Bourdieu and Education: Acts of Practical Theory

By Michael David James Grenfell | Go to book overview
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Chapter 3

The Need for an Epistemological ‘Break’

Derek Robbins


In considering Bourdieu’s contribution to thinking about education and in recommending his research practice to those involved in education, we are confronted by the complicated task of unravelling the contexts of the production and consumption of his works. This is a necessary task and one which leads to an identification of the coherent purpose in Bourdieu’s work which has not often been clearly revealed through the piecemeal interpretations of only partial aspects. The two texts which first introduced the work of Bourdieu to English readers in the educational context were the two essays included in 1971 by Michael Young in Knowledge and Control: New Directions for the Sociology of Education. These essays were entitled ‘Intellectual field and creative project’ and ‘Systems of education and systems of thought’. Subsequently, Bourdieu’s reputation as a ‘sociologist of education’ was established as a result of the publication, in 1977, of Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. That reputation was consolidated by the publication in the States of The Inheritors (1979) which had, in fact, originally been published in French as Les Héritiers in 1964—before either of the articles which were included in Knowledge and Control. By the time these two translations of the late 1970s were receiving critical attention, Bourdieu was concluding a major research project on the educational and cultural characteristics of the captains of French industry—‘le patronat’—and was beginning to become preoccupied with the significance of educational institutions as institutions at the time of his appointment to the Chair of Sociology at the Collège de France, Paris, in the autumn of 1981. The publications of Homo Academicus—the English translation in 1988 of a text of 1984—and, of State Nobility—the English translation in 1996 of La Noblesse d’Etat of 1989, have, perhaps, had less educational impact than the re-issue, in 1990 of Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture—nominated as a ‘citation classic’ by the Institute for Scientific Information Social Science Citation Index in 1988.

This chapter attempts, first of all, to give an account of the early reception of Bourdieu’s work within the educational sphere. It then argues that this reception within an exclusively educational framework led to misconception or misrepresentation as a result of neglect or ignorance of both the philosophy of knowledge underpinning Bourdieu’s prior social anthropology and the philosophy of science


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