22, 109–18.

    48. Translated as On Television (1998), Oxford, Polity Press.

    49. Translated as Acts of Resistance (1998), Oxford, Polity Press.

    50. P. Bourdieu (1997) Méditations pascaliennes, Paris, Éditions du Seuil.

    51. P. Bourdieu (1998) La Domination masculine, Paris, Éditions du Seuil.

    52. J. Vèrdes-Leroux (1998) Le Savant et la politique. Essai sur le terrorisme sociologique de Pierre Bourdieu, Paris, Grasset.

    53. P. Bourdieu and L. Wacquant (1999) ‘On the cunning of imperialist reason’, Theory, Culture and Society, 16, 1, 47.

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