Bourdieu and Education: Acts of Practical Theory

By Michael David James Grenfell | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

The Practice of Theory

Introduction

This chapter is entitled ‘The Practice of Theory’. It is concerned with what it is to use Bourdieu’s theory in practical research. However, its main preoccupation is not methodological technique but the theme of ‘reflexivity’. Bourdieu writes very often of the fundamental role of reflexivity in his work. The subtitles of the English versions of two of his books (1990a; 1992 with Wacquant) refer to ‘Reflexive Sociology’. The arguments he sets out for this again implicate the whole way we construct research, the role of theory in it, and how conclusions can be formulated. In brief, he is drawing attention to how we develop an understanding of a topic of research, and what the nature of the understanding might be. However, it is clear that what he has in mind is a very different concept of reflexivity than is conventional in western social sciences. Nowhere in his work will the reader find a chapter entitled ‘how to be a reflexive researcher’. Similarly, despite claiming a pivotal role for reflexivity in research, what he calls ‘objectification of the objectifying subject’, he rarely involves himself in the kind of personal researcher introspection which may be expected from such a phrase. Nevertheless, Chapter 3 discussed how, in a book such as Homo Academicus, Bourdieu does analyse his own professional milieu and his part in it. This is an example of objectifying the research field and the researcher. Derek Robbins also commented on the way Bourdieu’s own history shaped his practical and theoretical concerns. This chapter extends these issues to the researchers whose contributions make up Part II of this book.

What follows is something of an epistemological experiment, an ‘essai’ in what might be possible. What is at issue here is the researcher and their research ‘eye’. The chapter steps back to consider the researchers themselves before going on to the practice of research itself. Following the drafting of the chapters in Part II, the four authors were invited to contribute material to this present chapter in the form of four ‘reflexive accounts’. We wanted to examine how it was possible to objectify important aspects of the relationship between researchers and their various objects of study. In so doing, we are aware that the accounts sometimes cover biographic information and introspection in ways which are more personal than Bourdieu’s own ‘reflexivity’; although he does talk quite openly in places in terms of his personal social and academic trajectory and its effect on his research and writing (see for example Bourdieu and Grenfell, 1995; Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992b, pp. 209-15). In order to guide the authors’ reflection, we listed some possible

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