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A Book for Reading

Pierre Bourdieu has, with no doubt conscious irony, referred to his recent study of the French university system, Homo Academicus, as a ‘book for burning’. As an insider’s attempt to distance himself from, demythologise and analyse critically that system, it is, he suggests, vulnerable to colleaguely accusations of subversion or heresy, if not outright treachery. As with most of Bourdieu’s work, in particular his work over the last two decades, its subversive potential is, however, considerably undermined by the nature of the language that he uses and his general writing style. Idiosyncratic usages and neologisms, allied to frequently repetitive, long sentences which are burdened down with a host of sub-clauses and discursive detours, combine with complicated diagrams and visual schemes to confront the reader with a task that many, whether they be undergraduates, postgraduates or professional social scientists, find daunting. As the reader will gather from what I have just written, it is not that I have any necessary objections to either longish sentences or sub-clauses. Bourdieu’s writing, however, which he has described as ‘a permanent struggle against ordinary language’, [1] is, as I will argue in a later chapter, unnecessarily long-winded, obscure, complex and intimidatory. He does not have to write in this fashion to say what he wants to say.

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